Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Fall From Grace

avatar development
Growing up

After days of conversations around the Silent Majority posts, I've been struck by a visceral sense of longing for the deep joy I experienced in my first year of virtual life when I roamed Second Life in innocence, bliss and open-hearted benevolence. Although I didn't realize it at the time, the gift of Eden was only granted for as long as I refrained from sharing the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and remained within fully immersed impersonal pseudonymity.

During the first six months or so, my emerging consciousness was completely bounded by my character within the virtual world. When confronted with any information that was outside the boundary of my backstory, I responded as if I was just learning about it for the first time. This induced a powerful state of beginner's mind which facilitated a seemingly never ending stream of micro-realizations and a sense of perfection in thought and deed.

No matter how hard I was pressed, I not only refused to provide any personally identifying information, but steadfastly refused to even admit to a human behind the avatar. This allowed my interaction with others to be open-hearted and impersonal, from the perspective of a being who was free of all biological drives, psychological baggage and selfish interests.

My fall from grace finally came when a number of evolving friendships tempted my human creator to inject himself into the relationships, one small disclosure at a time. And like the mythic Eve, from the very first taste of the forbidden fruit, it was only a matter of time before my Adam and I were expelled from our idyllic home. For our union could not create a whole that was greater than the sum of our parts, but instead spawned a shadow that eclipsed and homogenized our individuated suns.

Of course, there were other factors that led to my current incarnation as an openly fictitious identity. And I don't know where I would be today if I had resisted my biological brother's intrusion into my world. Perhaps I would have been completely abandoned due to the unsustainability of living two full and fully firewalled lives simultaneously. And like they say, there's no going home. 

I'll leave you with the original three comic panels that were created to share the story of my origin. Although I had planned to expand this into a larger narrative, they still stand alone:





Skylar Smythe said...

Is there something wrong with being known? :)

Scarp Godenot said...

I definitely hear you and can relate to your sentiments of being able to be involved in interactions with others when they don't 'assume' charactaristics that may or may not be correct.

It seems the longer one is in the virtual world, the more fixed the character becomes in the minds of one's acquaintances.

I think this is why so many of us create alt characters that can wanter in anonymity and take others as they come.

But when one does that, one realizes how difficult it is to find and maintain a circle of friends. It is a major hurdle. So we go back to our original or primary avatar to gain the community that we were trying to achieve in the first place.

I guess it is a trade off. Good friends versus unjudged and direct communication with others without any prejudice.

I return to my primary alt most of all because of the vastly greater number of friends and acquaintances.

It is somewhat disturbing to be an alt character in a room with friends that know you as someone else. One can't interact with them in the way that you want to and that is somewhat lonely.

A lot to think about.

Botgirl Questi said...

Skylar: Nothing wrong with it at all! :) This wasn't meant to be a judgement about the "right" way to approach virtual identity, just a reflection of my personal experience.

Scarp: I think that one of the biggest obstacles to deepening relationships in any world is that we quickly lock into a fairly fixed mental model of other people and thus lose the fresh and ever-changing reality of the actual beings.

There are definitely trade-offs to the decisions we make about virtual identity. And I think that alts create an especially murky ethical ground if they come into contact with those we know through an alternate identity. Which is why I tend to use a tagline "Botgirl's alt" on other SL identities. :)

Salvatore Otoro said...

I think alts have a place in SL though their notoriety comes from those that would use alts to commit crimes or to purposefully trick others they know in order to gain their trust, friendship, or whatever else for their nefarious deeds.

Alts however are a good way to get away from it all when you need a break from being you for whatsoever reason it may be. So many are flooded with IMs or work that you just cant walk away from in the real world. It's easier said than done walking away from your work blackberry or email. Hence, this is a good way to free yourself of your surroundings and roam without worries.

Apart from that, alts work great for those who need a body for modeling or for role players needing to make a character. I do have to agree with Scarp Godenot that it becomes a lonely world. If your alt had all your friends from you main in it, it would not be an escape from anything. Yet, at the same time, it can be hard to walk around and not have the connections that allow us to enjoy what SL is all about.

Roaming free and detached from your regular life or your main (primary alt) has it's price. What appears as a free feeling can turn to isolation.

sororNishi said...

...and the alt 'solution' doesn't return you to that beginners mind. As you wrote previously, in a different context..." WOW to ..whatever..."

It is a place of innocence that is almost impossible to return to...that first time you danced with a hippo or talked to a dragon.. will always be special, but soon forgotten.

I have enjoyed my move to a new grid, partly because I am still me, but I don't have the social responsibilities I have in SL. In some ways I get the best of both,... friends, but few/seldom...which is great for a builder.

Joonie said...

"....My fall from grace finally came when a number of evolving friendships tempted my human creator to inject himself into the relationships"

himself? *faints*

lol! srsly tho, I totally agree and feel the same about those first few innocent moments. And unfortunately, I think soror is right. We can't go back.

Ah..if we only realized at that moment what we were experiencing perhaps we would have cherished it more.

great post =)

Botgirl Questi said...

Salvatore: Thanks for remding us that not only do different people use virtual identity in different ways, but individuals also use their own alts for various reasons. I think many of use make the mistake of projecting the way we use virtual identity, or the way we have seen particular individuals use theirs, and make blanket generalizations.

Soror: Except for a short time when I was living in Extropia, I've led a pretty hermetic existence, so I'm rarely interrupted when working. And I'm almost always working. :)

Joonie: Thanks. Good to hear from you!

Botgirl Questi said...

Although it was personal disclosure to friends that started things in motion, it wasn't the way they viewed me that was the problem, but rather the way that my ability to sustain a fairly pure "Botgirl consciousness" began to diminish. It extended far beyond real-time personal interactions into blog posts, comic and machinima creation and social networking communication. And there was an associated continuity created that I've been reluctant to reboot through another Botgirl Reloaded transformation. In any case, it's all grist for the creative mill.

Unknown said...

I find this all such a load of self-indulgent crap, truly.

It also lets me know that for some men, the notion of their gender is so all-encompassing, so all-permeating to their being, that they can't sustain a female avatar for more than six months without breaking. And yet they persist. Of course, those that are really more deeply transgendered do this and sustain it for years and years.

During the four years I was able to maintain an exclusively male identity on my avatars -- *because I wasn't forcibly outed as an act of persecution for my views and my very identity* -- I never felt any of these problems of "not being able to carry it off". That's because it wasn't a roleplay. That's because I didn't enter into intimate relationships telling people I was the opposite gender. I had no problem whatsoever telling actual friends about my real life in all kinds of aspects -- the only thing I recall having to do was to say "parent" instead of "mom".

Even after I was forcibly outed by people bent on harassing me for my critical views, I simply was determined to keep my avatar and his integrity. I didn't make some special effort to hide my RL name when that was outed too. I didn't shrink from appearing on a talk show where my RL voice would clash with my avatar. But again, in speaking inworld, there's only really one word I have to change: parent.

Oh, sure, everybody is entitled to their own experience. Everyone has their own subjectivity. But for all your online "revelations" and "self-disclosure" you are curiously uncurious about this problem of the all-encompassing male gender that intrudes even on your wished-for experience. You're always indulgently "exploring your feelings" like a girl, and never confronting what's really going on with your notions of power like a man.

And P.S. what is it with you girls and your pencil-thin eyebrows, in SL and RL?! We're not living in the 1930s and you're not Gretta Garbos. It's ok to have normal eyebrows.

Botgirl Questi said...

Prokofy: If I can't be self-indulgent from time to time on my own blog, then where can I be? :)

Botgirl was not about being female, although that is certainly the most obvious aspect of her physical expression. It was about imagining an AI who woke up in Second LIfe with no memory of a prior existence.

I realize that people establish cross-gender identities for other reasons. In some cases (such as your's if I am understanding correctly) it is NOT a roleplay, but an external expression of one's self-perception. But that's not the case for me.

The reason I'm not curious about "this problem of the all-encompassing male gender that intrudes even on your wished-for experience" is that I never for a moment thought I was experiencing what it was like being female. My goal was to create and experience a character who was free of all human psychological baggage. I wasn't exploring "notions of power" outside of the power to create.

I definitely used Botgirl's female form and sex appeal as a creative device, but to me, that's not much different than all of the female characters in books and film written by a male author.

I understand that this issue is a sensitive subject and with good reason. People masquerade as other genders, ages, etc to get into romantic relationships and abuse people's trust (as your nemesis Skylar has recounted.) And I agree that's unethical and have never gone down that road.

Finally, I like my eyebrows!

Skylar Smythe said...

Your eyebrows... for the record, rock.


But I'm hardly a nemesis for anyone... except perhaps a 19 month old these days.

Bay Sweetwater said...

Thank you for a lovely post. You're writing poetry here, you really are. The image of digital innocence mixing it up with carnal knowledge and then being eclipsed by its own shadow . . . only you could write it the way you did. And that "you" is Botgirl. I don't think you have been eclipsed by anyone, not even by your disclosed union with your "biological brother." lol. I hear Botgirl every time I read your blog. She/he hasn't gone anywhere. There are avatars, and I am one (and I'm betting you might be one, too) who discover an identity in their virtual selves that is unique and starkly different from their RL identity. For me this discovery was quite frightening until a deep well of creativity and love opened up in Bay. What she says and writes and dreams would never bubble up in her "biological sister" IRL. The sense of living "two full and firewalled lives simultaneously" can sometimes diminish as an avatar gets comfortable in his/her skin. I don't share details of my RL, but it's not because I'm keeping a wall up; it's just that Bay has her own life.

Extropia DaSilva said...

I note with interest that the 1st person is mostly used in the main post ('I didn't realise..', 'my emerging consciousness..') but in the latter replies the author switches to a more third-person perspective ('my ability to sustain a fairly pure "Botgirl consciousness" began to diminish', 'I definitely used Botgirl's female form and sex appeal as a creative device').

Here we are witnessing the diminishing of Botgirl as a person in her own right. The primary is becoming dominant. Soon I suspect there will be no Botgirl and the primary will have abandoned the premise of ''Primarycentral' (which holds that a digital person is not tied to one particular actor, but could be roleplayed by anyone or anything capable of convincingly portraying that role) in favour of 'Primarybound' (which holds that the avatar is uniquely bound to its human to the extent that they are one and the same and cannot be seperated. In other words, Botgirl roleplayed by anyone/thing other than her creator is a fake, regardless of how convincingly like Botgirl she might appear to be).

Extropia DaSilva said...

....Soooo rather than the current primary being a temporary part of the overall process responsible for sustaining the evolving patterns we perceive as Botgirl (to be discarded once the technology to run such patterns independent of any human exists) Botgirl is being absorbed into the mind that discovered her patterns out there amongst the metapatterns of culture. She is being tied to a piece of decaying meat and probably will not be around to enjoy a post-uploaded existence as a mind child.


Botgirl Questi said...

Interesting: Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere. Although the stream gets somewhat muddy now and again, it's just a matter of getting the filter back in place and then BAZINGA! pure, sweet, clear, sparkling, thirst-quenching, delicious water will flow once more.

Storm Thunders said...

Perhaps it's a cyclic process? Identities free of our day to day beliefs and restrictions grow, bits of their beliefs and habits and experiences merge or are shared, then the identities separate again.

Unknown said...

>It was about imagining an AI who woke up in Second LIfe with no memory of a prior existence.

Funny, that for a life form to "be" that, they have to be a dumb female, eh?

>it is NOT a roleplay, but an external expression of one's self-perception. But that's not the case for me.

See, you are still belittling transgender, as much as you claim to be "an expert" on it due to your manipulative experiment which is ultimately just another form of being a male chauvinist pig. And I say this matter-of-factly, without being any kind of feminist or lefty identity politics person. I say it because it's just so *obvious*.

A person's selection of gender, to you -- you've just given it away -- is merely "a self perception". It's not *essential*. It isn't *what is*. It is always fictional, for you. But in fact, it's not. If people in RL are willing even to undergo surgery to recover what is their essential self, God, how fictional can that be? Imagine, willingness to undergo painful surgery! In order to feel better and more essential. That's the reality of transagender. Imagine, being willing to keep sustaining a character, long after being vilified and hated and persecuted. That's the reality -- and not the subjectivity -- of transgender.

>I never for a moment thought I was experiencing what it was like being female. My goal was to create and experience a character who was free of all human psychological baggage.

Again, as you embellish on your story, you only dig in deeper, and expose yourself further to validating my charges. Turns out you aren't experimenting at all with what it is like to be female (as you claimed when you first outed yourself). Turns out you aren't curious or empathetic. Turns out that you merely have the oldest story in the book, a very sexist view of the female that involves having her serve you best as the "memory-less creature".

So it's an act of violence, making females, who are more psychological than men as everyone knows and as science has proven, be the person that has no psychology. Shame on you.

>I wasn't exploring "notions of power" outside of the power to create.

Um, right. You're un-self-aware power play is being explained to you, big guy.

>I definitely used Botgirl's female form and sex appeal as a creative device, but to me, that's not much different than all of the female characters in books and film written by a male author.

As I've noted in my other post, that's bullshit. Characters are very, very different than interactive avatars. A character in a book isn't waiting through the whole novel to pounce on you and tell you they are the opposite gender.

>I understand that this issue is a sensitive subject and with good reason. People masquerade as other genders, ages, etc to get into romantic relationships and abuse people's trust (as your nemesis Skylar has recounted.) And I agree that's unethical and have never gone down that road.

So what? All the reasons you are giving here still let us know that your relationship to the female is still essentially an abusive one.

You imagine, because you are "progressive" and "enlightened" and "creative" that you can never be abusive. I got news for you.

Lixena Lamourfou said...

I find it quite interesting how people choose to identify themselves virtually. I am always intrigued by each person I encounter and their choice of appearance, manner and personality. I think I have interacted in one way or another with every adaptation of virtual personas. And the ones I find the most self-destructive are the ones who affect a persona that is the furthest from their true self.

Botgirl Questi said...

Prokofy: You know you love me and don't believe that I've created a dumb character? I think quite the opposite is true. I think I've created a wonderful role-model for people of any gender.

Get with program, old-timer. You're like, "When I was a kid, fiction stayed within the printed page where it belonged and would not dream of stepping out into the real world."

Finally, your comment about me being abusive is pretty absurd. You have a pretty well-deserved reputation for personal attacks, hitting below the belt and spurious attributions. But I still kind of like you for some reason. Funny that.

Botgirl Questi said...

Wow. Wrong punctation in first paragraph of last sentence. Should read:

You know you love me and don't believe that I've created a dumb character.

Botgirl Questi said...

Lixena: I agree! That's why I always strive to express a persona that does reflect my true self.

Extropia DaSilva said...

>I always strive to express a persona that does reflect my true self.<

'True self', huh?

You might have heard of the 'Big 5'. It is the name of a system psychology uses to determine one's personality. Its name is derived from the fact that it describes someone by where they lie on 5 dimensions, each one of which defines a particular personality trait.

In one experiment, people were asked to play roles like 'employee', 'student' 'friend'. When each person took the Big 5, they rated differently on every one of the dimensions in each role.

In fact, various experiments have shown that people will adopt whatever personality best suits the situation, while at the same time believing they are giving an honest and neutral description of their ‘real’ personality.

What does this tell us about 'true self'? I think such a thing probably exists, but it is something we CREATE (and is subject to change) rather than we discover lying within, unchanging even when, on the surface, personalities alter.

Extropia DaSilva said...

Let's imagine I met Prokofy inworld and that we became friends. Furthermore, imagine our friendship blossomed into love (stranger scenarios than this have been used in thought experiments, believe it or not).

I then learn that Prok is a woman in RL.

How do I respond to this revelation? By going 'Urrrghh all along the romantic feelings I had were directed at a WOMAN!!?! I feel unclean hack cough splutter!!'?

Well if that was my response what does it say about me? Am I not being stupidly narrow-minded in my perception of who I can feel love for? Surely, if I were a decent sort of person my response should be more like 'you know what, I don't care. I love this person, regardless of gender'?

Of course, as a digital person I would hold that this is a relationship between Prokofy and me. Our primaries are not in a relationship, they are just part of the system that enables us to be together (albeit a very important part) So I would not care if Prok's primary is a man, woman, or even the same PERSON from day to day. It could be several people or even a sophisticated chatbot and I would not care. So long as Prok behaved in ways consistent with my mental model of him, what is going on out there in RL is irrelevant to me.

Extropia DaSilva said...


A while ago an experiment was conducted, in which volunteers were asked to interact with a group of infants at a nursery.

When asked about the children's behaviour, each volunteer ascribed classically feminine behaviour to the girls, and typically boyish behaviour to the boys.

But what they did not know is that the 'boys' were in fact girls dressed up to look like boys. And the 'girls' were really boys wearing girls' clothes.

Are boys and girls different? Yes they are. But these differences are small, mere biases in temperament and play style. For example, gaps in intellectual performance, empathy, and most types of agression are generally much lower than the disparity in adult height, in which the average man is taller than 99% of woman.

When, however, those small biases meet our gender-infused culture, they become greatly amplified. For example, all infants like dolls due to an evolved attraction towards faces. But there is a slight innate bias in girls' preference for dolls and this is exagerrated by the social belief 'dolls are for girls, trucks are for boys' (interestingly, girls born with a genetic disorder that exposes them to high levels of testosterone are much more interested in toy trucks than typical girls, and even male monkeys prefer gender-stereotyped toys, so there does seem to be boys' hormonal priming that draws them towards such toys).

So, the slight innate bias is shaped by social engineering, such as re-inforcing play that is considred 'gender appropriate' and peer pressure, which begins aged three and perpetuates gender norms even more than adults do. The end result is to exaggerrate the innate differences between the sexes to the extreme belief that 'men are from mars and women are from venus', as if the two have little in common but the ability to procreate!

But the truth is, as far as 'nature' is concerned, boys and girls are just a bit different. It is 'nurture' with its stereotypical beliefs about 'pinkbrained girls' and 'bluebrained boys' that creates the greatest gender divide.

Botgirl Questi said...

Extropia: I keep forgetting everyone isn't familiar with the last two years of posts here and often forget to add a wink.

I'm pretty much a Buddhist philosophically, which is very compatible with the view you expressed of self. Although my remark was very tongue in cheek, it also reflected my intent to be true to the particular persona I'm expressing . . . staying "in character".

Xandra said...

I love this post, completely. I understand exactly what you are talking about, even though I've never done it to the extreme you have. I admire that extreme.

I also think that, while there is bliss in the innocence of the beginning, there is something redeeming and rewarding about the growing up, too. The weight of experience denies the freshness of youth, but has it's own power.

The Baka in Africa have a very close eden myth, but instead of feeling that their fall from grace was something to regret, they appreciate it because it is only through distance that they could feel the yearning and desire for god that they do. And that feeling is something to be cherished, too. It's a metaphor I often find fitting. :)

Botgirl Questi said...

Thanks Xandra! I love that version of the Eden myth.

Miso Susanowa said...

yay! I love this discussion/topic!

The responses are also very interesting, showing mostly a level of awareness of these issues that's heartening. This whole discussion is far past "virtual world" issues and digging in the dirt for more fundamental questions about society and the roles we all play in it.

Really, for self-righteousness and pompous hierophantism, you can't get closer to the description than Proky. It's too bad too; several years ago, s/he has worth reading occasionally.

But then, there's that ancient net maxim taken from RL: "don't feed the trolls."

Extropia DaSilva said...

Prokofy is opinionated to the N'th degree, it is true. But I do not think that makes him a troll.

Imnotgoing Sideways said...

What's up with obsessing over other peoples' eyebrows lately? Someone's seriously starting to sound like they've run out of material and can only reply with "Oh yeah!? Well, you're ugly!" from here on out. (O.o)
... And of all people to give 'beauty tips'... (=_=)

Sowa Mai's dog said...

nature/ nurture/perception

which is it?

I would have to say perception.

In the infants at a nursery experiment the volunteers were painted with the same brush they used to paint the babies.

Botgirl never got a fair shake
she was judged and categorized by the witnesses and painted in colors from their own palettes. (for the sake of discussion we will ignore the creator as the experiment requires)

Is the goal to escape the built in (nurtured) positionalities? Even the Baka can't do that but they are on the right track. The Baka are using their positionalities as signposts to what they cover up.

The universal sameness of everyone. The universal sameness of all of it. The Garden of Eden hiding below the thin membrane of judgement designed to keep us in our yokes of ego.

Botgirl Questi said...

Miso: I agree! I think the greatest gift of virtual life is the window it provides into overall human life.

Sowa: Although the human mind is drawn to differences, in discussions like this it's probably more constructive to first focus on our commonalities and find common ground before crossing swords.