Shook hands with the Devil, looked him in the eye, looked like a long lost friend.
My original plans for this week’s story were different than what you’re reading right now. What I would have written I don’t know because as I was sitting and thinking about this story (Daydreaming is Significant Other’s term.) I had an interruption. Maybe “interruption” is a poor choice of words because what happened was that an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in many months suddenly popped up on my online friends list.
I quickly IM’d her and we caught up and while doing so I started thinking about how friends come and go in Second Life (SL). We often see them coming but we rarely see them go until it’s too late and suddenly we realize they haven’t been around for a while.
That’s what happened here and that’s what I’m writing about this week, long, lost friends inworld.
Let’s first talk about why my friend and why she left. (I won’t identify my friend because I didn’t tell her I was writing this story and also don’t want to be responsible for driving her back out of SL because of curious onlookers driving by gawking at her second life. I do have some professional ethics. I also don’t want my friends to stop talking to me.)
My friend and I met at a mutual friend’s wedding several years ago and afterwards we would hang out inworld when we were in at the same time. She had an interest in SL photography and her personal portraits are of a very high quality. She tried her hand raising breedables (meeroos) and had a small business with them for a while. Bilingual and active in her Real Life’s (RL’s) nation’s inworld community, she had an active social life. Once upon a time, she had a boyfriend (Not me, she also has standards.) When I was a noobie, she helped me because that’s what friends do inworld.
Why did she leave?
Well, her RL became more active, in a good way. But, inworld, many of her old friends had just disappeared and she had begun to be bored by SL. She simply stayed away.
(Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating folks abandoning RL for SL. But, a happy balance isn’t a bad thing.)
As her friend, what did this me for me? I was left with unanswered questions about where a friend had gone. Admittedly, it took me a while to realize this but I did get there eventually. (Significant Other nods knowingly as I write this.) My inworld friend had gone walkabout and I felt a gap or loss.
But, what can we do about this inworld when our friends go MIA? It’s not like we can go down the block and knock on their door, drop by the local pub where they hang out, or call them on their cell as we would in RL.
We wonder, maybe worry, about what’s happened to them. Have they died? Gotten a magnificent new relationship in RL? Heaven forbid, wandered off into World of Warcraft? Maybe developed an online gambling habit? The mind does wonder. (I freely admit to an overly developed sense of the dramatic.)
What does this mean to the SL community?
I’ve blogged about friendship and loss inworld before but having one of my own friends involved adds a more personal dimension.
People just disappearing for no reason can be disruptive to a community’s social fabric. (Look what happened in the Soviet Union during the Great Purge.) We become inured to the lack of closure with friendships and relationships. (I can’t speak for the rest of the RL world but in my country filing a missing person’s report with the police when a friend falls off the radar suddenly and unexpectedly is considered the socially acceptable thing to do at the very minimum and helps with letting go much in the same way as a traditional Irish wake does in the US.) Uncertainty haunts us more so than in our real lives.
But, for now, my friend has returned to SL. She thinks she’s going to stay for a while. This is good for everyone. The community is whole again, or, at least in one corner. Can SL still offer the challenges and excitement that it once did?
Now, will she stay and if so, for how long?
As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.