I’ve also been pondering the question of what makes imvu different than a chat program like Yahoo Chat or gchat. Before joining, I couldn’t tell you. It’s certainly not as ambitious as second life–I think that’s to its credit, since it is so much more accessible and prettier…
I think part of what makes imvu so magical is that the brain is wired for imagination… for simulation. MRI scans show that the same neurons that fire when we touch a hot stove, also fire when we see somebody else touch a hot stove (so-called mirror neurons). These neurons evolved in part because they provoide empathy but also to help us simulate the future so that we don’t have to touch the hot stove to know it will hurt. Other experiments show that people who are assigned an attractive avatar in second life act more confident, but more importantly, that confidence carries over even after they’ve logged out of the game. Even old psychological studies found that if you recorded phone conversations of person A talking to person B, and person A thought person B was prettier (due to a faked photograph), person B “sounded” more attractive, according to observers who weren’t aware of the photograph. Simple put, Avatars matter.
On a personal note, I find that avatars have a really big effect on me. A good guy friend of mine likes to use a girl avatar sometimes. I found I interact with him very differently when I see him as a girl. More simply, I love cuddle poses. I mean I REALLY love cuddle poses. I can literally feel my heart rate change when I’m in the arms of somebody I love. But maybe I’m just weird… but even if it is just me, there’s still the science.
Thank you Quidlyn (Katy) for such powerful insight.