If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

It never ceases to surprise me how simple it is to to confuse us poor, easily-bemused human beings. Often, all it takes is to put us into a mildly unfamiliar situation and we’re instantly rendered incapable of drawing logical conclusions or making rational decisions, and even the most confident of us can become gibbering imbeciles when faced with something outside only a very narrow field of perception.

Picture the scene: I’m sat at a table, in a restaurant, enjoying a quiet drink while I wait for my meal. In front of of me is one of those slotted plastic menu holders, into which has been inserted a large, folded card containing a list of the meals and accompaniments available for customers to order. To avoid any possible confusion, the front of the card clearly bears the legend – in capital letters, no less – ‘MENU’.

Cue the arrival of a gentleman who, in passing, stops next to my table, looks at said card for a moment, and then says the following: “Excuse me, is that a menu?”

We’ve all done it though, haven’t we? Asked the stupid question, made a completely irrational decision, or made an idiotic choice, simply by virtue of the fact that we’re in an unfamiliar situation. Commonsense, rationality and intelligent thought steps out to lunch, allowing the work-experience boy to take over the running of our brain.

It’s the reason you’ll find people getting hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar town because they’ve decided the most sensible method of navigation is to wander around aimlessly, or to follow a random vehicle, simply because ‘they seem to know where they’re going’. It’s the reason we’ll select our train platform, bus or flight departure gate, simply because there’s a lot of people waiting there – it must be the right one – rather than seeking out an appropriate source of information; and it’s the justification for taking a particular course of action when we don’t really know what to do, because ‘it feels like the right one’.

How the human race managed to evolve to become the apex species on the planet eludes me; sometimes I wonder how on earth we managed to survive past breakfast, because in evolutionary terms, when it comes to coping with unfamiliar challenges,  ‘survival of the thickest’ is really a very poor strategy!

It does however go some way towards explaining some of the scenarios we see in SL: Things that those who consider themselves established residents make a point of being critical about. Those of us for whom our own noobhood is but a distant memory tend to mock those who are a newcomers without even considering that their ineptitude might be the typical human reaction to a completely novel situation.

The classic noob conversation starter on blundering into a new location: ‘What is this place? ‘, rather than the rather more sensible ‘hi, what’s going on here?’, is a product of the typical sense of bemusement that we feel in RL when we wander into an unexpected situation where our brain has to rapidly assimilate what’s going on and make sense of it, whilst simultaneously attempting to keep ourselves out of trouble. The result is often a quasi-intelligent response, awkwardly expressed – ‘Is that the menu?’.

Similarly, a noob blundering into our company, with little understanding of how they got there, or any virtual social skills or experience, is going to blurt out the first quasi-sensible question that may aid them in understanding what exactly is going on… ‘What is this place?’

Invariably, our response tends to fall into one of three standard formats: Ignore, humour or help, but – bearing in mind the circumstances – maybe the proper response should be a more literal one? Surely, for the noob overwhelmed by the sheer confusionality of SL, the complexity of the viewer, and the complex weirdness of the visual, aural and experiential stimuli that bumbling around in SL tends to produce, the most appropriate and helpful response would be a completely literal one…

‘What is this place?’

‘Good evening stranger. You have happened upon a virtual representation of a typical British public house, and these peculiarly attired and seemingly impossibly beautiful people you see around you are the virtual manifestations of a bunch of fairly average people as they wish they really were’

or, alternatively…

‘Welcome, brave explorer – this is the Matrix, or at least the closest you’re likely to come to it on a laptop. None of what you see is real, but it will nonetheless feel as if it is, and the further down the rabbit hole you go, the less real reality will become, the more real the virtual will feel, and the more compelled to pronounce that you know karate you will feel.’

Alright, maybe that’s not quite as helpful as it might be, but it certainly does frighten off those damn noobs far more effectively than any other method I’ve found!

s . x

Standing on an island
In the middle of the road.
Traffic either side of me,
Which way will I go?
The Kinks – State Of Confusion


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