We do, of course, go to sometimes quite extraordinary lengths to anthropomorphise our virtual selves – we clothe our avatars, endow them with realistic features and equip them with animations that give the illusion of human movement, although there are relatively few of us who actually try to mirror on screen the person sat in front of it. Nevertheless, there are many things that we do inworld that unconsciously – or sometimes purposely – mimic very human attributes, although there’s no earthly reason why that should be the case.
Hands up if you own and use any of the following virtual items:
A bath or washbasin;
A walking stick;
An item of food or drink.
These are all things that have a very definite purpose in the real world, yet there is only one real function that any of them might perform in a virtual world, and that is to add to the illusion of realism. A perfectly valid argument you might say, but let’s look again at my question, because I made a particular point of adding the word ‘use’. Does employing any one of these, and countless other, articles in the manner we would in real life add to the realism of the illusion, or is it something we might do as some sort of learned unconscious behaviour, transmitted from our real lives into the make-believe world of our avatar?
Only the profoundly bemused (or the ardent roleplayer, for whom these activities are an essential element of their scenario) would argue that their avatar requires sleep, and by virtue of that fact, requires a bed to sleep in. In the same manner, there is no virtual reason to wash, sit down, aid our mobility with a stick or eat and drink, yet I imagine that pretty much every one of us has done so and a large proportion do so routinely and without thinking. Personally, I ‘climb into bed’ every night before logging off; I feel uncomfortable ‘standing’ for long periods and, when in company, I’ll almost always replicate the sort of behaviours I’d display in the real world when in a social setting. Yet, there’s absolutely no need to do any of this, but if I don’t, it just feels very wrong and I feel compelled to comply with the real world rules.
Perhaps those behaviours are entirely understandable – a lifetime of experience and learning has made certain activities, behaviours and actions automatic – they are part of my make up and form terms of reference for what defines who I am. These create a comfort zone of ‘being’ – if I was to be deprived of these things in the real world, it would have a profound effect on me in emotional, psychological and even physical terms. It’s only natural then, that when I project myself into virtual form, it’s inevitable that I should need to fall back upon those same behaviours to help define the ‘humanity’ and realism of my avatar.
However, it gets stranger!
Recently I’ve noticed the occasional bizarre crossover occurring between SL and RL – moments when inworld experiences have had an effect in the real world when they really have no business doing so. One, in particular has caught my attention, because it’s so weird – if I fall, or jump off something at height in SL, I find myself experiencing a very real feeling of vertigo in the real world: I get that feeling of my stomach churning, I catch my breath and my whole body stiffens, and occasionally I’ve even closed my eyes! Now, I do realise this is something you can experience vicariously, simply by being exposed to the right stimulus, but even my addled brain isn’t so far gone that seeing a bunch of pixels in ‘mild peril’, in a completely safe environment where nothing is real and nobody is going to get hurt, is going to cause a butt-clenching reaction… or, at least, that’s what I’d thought. Seems I was wrong!
It makes me wonder if I’ve been spending far more time than is healthy in SL – isn’t one of the defining characteristics of insanity the inability to tell the difference between reality and the unreal? If so, then I’m clearly well on the way to the funny farm. I’m all for an enhanced inworld experience, but even I would concede that this is going just a little too far… what next, bruises from all those occasions I manage to walk into doors and walls inworld?
Should I worry though? Probably not, after all SL is supposed to mirror the real world in some way, maybe this is just my brain’s way of helping out – nothing much I can do about it really, other than to accept it.
…And stay well away from high virtual buildings!
With your feet in the air, and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it! Yeahh!
Your head will collapse if there’s nothing in it
And you’ll ask yourself
Where is my mind?
Placebo – Where Is My Mind?