Aug 28, 2017

The Art of Deceit

Persona Ambiguity in Virtual Worlds


Also known as a continuing misrepresentation, lying by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes the failure to correct pre-existing misconceptions.

In the Metaverse, whether a virtual world system or the Metaverse as depicted in Ready Player One, there is a curious complacency inherent for the act of being dishonest. It’s one of those things which is taken as read and even adamantly defended. We have a right to reasonably privacy in the online world, and this includes basic facts about ourselves with which we would like to not disclose in favor of living our idealized avatar life.

Maybe you’re married, so your avatar persona is single. Maybe you identify differently than your genetic gender, and so you play the opposite in a virtual world. Maybe you’re trans or cis. In the book Ready Player One, Art3mis had severe insecurity about her real life self because of a wine stain across her face.

These are all general reasons why we find the virtual world so appealing. It allows us to take on the illusion of our ideals, even for a short time. But that illusion is addicting when your virtual life is better than real life, and you fall into the rabbit hole.

That being said, when you’re dealing with real people behind the avatar, we’ve long since forgotten that lying is still lying. In a matter of speaking, we’ve come to insist on our right to lie. Whether overtly or through omission of information which would clearly be attainable simply by seeing you walk out the door into public.

There is, I believe, a difference between keeping personal matters private and keeping public matters private. If you are married, you wouldn’t normally take off your ring and go dating under the premise of being single – and if you would, then that is generally known as being dishonest and cheating on your spouse. However, this is common in the virtual world and generally thought of as acceptable because we don’t associate relationships (romantic) in a virtual world as “cheating”. It’s “just a game”, is what we tell ourselves.

And so, we can disassociate the lying and justify it as harmless. We even act surprised when a virtual relationship falls apart when the truth comes out. We attempt to play the victim of our own deceit and place the blame on the ones we’ve been lying to for having the audacity to want honesty.

But that’s not how things really work. Even if you are in the virtual world, it is still cheating on your spouse. The actual term for it is emotional cheating.

Simply knowing whether the person you are dealing with is a woman or a man is of public knowledge on first glance, and if you’re transgender or something, that too should be discernible or at least up to disclosure – otherwise you are lying either overtly or by omission.

There has been, in the last ten or twenty years, this crusade to demonize honest people and shame them for seeking the truth about situations or people they are dealing with – and I have no sympathy for the people who attempt to pull this tactic. If you’re one of these people, I will personally go full Sherlock Holmes on you.

When Wade begins the thought experiments about whether his teacher in the OASIS is a woman or not, or whether Art3mis is really a girl or some hairy knuckled guy, we see a horrid reaction from typical SJW (Social Justice Warrior) types decrying his actions in “forcing gender assignment” – but it isn’t that simple, nor is he mentally trying to assign gender out of malice.

In the Metaverse, people lie. So what he is really trying to do is ascertain the truth about a particular person he is dealing with. If you’re on the “lying as a right” side of the coin, you’ll see this as invasion of privacy – I have the right to be dishonest when dealing with you, and how dare you try to get the truth!

This obviously causes a lot of drama and headaches in the virtual world, especially when you deal with interpersonal interaction. On the one hand, you have people who are masking their real identity and circumstances to a degree which is unhealthy, omitting even the basic observations to live out their chosen illusion, and on the other hand you have the people you interact with who (at the baseline) deserve even the basic disclosure if you value their friendship or more.

I’ve personally had (and have) friends from the virtual world who are playing female and end up being the hairy knuckle guy behind the avatar. Now, did I have a romantic relationship with them? No… because I have a rule in virtual worlds that simply says:

How do I actually know what your are saying is true?

Which is to say – I am more than willing to acknowledge what I know, and more importantly what I don’t actually know by asking How do I know this?

Send me a picture of “yourself” and it doesn’t count in my eyes. How do I actually know this other than taking what you say at face value? Being a moderator over on OKCupid has given me the insight into just how far people will go to construct and maintain their illusions/delusions*. I’ve seen people set up entire Facebook pages filled with stock photos to pretend having an interesting life, and for the less technologically inclined, just swiping photos from an open profile is good enough to suffice. Women (and men) posting pictures from obscure porn sites and cam girl directories as their own persona. The list goes on and on. You don’t use voice? Well I assume then (and usually correctly) that something shady is going on.

*Not to mention a particular insight into what the business model of dating sites actually is – hint: they’re counting on your failure.

And there is yet another point to be made, in that when we are lying by omission like this, or overtly, we ultimately do not value the relationships we form. At the very least, those relationships – whether cursory or deeper, should remain cursory at best and taken with a grain of salt because they are coming from a place of deceit as a foundation.

Ultimately, what this situation signifies is that we have a lot of damaged goods running around the virtual world. This is the harsh reality we come to the Metaverse to escape from, in our idealized perfect little world. We’re in relationships in VR to escape a bad marriage. We’re transgender in real life but play a female (or male) in VR. We’re overweight in real life so we’re wearing a porn-star Barbie avatar, or six-pack abs Greek god if you’re a male (and a penis the size of your forearm).

The general rule of thumb is and always has been – take whatever the persona is representing, and reverse it. That’s likely what their real life looks like for them:

  • Porn-star body? You’re probably very insecure and overweight in RL
  • Young, single? Statistically speaking, you’re in your mid-forties, have kids and are married – either in a bad marriage or an indifferent one.
  • Predominantly focusing on sex in-world? You probably haven’t been laid in years.
  • Don’t use voice? Your avatar is the opposite of you or; You’re lying about something and being on voice would effectively get you busted.
  • Same goes for using a cam in video chat. Doubly so.

You can cite the predominance of horny guys in SL wanting you to be a whore on camera as your reason all you want… but there’s nothing forcing you to comply with their wishes, any more than if you were sitting over a cup of coffee talking and they told you take off your clothes.

There’s a simple response to that – No.

Which is why, if you want a meaningful relationship beyond cursory with me, whether that is friendship or more, the actual truth needs to be known, and just like Wade in Ready Player One, if you’re digging deeper into interpersonal interaction with me, then I’ll start looking for the truth and who I am dealing with beyond the make-believe persona.

The list goes on, but the underlying issue is the same – you’re in the virtual world to escape reality instead of deal with it in a healthy manner or supplement it.

There is a common saying which I noted years ago – an observation as such, and it holds mostly true:

The better your real life is, the less you need a Second Life.

You’ve seen this before, I’m certain. The friend who just disappears off of your contacts for months or even years. You didn’t have a falling out, they’re perfectly fine and in good health… as a matter of fact, they’re better than fine and they’ve been improving their real life.

My best friend Julie spent a god-awful amount of time in Second Life when we first met. Over the years, she met Jason in-world… they spent a ton of time in Second Life together. They eventually met in real life, and that became an ongoing thing, they’d spend less time logged in. Eventually they got married in real life, and she moved to Texas. Now they rarely log into Second Life.

My friend Al spent a lot of time in Second Life, which is where he met his girl Honey. They are into BDSM and for a good while they were a couple in Second Life, her being a submissive and him being a Dominant. Then they got together in real life, they had a kid together and settled down. Both rarely log into Second Life anymore.

I’ve seen this countless times in the virtual world over the past twenty years. Even if they aren’t meeting people and eloping to the real world together, you notice that when people start making positive changes in their real life, they log into Second Life less often because the surrogate they needed at the time no longer applies.

These are examples of using a virtual world to supplement your real life and not replace or escape it.

Of course, one could ask about people like myself who regularly log into Second Life and participate in the community. I believe folks like that still apply to the above rule – because we start out in Second Life as ourselves. I’m in the virtual world to supplement my real life experience and not replace it with a fantasy. You would know this simply by looking at my profile and even my Real Life tab, where you’d see an actual picture of me and a ton of real life information and what I’ve done. But none of that information you know about be isn’t really anything more than you could find out just by looking at me or in a public manner. A cursory Google search would bring up most of it.

You may ascertain that I am a male, age 38 (yeah, I’m getting old), and that I live in New Jersey. You may guess that I’m fairly average in height and weight – though if you ever asked, I’d flatly tell you that I used to weigh between 300-350 lbs but now weigh about 165 because I stopped bullshitting myself and decided to get in shape. You’d know I am unmarried, have no kids, and maybe I look pretty good by statistical odds otherwise. You’d also know that while I do spend a lot of time in front of a computer, I regularly go for 3+ mile walks multiple times a week.

And that is just the thing… you would know things about me that could be ascertained just on cursory glance or very little inquiry. None of that information is taboo to me, because it’s just minimal disclosure and common sense. They are all things you deserve to know about me in order to make up your mind as to whether you want to associate with me.

If you’re lying by omission or overtly, you are effectively disrespecting the people you are interacting with, saying you don’t trust them, and ultimately insulting them by robbing them of the right to make up their mind for themselves if/how they want to interact with you.

And therein is the root of our drama problem in virtual worlds.

Do I have ambiguous friends in the virtual world? Absolutely… One of them played female for years before showing me they were actually that hairy knuckled man (grey beard and all). Did it change the context of interaction between us? Yes, of course (to an extent). But I’m still friends with them nonetheless. We could even go as far as putting the virtually famous Bryn Oh in that ambiguous group.

I’ve “known” Bryn in the virtual world for many years now. I have absolutely no fucking idea if Bryn is a woman, man, trans, a kitten with a tineh netbook, nada. In the virtual world, Bryn Oh is just Bryn Oh, and around me (at least) favors the female interpretation, and so for the sake of pronouns I identify Bryn Oh as Female – even though for all I know Bryn is a guy.

For all I know, Bryn is both and cis, but chooses gender identity as she pleases and often times both or none. Would that change my view of Bryn Oh if I found out definitively? Absolutely… but not like you would imagine. The exchange would go something like – “Oh, well that’s interesting.”

And then I’d continue treating Bryn Oh like Bryn Oh because it’s only when you want a much more involved relationship with me that reality comes into play and those things make a difference. Being my friend in a virtual world? Doesn’t matter with those details.

Wanting a romantic relationship or something deeper with me? Yes, it absolutely matters. Because at that point, and this is something you need to understand, it is no longer your decision alone. The minute you involve somebody else in the equation, it becomes their decision as well.

Does that mean they might choose not to associate with you anymore if they find out what you’ve been hiding? Yes, and that’s real life for you. Otherwise you’re creating a hostage situation built on lies.

And that is why it’s better just to be honest.

That doesn’t mean tell everyone your phone number and street address. But only information they could figure out by seeing you face to face, and information that is actually relevant to the situation at hand. Like being married, open relationship, etc before you try a relationship with them. Honest communication is paramount.

No, the situation won’t always be ideal and the consequences are still there for disclosure. But you can’t win them all… you can only be respectful of others and their involvement in your life and yours in theirs.


  1. I like this one, despite how wordy it

    1. Lots of words are par for the course around here.