Monday, July 9, 2007


One of the recurring topics that intersects both sex, and my work on sl, is privacy and community. On the 12th of July, at 3pm SLT, there will be a Thinker's meeting to discuss these issues. I'll be giving a short outline of my experience with them from the perspective of an escort in sl as a prelude to a wide ranging discussion from the participants. It will be held in the Yedo Tower Cloud Deck.

There have already been two links suggested from the comments: here and here.

A friend of mine explained SL to me this way. In theatre, they have the concept of "the fourth wall," which is the invisible wall between the audience and the action. It is used in film and television. When a character turns and addresses the audience, when actors run through the aisles, those "break through the fourth wall." It is a physical experience sometimes if done with a shock. As he explained it Sl has a wall between your sl and your rl. Sometimes that wall is very thin, sometimes it is thick, and sometimes it has holes in it.

I've heard other explanations, but that is the one that I like the best. And it is less polarizing. A person might be thick to most of the world, but have very open holes in the fourth wall for friends and associates.

One of the reasons for the endless discussions about voice is how thick people's walls are, and when and where, and how, they choose to open up passage ways between the two. Consider, if you will, someone interested in BDSM. Consider that they might decide to take it to rl, at the right time, with the right person. But until then, they would like to have a very thick wall between their rl and sl. This isn't strange, long before sl, BDSM people were telling new people to take the connection between online talking and rl meeting very slowly and carefully, with safe calls and references. Sl should not be any different than that old advice.

One of the reasons that the voice chat feature arouses such animosity is that first, it forcibly violates that wall. You have to have holes poked in your fourth wall regardless of what you think, because other people can push their voice into your ears. It's like going to a production of Shakespeare where Lady MacBeth stabs you, personally. Sometimes it is possible to have too much closeness. Count me among the people who believe that such violations are not a good thing. Consensual contact is good, forcible contact is not.

The fourth wall between sl and rl can be very thick, some people do not identify at all with their avatars, but instead see them as things to be pushed and pulled. This is as thick as the fourth wall gets that I know of. I suppose an afk camperbot is even thicker, but I'm not going to count that.

The more usual situation for a thick wall though is a person who identifies the avatar as "me," when playing the avatar, but occasionally thinks of the avatar as a thing. A "barbie" if you will. I have heard almost everyone do it, especially when talking about things we can't do rl, like change bustline in moments from small to large with a slider, or with particular problems that you have getting something to work. "She doesn't work with those hair styles," I've heard more than one player lament. But they do not want sl to flow into rl. They have an rl, it works, mostly. It is just missing a few pieces. Piece they want here. Pieces they might never want rl. Some people read pornography or adventure novels. Other people second live them.

Most thick people have holes. Holes between their two lives. Holes for friends, or that they open for people who become friends. A voice call here, an rl meeting there, a conversation about rl work with someone you know sl well. These are all holes in the fourth wall.

On the other side are public figures as public figures. They have a fourth wall, between their public and private life. SL is merely part of their public life. There is no wall between the public figure and the public sl avatar, other than some changes made for the environment. For these people, the problem is not when and how to open up holes between their rl public figure and their sl public figure, but how to protect that deeper fourth wall, and use sl to get people to open up holes for them.

The care and handling of one's fourth wall is a skill. People early on often disclose too much about their rl, thinking that it won't lead to being found. This is sometimes a mistake. People learn to be more careful.

One of the hearts of the arguments over privacy in sl, is that there are reciprocal fears of safety. A person who wants to keep a thick all feels safe behind that wall, a person exposing themselves does not feel safe unless others are also exposed. If you are doing business with someone, you want them to be exposed at least as much as you are. If you are expressing desire, you are exposing yourself, and you want them to be exposed too.

Of course the case that women her run into all the time is the people who treat this as, you know the ones I mean. But this is an example of walls. If you look on most sex sights, for heterosexual encounters, there are 10 men for every one woman. The same is true of anonymous sex and orgy parcels here in sl: one woman who is willing for every 10 men. The very thing that is drawing the people who simply serially proposition women is that the ratio of men to women on sl is much closer to even. But the reason for that is the control we have over how much, and to who, we are seen. There are places to announce to the world "Hello! I'm looking for a relationship!" But that's not SL for the most part.

But this is merely the street noise in front of a much more complex issue, I mention it more for completeness than out of interest. More important to anyone are the byways into rl intimacy. From meeting, through courtship, and to that crazy hesitant point where one person makes an offer which is clearly a prelude to an rl meeting. Sometimes it is blunt, other times masked. Sometimes people stay hanging for weeks waiting, other times they plunge forward. I think, from my own experience, that sometimes the sl intimacy acts as a kind of barrier, in that you don't want the person to think that your sl intimacy is necessarily an invitation to rl intimacy. This is certainly true in my case, I'm not an escort rl, I don't want someone believing they can meet me and purchase my rl the same way they purchased my sl.

And it is standing on this precipice, deciding exactly how much of the sl relationship to allow through, that is among the most exciting moments in second life. You suddenly feel, all over again, exaclty how far you have gone with someone, and how much it could mean.

Because this leap is going to continue, negotiating these waters is going to have to be something that sl culture and society take more time and care about. For the people who want instant rl, or the people who are firmly "no rl ever," it is an easy thing. For almost all of the rest of us, even those who merely leave the door open to their wildest fantasy, it is a more complex and delicate thing.

I am very serious in my proposal that tags should be color coded by how much rl contact people want and how quickly, running from "No!" to "Now!" We also need to start making dealing with the various thicknesses of people's fourth walls a part of our culture, explaining to people that trying to smash a hammer into someone's wall is not acceptable. The "disclosure" policy is far from enough, and it is only what LL says that it should do, not waht we, the residents of this palce, need to do, to enhance our experience here.

All the world's a stage, but it isn't the same play being put up on the boards every where.


  1. "And it is standing on this precipice, deciding exactly how much of the sl relationship to allow through, that is amongthe most exciting moments in second life. You suddenly feel, all over again, exaclty how far you have gone with someone, and how much it could mean."


  2. Lillie: You've left out one other take on the fourth wall. There are some of us who're on the opposite end of the spectrum from the people who see "real life" as everything that matters.

    I'm a Digital Person - I'm *me,* but I only exist electronically. The fourth wall is thick, but runs the other direction: I don't have a life in the atomic, physical world to discuss.

    There's a discussion that really closely tracks your insights - starting here on The Winged Girl Blog and continuing here on my blog, Finding Sophrosyne.

    Thank you for addressing such a fascinating and timely topic!

  3. I really wish I could convince the bursar's office of that. But strangely, they don't seem to be willing to accept it.

  4. This is a very thoughtful and complete explanation of how I feel as well.

    People in SL need to recognize and respect each others privacy without suspicion or bias.

    I think that a meeting is a wonderful idea. I sincerely hope that you will post the results of the discussion.

    Anony Mouse
    "You must be the change you want to see in the world." -- Mahatma Gandhi