A friend who knows I work full-time in the Second Life® virtual environment told me the following: “I went to see the movie, ‘Avatar,’ and I kept thinking about you! The idea and the effects were spectacular. The movie is a bridge where the public can really begin to see what’s possible in virtual reality. It’s where people begin to sense, ‘Hey! This is the new cutting edge!’
“You are so into virtual environments,” she continued. “You don’t realize how difficult virtual reality is, still, for people to grasp. ‘Avatar’ introduces people to virtual reality in a way that begins to draw them to virtual as well as real life!”
“Those are good comments,” I said. “But to me, ‘avatar’ is a concept I’ve been aware of for years. It goes as far back as 500 BC to as recently as 1990.”
“Well, use the movie to elaborate the concept!” she said.
So… below I cite references tracing the evolution of the word “Avatar” from its most ancient to its most recent meanings. Enjoy!
|Merriam – Webster
Avatar or ava·ta·ra : the descent and incarnation of a deity in earthly form — chiefly associated in Hinduism with the incarnations of Vishnu. Etymology: Sanskrit avatra descent, from avatarati he descends, from ava off, down + tarati he passes across or over “avatar.”
|Hinduism, 520 BC
In Hinduism, Avatar or Avatāra (Sanskrit for “descent” [viz., from heaven to earth] 520 BC) refers to a deliberate descent of a deity from heaven to earth, and is mostly translated into English as “incarnation”, but more accurately as “appearance” or “manifestation”.
|Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson, 1992
”The success of Snow Crash popularized the Sanskrit term avatar to online virtual bodies to the extent that avatar is now the accepted term for this concept in computer games and on the World Wide Web.”
|Second Life®, 2003
”An Avatar is a representative of a real person in the virtual world. The word is derived from the Sanskrit. There Avatāra means “descent”, which refers to the coming down deity in earthly spheres. Specifically related to Second Life is an avatar, the character you can dress and move. While most avatars in Second Life are human, this form isn’t required. It is also possible to be an animal, a furry, a tiny, a demon, a robot… Even a flowerpot or rock. The only limitation is your imagination. The default avatar in Second Life is named Ruth.”
”Avatar is a 2009 American science fiction epic film written and directed by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang. The film is set in the year 2154, when humans are mining a precious mineral called unobtanium on the lush moon Pandora in the Alpha Centauri star system. The colonists’ expansion threatens the continued existence of the Na’vi—a race of humanoids who are indigenous to Pandora—as well as the moon’s ecosystem. The film’s title refers to the genetically engineered Na’vi bodies used by several human characters to interact with the natives of Pandora.
Pandora’s atmosphere is toxic to humans, forcing them to use breathing masks. Attempting to improve relations with the natives and learn about Pandora’s biology, scientists grow Na’vi-human hybrids called avatars, controlled by genetically matched, mentally linked humans.”