May 10, 2008
Unlike some things I write about, this is purely personal, and purely about the social side of Virtual Worlds, not the technical side. Its mostly drawn from Second Life ™ (A registered Trademark of Linden Lab) but that’s because I spend more of my time there than most places, I think it is applicable in any immersive social space.
One of the odd things about Second Life, is the ease with which we can, in various ways shade the truth, or flat out lie. In a mostly text world, with avatars which type what we tell them to, and blush, smile, and frown, on cue, the listener, is at the mercy of the speaker for body language, which can be misleading, either due to self deception, or actual intent to deceive. Add the ability to create multiple avatars, the lack of any tie between an avatar’s appearance and real life, and the opportunity for confusion and deception increases.
Almost every resident in Second Life approaches the balance between being a perfect copy of themselves and a created persona differently. This is not surprising, we are all different, and we all have different goals. Some people exist as digital duplicates, with avatars which closely mimic real life. Some chose avatars which are wildly different from their real life appearance. Likewise, the role, and persona people project varies wildly. Some are basically themselves, in a digital body, others, take on personas which vary from their real life behavior. Some immerse in a role, to the point where they don’t exhibit any connection to their real life existence.
Interestingly, the various choices are fairly unrelated. People are complex and they behave in ways which reflect this. Some of the most honest, true to themselves people I know, live as avatars who are quite different than their Real Life appearance. Several of the people I know, who behave most differently from their RL personas actually have avatars which look very much like them. The choices are also fluid, sometimes from moment to moment, sometimes from avatar to avatar. Some people chose to separate roles, having work and play avatars. Some chose to role play with a separate identity, others roll them all together.
This affects us, in a virtual space, in some funny ways. As in real life, we interact with people, we form friendships, and we offer up bits of ourselves to other people. We share our thoughts, our energy, our attention. For many of us, our virtual selves and our virtual friendships are deep and important. This becomes problematic, if the friendships are based on confusion, misunderstanding, or even outright deception. Sometimes its simply a case of differing expectations. Someone who always represents themselves as a close copy of their real life self may be very confused by someone who is engaging in a degree of roleplay or re-interpretation of self.
This leads me to the title of this post. “Congruence — Words and Actions” This, for me, is the touchstone of a virtual persona. Over time, how do their actions compare to their words. Does the person who greets you with a warm emote, actually talk to you, interact and respond, or do they pop into the scene, wave warm greetings and go silent? Does the person who says, “Oh, invite me to your next event” ever show up. More importantly, when someone says they want to be your friend do they act like a friend, or do you feel like you’ve been added to some ever growing roster of casual acquittance’s. Do you feel like you’ve met someone new, or been part of someone’s calculation in how to level up to level 40 of Second Life Mastery, where they will get a Travel Steed, and the ability to turn on other people’s bling?
Friends, are people I interact with. When I enter a space, I greet them, and when I notice we haven’t chatted in a while, I try to track them down and IM them. Fiends are people who drop me a LM to a fun sim they’ve found, or offer me a TP when a good pair of freebie boots is on offer. Friends invite you to fun parties. Friends, in short, just like in real life, drop some energy into your life. Likewise, I try and drop some of my energy, and my thoughts at my friends.
Grace McDounnough touches on this in her thoughtful post on social norms. It’s entangled with how we want to experience our virtual lives. There’s another half to it as well, which Grace mentioned, and Chestnut Rau touches on very nicely in her post on the Second Life Terms of Service and Privacy. This is that we expect our friends to respect our personal space. When we tell them something, we have a reasonable expectation that they will act thoughtfully and not casually share it. When we say something in a private message, or a notecard, for them to know, we don’t expect that to be shared around the sims.
Now, I don’t know any perfect people. I’m not perfect, I don’t expect perfection of my friends. But.. I do expect, that they will try to be good friends, that they will act in ways which match their words. I try to hold myself to that standard. I’m sure I fail from time to time, and I regret that. So, look at yourself, as you float across the grid. Do you say one thing and do another? Do you emote by habit, or do your emotes actually reflect your mood? Do you add to the life of people you consider friends, or do you just share the grid with them. Food for thought