The Bad Girls Club–Or–Being and Non-Being in Second Life

Second chances at life do not come very often. People make wrong choices and then end up living the rest of their lives regretting these choices.These people usually live in an environment where these choices are just below the surface and are ready to bring back haunting memories. Glimpses of certain people bring back bad memories, too. Second Life gives people the chance to create an avatar that would be the person they only wish they could be. Unfortunately, this avatar is not a real person. The controlling force is still the person that is living with the memories.

This is how one of my students began a short report on her first experience in the virtual reality sim, Second Life. What I love about it is that she so quickly noticed the cognative dissonance which we all encounter in Second Life (SL).

The thought pattern runs something like Am I the avatar? No. Do my relationships in SL make me feel the way they do in Real life (RL)? Well, yes. I guess I am not my avatar, but I am not different from my avatar either.

The assignment, written out as Volume 1 of a book I wrote that guides students through a semester-long SL exercise, was to spend a considerable bit of time developing a great avatar. I didn’t specify that it had to be beautiful, but none of my students (all female in this case) chose to make an “ugly” avatar. I knew they wouldn’t. They were also required to make as many friends as possible, talking, dancing at clubs, going to art galleries together, and so on. I will write about what happened after the students completed Volume 2 of the exercise in another post, but the spiritual riches that developed out of the first one really pleased me.

What I noticed among all my students reports was that more attention was paid to appearance and behavior than to the technology.  I think, that if properly managed, a SL exercise can really help students become more self-aware.  To that end, I want to quote from several of the reports I received.

On grooming and RL spouses:

Comparing my grooming habits to my avatar’s brought an interesting thought. As people progress through life, there is a tendency to focus more of their attention on family and less on self. I am reminded of many Oprah

Photo of Oprah Winfrey at her 50th birthday pa...
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shows that feature housewives that desperately need makeovers. They have spent the majority of the last fifteen to twenty years taking care of their families. An eye opening experience or a husband seeking a sexy playmate has grabbed their attention. They look in the mirror and realize they need help. This brings me back to myself:  Do I spend enough time and energy keeping my husband’s attention?

One student started out her report with the claim that, as in RL, so in SL:

Feelings in Second Life are very much like how you feel in real life because that is how you act. You are controlling your avatar and your natural instincts take over, and you behave like you normally would. Even though many things are fake and visibly fake, the way you take to people and the actions you do are very similar. In real life if you are normally a shy person, you will probably be a shy person on Second Life.

And yet, by the time she ended her report she had this to say about the difference between realities:

I don’t see myself walking into a place and just talking to random strangers. I do see myself talking to them, but not starting conversations with lost of random strangers. I also danced a lot more in Second Life. I do not really like to dance at events, but in Second Life I danced very often. I think I did dance because in real life I do like to dance, but don’t like having to dance in public places with a lot of people. I think the whole artificiality of Second Life did not result in me feeling scared about dancing and as a result I danced more than I would normally in real life.

This writer wanted to be proactive about her “performance” in SL.

There are different qualities about myself that I really appreciate, and then there are others that I wish I would change. I love that I have a friendly, outgoing personality, but I dislike that I can be very shy at first. In second life, I am trying to give Izzy my good qualities and there are qualities of myself that I do not want Izzy to portray. Of all the characteristics that define me, the one that I really want to show is my bright personality.I made a goal for myself for the remainder of SL. I want to truly change and become more outgoing and less shy. I think that doing this in SL will be an easy transition to do between SL and real life.

To me, the statements above were the most encouraging because the student saw an opportunity to explore herself without having to risk too much.  I like that she took the initiative.  the student below, however, remained afraid the entire time that others in SL might discover her RL identity.  She just could never commit herself to the experience and suffered from a disjuncture from her avatar.

I don’t want people to see me as me, I want to be [thought of as only] my avatar, just an anonymous person, working on a class assignment.

And this student, probably the best writer, described taking

Well , it took me some time to change the look of my avatar. At first I had trouble taking off the flowery skirt that I thought she was doomed to wear forever. When I began, I thought I would make my avatar resemble me, I mean who doesn’t think it’s cool to have mini computerized version of themselves? But then I started thinking…this avatar could me the inner me, the one that is dying to emerge, but never will.

Once I put her in some sexy clothes, a midriff shirt, some tight pants, (hey, I’m going clubbing here, I have to look hot) I was quite pleased with my creation.
It really gives you a sense of freedom when creating this avatar. You can look however you want, you can be whatever you want. This is the great thing about anonymity. There are no constraints to always be inside the box that you have somehow put yourself in over the years.

I also went to the Bad Girls Club which states right up front that it is “mature”, but I went in anyways. I always find it interesting that when I am talking to people they sometimes ask “you are a girl, right?” to which I then find I have to respond in kind, because the appearance of the avatar could be misleading as it is with any online site.
I realized that at first I found it freeing to be someone else, that my old ideas or ways like being shy or not knowing what to say still come back into play. They haunt me if you will. But I think that I need to free myself from that way of thinking and become more my avatar and less me [emphasis mine] when I am in there.

I know, I know, this is going to drive the face-to-facers nuts.  But they should not despair:

The heart of my avatar is the avatar’s creator.

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