Friday, March 27, 2009

Being a resident

The furore over the adult content in Second Life and a couple of meetings I have been to in order to discuss it, have highlighted for me what a gulf of difference there is between people who "live" in Second Life and those who simply use it as a tool for work or education.

I have always known that here was a qualitative difference in the psychology of those who arrive for their own purposes and those who are wearing a corporate or educational "hat" on arrival.

I worked as a mentor for four years, and dealt with many people in their first few hours in world. Many of those that came in as ordinary residents were overwhelmed with the possibilities, and particularly by the way in which they suddenly had the opportunity to meet and talk to people all over the world. Talking in text privately with a stranger does initially give one the impression of talking directly to another person's mind, and without the conventions that limit talking to strangers in the real world - and the possible physical or emotional danger - people open up in a way initially that isn't healthy for them, sometimes revealing much more than they ought to about their inner selves.

For those who come in with a company objective, the experience is somewhat different. As you are wearing your position in the company, and the higher standard of behaviour that this will normally demand from people, you're still at arm's length from the people that you meet. You do not invest your avatar with your personality in the same way, and you do not engage and immerse in the same way. No, no, you don't, really you don't, however much you may intend or wish to engage, the whole experience is changed radically from the personal experience that an "ordinary" resident will have.

In four years of mentoring I often had people spontaneously confide in me that they had always wanted to be a woman, had never felt comfortable in the real world, were looking for excitement that their real lives weren't offering, didn't get on with their wives/partner/mothers. People engage and communicate quickly and apparently deeply in virtual worlds, and lack the sort of psychological armour which we carry in the real world.

Those with a corporate or work hat on, never engage that deeply... in those four years I never had someone who came into SL for that reason, reveal inappropriate personal details or long-felt wants.

It's hard to explain to someone what the difference is, but it seems to me that it is very like the difference between going to live in a strange city and going there on business. In the latter case, it is possible to go to a foreign land, see only the airport, hotel and office, and leave without any true idea of what life is like for the people who live there or what the country is like.

In just the same way, living in SL and making a home there - making a circle of friends, and finding out what passions you have in the virtual world - is entirely different from looking at it like a tool, like a stapler or overhead projector.

Being a resident in SL means immersing in the world, learning who you are there and how it differs from the you which lives in the real world. Many people claim to be exactly the same in the virtual world as they are in the real world, but actually none of us are, however much we try to model our virtual self on our real self. One of the liberating things about being in the virtual world is the very fact that we can shed our real life concerns and take only those things we choose into the virtual world.

Are you fat in real life? You can choose to be exactly as you are in real life, or shed those unwanted pounds and years to become the person you would like to be. There is a whole psychology around appearance in the virtual world, where people may conclude from your appearance that you have certain desires or hangups which influence how you appear. And you do, no matter who you are, whether you spend hours on your appearance or no time at all, whether you are an exact replica of your real-life self or a younger, thinner version.

Everyone assumes a lot of roles and responsibilities in the course of their lives - as sons and daughters, wives, mothers, breadwinners, family clown or family depressives - all of these can be a choice in the virtual world. If you wish to lose your husband, family responsibility and spend your time in the virtual world as somebody free from those, you can.

Being in Second Life in this way - thinking about who you are and who or what you want to be - realising that you have choices and those may affect what happens to you in your virtual future - are all adventures for a resident in Second Life that may pass you by altogether if you are already wearing your corporate or academic responsibilities as part of your avatar on entry to the world. Of course, it is possible for people to set up a private avatar as well as a corporate one, but I do think that it is quite difficult for people to immerse in the same way once they have visited in a professional capacity.

Many ordinary residents arrive in Second Life due to some publicity which indicates it may be the path to riches, or that there is unlimited free sex available or for some other reason of their own. Finding the things that will hold their attention and make them want to stay centres around people - finding people that can help and guide them and finding people that they feel that they have something in common with.

In the past, with most communication being by text, it was easier to engender a fellow feeling, even in people who were geographically distant and who might have entirely different experiences of the real world. This is being eroded by voice chat and by the tendency of academic institutions to fence themelves off from the real residents. The biggest division that I see, however, is between the real residents and the ones who are just visiting for a specific purpose.

Being a resident in SL leads to a number of things which don't necessarily obtain if you are simply there for business. You make connections and friendships with a whole range of people, and learn to know which ones you feel at home with and which make you feel uncomfortable. You learn to work out your own attitude to men who play female avatars and vice versa. You begin to grapple with ideas around identity and appearance, etiquette for virtual worlds. Most of all I was staggered by how kind and generous and nice people in the virtual world are, in general.

Being a resident means living in a virtual place, not just visiting... making significant friendships and finding a significance in the things that one does there. People who have nevr visited - and even some who have - are often scathing of those who spend time in a virtual world, but I have had some of the funniest, most touching and interesting moments of my life in Second Life.

Second Life in its chaotic glory has been a place to find out about myself and others, in a way that I don't think I could have done in RL without significant risk of harm, and I find it all fascinating. It's been a tremendously educational experience. I have learned about BDSM, I discovered what Gor was about, learned that people really do dress up as furries in RL too, met people I would not have met otherwise, and shared a place out of time and space with people all over the world.

I've learned to build and create and have found an outlet for the creative capacity which was struggling to come out in a series of failed artistic projects in the real world. Somewhere, I have a half mosaiced penguin....

For those who arrive as a librarian or teacher and see it only as a tool, it may be inexplicable that someone might have a virtual sex bed or live life as a predatory wolf in the wilds of the furry sims, but for me each thing is an invitation to find out more about myself or others. Choosing not to be a slave, Star Wars role player or Goth is a choice too, for a resident. For those who just visit it is often not a possibility that crosses their mind.

Being a resident who also develops builds for commercial clients, I find myself suspended between the two versions of the virtual world: the full and nuanced world I find as a resident, and the clinically unsexy, worthy and useful world of the commercial or academic clients. Of the two, the one which has taught me the most is the former. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Museum of Sex Furniture

I was browsing around the forums on SL Universe the other day when I came across a thread from Jago Constantine announcing the SL Museum of Sex Furniture. I mean, it's so obvious when you think of it. I can't imagine why it hasn't been done before.

It seems that people who come into SL for educational or commercial purposes are more or less hostile to the idea that anyone ever has sex in SL, and they forever associate it with the more or less professional companies that offer escorts and pornography in a joyless package. For those of us who are true residents, and proud of a rounded virtual life, sex in SL has always been a much more exciting, creative, and amusing affair...and hopefully the new museum will demonstrate that.

Back in 2004 when I first joined Second Life, it wasn't possible to upload custom animations. The residents of the virtual world being creative and resourceful, a number of people had begun to make sex furniture already, using existing default animations. The pose most used in these confections was the motorcycle animation, which had pretty flexible applications, while at the same time being fairly rigid, it being a pose rather than an animation.

In order to approximate sexual activity, people used a system called box on and box off, which was, I'll admit, mostly a mystery to me, but which involved a way of manipulating the avatar by the use of box attachments and the extremely limited default range of animations.

What you have to remember also, my dear, is that the world was a much MUCH smaller place then, with only just over a hundred sims and one island. Imagine that! Today when there are around 26,000 islands and mainland sims, it is probably possible to find any number of empty mature sims for poseball whoopee, including a good few specifically constructed for the purpose, but in those days there were only a couple of places, and very little privacy.

With fewer than 1000 people online at any time, one met the same 30 people over and over around SL, and so with my only land on a PG sim and nowhere legal to attach your genitals or adjust your nipples, people like me were attracted to the mature sims like Federal and to the bottom of the sea or the middle of the sky.

Life was simpler in those pre-poseball days, where furniture was furniture and held no hidden traps for the unwary. And then version 1.4 came along and custom animations were enabled and the sex beds and exquipment business exploded accordingly, despite the fact that many people had nowhere to lay their sex bed.

The world has accommodated the good, the bad and the truly dreadful when it comes to animations and furniture. Who can forget the notorious ejaculating fountain, surely the pinnacle of schoolboy doodling, crafted in prims of stone, to be seen in the museum? The museum is also home to a slave roasting spit, and a variety of innocuous sofas with hidden depths. Over the course of the last five years, sex sims, slave sims, and Gor sims have come and gone, the only remnant of their passing being the extensive notecards of rules and regulations, and the odd piece of furniture. Very odd, in some cases.

The museum is interesting, even for those of use who have actually watched the course of sex history progress in SL with the introduction of an increasing range of talking penises and intricate bondage arrangements. Jago has made an effort to incorporate good labelling to the donations made to the museum, in some cases, sadly, in the name of "anonymous". The museum also needs donations of lindens to help them afford the tier for the increasing size of the museum, which is a growing tribute to the creativity and maybe the lasciviousness of the SL population.

I'd like to hope that the future SL will remain free enough to allow people to experiment with their sexuality as with other parts of their identity. Who knows how large the museum will need to be in another five years?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adult content announcement

The Linden blog announces a change in policy which means that adult content has to be flagged up and separated from the ordinary sims. You can read the announcement on the blog here.

I just think they have got this sooo wrong. Trying to forcibly move all the XXX sex clubs and shops out to an X rated area, seems to be the wrong way round to me. If people do not want to see X rated content, and want their whole experience to be PG, then why not make a PG rated area and allow people with current land in mixed areas opt to live in the PG land mass?

There's an awful lot of adult content in SL which isn't XXX. People have sex beds, photographs of their avatars naked, attachments and equipment that would fail the PG tests. Do they all have to separate themselves too?

I don't want my Second Life sanitised so that my aunt or daughter could go there without embarrassment. I like the rounded life my avatar leads, and I like being abe to leave all my adult responsibilities and roles at the door when I go into SL. I like being able to behave inappropriately or to talk inappropriately without having to worry if I am being watched by a minor or an elderly person who would be easily offended.

I'd say more, but I must get to bed.
Night night.