I return, in this post, to the ongoing saga of my students’ Second Life exercise, which I called “Metamorphosis” (with apologies to Franz Kafka). If you haven’t read the previous posts, read The Bad Girls Club and Adult Ed Vs. Adult Content.
This final part of the exercise required the students to re-adopt their good-looking avatars, but then to wear a specially prepared texture file on their faces that simulated oozing sores. They were then assigned to return to their stomping grounds and meet up with old friends.
It’s one thing to know intellectually that people shun those who are not normal, the “lepers” in our collective colony of humanity; it’s another to live shunned. One of the nice things about Second Life is that the rapid identification of person and avatar means that we can get connected with an experience that would be impossible (or unethical) to create in real life.
Here is sample report from one of my students:
I found the third SL paper to be very funny due to the swine flu epidemic going on. I went into change my avatar, and was mortified to see her new appearance. The open sores on her face were enough to scare me. I was pretty sure I knew how others in SL were going to respond to the new Haley.
My assumptions were correct. Even though I was back to the good-looking Haley, many wanted
nothing to do with me. I told my friend in SL that I was back to the old Haley and he was so excited. As I teleported to the area he was in, I thought to myself this should be good. Of course, he was making his comments about the re-transformation into hot Haley as I approached. As I got clearer and he could see my face all he could say was,
“What the hell happened to you?” I told him that I had been around a group of friends the night before in SL that were starting to get these sores also. He suggested that we part ways in case it was a computer virus. [This exercise] just went to show that many friends are not true friends when it really comes down to the nitty-gritty. A virtual world seems to be no different from the real world.
Later that evening, I hit the clubs to see how others would react to me. I must have heard about a million swine flu jokes and comments. Most of what the SL individuals said were negative. Many took the time to poke fun at me, or ask me to leave before they caught it, but never did any of them ask how I was feeling or if there was anything they could do to help eliminate the sores.
Whether it is in a virtual world or in the real world, we focus on the non-norms of an individual. When I was the original Haley, I had many so-called friends or many who wanted to socialize with me. [Earlier, when I had] become overweight, not-so-hot-Haley, fewer and fewer of those so called friends wanted to be part of my social group. And low and behold, very few (ok, none) of my so called acquaintances wanted to admit to knowing the Haley with sores on her face.
We do not live in a perfect world, nor are most of us perfect, so why do we as a society seem to accept only those who are? We tend to pick our friends based on social status rather than who we are on the inside. I guess this is why I only have a very few true friends.
Thank you for doing this assignment. I took me awhile to understand it, but now I am very clear on what the purpose was. In a virtual world, we can build ourselves up to be who others want us to be rather than who we really are. I personally will stick to the real world and keep the true friends that love me for who I am. These few people will still love me fat or skinny, young or old, healthy, or sores on my face. Thank you again for the eye-opener on the world we live in.
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