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Posts Tagged ‘role-play’

One of the great joys of Second Life is the ability to try-out and live-out things that you can’t do in the real world. It allows you to safely experiment with activities that you might otherwise be too afraid or unable to attempt. And it lets you do things that might be considered illegal in the real world. In the virtual world – since you’re not actually “doing” them – they aren’t illegal activities, right..? Maybe it’s not quite that straight-forward. I’m going to approach the issues of virtual illegality through three test cases: Drugs, Prostitution, and Paedophilia.

Let’s start with prostitution – one of the most wide-spread and well-known occupations in Second Life. Prostitution should be legal in the real world when it is the consenting transaction between two adults. So I find it beautiful that its presence in Second Life reflects so well what we should be seeing in the real world: An acceptance that it exists and happens and that it’s not morally wrong to the point that we must wipe it off the grid. People don’t like it being shoved down their throats (um, so to speak) – in their faces and in “inappropriate” places like the centre of a pub floor, but neither do people like having anything for sale shoved down their throats all the time – sex or a car or a plot of land. That’s not anti prostitution so much as anti rude behaviour. So prostitution is a good starting point for the discussion; showing that the virtual world can help us live in the free and ideal society that we still struggle to create in the real world.

Paedophilia pushes the boundaries, but at the same time clarifies the issue of virtual illegality. Despite the fact that it is not “real” – it is actually two consenting adults with at least one playing as a child – there is still strong and wide-spread outrage at it’s practice in-world. The concerns leak-into and are reflected in the varying attitudes about people playing as child avatars at all.

So why do people not tolerate it in a virtual world? Perhaps it is because the virtual world allows the limits of legality as the real world should be – that is to say, that things like prostitution and drugs should be allowed in the real world because they are actions between or by consenting adults, but paedophilia is something we would never allow because a child cannot give meaningful consent. Or perhaps it is because we think things done in the virtual world might encourage or normalise those actions for the real world, so despite the fact that it is not “really” paedophilia, we are concerned about it becoming such in the real world as a consequence (and that we feel that much more strongly about pedophilia becoming a reality than drug and prostitution use becoming realities).

My personal view on allowing paedophilia in-world should align with my view of pornography in the debate against the feminist movement which says it “encourages” people to treat women as mindless objects, and thereby encourages real rape. The facts go in the other direction – that the increase in pornography online has coincided with a drop in violent sex crimes (I’ve done a previous post on that point). Maybe because it satisfies the desire in the person safely at home so they don’t go live it out in the real world. So can’t we follow the same reasoning with sex crimes against children – that by living it out in the virtual world with people who are actually consenting adults – they are relieving the otherwise destructive fantasy that might have got lived out in the real world..?

Even if it did not have that flow on effect for the better, isn’t it just adults playing around with other adults, and since when did we (legitimately) put a limit on adult fantasy play?

It’s a difficult topic for me, because my “gut” says it’s disgusting – even between consenting adults in the virtual world, and shouldn’t be tolerated. But I think that’s exactly that – just my gut talking. I should be able to step back and assert the position I assert for other almost-crimes (in the real world too): If it’s not an actual crime – people doing something that is not actually illegal since it’s in a virtual world – then don’t punish them as if it was.  Murder is the most serious crime imaginable but people can “kill” each other in Second Life, so why can’t we allow all other role-playing too..? I suspect my gut reaction is in large part a reflection of my view that Second Life is the closest I’ll get to my libertarian utopia – where the only things we are not allowed to do are the actions which do not accord with our legitimate rights, and to me paedophilia (unlike prostitution and drug use) could never be OK in such a society.

Drugs is an interesting area that I think beautifully reflects the idiocy against drug use in the real world too: Let’s be clear at the out-set, drug use in Second Life is silly to me because it is in the same category of eating and drinking which I’ve never taken seriously in-world either. I don’t really get into pretending that my avie is hungry or thirsty or on drugs – if real me is hungry or thirsty or on drugs then I might say so. It’s not like dancing or sitting in a well structured animation which is aesthetically pleasing and (very importantly) doesn’t create constant green spam about how you sip the drink, chew the food or wobble from the drugs. Those other activities also don’t create huge puffs of marijuana smoke, lagging the sim and ruining your view. So my initial annoyance at drug use in Second Life is purely an anesthetic and superficial one. Beyond that – like in the real world – I have absolutely no desire to interfer with your personal drug use.

There are plenty of people who think drug use in Second Life is distasteful though and don’t like its presence in their bar or on their sim. More wide-spread is the very typical allowance and provision of legal drugs – caffeine and alcohol – in places like bars, but not the same ready provision of the drugs that should be legal in the real world: Conforming to the limits of real world legalities when they don’t have to. Of course I understand that to an extent they’re trying to recreate the feel of a real world bar, but then why allow alcohol but not provide toilets, why provide food but not a kitchen area, etc. If I was setting up a bar in-world I wouldn’t bother with the whole fake food and drink thing, but if I did I would go further to my ideal and also make available all the other drugs that should be available over a counter in the real world.

When you ask people why they don’t like seeing or allowing virtual use of illegal drugs, you get the same lines of arguments as those I mentioned above for paedophilia, but without the logical foundation behind them: It encourages or normalises drug-use, and drug use is bad… but wait, why is it bad again? Paedophilia is bad because it’s not done between consenting adults, but why does drug use fall outside those bounds? The arguments for making drugs freely available to adults in the real world are very strong ones, all the way from personal choice down to the crime drug lords that would lose their hold over the black-market if it went legal. In fact people are so blinded by what governments label “legal” and “illegal” drugs, that they overlook the immense amount of harm that alcohol for instance (as a legal drug) causes. The focus on whether you’re abusing drugs or not is just that – are you abusing them, not are you simply using them. Anything in excess can be bad for you (you’re all familiar by now about my attitude towards Second Life in that consideration).

So here’s where we end up on the topic of virtual illegalities: Trying to understand what we tolerate and what we draw the line at, as legal and allowable in a virtual world, does not appear to simply be a recognition that it is “virtual” and therefore not real. It appears to reflect the ideal society where basic rights and freedoms are allowed but we want to draw the line at things that should be illegal in every single society of the world (such as paedophilia). Some of the bad reasoning and thought-patterns of what should be legal and illegal in the real world, gets dragged into the virtual one too. Trying to understand the three examples of prostitution, paedophilia and drug use, helps us examine and understand where we draw the line and why. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on all this as well.

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I tire of reading posts that state that gender in Second Life is irrelevant; that we simply do not need to know whether someone is male or female. It’s always stated with a sort of righteous air, that the writer is ever so liberal and evolved and why can’t we just see the light too! Then of course, it’s followed up with a lot of comments all saying pretty much the same thing – all falling over themselves to agree and jump on the righteous wagon. Each time I read these I want to bang my head against the table, because the thought processes seemed to have come to a halt at “let’s love the world” and gone no further into the reality of what they’re talking about and what they are suggesting. So, I’m going to go a little further for them, because I’m helpful like that.

We’ll retain the foundation claim: You shouldn’t really “care” whether you’re talking to a female playing as a male, a male as a female, a female as a female, a male as a male. But it already requires some vital clarification: The real claim should be that you shouldn’t think less of someone who wants to play as a different gender than they might be in real life – that this does not make them sick or confused or evil. That’s fine as far as it goes, but people very rarely stop there. They almost inevitably then say that gender is totally irrelevant and you should take no interest at all in the gender of the person playing in real life. This is where I veer away and I’m going to have to explain why else all the commenters who so praise the posts I have in mind, will make grumpy face. And no one likes grumpy face.

I want to first clarify that it strikes me that the really “enlightened” person, wouldn’t feel any need to be blind to the gender differences of real life to Second Life – to essentially stick their heads in the sand. Rather, they would quite happily know of the difference and not be disturbed by it, indeed I’m going to show that they should go a step further and take an active interest in the differences and try to appreciate and comprehend the reasons behind the variation in gender. Which brings me nicely to my first reason as to why we should “care”:

Deceit. Let’s make it clear – you are under no obligation to tell people your real life gender, so if you don’t tell them – don’t lie to them – no harm, no foul (generally anyway, I’ll be returning to this point below). There are some people who understand the prejudices they face and decide to live in Second Life as a woman because though in real life  they are a man, “inside” they have always felt female, and so feel obligated to lie when asked about their real life gender. This is a sad state of affairs – that they feel they must lie to people to feel accepted, but it is not something we should be OK with them feeling they must do. There is another strongly related point here – that for some men they see themselves as women in real life anyway, so when you ask if they are female in real life and they say yes, to them they really are telling you the truth, and it is an important truth for them. That’s fine. But you all know where I’m going with this deceit talk don’t you – the people that I feel every right to know the true gender of are those who use the different gender in Second Life to try to seduce people who otherwise wouldn’t get involved with them – especially men who log in as women and decide they are lesbians because they have a fantasy about watching two women go at it. If you have this fantasy as a man just find a woman who wants to play along, it’s not too hard to do, instead of actively lying when asked what your gender is so you can score some lesbian who might end up falling in love with you or being very hurt when she finds out the truth. I’ve seen it happen. It’s cruel, it’s not OK. Which brings me to the second category of reasons against not caring at all what gender someone is in real life…

Love. In the same way that you should not condemn people for being bisexual, you should neither condemn them for being heterosexual or homosexual. So if you are in a friendship with someone and you’d really like to know if the person you think you’re falling for could ever be to you what your dreams tell you, you cannot get all righteous on their arses for wanting to know if they are actually with someone of the correct gender and sexual orientation as would match their needs. If they don’t care what the person is in real life then fine, but don’t go telling others they are bad for wanting to know the reality of the person who has their love. It’s not just love effected by this of course it’s also…

Friendship. When you share your secrets and experiences with someone in Second Life it helps and matters in an extraordinarily large number of ways, what their true gender is. For example, if one of my female Second Life friends is actually male, I am hardly going to expect meaningful conversation and consult them about periods, being on the pill, having breasts, wearing bras, giving birth, breastfeeding, etc. We, quite rightly, vary the topics and experiences we discuss with people, based on who they are – their age, their marital status, their education etc. I have no doubt some women are really quite comfortable discussing their brand of tampon with their male friends, yay for them, but I would expect that to bore and be totally irrelevant to my male friends and so wouldn’t bother them with it – and it’s very likely that a lot of men playing as women don’t want to hear about that either. For me to form a good honest friendship with someone I want to know their true gender. I won’t “care” what it turns out to be, but I’d still like to know it, and I shouldn’t be condemned for wanting to know.

One final reason I want to put forward for why it does matter is because I think it actually promotes understanding and harmony if we all feel that we can be honest about our genders and why they might differ from our real life ones. It’s good to have an open environment where we know these things and learn to accept and understand them. I want to understand why that girl plays as a man, it intrigues me: What aspect of their true gender are they trying to escape, or do they love who they are and are just experimenting, and so on. If we say “you know what, I don’t care at all what your gender is because I’m so enlightened like that”, it seems to me part of message we are sending out is we don’t need or want to understand them, it’s a sort of wilful blindness to their plight and experiences. We’re saying “gender doesn’t matter” but can’t you see that by playing another gender in Second Life they are actually often stating the opposite – that it does matter to them; that it matters so much that they need one place in this world – even if it’s a virtual one – where they can live the gender they truly see themselves as.

Plenty of people don’t take Second Life seriously – they treat the rest of us residents like lab rats to laugh at while they try to deceive us into situations we’d have otherwise never consented to. We shouldn’t grant these people the open slather of saying we don’t care about gender at all, because in fact, love, friendship, trust, are tied up in it. Experimentation is fun, fine, go do it on a  role-play sim, or just avoid the topic of your real life gender, but don’t expect everyone on the grid to not care and be told off if they do care. Many of those of us who see Second Life as a gateway to real and meaningful real life friendships do care about the reality of who we are talking to.

A large chunk of what I’ve written here is backed up by personal experiences. Yes I have male friends who play as females for various reasons (and females as males which is far less common). Yes I 100% accept them when they do so – I actually do see them as women in world and often treat them as such while being conscious they are nevertheless male; no I do not feel the need to tell other people they are doing it – that’s up to them to share with whom they want, when they’re ready. But I respect them for telling me the truth. No I do not respect the many men who have tried to pass themselves off as real life women to me and only revealed very much later that the whole friendship was based around what turned out to be a lie – I don’t like being lied to, who does?

The topic can become complicated further by trying to define when someone is implying they are a different gender than they are in real life but haven’t said so explicitly, so haven’t “lied” per se. They just, for instance, always have an avatar with the “opposite” sex of that in real life. To me, this line is a debatable one, but if I’ve had quite a few lengthy conversations with the person, I expect them to tell me something like that before the friendship becomes a close one.

This is one of those topics that I think people get so intense about that they don’t stop to think about what they’re really saying – they end up sacrificing more important points they could be making to blanket statements that conceal deeper truths at play. I’m not saying there’s no prejudice around and it doesn’t need to be fought, I’m not saying the battle is already won, I’m just suggesting people think a bit more about their statements and stop giving the bigots a strawman argument to knock down instead of the stronger one they could be making.

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They say you can’t choose your family. Well in Second Life people can and do – they decide their relationship with someone feels like that of siblings or uncles etc and then agree amongst themselves that they have that “connection” (and typically openly declare it in their profiles).

Being part of a Second Life family isn’t for everyone. To me it is too much like role-playing. I don’t go into Second Life to role-play – I don’t feel comfortable as a neko or pretending to be someone I’m not – and in turn I don’t go in for the Second Life family thing either. Friends are friends, they don’t become family members just because I feel close to them.

I’m the sort of person who gives things a go though, so I can better understand myself and other people. So, yes, at one stage I had a Second Life family. It consisted of four people at its peak. None of whom are part of my Second Life anymore. It never felt right, it always felt forced, and it didn’t surprise me when it all fell by the way-side.

A significant number of my Second Life friends belong to one particular family. There have been times when I thought how neat it would be to be considered one of that group, to be invited to live in the somewhat communal home they have. The topic even came up once or twice with members of the family but I rejected it because my previous experiences had taught me it just felt wrong.

A while back when some pubs were fighting for the same patrons another family came into being – the people from that family were rather openly viewed as in opposition to this other family I’ve mentioned above. It felt and looked like warring mafia families – choose your side, choose your loyalties, blood-ties that can’t be broken. Watching that made me realise what it is about these family units that disturbs me, beyond the idea that I’m not overly keen on role-playing: It was that your loyalties were to everyone in the family even if you didn’t like or respect them, and that you were expected to take on as mutual enemies anyone who hurt members of your family. I will not let other people tell me who to love and who to hate, I’ve been down that road and it’s an ugly path. When people try to order my loyalties to match theirs I inevitably end up resenting them for making me sacrifice my own judgment to theirs, I trust my own instincts for who are good and who are bad people, and in Second Life my instincts are rarely wrong.

I tend to be quite a reactionary and rebellious person at times – you tell me who to hate and I will search within them for a reason to love them. You tell me who to love and I will seek their flaws. One of the reasons I do this is to over-ride the impact and influence of the “command of affection” by actively seeking out the hidden truths of people. I suppose I’m just not a family type of girl, which is not too dis-similar from real life me either: I have always resented being told I have to love and accept people just because they are family, even when they do evil and immoral acts.

The interesting thing is that I will stick by my own chosen husband in real life, and my own created son, even though they may cause bad things to occur at times in their lives. So, in real life I have chosen my family and it has my deep loyalty. They were not thrust upon me, they are the result of my reasoning and my own actions. But even then I will not let my husband (or son eventually) tell me who I must love, and who I must hate. For it is only them I chose, and at no point did I forgo my ability to reason for myself as to who else I may want or not want in my life.

Not all Second Life families necessarily have this “we stick together, you hurt one you hurt us all” mentality, but it definitely appears to be one of the founding ideas behind the very existence of a vast majority of the Second Life families I’ve encountered. I’d be interested to hear, if you belong to a Second Life family, why you do and what it means to you.

But until I see it some other way – than as role-play and as about blind loyalties – I’ll be remaining Second Life family-less.

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We AreAn SL friend of mine recently decided to take on the vampire look. She’s not sucking anyone’s blood with green spam or whatever, but she has the skin, the clothing, the eyes, etc. I’ve never been into role-play in SL, it’s not why I go there, I’ve often felt somewhat uncomfortable around child avies and nekos (for whatever reason). But the vampire thing I get. I feel zero discomfort around her, in fact I find it kinda alluring. No I’m not gonna sex her, I just like the vibe. And because this is so out of the ordinary of how I feel around people who play “other-than-human”, I thought it best I reflect on why.

As long as I can remember I have loved vampire myths, legends, lore. No other “magical” creature has so captured my imagination. I set a very high standard for what I think is worthy of using the vampire in it’s work – I (and yes I know this sounds weird) feel righteous and annoyed when movies or TV or art or RL little girls use it without thought or care. It has a sort of sacredness for me that must have been ingrained in my at a young age somehow, for me to have that level of intensity about it.

When a movie does it right – The Lost Boys, An Interview with a Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula – it becomes a cult object for me. Put a vampire in a movie and I will watch it. Unfortunately most movies with or about vampires are utter crap, still I go back for more in the hope someone will give the concept the care and depth it deserves.

I’ve been on the fringes of the Goths who try to live it – people who cut themselves and sucked the blood, girls who entered blood sisterhood with each other, etc. But I never took part and never wanted to. I’m not silly enough to think there are real vampires out there, and yes I know some people give it a RL bend by saying it’s about the spirituality and more than the (in)ability to turn into a bat, but I just can’t take that seriously. Sorry. In fact, that sort of treatment of it also “offends” the purity of my notion of vampirism. Hell, I guess I’m a snob in this regard.

All this vampire stuff has leaked into my pictures of course. The one attached to this post is one I did today, deeply inspired by The Lost Boys. I have plans to continue the vampiric theme in my pics for a little bit, particularly if Bailey continues to stay in her current form because that way I have the perfect vampire on hand, ready to go. Neato. It’s kinda nice to feel passionate about something now and then, and I’m glad to be reliving this particular passion via SL right now.

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