Grand Theft Avatar / Research Critique (Week 4)

Grand Theft Avatar (2008) is a live performance by Second Front, hosted in the 3D virtual world Second Life, stimulating a bank robbery of the Lynden Bank to liberate the Lynden dollars held by the bank. The live performance was carried out as part of the “From Cinema to Machinama” panel held physically at the San Francisco Art Institute, and the virtual avatars took on the guise of panel members. Impersonated panel members included new media artists and theorists: Camille Utterback, Char Davis, Howard Reingold and Christiane Paul[i].

After grabbing the loot, the members took a dramatic exit, first through an extravagant scattering of the loot into the air, and finally ending the performance by stimulating the ending of Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to stop worrying and Come the Bomb by riding hydrogen bombs into oblivion, Slim Pickens (aka Rodeo)-style into the sunset[i].

Artificially Expanding Reality
Grand Theft Avatar (GTA) is a metaphor on the blinding artificiality of the fabricated world. It is situated away from the physical space, remotely operating within no set boundary – within the third space, where laws of the known world were disturbingly abandoned. It disrupts and questions the known traditional social etiquette and structure, through fragmenting the sense of reality and imbibes disillusionment. The lines between the reality we live in, the reality that we act out and, the reality that we realise gradually becomes blurred. The constructed boundaries of reality are thus expanded,

The third space is a fluid matrix of potentiality and realizable connections to the most far-reaching remoteness.
– Randall Packer, The Third Space (2014)

Screenshot of Grand Theft Avatar: Liberation of Lynden Dollars
Screenshot of Grand Theft Avatar: Liberation of Lynden Dollars

Derision of the Human Presence
The group constructs their own alternate ego, the artificial avatar on Second Life, and later, disguising themselves as other personas. Essentially, they erase their own presence digitally and mindfully, as their digital avatars are the sole outcome of their personification on the Second Life platform.

In GTA, Second Front justifies their action with a ludicrous excuse – the mocking liberation of the supposedly suppressed Lynden dollars on the guise of a bank heist, and later, the wanton abandonment of those rescued dollars after escaping the venue. With this, they effectually apply another layer of mockery to the work:  the avatars themselves lack a stable existential identity; their ridiculous actions further fuels the hypothesis that in actuality, they do not function as per the known world, but rather, can only exist ephemerally, within the uninhibited constrains of the third space.


[i] Guertin, Carolyn. Digital Prohibition: Piracy And Authorship In New Media Art. 1st ed., Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2012,.

[ii] Packer R. “The Third Space,” (2014) in Reportage from the Aesthetic Edge

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is a budding creator who works with digital technologies, and investigates the human thought process through her installations.

4 thoughts on “Grand Theft Avatar / Research Critique (Week 4)”

  1. Tania, I am curious how you think Grand Theft Avatar might relate to comparable film narrative with real actors. Since as you say, “the avatars themselves lack a stable existential identity, I wonder how the commentary of this piece is accentuated by the acting out of virtual characters, who are in fact the avatars of their RL players. They are like cartoon characters, but not entirely, since their are real actors driving the action in real time. 

    1. True, on the surface, the characters of GTA are similar to real actors – that both are performing, and acting out a set narrative. Perhaps, the initial difference lies in intention, where GTA characters both expose and address their critique of the third space, whereas real actors are simply, a visualisation of the narrative (where ‘brainless’ consumption of the resultant show).
      While both are hoisted onto the medium of the remote, GTA differs from real actors where they are able to interact and negotiate with each other independently – part of the third space, where remote users are able to act autonomously.

  2. It is worth noting that the actors who played the various roles in Grand Theft Avatar were also the artists who created the piece. I think in any truly collaborative filmic work, where the actors are empowered, you will see this kind of agency in their performance.

  3. Interesting essay Tania, especially your closing point about the ephemeral existence of the avatars made possible only by the unconstrained third space. Our online identities and personas are fluid and can change instantly. However, our traces and marks on the Internet (comments, posts etc.) contributes to a collective narrative, and are forever documented for current and future users to see. That’s an interesting contrast specific to the third space!

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