Moonletters – Lacrimae Starsmith

Portrait of the writer as a young… erm, OK – just young!

Way back in the day, in the dim, distant and largely forgotten past, i was someone else.

Mae had her own blog and was still finding her feet in the strange virtual world of sl. Eventually, she settled down in a friendly sim named Penny Lane and made her home at Moonletters Town, becoming friends with Shauna Vella, then editor of Moonletters.com – now Moonletters X.

Shauna has no fear and offered Mae the chance to write a weekly article for the site – a terrifying, yet enjoyable challenge!

Scooters

Posted on August 20, 2010
BY FREELANCER LACRIMAE STARSMITH

Virtual worlds have their advantages, particularly when it comes to travel. Distance has little meaning in Second Life and unlike our real life equivalent, travel across town, or even continents, is reduced to a click of the teleport button . . . no queues, check-in, struggling with suitcases or problems at border controls, and then there’s the ease of travel itself. Gone are the problems of jetlag and dubious microwaved meals, and no more cramped knees and uncomfortable seats. Best of all, SL travel is almost instantaneous – what might take hours in real life is done in seconds – I’m not just talking about international travel either: relying on public transport or even driving across town can take an age in RL and leave us wound up, tired and jaded when we get to our eventual destination. So, it’s a big thumbs-up for SL travel from me.

Even short distances are a doddle – oh, to have the option to fly down the street in RL, what an improvement that would be (although, I’d have to improve my flying technique considerably before being let loose – I do seem to have a fondness for getting stuck in crevices of buildings, where I manage to give a credible imitation of a Bluebottle attempting, unsuccessfully, to escape the confines of a window!). Even better, if I’m feeling particularly lazy, I don’t even have to move from where I am. I can look at everything in a shop without moving from the front door, or send my camera down the road to see who’s in the pub, without getting up from my comfy sofa.

Considering the ease with which we can get about in SL, there are a remarkable variety of methods of transport available if we prefer to take a more prosaic approach to getting about. We can of course walk, run or fly, even swim if we choose, but we also have the option of putting our virtual feet up and using any number of ingenious methods of getting from A to B. I’ve come across a whole range of transportation in SL, not all of which I’ve tried yet, including trains, buses, cars, jet skis, boats, tube trains, planes and hot air balloons, and I’m pretty sure that’s just a small selection of the options available. However, all of these modes of transport pale into insignificance when considering that icon of transportation chic – the scooter.

I first came across scooters in SL as a relative newbie, and since then they’ve cropped up in quite a few places I’ve visited but it’s only recently I’ve plucked up the courage to try them out. I have to say here that I’ve discovered that my scooter skills are pretty much on a par with my flying . . . abysmal! Here’s a top tip – if, like me, you spend most of your time driving into walls and going round in circles, it’s far easier just to hang around by a scooter rezzer, looking wistful until some kind-hearted soul takes pity on you and offers to take you for a ride!

Scooters are perhaps some of the most fun you can have in SL without having to be age-verified. They’re quick and nippy, can fit through tiny gaps and you really get the feeling of the wind in your face and the smell of exhaust in your nose. The best thing of all about virtual scooters, though, is that you can fall off them, crash them, run people over and do the craziest things with them without any fear of getting injured, or even slightly bruised. I’d never go near a scooter in RL – I’m not one of those people who goes away on holiday and thinks that jumping on a dodgy old scooter with threadbare tyres, after a couple of jugs of sangria, is a good idea. Particularly after witnessing one poor chap come flying down a rather steep hill in Thailand – yes, he was actually flying in RL – closely followed by the scooter that he had, until seconds before, been securely seated upon . . . ouch!

I am pretty risk averse in RL, but SL gives me the opportunity to let my hair down and try all those things that I wouldn’t go near with the butt end of a very long barge pole, wearing boxing gloves in normal circumstances. Yes, in SL, I sneer at health and safety . . an overloaded scooter tearing along the pavement – and no crash helmet – is my idea of top fun, and I’m not even scared when Shauna’s driving (although I do close my eyes, sometimes!). In fact, why stop at scooters? SL gives boundless opportunities to try all of those mad, crazy things that cause us to seriously doubt people’s sanity in RL – bungee jumping, sky-diving, stock car racing, synchronised swimming, even visiting a BDSM club – they’re not only possibilities in SL, but without the danger of death, broken bones, drowning or getting stuck with a fat German bloke with a moustache and bad breath, who has a fetish for bananas and latex nappies, then what’s stopping us?

I like the fact that I can try things in SL that I’d never have the guts, or fitness, to even consider for real. Of course, they may be nothing like the real thing, but I’ll never know that – and ignorance, in this case, is nothing short of bliss.

Bring on the scooters, I say . . . and make mine a fast one, with lots of mirrors!

There Are Places I Remember

Posted on August 30, 2010
BY FREELANCER LACRIMAE STARSMITH

So begins one of the most poignant Beatles’ songs, (who can forget that scene from ‘The Tall Guy’?). It’s a song that plays in my head whenever I allow myself to have one of those moments of wistful, nostalgic melancholia that we’re all prone to occasionally. I guess it’s just one of those things that we have to get used to in life – things, places and people change and pass in, and out of our lives. Often all we have are our memories, often locked away until something brings them to the fore… sometimes a particuliar song will stir memories, or maybe something more esoteric – a location, a particular set of circumstances, or even a certain smell can bring them flooding back, as if it were only yesterday.

In its own way, Second Life mirrors reality in much the same way. I find that I can be caught at an off-guard moment wallowing in nostalgia . . . who doesn’t remember their very first login, that moment we first rezzed and the confusion and wonder of it all? Or perhaps that time we talked, or danced or played the night away, completely caught up in that perfect moment – something we’ll always look back on with a smile. For some, it’ll be memories of ‘the big day’: a partnership ceremony perhaps every bit as life-changing as a real marriage.

These are our Second Life treasures – things that can never be taken from us, that chart our journey through SL – the landmarks, the laughter and yes, the losses and sorrows too. You never know when a memory may surface, almost anything can be the trigger. In fact, many of us, I’m sure, deliberately keep mementos of the past for no other reason than they provide a link to our past – things that maybe we should forget, but somehow we feel the need to ocassionally bring them to mind. I’m sure I’m not the only person who keeps landmarks to places we’ll never go again. I have landmarks to places that no longer exist – and yet they still exist in my memories – just because they’re now ‘Abandoned land – property of Governor Linden’, doesn’t mean that, for me, they weren’t once special places.

Some landmarks I really should delete . . . locations that bring a lump to my throat when I think about what might have been, or events that happened there, or just incredibly happy times that, for a moment, were the best ever and now, are in the past. And yet, I can’t bring myself to delete them – they’re important to me and I never want to forget why.

There are other places I remember too: landmarks that I’ve kept, but I’ve no intention of visiting – blasts from my past that serve as a reminder to me that things weren’t always as they are now. These places remind me of a less than savoury, even sordid, past – nothing I’m proud of, unfortunately, but their very presence is a constant reminder to me of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed, and that in turn, brings to mind some of the people I’ve encountered along the way that have been instrumental in bringing about those changes.

I’m an avid profile reader – I even check profiles of people I meet on a daily basis for updates and changes, and you’d be amazed how often they do change! Sometimes tiny, almost insignificant changes, that speak volumes . . . but some things don’t change. I always feel a tinge of sadness when I see a profile that speaks of friends ‘no longer in SL’ or ‘lost to RL’. All too often it seems, these missing, but not forgotten people were once partners (and often, still are) of those in whose profiles they appear. It strikes me that there’s nothing sadder than losing a partner in SL – being cut off completely from someone you shared so much with, in such a meaningful way – and leaving SL is such a permanent thing. Of course, people leave SL for all sorts of reasons, some unavoidable, some unexplainable, but I do feel for those left behind and their need to keep the memory of that special person alive. I imagine many of us have been in the position, if only in RL, of trying to ‘hang on’ to an ex-partner – sometimes the memories never fade. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is to lose someone that you’re incredibly close to if they should choose to leave SL – how much harder than having an ‘ex’ must it be to have someone who simply no longer exists, except in our memories and those few, brief words in our profile?

Of course, there are many people who make a lasting impression in our lives but then move on, someone doesn’t have to leave SL to leave a gaping hole that we can never quite fill. I know from speaking to many friends that there have been people in their past that they’ve been exceptionally close to but, at some point, something happened and things changed. It’s odd how something can crop up in the most routine conversation that hits a raw nerve and reminds us of that person and the close friendship once shared – perhaps all the more difficult, knowing that out there, somewhere they are getting on with their SL and, who knows, maybe thinking of us too?

You may think I’m a sentimental fool but memories are precious to me – even the bad ones – after all as Laurence Olivier says in the Jazz Singer, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know where you’re going?” And I can guarantee that, when those memories spring to mind, whatever the trigger, I fully intend to indulge my wallowing in nostalgia – I think it’s good for the soul. It allows us to purge the less happy times, whilst reminding us that there have been some wonderful times too. It makes us realise that that, although change is inevitable, and sometimes difficult to bear, we prevail and so do our memories.

Of course, the present is hugely important – what we are doing right now, with the people around us is the most important thing in the world . . . but without the things, the places and the people from our past, we wouldn’t be where we are today or, for that matter, who we are today. So, if I may offer a small morsel of advice – never forget the past, instead, reflect on it, ponder it, celebrate it and re-live it but never, ever regret it. The past is what it is, we can’t change it, although it may have changed us. Let’s accept it for what it is and never be afraid to let it have its place in our present.

Necessity is The Mother of Invention

Posted on September 3, 2010
BY FREELANCER LACRIMAE STARSMITH

At least that’s what I’ve always been told, and I suppose that over the years it’s something that we may well have proved to ourselves time and time again. Whether it’s the emergency remedy for a wardrobe misfunction, (stapling your hem when the stitching goes, just before that big interview . . . the judiciously applied sellotape/chewing gum, when you realise just how revealing that new party top has suddenly become!) or the urgent disaster relief effort. I have a friend who once realised they’d run out of onions just as the guests were arriving for dinner. The solution? Chunks of apple, rubbed with garlic, and nobody noticed!

Then there’s the little inventive solutions to practical problems that we all have, solutions that work so well, we never get round to a ‘proper’ fix – the ‘special’ book that we use for that wobbly table leg because it’s the perfect thickness; the length of string and bit of twisty wire that keeps the garden gate shut. All inventive solutions to life’s little problems.

When it comes to inventive solutions, Second Life citizens have a quite remarkable ability to find clever ways of using their imagination to make our world a better place. It’s not only necessity that’s the mother of invention, but the desire to have an ever better and richer in-world experience, which drives creativity and ingenuity to ever greater levels of excellence. Perhaps this is why when things do go awry, there’s such a strong reaction from the SL community – the negative reactions to Viewer 2 (and the subsequent ‘upgrade’), for example – it seems we want quality and have little tolerance for mediocrity.

I don’t have the benefit of a long history in SL to fall back on but many of you I’ve spoken to have been around for a while and, I’m pleased to say, still haven’t lost the sense of wonder at just what is now possible in SL. I’ve been told how sculpted prims have paved the way for greater realism (at a lower prim ‘cost’), how ever more sophisticated integration with the web has brought richer content to the Grid and how things that were just a pipe-dream not so long ago are now the stuff of everyday experience. I’m sure that if I could TP back to the early days of SL, I’d be shocked by just how far we’ve come and it makes me wonder where we will be in the future.

What surprises me though, is that much of this innovation comes from the everyday users of SL, not high-powered developers sat in swish offices with the latest in hi-tech equipment and degrees in programming. Ordinary people who use their experience and imagination to tweak settings, play with textures and give up hours of their time and energy to creating new and exciting ways to experience SL. It’s a mystery to me how they do it – when I’m faced with the ‘edit’ menu, it’s about all I can do to manipulate the odd bit of furniture, or create a simple object (I made a pizza the other day – I’m so proud of it!). As for the complexities of building and – it gives me goose-pimples to even think of it – debugging, I’m lost. Nevertheless, it’s the incredible tenacity of these people, in conjunction with their boundless enthusiasm and insatiable curiosity that continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in SL – and I salute them!

I’ve pondered what drives people to be so inventive and lately I’ve realised that, unconsciously, that very process of inventiveness has been stirring in my own SL and, no doubt, the same is true for most people. It starts when you begin to realise that things need to change – perhaps your appearance, maybe your immediate surroundings and, as you start to make changes, you face little challenges. Objects that don’t fit, things that don’t quite look right . . . and so we start to experiment – we move, stretch, re-texture, until we like what I see. Then we start to play . . . what does that option do? How does that menu work? Then we run out of prims, and so starts the process of trying to do the same thing in an alternative way.

As time goes on, through curiosity and trying to meet the need of necessity, I’m starting to learn new things and I’m pushing the limits of my own abilities and creativity and now, I’m starting to realise just how addictive this process is, and I’m wondering what further possibilities there may be, still to explore…

No wonder SL continues to expand and amaze in both size and content. With hundreds of thousands of us pushing beyond our horizons and exploring the possibilities, the potential is unlimited! So I shall continue my efforts and encourage you all to be curious, inquisitive and adventurous at whatever level of skill you may be – whether an absolute beginner like me, or an expert, like those who create inspiring SL art and magical sims – and together, let’s make SL even more amazing than it already is!

Home Sweet Home

Posted on September 17, 2010
BY FREELANCER LACRIMAE STARSMITH

According to some psychologists (most notably, Maslow), in order to achieve any degree of satisfaction in life there are certain fundamental human needs that must be met before we can go on to achieve our higher goals. These, at their most basic, include, food, warmth and shelter. I think it would be hard to argue against that thesis in real life, but it’s interesting to consider whether there are corresponding needs in a virtual world.

I think we can dismiss food and warmth as being necessary for our wellbeing in Second Life – they’re obviously surplus to our requirements, but what about shelter and its role in a pixellated reality? It’s not as bizarre a premise as it may at first seem – after all, a huge amount of energy, effort, time and lindens (not to mention real, hard cash) is expended in the creation of dwellings in SL and it must surely beg the question, ‘why?’

Certainly there’s the aesthetic element along with the need, perhaps, to create an environment that is both familiar and comfortable. There’s also the understandable desire to replicate great architecture and familiar landmarks, but does that explain why such a large proportion of the SL community is geared towards creating, furnishing and, of course, inhabiting virtual homes?

If I consider my own position, it’s changed somewhat over time. When I joined SL I had no need, or indeed desire to have a ‘home’ of any sort, I couldn’t really see any point – for a long time, I was content to simply take advantage of what was readily available around me. If I wanted somewhere quiet to change or try on new clothes, I rarely had difficulty finding a suitable place, neither did I particularly struggle to find a quiet and convenient spot to be alone. Certainly I toyed with the idea of a home but I never seriously considered getting into the property market. In fact, it was months before I eventually put down my roots . . . primarily a joint venture with my partner at the time. Since then I’ve been made ‘homeless’, rented a motel room at Penny Lane, and most recently, acquired a room at Moonletters HQ.

How then do I feel about having a living space in SL? Well, there are very real practical advantages, of course – it’s always useful to have somewhere with a degree of privacy: a place to get changed, to have a private moment with a special friend or partner, a place to provide a haven from the ratrace and the often demanding nature of SL activities. Although, as I’ve indicated, there’s little difficultly in finding somewhere to undertake these things but, privacy is never completely assured when you’re using a ‘public’ area and there have been unfortunate occasions when I’ve gatecrashed others, completely ruining their moment of privacy! Now that I’ve had places of my own, I can appreciate the benefits of having somewhere that I can use any time, as often as I want, for whatever purpose I have – without being interrupted or ousting anybody else. There are also sound practical benefits to having a ‘home location’ set. Gone are the days when I login, only to find myself in somebody’s house just as they’re enjoying breakfast, simply because I happened to be there for supper the night before! (It’s the uncomfortable and embarrassing feeling of staying the night, when you really had no intention to so).

These practicalities aside, a home can provide us with a canvas upon which we can express ourselves in the way in that we make our SL living space a home. I have a friend who has kitted out their home as an homage to the 1950′s, another whose place is a psychadelic fantasy. Some homes are simple, some extravagant, depending on the character of their residents. Be it Victorian chic or American kitsch, our homes provide us with a space, where SL can become our own personal playground. A place that we can indulge our personality and individual style, where we can show off as brash exhibitionists or embrace frugal minimalism . . . our very own private space to be ourselves.

I’d tentatively suggest that it may go even further – do we indeed have a deep-seated psychological, even physiological need for shelter in SL? I think many of us do. We need a safe haven and a place where in this mad, crazy world we can find a sense of our own identity, a place that asserts our uniqueness and right to be ourselves. Somewhere that, wherever else we may roam in SL, we can always return to and know that we have come home.

Brave New World

Posted on September 24, 2010
BY FREELANCER LACRIMAE STARSMITH

 

‘O brave new world, that has such people in it’ – the words that spontaneously fall from the lips of John the savage, quoting from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ as he experiences the technological wonder and cultural sophistication of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. A phrase heavy with irony, since that same world was to eventually dismay, baffle, disgust and challenge him, ultimately to the point of self-destruction.

Huxley’s world is a dystopia – a world where consumerism rules supreme and life is valueless, where ‘living’ is replaced by ‘existing’ and the most meaningful experiences are those which have no intrinsic meaning. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of this world is the blissful happiness of its inhabitants, for whom conforming, consuming and copulating are the self-perpetuating, ritualistic machinations of a totally contrived quasi-nirvana.

I must confess that there have been times that, I too, have thought of Second Life in much the same manner as John the savage – I’ve seen and experienced things that have astonished me by their technological and creative audacity. I’ve honestly felt that SL could be a brave new world, where almost anything is possible . . . a place where imagination and experience collide and combine to create ever more wonder and incredulity. A place where it is possible for people to express themselves creatively in all manner of diversity and to display their uniqueness in every way, be it how they look, move, dress or act.

Digging a little deeper though, I have found things that concern me, things that baffle, dismay, challenge and even disgust me.

In this brave new world, there are things that disturb me – echoes of a hidden dystopia, masquerading as something it’s not, lurking in the background, ready to lure unsuspecting residents into its clutches. It’s not always easy to spot it – it takes objectivity to do so and because of the insidious way it works, those most affected are those least likely to have that objectivity and have convinced themselves that all is right with the world.

Let me give you a specific example:

There is a club that, in the past, I frequented regularly – I don’t go there any more because I don’t have any reason to, and I grew terribly bored of it, however, I did pop back there recently for a short time, purely to research this article. It’s a nice place, very popular and well-known, but it has the most peculiar atmosphere and, to an outside observer, the behaviour of the people who go there is most striking. Typically, people just stand around, pretty much in silence – there’s no banter in open chat, apart from the odd sarcastic comment, or the occasional, plaintive appeal, “is anybody going to speak?” I’m sure that there are IMs flitting between people but I suspect that much of the time, little is ever being said. People just stand there, sometimes for hours, often in the same spot, day after day . . . and nothing ever happens.

It’s a depressing place – you get the feeling that no-one wants to be there but something compels them to go. I’m sure that half of the people there are desperately seeking some sort of human contact, vainly hoping they’ll strike lucky, whilst the remaining half are predators, seeking out the weak and needy, hoping for a quick fix, before moving on to a new victim – it’s an uneasy and fragile status quo. When I visited, nothing had changed, I even recognised a few names from months ago, all standing silently – for all I know, that’s all they ever do . . . never moving, never speaking, content just to be existing – but is it living, even in the SL sense?

I see evidence too of Huxley’s consumerist society – perhaps not in the commercial sense, but certainly in the sense that many of us have a need to use and be used. In a way, there is a whole segment of SL society that is intent on consuming the lives, time and talents of other residents. I saw a profile the other day which stated ‘I’m not interested in you unless you can emote well’ – this kind of self-serving arrogance is simply consumerism in an extremely base form; it says to me, ‘I don’t see you as a person – you are just something I want to use’. This type of consumerism is surely only a short step from the use-once-and-throw-away society – ‘once I’ve used you, you are worthless to me’. What does that say about the perceived value of the person being used, or for that matter, the values system of the user?

Is it surprising that things we wouldn’t tolerate in real life are perfectly acceptable in SL – for example, slave markets? Yes, there are places where you can buy people to use and abuse as you see fit, like disposable accessories off the supermarket shelf. Oh, but it’s consensual, is the standard retort – just because it’s consensual, does that make it right, or acceptable?

This brave new world of SL for which we are custodians is a potential Utopia – but let us not forget that there is far more to our virtual world than self-gratification and personal satisfaction. Fundamentally, SL is about people – unique individuals with feelings and needs – we are not worthless, faceless clones and nothing should ever be allowed to change that.

The Fool On The Hill

Posted on September 26, 2010
BY FREELANCER LACRIMAE STARSMITH

 

Misfits, square pegs in round holes, dropouts . . . ever felt that you just haven’t found your niche in society? Or maybe you feel that the world around you has changed and you haven’t?

I suppose it comes to us all at some point or another in our lives – perhaps during a rebellious teenage phase, or maybe circumstances or events in our life make us somehow ‘different’ to those around us. Such is the nature of real life – it tries to pigeonhole us or mould us into uniformity even when we simply don’t, or won’t, conform.

Whether through choice or otherwise, this can leave us in the uncomfortable position of being an outsider, and it can be a lonely place to be. Like the fool on the hill, we sit and watch the world going round, without really feeling a part of it – whilst others stop and stare, not understanding us and perhaps unwilling to attempt to connect with us.

What then of Second Life? Well, I know, from many conversations I’ve had with a variety of people, that there are a good number of us ‘misfits’ who seek refuge in SL, (I probably can include myself in that category), and for whom SL provides a place to belong or, conversely, allows us to truly be ourselves. One of the great merits of SL is that, whatever your niche, no matter how obscure or ‘different’ you may feel your own particular ‘foolishness’ to be, you can find your own particular haven in SL and, quite possibly, a group of like-minded people who share your own foibles and feelings. Even if you can’t find somewhere that uniquely fits your own perspective, there’s nothing to stop you creating your own personally tailored ‘me-space’. In fact, whatever your own personal space is , be it one-legged dwarf fairies or universal misanthropy, you’ll no doubt find that there’s at the very least a group devoted to it (a social networking group for misanthropists? Only in SL!), and maybe even a whole host of locations tailored to your own specific needs.

SL is incredibly inclusive – we are allowed, even encouraged, to be who we ‘really’ are . . . again, another interesting concept: being our real selves in a virtual world. This is in stark contract to the real world, where we are forced to compartmentalise and internalise our true selves, or face the prospect of being misunderstood, avoided, perhaps even persecuted and almost always left to cope on our own, expected to ‘get a grip’.

Perhaps we may feel that we don’t fit properly into the real world (although that may be something we will only ever admit to ourselves) but, in SL we can not only find the opportunity to fit in but can do so openly and without fear of being treated as outcasts, or of separating ourselves and becoming remote from the world around us. In SL, we are able to find, or create, a me-shaped space, into which we fit perfectly. I’m sure this is the case for almost everybody – I’ve only ever come across one person in SL that felt it was impossible to find a way to fit in and, after some consideration, I’m almost that was their own self-imposed choice and not because SL couldn’t accomodate them. In my own experience, SL is a great enabler and empowers us – it frees us from the contraints that RL imposes upon us physically, mentally and emotionally. Speaking personally, SL has allowed me to open doors that I have deliberately slammed shut and double-locked in RL, because of my life experiences: who knows, in time, positive SL experiences may provide me with a key that may unlock some of those doors again in RL?

That seems to be to be a sort of Holy Grail – maybe there will come a time for many of us that SL, through its power to enable and its potential to set us free from those things that in RL constrain us and alienate us – the things that we so often keep hidden and safely away from prying eyes. Could it be that, with the propensity that SL has to let us be who we ‘really’ are, the fool on the hill might become their own person and have the last laugh, after all?

Freedom

Posted on October 6, 2010
BY WRITER LACRIMAE STARSMITH

My recent Brave New World article prompted some interesting feedback and it seems that there are some readers for whom my subject matter touched upon some significant areas of concern. It’s good to know that there are Second Life users who take a critical and thoughtful view with regard to SL as opposed to taking the position that we have to accept everything that SL offers, ‘warts and all’, even if we find some aspects of our virtual world distasteful, or even unacceptable.

I was surprised to find that some of the most thought-provoking responses I received were from people in the roleplaying community. I’m no expert on the subject and much of the concept of roleplay is completely lost on me – perhaps I need to broaden my horizons! – however there’s a strong suggestion that for those who take roleplay seriously, there is a real underlying concern that, for the unscrupulous, SL carries a wealth of possibilities for dominating, controlling and manipulating others – with or without their consent. Maybe for those for whom roleplay is a big part of the SL experience, the need to trust other participants, whilst preserving one’s own autonomy (even if the ‘giving up’ of that autonomy is an implicit part of the roleplay being undertaken) and the right to exercise our own freedom of choice is of paramount importance.

I don’t want to be a spoilsport and ruin people’s fun – in fact, that’s the very last thing I’d want to do – SL is, after all, a environment where we can safely explore our fantasies, creativity and even push our limits, if we choose to do so. This can be an enlightening and even educational experience. However the emphasis has to lie with the word ‘safely’ – with the freedom to explore the potential that a virtually unrestricted environment offers also comes a degree of personal responsibility not to abuse that privilege, particularly when to do so restricts, or removes, the freedom of others.

Sadly, it is all too easy to take advantage of others in SL, under many different pretexts particularly when those with limited experience or who are less able to protect themselves come into contact with more experienced, more savvy and predatory members of SL society. The ease with which a person can be ‘used’ (and abused) by another is astonishing and I’m sure that many of us can testify to situations where we ourselves, or friends, have fallen victim to another, or had a near miss.

I’ve seen countless profiles pointing out that there’s a real person behind the avatar, one who deserves to be treated decently – surely it should be unnecessary to state such an obvious fact? And there you have it in a nutshell: there are those in SL who need to be reminded that every single one of us, however we choose to represent our online persona, is a real person, with feelings, needs and the freedom to be ourselves, and not what anyone else would have us be. I’m sure that there are many people for who SL is just a game but there are just as many for whom it is a means of escape from the real world and the reasons may range from simple escapism to a much needed retreat from the pressures and problems of real life; indeed SL may provide the safe haven that some people may need in order to simply cope with the realities of their lives.

These are amongst the vulnerable in SL, along with the naïve thrill-seekers, the gullible and the easily led. The people for whom SL offers freedom to be who they want to be, or who they really are and the freedom to explore their own emotions and psyche in ways that cannot be pursued in RL – and there are those in SL who seek to exploit the vulnerable, often under the guise of ‘caring’, ‘training’ or friendship. I can speak from experience…

In my early days in SL, a time when I was exploring some of the alternative lifestyles that SL makes possible, I was befriended by a man who offered to mentor and help me. After a relatively short period of time, I found myself in a position where this person was attempting to control me beyond the point I was prepared to go – and yet, because I was inexperienced, unsure of my feelings and even a little fearful, I played along. I had a lucky escape – the day came when I was almost talked into being ‘collared’ by him . . . all good, clean fun, if that’s your thing, but it wasn’t mine. The alarm bells started to ring when he insisted I allowed him permission to locate me and have control of my objects, and then I looked more closely at what he was asking me to agree to: if I wore his collar, I’d be unable to remove it; he’d have access to my conversations; he could forbid me from TP’ing; he could make me assume any pose he wanted; he could blank my screen and cut off my sound, effectively rendering me both blind and deaf, at his whim.

That was when I realised how important my freedom is to me and it scared me how close I had come to not only giving up my freedom but allowing someone else to have complete control of me. I wonder how many there are in SL who realised too late what they were letting themselves in for?

My example is perhaps a little extreme but it’s a salutary tale that we can’t ignore – except in the most defined and exceptional circumstances, is this the kind of thing that should be allowed in SL? In particular, is SL such a tolerant society that we allow the giving up of an individual’s freedom and basic human rights with such ease and often under the guise of ‘pleasure’?

As I’ve said, I’ve no wish to deny people their right, or indeed their freedom, to indulge in whatever practices they choose in SL – but I would argue long and hard that some decisions should not be able to be so easily taken, without proper and rational consideration – and without pressure or coercion – and that those in our virtual world for whom freedom is a real luxury should be protected from those who would seek to steal it.

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