Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When Avatars Leave: Supporting our Friends Through The Grieving Process

Most of the people we meet in Second Life are known only through pseudonymous identities. Over time, relationships from casual acquaintance to romantic love develop without the knowledge of human names, ages, genders, professions or places of residence.

The pseudonymity of Second Life allows some people to share very intimate thoughts, feeling and desires that are typically hidden from Physical World friends and loved ones. Although the initial feeling of safety allows such shielded aspects of the Self to be exposed, it also creates a significant level of emotional vulnerability. When a close pseudonymous relationship is terminated, the abandoned partner is likely to go through a period of significant grief that spills into his or her human life.

In addition to separations that are not very different than human "break-ups," sometimes an avatar disappears completely from the virtual world without a trace. These situations can be very hard on the ones left behind because of the difficulty in finding a sense of closure. The vacuum of information can be filled by echos of unhealed trauma that can go all the way back to earliest childhood. Intense waves of emotion such as fear, despair, anger and desperation can wash over the ones left behind.

Since many people keep their Second Life secret from human friends and family, there is often nowhere to turn for support in the Physical World. Unfortunately, the informal support of virtual friends, no matter how well meaning, is usually not up to the task of substantively helping someone move through their grief process.

It occurred to me that it might be useful to create some sort of virtual ritual to help those left behind find some closure when avatars leave. Something like a wake or Shiva. Friends could share memories of the departed and share time together reflecting on the nature of virtual relationships. Perhaps there could be some sort of symbolic burial, cremation or de-rezzing.

Has anyone heard of this type of ritual being performed in Second Life? Any ideas on other elements that might be useful?


Steve Vader said...

I think that is an extremely viable and thoughtful proposition; it's probably needed by more than we think. Even those that have disappeared could use some anonymous help, if it were available on the outside to them.

I've often thought the statement "my first life is not relevant to my second" rarely applies truthfully. Our avatars are all controlled by living, breathing, feeling people, whether or not someone chooses to acknowledge it.

Nice post! Let's see what can happen :D XD

eirwenes said...

Well, we certainly don't want to mix it up with "griefing." But regardless of the name, SL funerals or wakes or some form of memorial service would be of great help to many people. I have done them in the real world for pets. We don't often think how much that will help, but it does. I'd be happy to volunteer to offer services in SL. Maybe teach a few basic rituals to others, and then move on.

Dale Innis said...

I recall a piece of art ("art") somewhere where an AV entered some ceremonial space in SL, received visits by some number of friends (or acquaintances? or random curious passers-by?), and then ultimately (accompanied by I think music and perhaps some visual display) logged out for the last time and then deleted the account.

If I recall the left-behind notecards and so on that I read when I stumbled across it, this wasn't done so much as an organic ending to a relatively normal life in SL, so much as an art project to gesture toward the question of what "death" might mean for an AV. So not as emotionally touching as it might have been. :) But an interesting thought.

If I can find the information about it (and it's not all that likely I'll be able to), I'll post it here or email it to you or something.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dale mentioned the one I was thinking of too also. If I remember correctly, it was very near the Reflexive Architecture build. Here's the slurl to Reflexive Architecture:
But do hop over to a very nearby build (can't remember the direction but it's not far if it's still there) to find the "art" display of the ceremonial space depicting an AV's passing.

Molly said...

When one of our group died in RL it left a huge hole in SL for us. I put together a memorial for her, we did what she loved to do, and now there is Trixie's beach with her pix and a StarSpire floating over it, but it's still hard.

Botgirl Questi said...

I wonder whether an annual "Day of the Dead" style event would be of value?

Unknown said...

Thank you for bringing this very real issue to the conscious of Second Life. This is probably the most prevalent emotion in SL and the least discussed or dealt with. Everyone will deal with this if they are in SL for any appreciable amount of time. We need to share our different ways we are dealing with the inevitable loss.

Dale Innis said...

Ohhh, you have been linked to from ("to from") the official SL web-o-blogs!


Botgirl Questi said...

I'm thinking of putting a memorial together for Night, both to experiment with some of these ideas and as a way to support those who are still grieving or would like more closure.

Anonymous said...

Only you, Botgirl, could turn a funeral into an "experiment". Keep up the good work.

Mike Burleigh said...

Actually this has existed in sl for 14 months Its called Remembering our Friends Memorial it is located in the Sunset Arts II Sim There is a section for real life friends/family that never played sl that have passed in first life.And the main memorial is for sl avatars that have passed away in real life..This is a free service i have been offering for 14 months now..Please im me in world for more info or visit our blog at Mike Burleigh Founder /Caretaker Remembering our Friends Memorial