Feb 13, 2012

Challenge Accepted

Dating in #SecondLife and the value of Authenticity.

 

It’s been some time since I stepped back into the “dating” scene of Second Life, or more appropriately, trying really hard to reconcile reality against the virtual. Being an INTJ personality type isn’t exactly the best starting point for me, because I’m a no nonsense sort of person and honesty is a big deal to me. As a matter of course, honesty will almost always win out against any other situation I could be presented, no matter how much I would like to overlook it.

 

 

Snapshot_004

 

 

I think the reason for this is fairly straightforward, in that there is this preconceived notion that a virtual world is just pixels, and can be treated like such. I know first hand that this isn’t true, and that anyone who attempts to reconcile this differently is setting themselves up for drama and severe heartache in the long run. I usually call this the “honeymoon” phase of virtual worlds relationships, because they tend to explode spectacularly in the long run regardless of how great it was in the short term.

 

I liken it to the scenario that Vaynerchuk said in his keynote about social media – that businesses fail at social media because they are acting like a 19 year old trying to close the transaction on the first date – they are treating it like a sprint and not a marathon. More time spent in planning the wedding than any consideration on the actual marriage.

 

I would like to tell you a story, and it is a story that is deeply heartfelt and meaningful to me. I’m usually not the sort of guy that gets all choked up or emotional, so this is going to be a rare glimpse of me that you are unlikely to see often.

 

Years ago, when I first got into virtual worlds, I ran into a woman named Daphne (Active Worlds name). Now, I’m not entirely certain if Daphne was really her name, but to me it didn’t matter. What transpired between her and I wasn’t romantic in the least, but more of a very deep and emotional connection, a relationship that really shaped me as a person going forward. Daphne was what we could call today my first virtual worlds “mom”. We see a lot of “families” in Second Life today, but I’m never quite sure that they have the same meaning and depth that Daphne had for me when I was younger. I knew her for a number of years, and by her guidance and patience, she became a second mother to me in a virtual sense, but also in a very real sense.

 

This is what I mean when I say that pixels and emotions aren’t the same thing. No matter how much we try to set those boundaries up front, emotions never listen to our silly rules.

 

After a number of years, I grew up from a teenager and even as a young adult, Daphne was still considered my virtual mom. One day, well.. the most heartbreaking experience that I have ever felt in a virtual and real sense happened.

 

Daphne had passed away.

 

I will be honest with you when I say that just thinking about it right now has me choking up. I am as heartbroken and remorseful now as I am about the murder of my step-sister London, and the loss of multiple family members over the past few years – all have the same impact on me, and when I really think about any of them, it is hard for me not to cry. She meant that much to me as a human being, a mentor, and so much more than words could ever describe. I wish today that I hadn’t lost the chance to tell her these things before she passed away – how much she meant to me, how her being in my life (even virtually) had an immeasurable impact on who I am today. I am a better person today because of her, and because of Daphne, I may be spoiled when it comes to virtual worlds because from that point on, I always chose authenticity over the fantasy.

 

I had lost the chance forever to tell her how much she meant to me and how much I truly and deeply did appreciate her being in my life. I’d be much lesser of a man today if she hadn’t been there when she was.

 

Going forward, I chose an equally fitting way to always remember Daphne in that many years later, I still have her name on my in-world contacts list in Active Worlds. I absolutely refuse to remove her name from that list, because I never want to forget her or what she has done for me in my life. I believe it is the best and most fitting thing I could do under the circumstances, and while so many people have forgotten her in the virtual world, I choose to never forget.

 

Later on, I also ran into Magz in Active Worlds who, at the time, was running a world called ViperX. She became my virtual world mother from that point on, and she has had the same impact on my life that Daphne has had. I’ve known Magz since I was about 17 years old, and I am turning 33 in April. Magz was and is a reaffirmation to me that emotion and deeper meaning in virtual worlds, so much that it changes you in real life and makes you want to be better, to aspire to cast away shallow behavior, is completely possible.

 

Magz is in Second Life now as Magzee Yootz, and even when I was younger she has had health problems. Being young and foolish, I’ve always spent a lot of my life caught up in myself or my own pursuits, too much to really look up and really accept what people truly mean to me, but thinking about Daphne the other day really hit home. Magz isn’t getting any younger, and I really don’t believe her health is getting any better. There will come a day when she will simply no longer log in, and I will never see her again.

 

This time, however much it would break my heart to see her pass away, I intend to tell her how much she has meant to me in my life before that happens. How immeasurable her involvement has been in making me who I am today.  I’ve missed that chance countless times already with people who have been close to me, either in a virtual sense or a physical sense, and I won’t lie when I say I am wiping the tears from my eyes as they stream down my face as this reality hits me. People in my life who have either passed away or have left my life for various reasons… all are missed opportunities to tell them how much I loved them, and how grateful I am and was for them to be in my life.

 

This reality, virtual or physical, hits me deeper than I can ever find words for. 

 

This authenticity breaks my heart when measured against the frivolity that I see in virtual worlds.

 

Authenticity is what I expect from all people in my life. I was taught to be a better person by people who are in and out of the virtual world, and who understood the meanings that really connecting with people will have. I have been taught, over the course of my life in a very personal and real way, that emotions and deeper meaning will supersede in our lives regardless of the boundaries we put up to restrict that.

 

In a virtual world, the people behind the avatars are very real and so are their emotions. If you are in a virtual world only as an escape or fantasy, then it is inevitable that over time your pixel boundaries will be completely and unremorsefully shattered. Reality is a cruel master indeed and doesn’t care about your fantasy, or what you are pretending to be to yourself or to others.

 

It is never a matter of if, but simply a matter of when.

 

As I have been “dating”, what I have come across disheartens me to no end. I am, for the most part, disappointed in the virtual world – but more generally I am wholly disappointed in ourselves for letting the virtual world represent something that is shallow, dishonest, hollow, and cruel. I am heartbroken that we continually pursue these things hoping to find something we are missing in ourselves, only to find that the honeymoon is over so soon. We have the choice and ability to make virtual environments into what we choose them to be, and I believe for the most part that we have chosen poorly – with few shining examples to the contrary. I believe that this balance is wrong, and should be reversed.

 

More often than not we are dishonest with ourselves and with others in order to facilitate a short term illusion, when I know for a fact that the power is within our own hands to make that instead into a long term reality with far deeper meaning. We can touch each other’s hearts with such meaning and immeasurable intentions – even when that person is thousands of miles away, but we more often than not choose to put up a boundary – we separate our real lives from our second lives as avatars.

 

This is where the problem begins, because no matter what, you are always the real person behind the persona – regardless of whatever fantasy you are playing out in-world. We start on that foundation and artificial boundary and act surprised when emotions and matters of the heart never respect those boundaries. We cannot control what we feel for others, and when emotions run deep, no amount of pixels are going to take away that meaning.

 

In order to find a better Second Life, we must begin by finding a better First Life. Our virtual selves will not offer the salvation we are seeking if we are not first, and foremost, honest and accepting of our first lives and willing to live them better instead of constructing an illusion to compensate. Conversely, it is for the rest of us to learn that we must also be accepting of others as well if they are willing to be authentic with you.

 

Authenticity implies that we are being real, and that we are not trying to substitute an illusion for reality when it truly counts. We must be accepting of our own realities before we should ever try to include others in it. This means, whether we like it or not, that in order to find what we are looking for – true and honest acceptance, we have to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with others.

 

I see a lot of married women in Second Life, looking for relationships. This is dishonest to me, because it involves affairs of the heart under the constraint that we somehow believe that we have any control over whether or not we can keep our emotions from running deeper. This is both a lie to ourselves and a lie by consensus between two or more parties because if you are going through the motions of a relationship, the heart will make no distinction if it is being honest.

 

If you can separate this and keep the emotions from running deeper, then you really aren’t being honest to begin with in your intentions, and the relationship doesn’t mean a thing. In the most literal sense, you are simply using people. This is why it is not uncommon to find people with many alternate accounts in a virtual environment, because they are for the explicit purpose of lying by omission to people. You are in one alt with your partner, while using your other alts to be a different person altogether either for yourself or while including others under this false premise, and I never really believed that this was a fair or honest thing to do in real life, let alone a virtual life.

 

I know many will tell me that this is just a “lifestyle” – but it is a lifestyle that has all the hallmarks of total collapse over time. We can’t expect to enter into any relationship, romantic or otherwise, on false premise and expect anything but the truth to come out eventually and destroy the fantasy we’ve so carefully constructed. This is the root of our drama in virtual worlds – not so much that we’re deceiving others but more that we have become accustomed to deceiving ourselves.

 

Sure, a virtual world is just pixels and we can even say it’s just a game or fantasy. But we’ll never escape the fact that behind those pixels happens to be very real people with very real emotions and very real lives.

 

When it comes right down to it, virtual environments aren’t about saving a princess in a castle like in Super Mario Bros. but instead, saving each other for real.

 

 

Again, we’re back to understanding authenticity and that we are doing a very bad job at saving ourselves and others. We’re acting selfish in an environment that really begs for us to be selfless and truly caring.

 

All of this really breaks my heart because we’re running a sprint when our hearts are demanding a marathon. This is most present in the dating scene of virtual worlds, because the most common thing I have read in these profiles are that they are looking only for SL relationships.

 

We’re belittling our virtual reality and the experience on purpose when it can be so much more.

 

I’ve been to in-world marriages where two people recite wedding vows, and at least one of those people are being serious while the other is married and just treating affairs of the heart like another game to be played.

 

That’s just cruel…

 

Reality is harsh, but virtual reality isn’t going to give you actual acceptance unless you’ve fixed what you think is wrong with your real life first. You can run from real life all you want, and you can live a string of escapist fantasies to try and compensate, but it will catch up to you, and quite often does after awhile.

 

I choose authenticity in my real life and virtual life, because I know that reality will have the final say no matter what I believe to the contrary. I’ve chosen to fix my real life before having a second one, because that is the level of honesty we all need to have if we’re going to change our meaningless experience in virtual worlds into something far deeper and meaningful.

 

I’m honest with myself, so I can be honest with you – whether I am an avatar or whether I am face to face with you. I’ll accept nothing less than a meaningful experience in my virtual life because I know it will touch me deeply in my real life and even be interchangeable at some point.

 

So this is my status update for “dating” in Second Life:

 

I’m still single because I’m demanding more of myself, in order to be honest with others, and I expect nothing less from others in the process. I may have set the bar too high, I may be stronger in my convictions, or I may just be standing on a soapbox… but either way, I hold out hope for a better reality, and it starts with being a better person for real.

 

I don’t expect that I’ll find true love in the virtual world, because I have only met one single person in all my years in virtual worlds that I would consider true love and worth my time. It is a total and inconceivable miracle that she existed, even for the time she and I were together, and I know that the likelihood of lightning striking twice is small indeed – especially when the entire virtual world is filled with people looking for a fantasy.

 

Despite that, however, I believe that true love does exist and it can be so electrifying that even lightning will strike twice if given the honest chance.

 

I believe this because I know that even the virtual can be real, if we let it and are truly honest with each other. I found what I was looking for once before, and I know it is possible to find it again if I continue to look. I’m not so much “dating” as I am simply waiting for an honest woman again.

 

I know she’s out there if I am patient. In the meantime -

 

If we want a better Second Life, we have to start by making a better First Life.

 

 

 

Challenge Accepted

3 comments:

  1. To find a partner you trust is like finding a needle in a haystack. Even more so in a VR where we have no body language and lack those small, almost unnoticed variations in voice u have in real life.

    I know a couple who partnered after being friends 4 years first. That I can understand. But maybee it takes that amount of time to be able to know and trust someone in a VR.
    Good luck!
    //Mera

    ReplyDelete
  2. If it takes you 4 years to start being honest with somebody, and you go into the friendship/relationship purely on lies and deceit, then to me - that's not a person I want to associate with at all.

    Virtual worlds have turns us all into pathological liars without remorse. I think it's about time we learned to be better people - for ourselves and to each other.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The most tragic thing I've seen play out over and over in virtual worlds like Second Life, is when people lie to themselves about why they are there. They say they're there to "play a game" or "have no-rules fun", when the truth is they are desperately lonely and looking to make connections. I do a lot of roleplay in Second Life and this adds an every greater degree of confusion for some players, because while they may tell you they are playing a character, they are really showing their actual heart and can become extremely unstable or abusive when other avatars don't treat them the way they want or expect to be treated.
    I highly recommend Dr. John Suler's hypertext book "The Psychology of Cyberspace" (or why people act the way they do in-world) [http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/psycyber.html], where he examines the psychological aspects of environments created by computers and online networks. Of particular interest is the section on the Online Disinhibition Effect [http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/disinhibit.html].

    ReplyDelete