Maybe We All Need A SLife Coach

February 21, 2008 at 7:17 pm (Life, Love, Relationships, Second Life)

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“I’m not a therapist, but I play one on TV. ”

Writing this blog has provided me an amazing opportunity to analyze and investigate social behaviors that surface in Second Life. I often receive messages from folks who are grateful to find my insightful behavioral interpretations and constructive advice on how to navigate this complex virtual world. Of course others still discount the important role Second Life plays to many of us and the weight of the relationships that we cultivate in world. But I believe that sentiment is symptomatic of our somewhat cynical times.

According to BusinessWeek, analyst firm Gartner reports that by the year 2011 more than 250 million people will participate in some sort of online virtual world, whether it be Second Life, Kaneva, Weblo, Webkinz, or any number of others that cater to various audiences. And sure, many of those folks may log on to learn how to script, build, or design. But the majority of us are plugging into these online paradises to connect with people. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?

On the surface, the answer is no. People have been forming online friendships since the early days of IRC and online chatrooms. But Second Life and other virtual worlds seem to elicit connections that grow much deeper than surface level. Dr. Benn Konsynski, professor at Emory University, in an MIT sponsored Webcast I attended recently discussed the psycho-social effects of virtual world play and referred to the phenomenon as “elevator effects: direct mirroring pathologies” where we–you and I sitting at our computers–physically react to stimuli felt by our avatars online. We’re represented by cartoon animations of ourselves but we feel the same emotions–and sometimes, I’d argue, more intensely.

So what goes best with a diet of rich emotions and intense feelings all served up in a complex collection of personal connections? A therapist! You laugh, but I see the writing on the wall very clearly: someday soon our society must grapple with the prevalence of these online relationships and the effect they are having on the lives we lead in the “real” world.

For legal reasons I must provide this disclaimer: I am not a therapist by training or trade. All Second Life and virtual world play should be done at one’s own risk. But I will continue to provide observations and–maybe to the chagrin of some of you–sometimes even try to help people see the proverbial forest through the animated trees. Because Second Life is NOT real life. We all have one of those, whether we like it or not. And especially if we don’t like it, we owe it to ourselves to spend less time online and more time trying to make our everyday existence better.

I’m going to leave you with this, my faithful and fascinating friends: Second Life can offer you a chance to reinvent yourself, explore alternate realities, and even find enriching connections with friends and lovers who will help you see yourself differently. But do not distort your reality by using Second Life to escape difficult situations. That will only prolong your pain. Seize today and make it, and your entire real life, the best it can possibly be. And if that doesn’t work, take a Xanax  and call me in the morning.

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Second Life: A Playground for Power Play

February 3, 2008 at 1:21 pm (Friendship, Love, Relationships, Second Life, Sex) (, , , , , )

 

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“You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

This is one of those bizarre sayings that somehow made it into our English vernacular. And like other phrases with questionable heritage, this one sounds weird yet makes sense. But we often seem to lose the meaning behind this particular adage. Ever come across those people with acidic personalities; men, women, and avatars who are quick to judge and even quicker to throw their barbs of negativity in your direction? Logic would tell us–as would our original snippet of wisdom–that these folks who rub others the wrong way would be friendless and forgotten. Not so.

Sadly, we are often drawn to the people who remain aloof and self absorbed. This is probably due our natural human desire to win others over; the more difficult the catch, the more captivating the chase. And I don’t think this tendency is any less apparent in Second Life (SL). I’ve watched from the periphery how glorified, self appointed sim divas attract adoration from an unsuspecting gaggle of devotees. Sure, eventually many of those starry-eyed supporters see through the charade and come to realize the cost of their ardor. But by then the damage is done. And the diva remains unfettered by the loss of the attention and, worse, empowered by her history of conquests.

As I pondered this premise, I began to notice a similarity between this scenario and the power paradigm of the BDSM and Gorean role play prevalent in SL. Thanks to an amazing and patient friend who chaperoned me as his guest, I recently enjoyed an opportunity to visit a Gorean sim to see what this scene was all about. And I was struck by how dutifully the female slaves “played” their roles and how devoted they were to their masters and others who were not of their echelon. Not only that, as a “free woman” I enjoyed an intense power dichotomy: satisfied with my superior status yet simultaneously fearful of upsetting the status quo.

Upon my arrival to the tribe’s home, my awareness was immediately heightened so much so that I physically felt a sense of timidity and trepidation (two terms NOT typically in my vocabulary). Even though I was not a slave, as a woman in a realm where men owned all the power I felt I must tread with tremendous caution and a sincere and meticulous attention to the details of my interactions. This might sound crazy to many of you–especially those who know what a high-spirited double fire sign I am. Yet the experience was exhilarating: I at once felt more alive (yes I see the ironic twist, given this is my avatar’s experience) and developed a deeper purpose to my public prose. This is actually a HUGE lesson for me and one that I’ve needed to learn for years. And it gave me deeper insight into why many people, women in particular, choose this lifestyle both in and out of the virtual world.

Power play–whether organic or deliberate like Gor–is a primary component of our interpersonal relationships. Who has the power is often determined more by our intrinsic nature than by the circumstances that arise. This is one of the things that makes Second Life so appealing: it is a playground for power play. The virtual venue provides a safe setting where we can try on different aspects of ourselves to gain insights into who and how we are. If we’re normally a dominant personality, we can submit for a bit. And if we’re traditionally timid and somewhat shy, we can step outside ourselves and become the life of the party. 

 

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