Social dynamics

The way that we interact with each other can be a complicated old thing, especially when in an environment as creative and diverse as Second Life, where cultures, individuality and personalities can collide far more frequently and, occasionally destructively, than they might do in a real world setting.

There’s a lot of emotional juggling that we have to do in order to stay on top of things, as well as a whole host of behaviour modifications that we often have to get to grips with ‘on the fly’, otherwise we run the risk of offending others, creating bad feeling and alienating ourselves from those with whom we share a social space. Then there’s the tension that exists between being authentic and true to yourself  or fitting in with the status quo – not something that I personally struggle with, since I’ll always do what comes naturally, even if some may feign offence at it, or alternatively, I’ll absent myself from the situation rather than affect a fake persona.

What can make things even trickier is that the rules we’re expected to follow are rarely written down or made explicit. There are, of course, global rules enshrined in the SL TOS and Community Standards, and general guidance that can be inferred from sim ratings, and we’ve all found ourselves at some time in a new location, being pestered by a persistent greeter imploring is to read the sim rules, nobody wants this to be the norm, and most of us would like our virtual lives to be unhindered by such draconian measures and left to moderate our own behaviors, using common sense and instinct, and the behavioral clues that can be picked up from those around us. Unfortunately, however, these can be often misleading and misunderstood, especially when context can change everything.

Take the example of a friend of mine who recently got a telling-off for inappropriate behaviour. The circumstances, in this case, were misleading – he was partying with a bunch of people whom he frequently partied with; behaving in a manner that – whilst it might raise eyebrows in some contexts – was the norm in that company especially in a party situation, and at any other time, nothing would have been said. So why the telling-off? It was a different club to the usual… Same people  same atmosphere, same reason for being there, but different venue with – apparently – different standards. He’d been caught out by assuming it was business as usual, because all the signs he was unconsciously seeing said so.

There’s a fine line to be drawn inworld between doing whatever you want – because this is SL – and holding back, because you don’t want to upset other people. And it’s so easy to fall foul of this, rather arbitrary distinction: Say the wrong thing out of context, decline someone’s offer of a dance or a freebie, not turn up for an event, fail to respond to an unsolicited IM or TP, being busy elsewhere when somebody wants your company, log out when you intended to, which just happens to coincide with someone wanting a chat… The list of potential tripwires is extensive, and so much of it can depend on the setting, the mood and not knowing what you’ve landed yourself into, that it’s amazing most of us manage to get on with each other, most of the time!

It’s can be a downward spiral too… Once we’ve tarred ourselves with the brush of being that person whose timing sucked and LOL’d right at the point the tragic news of someone’s death was announced, things always seem to go downhill: A joking comment gets interpreted as sarcasm, then your absence at the next gathering becomes suddenly noteworthy, and – before you know it – you’ve become a social pariah, scorned and reviled, and all because you accidentally caused offence when absolutely none was intended. We broke the unwritten, unspoken, unexplained rules, and we pay the price ten times over.

But, this is SL and we should be able to break the rules, even the ones that might cause offence. Unlike the real world, it’s a relatively simple matter to deal with things that we don’t particularly like – mute, block, derender and then carry on. Hell, I once muted half my friend’s list for weeks because all they would ever talk about was football!

SL is a great place for making friends, but it’s also a crazy melting pot for the forging of drama, grief and misrepresentation. I sometimes think that maybe we should occasionally step back, take a deep breath and remember that it’s all supposed to be fun – and maybe we should also take a good long look at ourselves while we’re at it, just in case we might have unintentionally broken the odd rule or two, and maybe offer a virtual olive branch of reconciliation.

Of course, if you’re like me, you probably did it on purpose… And there’s absolutely no hope for you!

s. x

I look to the future it makes me cry
And I just hope that you can forgive us
But everything must go… Go… Go… Go…
Chemical Brothers – Everything Must Go


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