How often do we see that in somebody’s profile? Those of us who’ve been around for any length of time in SL are more than aware of it anyway – when you begin to forge friendships, even virtual ones, it’s not the avatar that matters, it’s the person – and there shouldn’t really be any need to remind anyone,
There are, of course, those within the virtual community who thrive upon drama and take a great deal of satisfaction in making other people’s second lives – and, by association, their real lives – miserable. We even have websites for those whose greatest pleasure is to heap invective upon anybody who happens to fall foul of their, usually hopelessly wrong, opinions. However, I’d like to think that those sort of people are in the minority and, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to give them their own space to spew forth their ire – at least you’ll know where, and whom they are, so you have a good chance of avoiding them.
Putting aside the gossip-mongers, haters, SLanderers and scumbags who seem to think that SL is their own private drama domain, what we’re left with is pretty much a bunch of genuine, friendly and accommodating people who get on pretty well with each other, most of the time. Many of us go much further than that – we get to know the real people behind those avatars… what they do for a living, their likes and dislikes, details about their families and lifestyles – in many ways, the two lives begin to merge: Silkycheeks Piebutton becomes interchangeable with Sylvia Peterson and the line separating reality becomes blurred to the point that we imbue the avatar with the characteristics of the real person who created it. We would never dream of hurting or offending that person either directly or through the medium of their virtual identity and, when occasionally we might accidentally cause offence, we are mortified and do whatever we can to put things right.
Even so, there’s a danger that this familiarity is capable of breeding contempt, Once we start to take too much for granted that the avatar and the person are one and the same, there’s always the possibility that we see the avatar as our friend, albeit endowed with all the human aspects of the real person with whom we have become familiar. So what? You may ask, why should that matter? I suppose, in many ways, it doesn’t matter in the slightest; after all, we’re all avatars in SL and it shouldn’t really make any difference at all if we see the pixels we’re interacting with as Silky or Sylvia… but, in some ways, that distinction actually does matter.
Imagine that Silkycheeks breaks down in the middle of an inworld conversation and reveals some personal real life tragedy that’s maybe only occurred very recently. Whilst this may be difficult to deal with in the real world, at least we’re dealing with a real person that we can hug, or console or simply be a listener to in a time of need. In SL, things become a bit weird… we want to reach out and hug their avatar, maybe blurt out a gesture that fits, but – worse still – if we’ve allowed ourselves to relate to the pixels more than the person, it can be difficult for our minds to connect at a human level: we’ve become far too familiar with what we see on the screen, taking it for granted that what we see is the person that we know. We’re aware that they have lives beyond the screen, and we know all about those lives, but when those real lives push their way past the virtual ones and insist that we take notice and relate directly to them, that’s when we can find ourselves unequal to the task.
Something along those lines happened to me recently – a friend, whom I’ve known for quite some time found themselves on the receiving end of one of those nasty hands that life occasionally deals us, and I found myself floundering, unable to respond appropriately. Eventually, I took myself off to a quiet place inworld – and I did the same on the other side of the keyboard too – to think about why this should be the case. I realised that those things I knew of the real life of my friend I’d unconsciously – and wrongly – attributed to their avatar; I’d allowed them in my mind to become what I saw, rather than the person behind the mask.
And you see, avatars – for all their faults – don’t die, don’t have accidents, don’t become ill, and never suffer personal tragedy.
Don’t forget that there’s a real person behind the avatar.
Well now look, at what we’ve become,
we’re only human, we´re only human
Hurricane Love – Only Human