Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who Are We in Second Life?

I believe...That our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, But we are responsible for who we become. 


          As I continue my meanderings towards the end of this year in Second Life (SL), I got to thinking (Significant Other finds I tend to do this when I have too much time on my hands.) about identity in SL and who our avatars really are.
          Are we in SL who we are in Real Life?  I’m not raising the question as to the right or wrong of doing this (For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being someone else inworld.  I’m more interested in how and why we do this.) 
          What are the components of who we are in SL and RL?  In my unscientific opinion, gender (including orientation), personality, and lifestyles are the major differentiators among us in either life. 
          We are presented with three choices about who we will be when we first come inworld.  (Far fewer than what our avatars’ appearances have!) We can be who we are in RL.  Or, we can be different.  Then there’s always doing some combination of both. 
          Let’s talk about the components of who we are for a moment and how we can present ourselves.  First there’s gender.  Does everyone present themselves inworld as they are in RL?  I once read that most female avatars in SL do not represent RL women especially if they’re naked.  I suspect this may be an exaggeration but really do we know?  Do we care?  Should we care?  Likewise with gender orientation, how many avatars have the same orientation inworld as in RL?
          Next on the list is personality, based on what some residents I’ve met about the manners of others, I suspect that not everyone inworld is as well mannered as they are in RL.  Inhibitions tend to be lower inworld than in RL.  (Why is it never the other way around?) 
          Then there’s lifestyle.  How many inworld BDSM practitioners actually practice in RL?  Or, how many who are engaged in the SL fashion world are involved with mundane pursuits like computer programming jobs in RL?  (Trust me, I don’t make my living by writing in RL.)  SL appears to be a place where we go to do what we can’t in RL. 
Here’s the hard part.  Why do people present themselves differently in SL than in RL?  I have a few theories.  My first is that people wish to experiment.  SL is a safe place to do that especially given the anonymity inworld.  (Does anyone really use their RL names in SL?)  Without the risks of public embarrassment, physical harm, or financial loss, why not? 
My next hypothesis about acting out in SL is that people do things that they would never do in RL.  While visiting with the BDSM community, I learned that some engage in BDSM practices that they feel are too risky in RL or they can’t find a partner with similar interest. 
          My last theory is just because.  (That’s a cop out if I ever heard one)  There is no particular reason other than these things can be done and are done without a thought being given.  This idea may harken back to the discussion as to whether or not SL is a game.  (Does anyone care or worry when some plays an orc in World of Warcraft?) 
          What are the consequences of being something in SL that you’re not in RL?
          For the avatar, he or she can experience things that could not be in RL.  They can experience feelings or events not possible or practical outside of SL.  Being ever the optimist that I am (believe it or not) maybe they’ll have more respect for others than they might have had otherwise. 
          For the community, there is a broader diversity of thought, opinion, and practice.  The social life and culture of various inworld communities don’t stagnate and continually change.  Of course, this is not always for the best.  Can anyone say that every new fashion is exquisite or that every new building is breath taking.  (This is the counter argument to my being an optimist.) 
          Finally, what about the impact of all this on relationships in SL?  I submit does it really matter?  Inworld, we take people as we find them.  Don’t we?  I know that I do.  I find it simpler that way.  If I worry about whether or not the person I’ve just met inworld is an unemployed, nineteen year old, unemployed guy living in his parents’ basement outside of Detroit then I feel I’ve missed the point of SL. 
          Who we are is as important in SL and it is in RL.  What is important is are we being true to ourselves and how do treat those around us in both places. Are SL and RL better places because of us? 
As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.
I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.


kimba said...

Lots of questions!

I'll answer what I know - I'm the same inworld as I am out in the real world, except for a few minor differences.

My avatar looks as young as I feel and think, although I'm fairly certain that if you met me in RL life you'd say "You look just like your avatar!". I actually tried to "age" my avatar so that we could look about the same, but I could never get it to look quite right. My avatar dresses like I do in real life as well. My avatar owns a home in SL, which I don't in real life, but if I did, it might look very similar to my SL home, and my avatar has a bank account in SL which I don't have much of one in RL.

My real life friends tease me that I have a better animated life than real life ... but that's just based on material things.

I don't like to shop and my avatar doesn't either :)

Even though I am an artist and innovator in real life, when it comes to representing myself in any circumstance, I can't be anything but myself. I can't even conceive of wanting to be anyone else. I'm very real and authentic, both online and off.

webspelunker said...


I greatly appreciate your openess and candor.

I like to think that except for the blond hair and red eyes, I'm a lot like who I am in RL too.

Many thanks!


Lindal Kidd said...

I think you're missing a distinction here, Web (and kimba)..."who we are" is not, in my opinion, our physical appearance. I think most of us in Real Life are very different people than others would imagine, just looking at our outsides.

As a particular example: Old people. I do not think I have ever met anyone who was older than about 30, in their own mind -- no matter what their calendar age.

In Second Life, we can be the people we really are, inside where the real world doesn't see. Not everyone does this...some, like you and kimba, are "as much like your RL selves" as possible. Others are completely unlike either their RL appearance OR their true inner self...they play a role, and become someone completely different, like an actor in a play.

I am not sure how successful this latter approach is. I believe that in SL, even more than in RL, our true natures show through -- in our avatar's appearance, and in our actions.

Certainly the "I'm the same in RL and SL" approach does work, especially for those whose inner self is entirely congruent (and in some cases, dependent on) the outward appearance. I've even met a few avatars who use their RL names, or something close to it.

kimba said...

Oh, Lindal, I meant that everything about my SL avatar - including character/personality - are the real me. I thought I was saying that in the last sentence of my comment ...

And I'm actually doing that and maintaining that for a specific reason and it has to do with a completely separate project.

But if you interact with me in SL, on facebook, twitter, on any of my blogs, in these comments, you'll see that my persona does not change from here to there because I'm not thinking about how to manipulate any given situation or person - when I participate online I'm thinking about how to share everything that I really am.

I only mention the look of the avatar because, while I would like for that to be as real as possible, it's not easy to make it so, so I got as close as possible.

I have no reason to be anything, anywhere, other than what and who I am. And I use my real first name in SL - I joined at a time when last names were assigned. I would have used my own if I could have.

webspelunker said...

Lindal and Kimba,

Point taken! SL has residents who are themselves as in RL, others who are just RP-ing, and, in all likelihood, some who are inbetween.

I think this adds to the diversity and enjoyment of this virtual world. Although, problems could arise and feelings be hurt with people working at cross purposes.

Great discussion!

TC web

Abinoam Nørgaard said...

Interesting ideas! Here's my two cents, although I'll be repeating what others have already said. I think there are basically two main types of people in SL - those whose virtual reality is nothing like their RL identity, and those who act in SL pretty much as they do in RL.

I tend to fall into the second category. Sure, there are things I have done in SL that I don't have much or any opportunity to do in RL, but I do carry my RL interests inworld, I act the same way I do in RL, I wear the same clothes I do in RL (expect when I'm in 1920s Berlin :)) etc.

I find it really interesting how people choose who and what to be in SL. Possibilities are practically limitless, yet I've never really wanted to be in SL something other than I am in RL. I'm still me, RL or SL.

This is also related to the distinction between those who refer to SL as a 'game' and those who see it as an enhancement to RL, so to speak. But that's another topic...