Last night, for example, my feet were sore and aching, thanks to an unexpectedly long, and tiring walk. By the time I arrived home, all I wanted to do was get my shoes off, and put my feet up… Even the thought of walking to the kitchen to make a desperately needed cuppa, was a bit too much! Eventually, by the time I logged in to SL, after a couple of hours recovery time, food and copious amounts of tea, my energy levels were somewhat restored, but my feet were still protesting and it seemed that my avatar was sympathising.
Meeting up with some friends for a spot of socialising, the evening fell into a familiar pattern: chat, music and dancing, except on this occasion, I wasn’t dancing. Instead, I rezzed a chair and did some serious lounging instead. When asked what was up, my answer was simple – “My feet are tired” – and in my mind, it really did feel that my pixelated form just wasn’t up to jigging around, just like the real me on the other side of the keyboard.
It’s odd, because in the past I’ve spoken about how SL allows us the freedom to overcome real world limitations, and indeed, in my circle of friends, and all across the Grid, there are those who will testify to the enabling power of virtual life that permits us to overcome pretty much any worldly stricture, from illness and disability to age, ability and physical situation. Yet last night, I had aching feet, and so did my avatar, and that changed how I interacted inworld.
This happens to me frequently. Sometimes, it’s a case of cause and effect – if I’m tired or ill, that is likely to affect how I behave in SL, it’s logical that should be the case. However, there are other circumstances that my avatar will mirror real world things when really there’s no reason to do so, and if I was to follow my own philosophy, SL in those circumstances should be an enabler, allowing me to rise above my circumstances, rather than perpetuate them inworld. There was the time, for example, when I injured my arm and felt the need to make a virtual sling, which I then wore for the duration of my real world recuperation; and I know that I’m not the only person who sometimes feels this odd need to replicate real life in their online activities.
I suppose it could be a case of us feeling a little sorry for ourselves – a subtle attention-seeking exercise that makes others aware that we are suffering and would like a little sympathy: It’s a prompt, designed to elicit a caring enquiry into what’s up? Rather than the alternative of stomping into SL and forthrightly declaring, “I’m feeling a bit crap and want you to make me feel better”!
Whilst there may well be an element of that contained within our behaviour, I think it may be a more deeply-seated need that it could be fulfilling, especially for those of us who strongly identify with our virtual selves and who have been around SL for a number of years. I’d suggest that, outwardly, our avatar tends towards an idealised version of what the real person would like to be – the look, the style, the activities and the persona may be widely divergent from the real person behind the avatar, but it is essentially our fantasy self. However, particularly for those who’ve been part of SL for a while, there’s also a significant element of the real self that becomes part of the virtual self, so our avatar, although idealised, will not be perfect: It will have quirks and failings, inadequacies and issues, just like the real person – but there’s always the possibility that our avatar can become almost an entity in itself, a completely separated persona that we observe in the third person, rather than being an intrinsic part of what we have created. Consequently, we may feel the need to connect, on a very human level, with our creation in order to again become one with it.
So, our avatar gets sore feet and doesn’t feel like dancing.
It’s a connection on a very mundane, but very real, human, level – one that puts us squarely back under the skin of our avatar, allowing us to engage with the virtual environment at a level that goes beyond mere observer and re-establishes our connection as part of what we see unfolding on the screen in front of us.
But the sympathy can be welcome, too!
Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I’m on my knees
Looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?
The Killers – Human