November 07, 2008

Reflections on competence and anxiety in SL and RL

I’m curious at to whether there may be some correlation between anxiety about roleplay, and about learning the conventions of SL, and reacting against the weirdness of SL on one hand and a person’s general feeling of confidence and in RL.

My initial response to SL was how conventional it is – I’d’ve assumed that people would be as fantastic as possible and the environment would be as surreal as you could make it. Instead the majority (94%? 96% I heard the statistic once but can’t track it down to confirm it) appear as human and often as close to their real self as possible, only slightly taller, slightly thinner and slightly younger. The first response of a lot of institutions when they acquire an island is to replicate the RL buildings on their campus. (Interestingly, this was predicted in Snow Crash, in that novel the very experienced people replicate reality because it’s more of a mark of achievement to do so, and even tp in private, to maintain the illusion as much as possible, adding to the sense of immersion.) So I appreciate I’m in a minority here, but SL is by no means too strange from my perspective.

My relative experience of the two worlds is 3 years in SL, 45 years in RL, yet I would say the different levels of competence and anxiety I feel about the two environments are pretty similar – last night at the fashion show I gave some thought about what to appear as – but apart from Liz was the only non-human there. Was there some sort of convention about appearance I wasn’t aware of? Was there any disapproval about the lion dancing on the tables? It was difficult to tell, and despite the anxieties I felt there, ultimately I suppose I don’t care, because there’s always the quick get out of clicking the little x in the top right hand corner. In contrast, this week I received an invitation to a conference dinner, with the dress code of “smart casual”. Again a similar anxiety, what is “smart casual”? What clothes are OK? I’ve not read that instruction before but was there an unwritten rule in all previous conference dinners that I’ve not picked up on? Will I turn up in my usual clothes and be the odd one out and not have the ability to tp out of there?

So does this level of feeling of incompetence, inadequacy and bewilderment in RL mean that I’m better equipped to deal with the strangeness of SL and hence to me being prepared to use it as a learning environment?

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Liz Thackray

    Interesting stuff Mark. For me, there was no real decision to make about what kind of avatar to be – I didn’t consider a male (perhaps I am too conformist, but my alt is male), I didn’t want a female (I didn’t want to replicate myself and I didn’t want a barbie to play with) and the furry looked more fun. That was two years ago and I have changed my skin and got the look I like now – I reckon a raccoon in a tux looks quite smart. I do tend to notice other animal avs – mainly because there are relatively few in most educational environments. I am also aware I confuse people – it’s the facial hair that does it! I didn’t stay that long at the party because of lag problems, but seeing a lion dancing on a table caused me no problems – why should it?

    Like you, I can get into a stew about social codes. I’m OK about the smart casual for the conference dinner because I was in the room when it was discussed – whether I would be otherwise I don’t know. But I do know I got in a stew over being invited to a black tie event and really wished I could send my avatar along rather than find something appropriate for the real life Liz to wear.

    I don’t really feel a comfortable fit with real life all too often, but SL is where I can be who I want to be. As to whether that aids me in using SL as a learning environment, I don’t know, but I don’t see any problem with meeting in tree houses or flying round giant testes or whatever.

    07 Nov 2008, 13:31

  2. Good to hear that Liz – if anyone wants to see pics of the party Liz and I were at it’s at I’m the lion and the giraffe (hhmm predator and prey – maybe that shows some sort of balance). As an appendix to the conversation I’d add that Liz and I know each other in RL, but met in SL first – and I probably made the effort to get to know her because she’s a raccoon. I have a slight prejudice in favour of non-human, or winged (finned or tailed) human, avatars, my assumption is that they are more interesting on average. With one or two notable exceptions that’s been borne out.

    07 Nov 2008, 16:19

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