A recent inworld conversation with a friend served to highlight a sneaking suspicion, borne out of experience, that i’ve had for a while. The gist of it is that, although many of us blur the line between sl and rl to the extent that both lives are, in their own way, equally valid there is nevertheless a distinction that most of us are apt to draw – a line that, when it is crossed, makes us rather uncomfortable.
Whilst we may have no qualms about sharing all sorts of details about our lives on the keyboard side of our screens with our sl friends, the same rarely holds true when it comes to sharing our sl activities with our real world associates. We may happily talk about what we get up to in our daily lives, our plans and experiences, even sharing personal and private things with those on our sl friends list, we can be extremely reticent when it comes to talking about the virtual world with our real life friends. To even think about divulging our online adventures to rl friends, family and colleagues is anathema to many of us – even the thought of it makes us squirm, to the extent that there are almost certainly many thousands of sl residents who would rather walk barefoot over hot coals than let on to an acquaintance that they live a virtual existence.
It seems strange that in a society where to have a virtual persona is considered almost mandatory, and to have some sort of online presence is part of everyday life, so many of us still prefer to shy away from sharing our SLexistence with others. we may be more than happy to give out our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profile details to anybody who asks for them – but how many of us would find it as easy to give out our sl profile details, or even admit to having one? Oddly, such reticence seems to be specific to sl; few people seem to mind anyone knowing they’re into WoW, Minecraft, Half Life or GTA but, when it comes to sl, we clam up completely.
i think this reluctance to open up about our SLives is fundamentally tied to the nature of sl itself – and it all boils down to the never-ending debate about whether sl is a game or not. Whatever your point of view, (you can always put me straight in the comments!), can i ask you to take the view, for the sake of this particular contention, that sl is not a game, rather it is a virtual world, in which we live out our virtual lives. Therefore, although within sl our virtual life may well include gameplay elements like slaying orcs, ravishing dragons, being rescued by princesses and re-living the Festival of Britain in period costume, there is another, far subtler process taking place that makes sl fundamentally different from other online communities. That process is the building of relationships: making friends, (and enemies), forging emotional connections and sharing our thoughts, feelings and character with those around us.
SL is so conducive to the building of this kind of relationship that we are able to build strong friendships, and more, with a whole range of people who are completely distinct and separate from our real lives. More than that, we have some very strong commonalities that bring us even closer together than if we are considering the rl equivalent relationship – underpinning everything is our shared experience of sl, then there’s the focussing of experience and preference that sl brings: shared interests through groups, locations and activities – the chances are that we will find our sl friends have far more in common with us than many of our rl friends, simply because sl has a habit of bringing like-minded people together. That still only partly explains why we’re often so willing to share our rl experiences with sl friends, but let’s not forget the degree of anonymity that sl brings – no body language, no eye contact, frequently no voice and the liberty to pick and choose precisely what we wish to disclose, with no other clues as to who we are in rl. We can’t forget the physical distance over which sl facilitates relationships either – our friends may be in the same space as us in sl, but in reality they can be anywhere in the world – therefore we can feel close, without the sometimes discomfiting feeling that ‘connecting’ with someone physically, visually or aurally can have – sl is an eminently safe environment, where we set our own limits.
So, that’s why we can talk about our real lives to our sl friends – but why don’t we feel the same ease about discussing our sl activities with ‘real’ people? i’d say that exactly the same rationale applies – all of those things that encourage closeness to others in sl are the very things that can’t apply to rl relationships, or if they do, they take a great deal of time, trust and hard work to nurture and encourage. For many of us sl, and the people in it, are an important and significant aspect of our lives – one which when translated into rl terms can seem very personal, fragile and private. In sl anyone we come across is guaranteed to have experience and a certain understanding of both the real world and the virtual – not so in rl, and to entrust someone who lacks that basic understanding of what sl can mean to us with those private, fragile and personal aspects of our lives is, for very many of us, just too much to ask.
Y’know, sometimes i have days when i look around the people i know in rl and wonder just how many of them also have a second life… one that they’re never going to let slip?
Can’t you see
What this crazy life is doing to me
Life is just a fantasy
Can you live this fantasy life
Aldo Nova – Fantasy