March 05, 2010

Preggers? Why yes I am!

Follow-up to The Importance of Being Awesome (On Second Life) from Second Life Blog

Having taken to second life like a duck... to second life, I had become bored. Truthfully I wanted a motorbike, but without a linden dollar to my name this was an unlikely dream. I would have to turn to pregnancy. So, the time (and more significantly money) had arrived. I would cross the final frontier. My dreams of a talking belly would be realised and my avatar and I could have a swollen stomach to call our own.

As I suspect may be the case in real life, getting pregnant is not quite so quick or fun as one would assume. The entertainment value wore off as soon as things got too technical. So many different pregnancies, only a few places they could actually be realised. Still, I eventually found a secluded island where I could unleash my box. Yet still I was not pregnant, and, whilst awaiting the results of an uncertain insemination, I remembered I was actually a man in real life. I hastily left for the pub. Upon return I was greeted by the sight of my new, enlarged avatar. Could this be the cure for my mid-second-life crisis?

               The most noticeable effect of the pregnancy upon my second life experience was in the computer entering a new ice-age. Yup, it was difficult to tell if my character had become more sluggish as the screen flickered and Awesome moved like an unstoppable pregnant juggernaut in one direction only. However, things did steadily improve and I began to experience all the annoying side affects tied to me for the duration of the pregnancy. Apparently my belly has discovered banter. It takes exception to my conversing with anyone for more than five seconds and has turned my avatar into an incontinent wreck.

               So it may seem surprising to think that this pregnancy has turned my sorry second life around. Yet it is true. I trudge around the virtual world with a new sense of confidence. No longer am I a second life outsider, no, I have looked into the belly of the beast and become your average weirdo. As a plain looking, standard gauge avatar I felt like a voyeur, now I have an identity. My excited response to the belly perhaps suggests that I consider identity as a concept defined in opposition to something else. With a bland avatar I lacked a sense of self, now at least feel a greater connection to my avatar through our mutual discomfort. Indeed, I even felt obliged to improve life for the distinctly grumpy Awesome by giving her a makeover. My cack-handed nose job didn’t help matters however, and I even felt a fleeting twinge of guilt.

               Rather than put people off, my pregnant self was apparently much more approachable. Perhaps I was more noticeable, perhaps less threatening. I enjoyed a conversation with a man who incredibly saw second life as a natural extension of his interest in live action role play. He maintained that it was I who was missing the point however and the meeting did alter one of my preconceptions about second life identities. I had assumed that second life was a game based on a personal identity, with little room for collective identity. However, it seems that it is possible enjoy a sense of collective identity online, as my new acquaintance very much felt part of a group of live action role-players on second life. Perhaps second life is in fact more accommodating of collective identities which differ from those encapsulated by standard social groupings.[1] My policy of militantly rejecting friend requests had perhaps been denying me a full and more truthful second life experience.

               I did receive some enquiries about my future child. This surprised me, largely as I had somehow forgotten the association between pregnancy and childbirth. In the knowledge that I was not going to keep the child I had come to consider the tummy talker as more of an item of clothing than a means to child production. I was not the only one. A man with a tail who threw flames at me seemed undeterred by my being ‘with child’. Indeed, in reply to one sarcastic comment he was willing to explain his tail with rather offensive emails. Still, I might have been more considered in my way of second life had I felt I was protecting a human investment.

               This is a difference between real pregnancies and second life pregnancies. The latter have nothing to do with an end product. I am led to believe that a pregnancy is not a necessary precondition to child birth in second life. This begs the question of why people would endure pregnancy in second life. I had thought of second life as a place people would turn into a utopian world in which pregnancy might be avoided at all costs. It seems that many people consider it less fantastical however. It becomes a chance to recreate real life, but as they might prefer it. The proximity to reality would thus be essential to the credibility of the second life idea.

In this interview a woman explains that she is having a baby in second life as she has no desire for children in everyday life. Whilst I’m fairly dubious about that, she claims to want a realistic childcare experience without the responsibility of actual human contact. This is a way in which I think second life differs in its construct of identity from real life. Human responsibility and reactions to it are reflected in the way we behave, and thus construct our identity, and this not recreated in an online environment.

[1] Karen A. Cerulo, Identity Construction: New Issues, New Directions pp.385-409, in the Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 23, (1997) pp.395

November 02, 2009

The Importance of Being Awesome (On Second Life)

So I’m a sceptic. I can’t really envision myself enjoying this kind of thing, though I’m aware that this resignation towards online misery will probably prevent any possibility of enjoyment. To make matters worse recent reportage seems to suggest that Second Life is on the down, commonly used to demonstrate the propensity of online successes to rapidly fall out of fashion. It is a bit disappointing to lose my role playing virginity on what is fast becoming a euphemism for ‘online fad’ [as in Times articles, ‘Online Farmville games ploughs new fields of revenues’ and ‘What Makes Twitter Worth A Billion Dollars’ retrieved 02/11/2009 at and] Besides, I have a problem with the name. To require a ‘Second Life’ would seem to suggest to me that one is simply not enough. If I were religious I would be outraged. Surely it cannot be healthy to live a virtual life. Say, for example, obese and insecure ‘Mr X’ has a slim and attractive online avatar, is this not avoiding ‘real’ problems in his life?

Being an entirely reasonable person, I had pretty much based my view of Second Life on a news story I once read about a couple who met and married on Second Life and then in real life. The man had broken up with his previous long term girlfriend after she discovered he was ‘cheating’ on her in Second Life (therein probably lies the more interesting ‘identity’ story). I was aware of not giving this thing a fair crack of the whip. I tried to open my mind, rather than muse over my unpleasant prejudices. I probably didn’t manage it, but I had recognised I have a problem. It was time to log on.

My first bout of Second Life was technically a shared one (fortunately; denied any type of games console during childhood I am technologically incompetent), with three of us abusing one pre-existing character. We spent most of the time making her look horrific. This was all well and good until Dr Bivins ominously remarked that it was interesting who gave their avatar what type of image. My (almost certainly insecurity-driven) fear of psychological profiling means this comment probably affected my choice of character, name, and general appearance in a complex mess of counter guesses and double bluffs to keep the Freudian players at bay.

To the character. Name: Awesome Zebendein. I thought a surname from the bottom of the pile would neatly juxtapose a first name which, frankly, is awesome. It seemed vaguely appropriate to go for a female character to get into the swing of things (challenge my concept of identity, get a chance to accessorise etc), and awesomeness is neatly gender-nondescript. I chose my lady because I liked her beanie. I didn’t jump racial ship though, there were no black women with beanies.

So on to the game. Landing in the training world I instantly revoked one of my most deeply engrained habits. I accepted some flyers. I may even have acquired a home, but I can’t be sure. It was pretty dry so I decided to teleport on over to the Big Apple. But.... I couldn’t teleport! This fast became a source of tepid frustration. I’m not stupid, I wasn’t going to fly all that way! I suppose it does serve to remind one that most things in life are relative. Had the game offered only 17th Century transportation facilities I might have felt perfectly happy setting sail for the New World and spending the next few weeks logging on to watch my character get seasick. But to be wafted a wormhole and then have it snatched away is a bit much, it’s Concord all over again.

I did eventually solve my transportational troubles and, having neatly avoided being ID’d, I arrived in an N.Y club. I had assumed that Second Life wouldn’t reflect the polyvalence of real-world community. While this might yet hold with regard to the people behind the keyboard, it’s certainly not true of their avatars. In fact, racial and gender groupings seemed far less pronounced in the virtual world, to the point of non-existence. People were far more fluid and sociable in their interaction (I was a bit of a misnomer, gawping like an idiot as people attempted to engage me in conversation). The same heightened sociability online is noticed by Lori Kendall [Lori Kendall, ‘Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub’, retrieved at]. Perhaps this is the result of the increased confidence online anonymity grants people. Do racial barriers apply if you can’t be sure a person looks like their avatar? Utopian? Too early to tell. Anyway, the display of online confidence did remind me of S.L’s benefits. Perhaps a way of controlling your identity is controlling who passes judgement upon it. I suppose that a second life could be psychologically rewarding for individuals if there were enough similarly minded people also playing the ‘game’. You might feel your online community was as valuable as its more temporal counterpart. ‘X’ might be less likely to comfort eat.

I was further impressed by some dancing. I couldn’t figure out how to dance myself, but took vicarious pleasure in watching a more competent user strut their stuff. After all, it could have been me. I couldn’t say I related with my character much more than any other; I was unrepentant with my sluggish conversational skills and felt no embarrassment when letting my mind wander and my character stand inanimate. The dancer was good though. But not. You see, this is a problem I have. It’s like guys who train six hours a day to become Guitar Hero champions, but would be awesome if the dedicated the same amount of time to actual guitar practice. You can train on Second Life, but could you not invest time more productively in self improvement? I suppose this misses the point. Firstly, I am in no position to accuse anyone else of time wasting. More fundamentally however it refers to my earlier point. I draw a clear distinction between ‘real’ life and that online. To another this could be a moot point (again I am almost certainly over estimating people’s dedication to the game. Blame my inexperience). I suppose my definition of identity is more corporeal than others.

As with all writing, I’m sure this reveals more about the author than intended. Ach vell. I guess I am still struggling to really engage with the concept. I remain more of an Identity Voyeur than a 'Tourist'.

[Ref. to ‘identity tourist’ in Lisa Nakamura, ‘In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet’ retrieved at 02/11.2009].

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