Saturday, December 8, 2007

Love Me, Love My Alt?

For those women who liken being in SL to playing with virtual Barbies, it may interest you to know that I play with not one, but two Barbies. Yes, I have an alt (technically I have two, but only one really gets much attention and the other one lies on the closet floor with her polyester hair all tangled). While lots of people in SL have alts, for a variety of reasons, they are sometimes regarded with well-founded suspicion.

Originally, Island Girl was created to work; I had ideas about creating and selling something in SL, and as Roisin I was mainly a social creature. Being able to build things in SL requires concentration and solitude, and I have a nice list of friends who want to include me in such fun as impromptu parties on open hillsides. Island Girl wouldn’t have friends; she would go in world to create undisturbed.

Of course, the aesthete in me couldn’t just leave her in a default avatar, so I made her pretty; mostly I tried to find quality freebies, but I spent a few Lindens on good hair and shoes. I did let a few friends know I was making an alt, but I tried not to reveal her name. I did mention to a friend—I’ll call him Tech—that she is partly Polynesian, though—and his ears perked up. We had talked of working together; he would build and script, and I—or she—would write the instructions. I told him her name, and let him add her as a friend.

Fast forward a couple of months. I no longer see either Sparky or Jet; and in one case, that can be blamed on an alt, a man who created at least two avis in order to catch his RL wife cheating. Hence the aforementioned suspicion—the idea that the newbie you just met may have a typist you’ve talked to through another avi gives many of us the creeps and warrants a good bit of caution. You really never know who you’re talking to.

Given that discomfort, I do have a rule: my alts are not allowed to interact with people who know Ro, except with those who have been informed that they’re talking to my alt. I am, generally, more comfortable in the skin of Roisin. Ro looks somewhat like my typist and has established a life in SL. What RL information I reveal as Ro is my truth; Ro’s personal history is the same as that of her typist.

It turns out that as Ro, I’ve actually been able to do some work, selling my RL photos as framed prints in SL. I decided to explore a little as Island Girl, though, just for fun, on some days when most of my friends weren’t in world. Tech saw Island Girl online and began chatting with her. Slowly, Tech and IG have started to spend more time together. She has begun to accumulate the trappings of a social creature: ball gowns, more hairstyles, jewelry.

As both Ro and Island Girl, I find myself exploring concepts of identity. One of my friends referred to Island Girl as Ro in a Hawaiian Halloween costume. I have to disagree; I feel like a different person when I travel in SL as Island Girl. We speak of each other in the third person; she has even been known to make snarky comments about me. Tech knows he’s talking to the same typist, but he understands the role play and treats each avi as a separate person.

Of course, even Ro, as established a persona as she is, can only be a partial projection of her typist’s personality. Island Girl brings out yet another side of her typist, but she needs a personal history that differs from mine; her ethnicity alone (Hawaiian/Japanese/Mexican/Irish) necessitates a different background. As Ro settles into working on projects and maintaining established friendships in SL, does Island Girl now become the more social personality? And how does she maintain the separation from Ro as she grows into her new self?

It’s an interesting exploration.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Just Following the Crowd For a Moment

Well, that's a relief.

cash advance

There really is another post brewing...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soft Day

Fog settles low
enfolding the rawness
of newly formed wounds

The branches of autumn trees,
laid bare
and braving the season’s new chill
Leaves yellow, crumple,
fall to the ground,
wetly melt into the earth.

A soft day,
until the sun pushes through
a burning glare
stripping away the blankets,
here to heal
to reveal some possible truth
to keep the slashed hillside from staying
mired in the fog

© 2007 Roisin Hotaling

(Inspired by events in SL, and by a RL trip to the coast to process them)

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Big Reveal

You choose a name. It might be similar to your real name, or it might not. You create an avatar. He or she might look a lot like your real self, or might not. You begin to make friends in SL, people whose real names you don’t know. Unless you’re completely immersed in role play, you probably tell them a lot about your real life: your family, your work, where you live. Eventually you might tell them your real first name.

If you are trying to keep your real identity under wraps you may think just providing your first name is safe; but if you’ve provided enough other information, it may not be too difficult for a resourceful person to find you in cyberspace. Adam gave me his real name, email address, and website address quite readily. As a woman, I was more cautious—or so I thought. Adam knew my city, and what I do in RL. After I told him my real first name, I realized that he might have everything he needed to find me in RL. I did a quick search with Google using my first name, what I design, and my city: lo and behold, there I was.

Sparky did something similar. He told me his first name. He had also posted a link to a website in his SL profile. On that website is an email link to contact the webmaster—whose first name is the same one Sparky gave me. He verified that I had found him; we had developed some trust by then, so it wasn’t a problem. But just knowing his name and city allowed me to find quite a few references to his work, and—the most unnerving of all—his home address and phone number.

There are myriad other ways you might provide enough personal data to reveal your RL identity. It didn’t even cross my mind, when I emailed my friend Jet a document written in Word, that the file info for that document had my real name in it—because when you set up those programs on your computer, they ask for that information and add it to every file you create, unless you make sure that setting is turned off. Never mind that Roisin has an email account separate from her typist, set up to protect her identity; the attached document gave me away.

Of course, those are accidental reveals; but you might want to exchange RL information with an SL friend deliberately. At what point do you make that decision? How much in-world chatting is enough to feel safe telling someone your real name? And then do you take the SL-to-RL crossover to phone numbers, MySpace, business websites, exchanging photos of your RL self, webcams, even meeting in RL?

Since I try to keep a membrane between SL and RL, I don’t intentionally give out RL info too readily. Oh, sure, there’s a photo of my RL self in my SL house, but to me that’s fairly harmless. And with Sparky and Jet, I have an understanding that any personal information we have shared or discovered is strictly to satisfy our curiosity; our friendships remain confined to SL and MSN. While we can use MSN to hear each other’s voices or see each other via webcam, we do so sparingly.

That’s not to say that I’ve never become RL friends with someone I met online; I met one of my closest RL friends in an online birding chat room some 14 years ago. And if I found myself in the towns where some of my SL friends live, we might meet at a RL coffee house. But I have no travel plans.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Poetic Interlude

While the next blog is percolating, I thought I'd share something my typist wrote a long time ago:


Whenever I hear sounds

that make my stomach


I think of him…

With his hands skittling

Like water on a hot griddle

Over the strings…

A metaphor

Which would probably

electrocute him

if he knew

I thought it.

© 1977 Roisin's Typist

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Tiptoes Along the Balance Beam

There are probably as many reasons for ‘living’ in Second Life as there are residents. Some come for creative opportunity, others to try to make a buck. Henrik Bennetsen has boiled down SL residents into four basic Archetypes; most of us seem to fit into some combination of these. Although I have some creative aspirations, I am mainly a Socializer with a smattering of Philosopher (hence the blog). My friends in SL are the most valuable part of being there; all the cute virtual shoes and Juke Joints in the world wouldn’t make up for losing my closest in-world friends if they disappeared.

That said, SL friendships are different from Real Life friendships, right? With a few exceptions, we don’t know what our SL friends really look like, whether they make eye contact, or if they have bad breath or annoying tics. Ideally those things shouldn’t matter; after all, we’ve made what feels like a real connection based primarily on our words and minds. We know the sexy avatars we’ve made are idealized, even if some people have attempted to make their avis look as much like their RL selves as possible. Would we be friends in RL if we met? Would the sexual attractions we feel still exist?

Speaking of romantic attractions, I hadn’t planned on having any. My first six weeks or so in SL I was adamantly platonic, to the point of stating it in my profile in hopes of discouraging a few overly persistent suitors. If you had told me in June that by now I would have had romantic encounters with three different men I’d have thought you were several cards short of a full deck.

I’m not alone on that path, either; several friends who initially did not come to SL in search of love have found themselves in full blown SL relationships, with all the attendant longing, excitement, laughter, arguments, pain, lust, guilt, and jealousy. Even those of us who are happy with our RL partners find ourselves immersed in infatuation with someone in SL who shares our interests or seems to understand us in a way our RL partners don’t.

Of course, if two people who meet in SL are single in RL, there’s no reason, once they’ve established some trust, to keep the relationship strictly in SL. But what if both parties have RL partners? What if only one of them is partnered in RL?

My first such liaison in SL was with a man who is single in RL, and desperately wanted to find someone to share his life. He was dismayed to learn that I am married in RL. Any mention of my RL partner sent “Adam” into a funk. On good days, he talked of meeting in RL, despite the 2600 miles between our respective homes (not to mention my marital status). It was turbulent and frustrating, and not what I came to SL for.

The dissolution of that relationship, discussions with friends, and the evolution of a very special friendship with a man I’ll call Sparky (who is also married in RL) have led me to a short set of guidelines for SL relationships, not only for happiness within SL, but especially for balancing SL romantic relationships with RL.

First, both parties should be either single or partnered. If one person is single, he or she is far too likely to want to connect with the SL partner in RL. When both parties come from the same RL status, they are closer to equal footing as to the line between RL and SL.

Second, both parties should be in agreement as to how much time they can spend in SL and how much of that time is together. Adam had an SL girlfriend with whom he ‘lived,’ but when I met him she wasn’t spending much time in world and he claimed she didn’t always answer his IMs. Of course, that excuses neither of us for what was, essentially, SL infidelity; but why be in a monogamous relationship with someone who can’t be in world with you on a regular basis?

Third, your SL relationship should be an addition to your RL, not a substitute for it. Don't take the risk of replacing your RL partner's affections with those of your SL squeeze.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. Obviously, that isn’t comprehensive….and I haven’t even touched on the ethical issues of online romance, or of polyamory within SL. As always, your mileage may vary. And if you have any guidelines you’ve developed that help you keep your balance, feel free to share.

Monday, September 3, 2007

If you dance with me once, does that make you my friend?

After nearly three months in Second Life, I have a bunch of people on my Friends (or, as it’s called now, Contacts) list. Some are close friends, including that “special friend” who tickles my mind and makes my heart soar and my thighs tremble. Others are people I met once, maybe in a sandbox or at a favorite dance club. One is a musician who, I think, added me in a fit of self-promotion.

It’s handy to have the people you care about on your Friends list; you can know when they’re in world to take a ‘phone call,’ and in a few rare cases can even see where they are in world. With some friends who are coupled, I know, when I see that they’re both online, to let them call me, as I might be interrupting a date if I send one of them an IM. Others send me a ding the second they see me online, and still others never call me at all.

Thinking back on how they all landed in my virtual phone book, there seems to be a pattern: avatar sees avatar, avatar engages in public chat with avatar (maybe), avatar talks to avatar in IM (possibly during a session on some dance poseballs), avatar sends an Add Friend request. People who just see me at someplace like the Juke and send me a request without even talking to me first are summarily dismissed.

Of course, the first Add Friend requests came floating my way on Help Island, starting with an Italian guy calling himself Porky. I immediately realized this was going to be an international crowd, as I overheard some other guy nearby said he was from China. Hmmm…might SL provide a good opportunity to practice my Spanish? Then I befriended a woman named Icat in the freebie store. What fun: another potential fashionista with whom I could compare notes!

Of course, as time went on and I made more friends, I noticed that neither Porky nor Icat ever showed up online when I was there—and I was there a LOT. Neither did half the other people who added me as friends in the early days. Yeah, I practiced my Spanish a little, and a smattering of German once. As the list grew, I learned to delete people I hadn’t seen for a month, or people I really couldn’t talk to easily. I learned to select friends carefully, with a conversation that lasted more than 10 minutes—or, preferably, several lengthy separate conversations. While there are still a few people on the list who are really more acquaintance than friend, I will eventually winnow them out too. But I will say that if Sasha Memotech ever shows up in world again when I’m there, honey, I’d love another chat dance, OK?

So what really makes someone a friend in SL? Do you have rules for adding people? How many people are on your list? How many of those are you REALLY close to? Discuss.

EDIT: A few people who are DEFINITELY my friends but don't call often have expressed concern that I might delete them....don't worry, it's the people who talk to me ONCE who eventually get jettisoned, and I wait quite a while to do it. Didn't mean to cause my less chatty pals anxiety!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Aquawoman Begins a New Journey

While I hardly think Second Life needs yet another fashion blog, I'm having such fun exploring the world of fashion, design, and building in SL that I can't resist starting my own little journal. I don't yet know where I'm going to go with this; I have a lot of thoughts dancing in my head about SL design and about how SL designers package their products. And, although I characterize myself as a fashionista, it isn't all about clothes and jewelry and shoes. Homes, furniture, animations, land, you name it:--it's all fair game.

That doesn't mean I'll neglect other aspects of SL such as incredible builds, favorite places, sites that need more attention, making friends, losing friends, how SL affects real life and vice versa. I'll try not to just re-hash all the other analysis already written about the sociology and psychology of SL; I'm certainly no expert in those areas in any case. (And if you're one of my SL pals, don't worry; names and identifying details will be changed to protect the guilty.)

So, let's see where it takes us. With any luck it'll be an enjoyable adventure in the metaverse, and I hope you'll join me on the journey.