Friday, March 11, 2011

Death and Pseudonymity in Virtual Worlds

NightLight
Night's last tweets
The sad news of Sabrinaa Nightfire passing away earlier this week made me think of my missing friend and collaborator, Nightflower Morrisey, and the impact of pseudonymity on both personal relationships and virtual communities.

Sabrinaa was very open about her human identity. Night's was completely opaque. Both shared stories about their human lives in personal conversations. The difference was that Night never gave away personally identifying details.

Although I had a much closer friendship with Night than Sabrinaa, I never knew which, if any, of the stories Night shared about her human life included obfuscations designed to prevent me from intentionally or inadvertently discovering her human identity. Interestingly enough, my skepticism about the details of her human life didn't extend to commitments made within the context of our collaborative work or a feeling of genuine friendship. Until she disappeared.

I've had a number of Second Life friends vanish without a trace over the last few years, including Rheta Shan, whose reported death is still uncertain in the fog of pseudonymity.

As in RL, loss within virtual world relationships and communities is an unavoidable fact of life. Death can bring a community together. It reminds of us of the fragility of life and can make us appreciate our time together more deeply. But when avatars simply disappear, it can have the opposite effect and lead us to question the authenticity of our pseudonymous relationships.

I don't know whether Night is dead or alive . . . whether leaving without a word to anyone was a strategic act to avoid the stress of disclosure or the unavoidable result of coercion, illness or death. We may never know. In any case, I think there's still a lot more for us to learn about the impact of pseudonymity on both our individual relationships and collective communities.

7 comments:

Carrie Lexington said...

"when avatars simply disappear, it can have the opposite effect and lead us to question the authenticity of our pseudonymous relationships"

that's been my experience too with close sl friends disappearing. i started to question whether the friendship was really "real" or was it all just a bunch of bs? the hard thing is knowing that i will most likely never get an answer to that question.

this is one of the reasons why i am open with my close sl friends(which i can count on one hand) about sharing my rl contact info.

not an answer for everyone, i know, and makes the friendships no longer pseudonymous, but it makes me feel better.

nightFire said...

yeah this is something I have thought often about. the flip side is if anything were to happen to me how would anybody ever know for sure?

good post ...

Splash Kidd said...

Both our RL's and SL's are of course part of an mortal coil. During our time along this mortal coil, we encounter and meet numerous people. The vast majority of our encounters with others are limited in what we really know about the other person. In SL, we encounter an interesting set of filters and non-filters in how we interact with others. The style & approach we take to how our finger tips touch our key pads in a way is a bit of a filter system we use. If we are lucky enough to form a few close relationships in SL, those friendships can touch us in an manner that is "timeless". As such when one of those close relationships appears to have "ended" the pain or lose we feel relates to the aspect of the mortal coil that remembers the past and yet still does not fully understand where our journey will end as we try to comprehend our own internal struggles.

Thanks Botgirl for this post and for sharing part of your "inner" journey too in the various posting you have made so far.

DeeDee said...

People in Second Life are oblivious to the pain that the relationships there can cause in real life. Many people in second life engage in relationships based on deceiving people in real life.

Crisis in real life will top fantasy friends everyday.

drickenbacker said...

I miss Night too, and although I have a pretty good idea why she gave us the slip and even saw it coming, this shows, in my opinion, that the anonymity thing can be overdone. I don't go around in SL telling everyone my RL phone number, but I do reveal personal details to those I call my friends. It's a matter of trust, which always involves a certain risk, but the risk of not trusting seems much higher to me.

Lacie Babenco said...

I agree with so much in this story but as someone who has seen good friends disappear, I have a new perspective. Recently I left someone and it hurt like hell.

She told me so much of her RL I felt like I was her vent for all her stress. It was wonderful being close and sharing so much but at the same time, it built up in me, like a bank of emotion growing with each deposit of her RL stories.

Finally, I felt my internal 'vault' filled with despair over this wonderful person who had a RL that deserved to be better. I felt guilty about my RL and wanted hers to be so much better. It was an internal war in my emotions and tried to tear me apart.

Finally, instincts took over and said 'run' and I did :(

I tried to explain myself and told her it was time for me to go and for a few minutes I tried so hard to explain why. But she was hurt and upset and my words became jibberish.

Now, I am sure she despises me. The line was crossed from Love to Hate and I sit quietly sometimes in SL thinking about it and her. She is a wonderful soul and made me smile so much. One day maybe we'll both be better for it because I never stopped caring about her.

It's not a good thing in the end but it was turning me into someone that couldn't cope and I'm not proud of it but it's the truth. It's what had to be done in that moment and I'm far from perfect and wish that this didn't happen to anyone, especially her.

Perhaps others leave SL and friends for similar reasons, too much to handle. A need inside to run. Who the hell knows. I do know that people have reasons and it's probably not a simple answer ever.

mistletoeethaniel said...

People in Second Life are oblivious to the pain that the relationships there can cause in real life. Many people in second life engage in relationships based on deceiving people in real life.

[citation needed]