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.