Sorting through some images recently I came across some screen grabs I’d made a few years back, mainly because at the time I thought they were interesting, although I subsequently filed and forgot them. This was in the days when Philip Linden was at the helm, long before he left the virtual world he’d created to forge ahead with the next generation world of High Fidelity. Back then, if you’d looked him up, you might have spotted something a little different and unique about his profile.
There are a variety of account types that can appear in a profile, from the plain and banal ‘Resident’, through ‘Linden Lab Employee’, to the elusive and extremely rare ‘Lifetime’ account, but there was only one profile that ever bore the mystifying and exclusive descriptor: ‘Exordium’. I’ll let you look up the meaning for yourselves – personally I think it’s rather clever, if a bit esoteric.
You might think it’s a little pretentious and unsporting to use a hack like that to distinguish yourself from every other resident in a manner that is utterly exclusive, but I’m pretty sure that if any one of us had the chance, not one of us would turn down the opportunity to own our own particular and unique designation in a world that is chock full of common ‘Residents’, and that’s without the pretty convincing justification that we created the world we choose to inhabit. SL was Philip’s baby, and if anyone had the right to be different to everyone else, it was he.
But, isn’t that essentially what we all strive for anyway, inworld?
If there is one word that quintessentially underpins SL, it is ‘customisation’: Right from day one in SL, we are in the business of customising our avatar. Skins, shapes, hairstyles, clothing, AO, gestures – each alteration, a concerted and deliberate attempt by ourselves to be different to those around us. Who doesn’t find themselves suppressing an inward shudder when confronted by a day-old noob, still wearing their stripey-shirted system avatar, as every aspect of our virtual being shrieks soundlessly: “Be different; be yourself; be unique!”, a mantra that we’ve adopted for ourselves beyond all others?
That same desire not to conform expands outwards from our avatars to our environment. We decorate our homes and our land to reflect our personality and our character, we purposely avoid doing what our neighbours are doing, asserting our right to impose our will upon our virtual surroundings, and if anyone should tell us it doesn’t look right, woe betide them! We are fortunate indeed, that SL provides us with such rich scope for diversity and the opportunity to modify, change and alter to our heart’s content. Without it, I don’t think we’d enjoy the place half as much.
Perhaps SL permits us something that is much harder to find in the real world – RL is, after all, a place where – on the whole – we tend to follow convention and conformity. We mostly live in communities of our peers, our homes and workplaces follow a common pattern and rationale; our clothing, even make-up and hairstyle, can be dictated by our profession and our circumstances. We speak, act and behave much as those around us do, and in the broadest sense, there is little really to distinguish us from anybody else.
No wonder that when we find a place where we can break those bonds and free ourselves from the constraints on our character and imagination that we face daily, we embrace it wholeheartedly… it’s a form of release that we might rarely have the means or the opportunity to experience in the real world!
In SL, we are all little demigods – creating, forming and transforming both ourselves and the world around us. We have both the power, and the right, to impose our will in a way that changes how the world works and how others perceive us, and that’s an extremely potent combination. And so we wield that power – we create avatars that are uniquely different to any other; we build landscapes that reflect our character and, just like Philip, we craft profiles that belong uniquely – and only – to us.
Say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
Men Without Hats – The Safety Dance