Back in 2012 I wrote an article called “Unencumbered by the trappings of real life“. Some things are still as true then as they are now, whilst other things are a little out of date, so I have decided to revisit it and update it.
Some of the people I meet in Second Life want to know all about my real life, about how I look or where I live, or how old I am, or any number of other things. And I tell them that, quite apart from privacy, I simply don’t see things like that as having any relevance to my Second Life. And, further, I don’t particularly want them to volunteer anything about themselves either. I’m simply not interested in their “skinvelope” (or, as I have heard others refer to it, their “meatsack” or “meat rider”, which I confess aren’t phrases I’m particularly enamoured with) and want to get to know the real person, unencumbered by the trappings of real life. Some of these people have got quite defensive about my attitude and asked how I can know the real person when I say I don’t want to know the real life person. Some have even called me crazy. Well, allow me to explain what I mean.
I think the key phrase for me is “unencumbered by the trappings of real life”, and by that I mean free from any prejudices of race, height, weight, physical beauty (or lack of), age, gender, or any number of other things that colour our perception of the other person whether consciously or subconsciously. For me, there is a purity in keeping things SL-only. Some may call that Immersionism but I prefer to see it as accepting the other person for how they choose to present themselves. If the beautiful woman in front of me with the impeccable fashion sense, and who appears to be in her 20’s, is actually a 45 year-old mum of four whose tits headed South round about child two, and whose clothes in real life are more Matalan than Milan, then does it really matter? Or, for that matter, if in real life she is a 24 stone, 58 year-old trucker named Barry with a beer belly in a different postal zone.
If they utterly convince me in SL and stay in character then that’s good enough for me. Perhaps it isn’t good enough for you, and the real life information alters your perception of them. But if it does, then perhaps it speaks more of your preconceptions than it does of them?
The point is that Second Life is meant to be a place where we can cast off the roll of the dice that made us what we are physically in real life and roll them again in SL. And in SL you can use loaded dice and choose how you want to be. And I think that people should respect that and not try to undo it by dragging RL into things. After all, it’s called “Second Life” not “Augmented Real Life”.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m against discussing aspects of RL. The kind of music you like, the books, films, and art you like, the jokes you tell, the quips you make, what you think and say – they are all part of you as a person and they are shared between RL and SL. But what I’m trying to convey is a separation between the personality that is “you” and the physical container for it.
If you think about this, it’s not such an unreasonable supposition. If you look around SL you will very rarely see a person in a wheelchair, or someone walking with the aid of a stick, or bed-ridden. Why would someone choose to limit themselves in SL when it gives them opportunities to enjoy things in SL that are denied to them in real life? I’d venture to suggest that there is simply no need to carry over that attribute of their real life body into SL unless, for whatever reason or agenda, they chose to do so. And I’d say the same for someone’s physical sex too; I have several transgender friends who I consider to be cis female in SL regardless of the roll of the dice they got in real life.
Sadly, as many far better bloggers than I have already pointed out, my attitude is becoming increasingly quaint and old-fashioned in the modern age of social media and a joined-up internet “experience”, where people are used to sharing their entire identity in cyberspace and anyone who doesn’t is branded an ‘escapist’ and it is implied that they have something to hide.
I think that’s a great shame.
See also my follow-up post “Body (and head) shaming in Second Life, and the definition of self.”