Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Play's the thing.

Diary of a Second Life Courtesan

She posts an article by an rl friend:

So here I am, chatting up this lovely young avatar in Second Life, telling her how I’m going to eventually buy some land and start building a place of my own when she asks me, “So what will you be role-playing?” I had to take a long pause. I’d never heard that question asked in SL.

Granted, I’ve only been playing a scant few months, but still, it’s not even a question I’d asked myself. Why? Because to me SL *is* role-playing. I mean, here we are, taking new names, creating new bodies for our avatars, and putting on clothing (or in some cases taking it off) that we’d never be able to wear in Real Life (RL from here on out).

We’re creating characters that are sometimes extensions of how we see ourselves in our minds' eye, and sometimes characters that are so far away from who we are as to be completely unrecognizable by even the creators of that character. Then we create personal spaces, homes that are castles or pagodas, or high rise apartment buildings, sometimes even floating in the sky. And let’s not forget the virtual sex. It turns phone sex into a cheap date. Now if that isn’t role-playing, I’m not sure I know what is. To me, all of SL is role-playing no matter what you personally do with it.

Well then so is rl.

But let’s not forget the folks who just go for a relatively normal appearance. Ok, so there’s nothing “normal” about everyone looking like they just stepped out of Cosmo or Today’s Man, but that’s not the point. No one in SL, at least no one I’ve yet encountered, ever builds an avatar that looks enough like themselves in RL that you could put their RL picture up next to their SL picture and not be able to tell them apart. They want an idealized version of themselves. So even if they don’t go Goth or Neko or LGM from outer space they’re still a fantasy character.

Well it isn't exactly possible, but yes there are avs that are very closer ot their rl physical bodies in the way that this place permits.

You can do a lot with SL as long as you remember it’s only a role-playing fantasy and RL is still out there waiting for you to get up on Monday morning and go to work so you can continue to pay for your SL account and Internet access. Just a final word of caution; be careful about letting your SL spill over into your RL. That man you’re kissing may just turn out to be a woman.

Hmmm. Well first, some of us do pay for more an d more of our rela lives through this place. The "it is only a game" is less and less true every day. And many of us at least pay for our play here.

I find it interesting that it is the fear of the hetero-gendered that he leaves with. If it were me I'd warn you the other way, that it is the real romance or semi-real one that is more dangerous. A man murdered another man over a woman he met on the internet not to long ago. She was an rl woman, just that both the man and his e-lover were about 30 years older than they had admitted to each other. A coworker found out, and violence ensued.

If you meet someone in sl and they don't want an rl relationship, they will tend to say so at a certain point, just as the people who want an rl relationship are generally fairly obvious about this. There are many partings of the ways in sl when this conversation occurs in a relationship. Some people don't take it well when they find out that the person they have desired does not desire an rl relationship with them. Often it isn't about gender, but about marital status. The odds are a great deal better that your paramour is rl married than single.

My final reaction is that while having fun in sl is indeed what many people are here, largely they ar the tourists, and as tourists, they don't see what makes the local economy tick. And "the good time will be had by all" isn't really descriptive of the drama I've seen and the pressure to produce and perform here.

In old Japan, love was an art, and the art of love was the play of eyes and words between men and women. The men, rough hewn by the needs of government, and sometime of war, the women polished like a grain of rice to a high polish. Each seeking some other thing in the other.

In Second Life we have one of the largest communities devoted to the arts of love of any city in imagination or history. While it is said that sex is not the activity of everyone in sl, and this is most definitely true, it is far larger than it is in almost any other VR. And that it is not everything is everything to it. Unlike a mere pick up destination, it is the doing that makes sl more erotically charged. To be with someone in a home she has made, or a place he has built, is a far greater passion than Age. Sex. Location.

I focus a great deal on the hardware of sex, xcite, sex beds, suits, skins, and so on. But this is because these things are aids to an imagination that is imprisoned in so many ways by the possibilities of real life and its social norms.

One of the harder parts of writing about this is dodging the kinds of specifics that would reveal my clients and their tastes. I've had many who have very specific desires, and have real lives that would be disrupted by the specifics of their desires. Some have been closer to bliss with me than others.

But all have sought release, and by finding it, reaching a new level within themselves. Some have needed to know they were abusing my emotions, others a play of abusing my virtual body. Some have worshiped my words and thoughts, others have called me names that would be degrading to a specimen of order rodentia.

These are needs, and I respect them, even if the needs are in some way untouchable. I have had clients who needed incest play to spark their libido. I've known many people irl who have had sexual feelings for relatives. It is always a source of shame, and it is probably better for the human race that we feel that way. Many people who do incest fantasies here are, of course, covering over for much worse.

This respect for desire includes the heavily transgressive. We need to have a place where this can erupt, if for no other reason than it can be corrected and limited. It might seem odd to people that I am a feminist who engages in regressive acts such as dolcett. It is not that I find sexual satisfaction in them but instead I feel the crying need within people, and one that will not be put to sleep until it has tasted an image.

Does this mean I approve? It would be like asking whether I approve of placental reproduction in mammals. It is made by forces far beyond what I can control,

However, once beyond the realm of fantasy, we face a completely different truth. That truth is that while violence and the purges of the needs are part of the life of the mind, they do not need to be put into action. One reason I've tried to help people here, is that the roots of real violence grow less out of fantasy violence, than a lack of self identity. When people don't understand how they fit together, then they open the road to be abused by someone else who will try and convince them that because they need one thing, love, affection, children, that they must give up that self identity.

SL is not roleplay in a deepest sense, it is simply life. We may adopt roles and play them, as play is a preparation for some other activity, or we may play them, as parts in the theatre. But which every it is, it is wise to remember that whiel sex may be fake, the walls pahntom, and the parts scripted, both the money and the feelings are real. And perhaps deadly real.

So the sociology 101 that I would start with is that digital avatars are like analog avatars, we can only make limited assumptions about what goes on in the mind that animates them, and the clues are very difficult to follow clearly. However, like analog avatars, every digital avatar is a negotiation between desire, possibility and socialization. It is merely that the negotiation is very different, because the possibility and social aspects are very different.

And how the one carries over to the other is not quite so clear as either a direct move from SL to RL, or a "it is all role-play."


  1. Lillie, this is one of your best posts ever!

    Two things you pulled out, that I can only think point to some deep problems in the atomic world -

    *Failure to see so many parts of atomic life as RP: isn't that what work is about for so many people? Dressing funny, acting as if you care about the meetings, quarterly reports, boss's kids' soccer scores? Isn't marriage RPing a lack of social and sexual interest in other people?

    SL can be roleplay, but much much more, it's what life looks like when you *take away* the social pressures to RP and *can* let your true self out!

    *Heteronormative terror: what *is* it with the gender obsession? And why gender, when nobody seems to freak about the other indicia of status - race, class, religion, education level, profession?

    A wonderful critique, love! Great work!

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  3. Dear Lillie,

    I am so impressed by your take on a topic I have been fruitlessly pondering on for quite some time. How the reality of SL and its avatars translates into the atomic one (and vice versa) is a question so immensely complex and ramified, and one that does not deserve being steamrollered on to cries of « roleplaying » and « escapism ».

    /me bows deeply to Lillie

  4. A wonderful post. Very thoughtful and insightful.

  5. Great post, and one of the most refreshing and objective takes on the matter of "roleplaying" in SL. I've taken to calling it pseudo-RP myself, since for many of us it's an expression of something real, but it's not the same as we are in FL.

    I think a lot of the friction in relationships in SL comes from a lack of communication, especially at the outset. It can be a romance killer to say up front to someone that you're not looking for a RL hookup, but I think it's much wiser than the alternative of leading someone on, even if it is to maintain the illusion of romance.

    In my experience, wearing cybernetic eyes and telling people you're from the Moon tends to deflect the more shallow Atomic world people who are looking for your A/S/L. It's also a lot fulfilling for me from a personal creative standpoint.

    Soph, I don't see those FL pressures you mention as being purely societal. The society is driven in large part by basic physical needs in the Atomic world. A lot of it simply has to do with keeping a roof over your head, food on the table, and getting some reliable and mutual emotional support.

    Things in the Atomic may change socially or technologically such that we don't need as many of those social mores there to remain comfortable, but right now that's how it is.

    Even in SL we're not really free from societal concerns, at least not if we want to interact with others here in any meaningful fashion. So, we can be ourselves as much as we choose, but we have to balance that against how much we want to operate in SL society at large.

    As for heteronormative terror...I usually see it as a big red flag that the person concerned is just visiting here from the Atomic - either looking for a hookup, using the place purely as a "chatroom", or just plain unable to suspend disbelief and take SL on it's own merits.

  6. This is a fabulous post on the topic. Thank you!

    Only tangentially related, I would be interested in your views (and forgive me if you have discussed it) on Gorean culture. I had a good friend disappear into a Gor sim recently as a slave, and we had a huge fight about it before hand. I am all for letting people explore their fantasies in SL, but was surprised to find I have a knee-jerk,unpleasant prejudice against the premise of Gor.

    And btw, 'Order Rodentia' and 'placental reproduction in mammals'! This science geek is so in love with you!