Donato Mancini & Flick Harrison
Digitalspace Traveler (originally OnLive! Traveler) is a voice-based VR chat program. Traveler was developed surprisingly early, from about 1993 - 1996. Upon its launch in 1996 there was a strong initial push towards making it mainstream, including spots on MTV (with avatar VJs) and NBC's Monday Night Football (with avatar football players). Within a year it was obvious however that Traveler would never find a commercial niche, and all corporate backing was withdrawn. Bruce Damer and designer/creator Steve DiPaola stepped in to save the code from deletion, and handed control over to the community of devoted users that had already formed. From then on, it was wholly operated, maintained, updated and extended by its users/inhabitants, once known as The Utopians.
Traveler's outstanding significance among the generation of avatar chat applications, such as ActiveWorlds, Cybertown, Palace, WorldsAway, Virtual Places, AlphaWorld and others, is made even clearer with the runaway popularity of Second Life and World of Warcraft. In Traveler, the user's avatar is normally a bodiless, floating head that performs a muppet-like lip-synch with the user's voice when he/she speaks through a microphone while holding down the [Ctrl] key on his/her PC. Traveler was/is not only aesthetically engrossing, it was also the site of a unique, and uniquely documentable, internet social phenomenon: it was home to a dedicated community of regular users (numbering between 40 - 70), some of whom seemed to do all of their human socialising through Traveler.
AVATARA is a 2003 document/documentary of Traveler and its resident community by writer Donato Mancini, media artist Jeremy Turner, and videographer Flick Harrison. The piece was filmed entirely "in-world", the world's first genuine machinima documentary.
As of 2009, the Traveler community has largely disbanded or emigrated into other chatware.
Directed and written by: Donato Mancini and Jeremy Turner
Editing and technical advising: Flick Harrison
Interviewer: Jeremy Turner
Photography: Donato Mancini
Production: Centre A, 536 Arts, Donato Mancini
Sound: Flick Harrison
Music: Jeremy Turner
OnLive! / Digitalspace Traveler Main Creators: Dave Collins and Steve DiPaola
536 Productions, 2003
Download and try Traveler
"The Making of AVATARA" at Trace Online Writing Centre
Christiane Paul's review in Intelligent Agent
Edward Picot's review in the Hyperliterature Exchange
Maximilian C. Forte's review in Visual Studies
"Like Mardi Gras, avatar worlds are best experienced in person rather than seen through a keyhole. Conventional media fail to frame the participatory masquerade that animates avatar communication. The AVATARA video is the best attempt yet to convey a virtual community through the savvy artistic eyes of film-makers. Fresh and surprising!"
- Michael Heim
"AVATARA is interesting and at the same time entertaining. The film brings up many issues of Avatar worlds/societies and deals with social phenomena like war and art. It is presented as an avatar story which gives the viewer a good insight in a world quite unknown to most people. The film is also important because it shows a history of avatars that, up to now, we haven't known much about." - Lars Vilks
"... it certainly was one of the most unusual, strange, beautiful, puzzling, unconventional, immersive, weird, wild, frustrating 'documentaries' I have ever seen...it certainly is a memorable piece." - Peter Wintonick, director of Manufacturing Consent
"Having captured plenty of online footage and recently meeting with several people about possibly adding an in-game "wrap-around" to "Avatars Offline", I was very impressed with the bold move of using in-game footage only. The footage looks impressive and even though the sound quality of the voice recordings aren't always optimal (due to the engine technology), the rawness adds to a sense of immediacy. What really appealed to me about AVATARA was a sense of watching art rather than a common documentary. The images and voices have an almost meditative quality, the stillness of the camera and delay between spoken words leaves ample time to reflect on this strange, beautiful, very primitive yet cutting edge application of technology and communication." - Daniel Liatowitsch, director of Avatars Offline
"....may be one of the most original contributions to avatar research to date.... ...it most effectively brings to life some of the research done in this realm and documents one online community through snapshots. "My avatar doesn't need to breathe," as one of the Traveler inhabitants puts it, but 'AVATARA' makes clear that, despite defying the needs of the physical body, it certainly is a life form." - Christiane Paul, author of Digital Art
"Avatara is richly textured documentary that currently makes an unrivalled and highly innovative contribution to the field of digital visual research, as critical to teaching and research in the wider field of Cyber studies as any of the more prominent Cyberpunk novels or edited collections of papers on virtual communities and cybercultures, and certainly a necessary complement to all of these resources." - Maximilian C. Forte.
"Avatara is an excellent resource for those interested in the sociology of online communities. It contains the breadth of human experience as expressed through the online world; love, war, compassion, art, and politics. Avatara represents an essential document for those interested in humanity as expressed through the digital medium." - Patrick Lichty, editor of Intelligent Agent