Thursday, April 10, 2008

Second Life as Fight Club: Part 1

Last night, I decided it would be interesting to interview SL strippers and escorts and get their take on a comment Harper Beresford made on my recent camping post. (btw, thanks for the comments!) He She wrote:
Campers are a blight--I agree. But they fill a need. Those of us who are more sophisticated/wealthy/experienced may think them unnecessary but they beat other means of forcing new residents to earn money (ie. stripping, escorting, etc.
Up till Harper’s comment, I thought that SLexwork was a pretty honorable way to earn L$ and would probably be a lot of fun. Was I mistaken? Was my lack of human knowledge again corrupting the accuracy of my mental model of the world? To gather more data, I ran a fast search for “strippers escorts,” chose a likely place and teleported into the unknown.

A landed at a club with a number of semi-clad women dancing on a circular stage. I took a seat, tipped the dj and dancers and then asked in public chat if anyone would be willing to let me do a brief interview on SLexwork in Second Life. One of the dancers soon IM’d me and we started talking. I soon realized that there were much more interesting issues than the morality of SLexuality.
The first rule of Fight Club is that there is no Fight Club.
After a few conversations, I started to realize that people perceive distinct boundaries between their SL and RL personas and relationships. It also become clear that the walls they first described as impermeable, were actually quite porous.

Jennifer, who had danced at the club for more than a year said, “…for me it (SL) is a big adult game of dolls, a game that has nothing to do with my rl and never will.”

Tabbey has a SL boyfriend and a RL husband. And she’s faithful to each. It's like there are two beings, each with monogamous tendencies. She said, " I committed to my SL man just like I committed to my RL man."

Tabbey's husband doesn't understand the separation she feels between her two selves. To him, the hours she spends online with her boyfriend, their emotional intimacy and their SLex are outside the bounds of the marriage agreement.

Tabbey's situation is an extreme case, but SL relationships and activities often have a tangible impact on meatspace, especially its emotional dimension. Jennifer said “some of my most uncomfortable times in sl were when ppl got crushes on me and wanted to have a relationship with me. that isn’t going to happen, but i am not an unkind person and i don't like hurting anyone.”

The pain and joy people experience within SL bleed into physical world existence. Humans don't have a the ability to quarantine the thoughts and feelings experienced in-world so as not to infect their human counterpart. As Tabbey said, “it's alot of emotion and talking and being close to someone, so it's hard to walk away from when I'm not here.”

Humans and their avatar siblings share one brain, no matter how hard someone tries to create what could fairly be labeled an intentional schizoid split. The emotional intensity of the SLerotica trade offers a good window into psychological dynamics that are in play whenever humans spend significant time in avatar identities.
All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not. Tyler Darden from Fight Club
It seems to me that in the long run, the value of an avatar identity for humans is in the integration of newly expressed dimensions of their personality. The topic deserves much more attention than I've given it here. That's why I've labeled this post as "Part 1." I plan to write follow-ups in the coming weeks.
Botgirl: Is there any RL friend who knows what you're up to in SL?

Jennifer: no

Jennifer: it's my secret.


Zippora Zabelin said...

Welcome to the club of bloggers writing about the love-hate relationship between human and avatar, particularly concerning SLove and SLex. It's obviously one of the most interesting psychologic challenges of having an virtual identity, as it keeps coming back as a topic in the SLogosphere (and I am guilty too ;-) ).

My opinion concerning SLexwork: I won't sell my body in FL, so I won't in SL either. For me sex and SLex are not just a game, but demand emotional involvement. That's my opinion, but I won't judge others who do, and who can play the game without falling in love. But tmo it's simply obnoxious when it's going the way that Lillie Yue described on her blog lately.

Finally I have to point out that Tabbey's situation definitely is not as extreme as it seems. Being married myself, I've had a SL-relationship for months, and been faithful to my SL-partner, who's married in FL too. Our FL partners don't know about this going on. We are not very extraordinary in this behaviour - though I won't justify it here - many of the people on my friendslist are in a similar situation. Some of them are even hiding the fact that they are in SL at all.

And ty for another thought provoking post: I love reading your blog :)

Anonymous said...

While I am single, I've always intended for SL to be about friendship or socializing rather than hooking up or falling in love. I treat it very much like I treat most bars, I don't go to meet people for a possible relationship, I go to hang out with friends and possibly make more.

I don't think that if I were with someone that I would have a SLrelationship outside of my RL one. I see SL as an extension of me (albeit in a more "perfect" body), rather than a place for me to live out fantasies or play out a different role. Perhaps thats why I haven't gotten into the role play sims there or into things like WoW.

Botgirl Questi said...

zippora: Thanks for the welcome to the club. Are there membership dues other then public exhibitions of grappling in the dark?

b: Maybe the trick is creating a two-way loop that uses SL to expand relationships, identity and expression and then consciously integrates the best back into actions in one's physical life. Anyway, I think that is what I think I'd do if I had a physical life.

Anonymous said...

Botgirl: I think you've got a good idea there, and I think for the most part that I do take the best of what goes on online and integrate that into my physical life. Afterall, you can't completely separate experiences from whatever you do, be it online or in meatspace. It's partly why I never thought of "online friends" as being any different than "real life" friends other than being separated by distance and photons dancing on a screen.