Monday, August 4, 2008

The experience of AIR and not-AIR

This is a continuation of a topic thread covered in the last two posts relating to what I now refer to as "AIR-based relationships." AIR = Anonymous identity + Immersive environment + Romantic attraction.
Description of each factor:


ANONYMOUS: The human identity of the other being is unknown. Full anonymity encompasses age, gender, race, location, employment, etc.


IMMERSED: You experience your "self" as a virtual identity within the "magic circle" of the virtual environment. Full immersion encompasses factors such as age, gender, race, location, employment, etc. Immersion does not depend on any particular external factor such as a 3D virtual world. It is the psychological experience of feeling as if you are primarily within a virtual environment, identity or encounter. Some people experience their virtual selves as completely separate beings from their human identity.


ROMANTICALLY ATTRACTED: You have a crush on the other being. This can include feelings of longing, sexual arousal, obsessive thoughts, etc. that extend beyond time spent in the virtual setting.

The experience of each combination of factors:

After trying a few different approaches to better understand and articulate the effects of AIR, I came up with a simple narrative description of the experience of each combination of AIR and not-AIR elements. It is told from the point of view of human Sandy Smith and her avatar Hotgirl Questi, as she chats and dances with avatar Hippychick Bluestone and her typist John Jones.

I rearranged the order of the factors to make the narration flow more smoothly (I-A-R here.) Keep in mind that these descriptions are from one person's point of view, in this case Sandy/Hotgirl. John/Hippychick, the other character in this mini-drama, may have a different combination of AIR/not-AIR.


I, Sandy Smith, a 21 year old woman in San Francisco, am logged onto SL as the avatar Hotgirl Questi. I am chatting with John Jones, a middle-aged man in Cleveland, who is logged on as the avatar Hippychick Bluestone. I'm watching our avatars dance in a nightclub simulation. It's fun.


I, Sandy Smith, a 21 year old woman in San Francisco, am logged onto SL as the avatar Hotgirl Questi. I am chatting with someone who is logged on as the avatar Hippychick Bluestone. I'm watching our avatars dance in a nightclub simulation. It's fun.


I'm chatting with Hippychic. Her keyboardist is John Jones, a middle-aged accountant in Cleveland. We're dancing together in a nightclub. It's fun.


I, Sandy Smith, a 21 year old woman in San Francisco, am logged onto SL as the avatar Hotgirl Questi. I am chatting with John Jones, a middle-aged man in Cleveland, who is logged on as the avatar Hippychick Bluestone. I'm watching our avatars dance in a nightclub simulation. I have a big crush on John.


I'm chatting with Hippychick Bluestone. We're dancing together in a nightclub. It's fun.


I, Sandy Smith, a 21 year old woman in San Francisco, am logged onto SL as the avatar Hotgirl Questi. I am chatting with someone who is logged on as the avatar Hippychick Bluestone. I'm watching our avatars dance in a nightclub simulation. I have a big crush on the person who is logged on as Hippychick.


I'm chatting with Hippychick Bluestone. Her typist is John Jones, a middle-aged man in Cleveland. Hippychick and I are dancing together in a nightclub. I have a big crush on her


I'm chatting with Hippychick Bluestone. We're dancing together in a nightclub. I have a big crush on her.

7 comments:

Charlanna Beresford said...

This is a great thread, Botgirl. AIR is an interesting taxonomy that describes important variables but maybe there is another variable missing? Don't the definitions of relationship and romance potentially vary?

Isn't there a continuum of how relationship manifests itself? Where does the role of mutual expectations play into things? A few examples of this come to mind. One is that while Hotgirl may have all three parts of AIR, doesn't she make a choice on how she interacts with Hippychick? She may have a crush/obsession/whatever but choose to simply stay dance friends. Yet she may also choose a relationship that has sexual aspects to it.

Also, I have some friends that started moving toward a romantic relationship with two female avs in the AIR context. As time passed, one revealed that the typist was male IRL; their relationship has continued and possibly strengthened as a result.

And Hamlet wrote an interesting piece that raises some points, too: http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2005/01/man_and_man_on_.html

Okay, so I did throw a bunch of questions out for something that I know you are thinking through as you post. I'm really interested to see where you go from here.

Dale Innis said...

v nice an' methodical! am bouncing up an' down with wondering jes what it is that you are wondering about that led you heres. :)

Night Morrisey: said...

This is brilliant!

Now if things would only stay cut-and-dried! But for me, things never do. I strive to experience SL from an AI (anonymous and and immersed, not artificial intelligence) context. But when the R element enters the picture, i find it impossible not to progressively reveal more about the woman behind the keys. I safeguard myself through the establishment of boundaries that i fanatically defend as non-negotiable: No pics, no video, no RL names, and NO RL MEETING. But other than that... perhaps everything else is eventually available, as the relationship builds.

And I've discovered that I'm more than okay with this. I actually desire it. Like Charlanna shared in the story of the couple who grew closer upon the revelation of RL details, I find that the deeper connection born of sharing lives is really what gives depth to the experience. And without at least some degree of that kind of transparency, i think that you quickly hit a ceiling in the growth of the relationship.

Now, of course, this does entail risk. The more you let someone in, the deeper the pain if and when it ends. But that's the price you pay for feeling and experiencing deeply.

Botgirl Questi said...

charlanna: yes. and yes. and, let's see. yes. :) AIR is just one combination of elements that I happened to see playing together in interesting ways. It certainly takes into account much less than it leaves out and is far from a theory-of-everything about virtual relationships. Relationships manifest over time, and any of those particular aspects can change for one or both individuals.

Humans potentially have the ability to consciously choose how to act upon strong emotions, and whether to accept at face value the thoughts and stories kicked up within virtual relationships. Looking through the lense of AIR might be a means for some people to support better choices and clearer thinking.

Some fairy tale relationships end up in murder, and there are accounts of hookers and johns marrying and living happily ever after. So I'm not implying any certain outcome from the influence of AIR or not-AIR. The framework is just meant as one tool we might use to figure out what the hell is going on when drama erupts and emotions run high (or don't.)

Botgirl Questi said...

dale: astute question. What led me down this path was a couple conversations with a friend who was struggling through multiple SL relationship issues.

Botgirl Questi said...

night. thanks! I agree that one of the challenges of trying to maintain an anonymous identity is the worthy desire of becoming closer to our virtual friends and loved ones. Our potential to share important aspects of our lives (if we have important non-virtual aspects) is quite hampered by an insistence on high levels of anonymity.

The topic of anonymous identity is fascinating in itself...the various reasons people choose to create and maintain anonymous identity...its impact on important aspects of virtual life including immersion, relationships, activities, etc.

I'd love to hear more about how you came up with your particular set of "non-negotiable" boundaries and what purpose anonymity serves in your virtual life.

Eamon said...

In permuting these variables (in particular the anonymity factor), you underline the distinction in the object of the crush (between, say, having a crush on the avatar and the typist).

But is there not, at least notionally, a symmetrical distinction to be made on the side of the subject: in other words, is it the avatar who has the crush, or is it the typist who has the crush?

Even if you don't see the avatar as self-aware, you could see the typist as author of the avatar's story, and thereby creating the reality of the avatar having a crush.