22.3.12

Second Life.. is it real or not?


Every Sunday morning SLT, there is a discussion (voice and chat) at the Gateway, you can join in and also ask questions.
This week the topic was problem solving for crisis situations in your bdsm relationship (talking about SL/virtual ones here), what surprised me was that this was approached like a rl relationship, which was weird beyond words for me as the discussion is led by a rl psychologist, who probably has gone through many research and information about the phenomenon of online/virtual relationships.

Aristotle once wrote, "Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit."
If we look closely to our face-to-face friendships and relationships it is true, over time our connection to people grows and has more meaning.
Love and friendship also has different variations, for example you love your husband different than you love your mother, some friends are your closest, some you just have fun with when you go out...
It's a wide spectrum of feelings and emotions towards everyone that surrounds you.
All of that has consequences, positive and negative... relationships in rl are hard work to maintain, you feel loved and cherished because you get response for your efforts. The people around you perceive you as the real you, with your good, with your flaws, they love/like you for who you really are.

Now I am a true profile troll, a profile in SL for me means a way of marketing your persona in this virtual world, I love reading them even though it is an overwhelming dull sea of sameness. Since there are no goals or levels in this 'game', we create our own ideals. For some it is to create, build, to be a dj, to learn, to teach, for others to find friendship or love, to be popular, or to be something we can't or wont be in real life.
Even though Linden Lab surveys show most users of Second Life to be 35+, most profiles seem to be written by high school kids, the same quirks and idiosyncrasies. Because of the anonymity of Second Life we are able to shape our words and mold the way we present ourselves, this results often in a shameless narcissistic self-promotion (I am cute, beautiful, funny, witty, sexy etc etc), things we would never say face to face in the real world when we have to describe ourselves, because we would be frowned at. Add to that many hostile warnings about many different things (as if they are able to actually execute their threats, duh!). Relationships of great diversity are always described in extreme positive adjectives, often coated with deep quotes, poems or youtube songs/videos and of course the usual threat if you dare to touch/harm their loved one.
When I read all that I wonder how any grown-up can identify with that, it has nothing to do with reality.

Therapists maintain that the reason we're attracted to someone at a deep level is that basically they are like us - in a psychological sense. In the real world we can compare: age, looks, social class, age, job, hobbies and interests, all key components often used to choose our friends and partners.When we meet face to face body language tells and confirms or alerts our growing feelings for each other.
In Second Life we have to compare a different thing: a mostly made up ideal version of the real person behind the keyboard, not seldom giving a wrong impression due to dis-inhibition. (many residents become a cartoonish younger version of themselves, they separate their actions from their real world and identity and say and do things in SL that they wouldn't ordinarily say or do in their real life.)

When we connect with someone who accepts this ideal of ourselves the validation often draws us in. The challenge, however, is that there are many gaps left in our perception which, in our human nature, we want to fill with meaning. The meaning we give can sometimes help us believe that the person we have connected with is also ideal since our tendency is to create meaning from our own understanding/experiences.
Over time (and this is rather fast in Second Life) the gaps are filled with pieces of  "reality", as we get to know the person behind the avatar more closely and more often than not, it leaves both individuals feeling deceived and unfulfilled. 

Any virtual relationship has very little effort or consequences, most of the time the people in your real life don't know anything about them, most people have more avatars with a third or fourth life, you can jump out at any given moment and close people down with excuses about rl, anyone has to trust your words, when acting out hostile feelings we are never responsible, we can hide, remake ourselves or flee to the real world at will and there is nothing the other person involved can do about that.

Because many residents suffer lots of disappointment, they pull up even higher walls to hide behind, welcoming any encounter with a lot of disbelief and bitterness, which leads to another superficial relationship that ends with more pain and validates their pattern to not trust anyone online.

Are relationships in SL real? In my opinion, they are not, the emotions around them are real and can be intoxicating but how is it possible to be in love or friends with someone you don't know? 
You are in love with the illusion you and the person involved created. 
I do agree when you are honest and stripped of all fantasy and so is your partner/friend, you move this relationship into the real world and there it has all chance to become real. But only after that happens it will be real.
This is sadly extremely rare.  

I trust everyone online until they prove me the opposite, because I want to allow myself to have every chance to meet interesting people and become "friends", some I do take to the real world (like my aviator ), most just stay virtual people on my virtual list whom I can shut down by just clicking the X in the top right corner of my screen.
On the meeting someone said "you sound like you live under a dark cloud", another said "you are cold and calculated", and I am sure for someone who sees his/her Second Life as real and perceives those relationships as real I probably am. For me it is important to zoom out and see the whole picture, I have rl friendships that are very important for me, I am raised in a big warm family, I have a husband who adores me, the contrast of what I perceive inside Second Life is enormous. Am I supposed to take the love of your life, your BFF, your SL-dad serious if you swap him/her every two weeks?

So let's say I agree to disagree... 
(sorry for any grammar weirdness, inglish is not my native! )