Truth is not about fact. It is about crafting a story so good it will be taken at face value. Rheta ShanThe quote is from a chat I had with avatar Rheta Shan last September about the disappearance of a mutual friend from Second Life. Rheta herself dropped off the face of the virtual world about a month ago. Yesterday, it was reported by her blog's tech support person that the human behind Rheta's avatar persona died on April third, in her ninth month of pregnancy, after being hit by a car while crossing the street.
Rheta's human identity is still a secret, so it is unclear whether the reported facts of her death reflect physical reality. Since I'm someone who still suspects Andy Kaufman is going to show up one day and let us in on the prank, I'm personally going to withhold judgement on Rheta's human condition. In any case, "Rheta The Avatar" is gone and has left behind many grieving friends.
I'll leave the philosophical discussion about the nature of reality to others. But virtual life is a psychological reality to the average Second Life resident who spends about twelve hours a week in avatar form. This is most significant for those who neither disclose their human identity to other avatars, nor share their avatar lives with human friends and family. The solid wall between the two "realities" can set up irreconcilable dichotomies through conflicting interests, commitments and obligations. When the pressure becomes too much to handle, people sometimes choose to "kill" their avatar and cut off all contact with virtual friends.
We may never know the physical facts behind Rheta's virtual death, but her story underscores the still unfathomed complexities of online pseudonymous identities and relationships. Most of us have entered into our virtual identities with little thought of long-term consequences. I hope that Rheta's story will move to us contemplate our own virtual lives and live with greater awareness.