The SLippery SLope
Have you ever asked yourself the question in life, as you attempt to make your way through it, through all of its trials, temptations, pits and snares, successes and failures, “Why do I have to sit?” Well, unless you are terribly clever or ridiculously defiant, you probably haven’t asked that question too often in your journey. You probably have also seldom asked why your chairs need to have legs in order to suspend you at a comfortable seated height. Why is that?
My assumption is that people need to sit in order to relax their legs and or feet as they appear to get rather exhausted if they refuse to sit for a really long period of time. I am also led to assume people might have aching backs from all that moving about, causing them to need similar repose in order to prevent long term damage.
However, when I arrived in Second Life, I found myself in a rather overwhelming state of disarray and confusion. As I began to explore the magnificent virtual environment which is Second Life, I encountered seemingly countless people all standing about chatting, scripting, complaining and even building! Having come out of years of wasting my time, energy, yes even life in MMO’s (Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games), I found myself quite out of sorts from what I found most other people in SL doing.
They were sitting. And even more baffling to me, were asking me to sit too! Throughout all the time I had wasted in MMO’s I could scarce remember needing or wanting to sit. I was always too busy chasing loot and mindlessly killing things that had my stuff. Even when carrying on IM’s and conversations I was usually killing things at the same time. Looking back, I can’t even remember what motivated me to spend so much energy on those things.
But the question arose almost right away. “Why must my avatar sit?” I could easily enough go along with role play idealisms hoping to achieve more in-world realism by sitting with people as they chatted with me. But what is the point, my newbie self asked? Someone even mentioned to me how nice it was to have a quiet place to go sit and relax by yourself. I giggled to myself initially without really understanding and continued standing and trying to learn to build in the white sands of a friendly beach i had discovered.
A few days rolled by, with hours spent each day building, chatting, learning, exploring the information all around me, and generally engaging in my integration process. People came by, bumped into me, commented on what I was trying to build, and never once did I kill a thing. I didn’t much care about being bumped, but it was different from MMO’s which allowed you to pass through other players non-physically. I watched others build, chat, sit, stand, swim, live their Second Lives all around my personal endeavors in the box.
Then something began to happen. It happened slowly, but steadily. The longer I stood there learning and working away, the more tired I felt. I looked around only to find no place to sit. I roamed a bit, becoming frustrated, wondering what I should do. I needed to sit down! I didn’t so much question why, I just had the sudden overwhelming inclination. So, I created a very simple chair, sat on it, and to my baffled chagrin felt much better. I cared little about why at the moment, but I felt suddenly energized within myself enough to continue working on my build.
Now I consider the months which were to follow. Although I felt far less physically active in SL than I had been in the MMO’s, I seemed much more likely to need to have a seat from time to time. The months that followed were very revealing about just why I felt the need to sit. Something was very different about SL that I just needed to come to an understanding of.
I began to study what had changed. My friends list had grown quite a bit. My avatar was beginning to look more and more like my self. I was becoming more educated in my virtual world about how to take control of or change parts of my new environment. I was helping others rather than always needing help. None of those things seemed to directly tell me why it simply felt good to have my avatar sit; nor why it felt so very good to dance. I no longer asked why I should sit. Instead, I found myself asking if it would be okay to sit next to someone on a bench or in a beach chair. Suddenly being bumped into carelessly was somehow more offensive to me.
The sunsets were the same every four hours, but some seemed warmer than others depending on who was sharing them with me. Sitting in my computer chair I found myself loving the dances my avatar was performing more and more depending on who was at the party I was in. I found I was becoming more emotionally attached day by day to the people all around me; it seemed inevitable to me as caring for others is such a huge part of who I am. Second Life began to feel very much like a real life.
Maybe that is why I had felt the need to sit. To be honest, it is really just speculation as to why our avatars must sit, or why it feels better. But I think this explains it quite a bit. When we have no boundaries at all we tend to impose real life boundaries to give ourselves structure. When there are boundaries in place we are always seeking to overcome them or challenge them. So as we become more connected to an environment, not only do we seek to change “it”, but “it” changes us. We influence our surroundings as our surroundings influence us.
In MMO’s there’s far less opportunity to really connect in an emotional or metaphysical manner to what you are doing, but I have found in SL the necessities of making those connections are unavoidable. We can try to convince ourselves that such a deep connection to something virtual shouldn’t be able to affect us measurably in the tangible. We convince ourselves of lies and un-truths all the time; even if they are just to validate or justify things we know we shouldn’t be doing.
So be aware: your thoughts can be more convincing than your actions. How you think and what you ponder can influence you in very powerful ways. What you behold you become. So why do I feel great in my RL self when my SL avatar dances? Perhaps because she is me and I am her. Why is it that I can simply see the love that two avatars seem to share for one another? Perhaps because the boundaries of time and space that are so easily transcended by love in RL are the same as those being shattered in SL. Why is it I can trust a digital representation of a Grey Wolf with my heart and my deepest secrets? Perhaps because the lines of his face and the shining bright gold of his eyes also represent a true heart of compassion beyond the CRT’s and LCD’s that connect us.
The science of sociology and psychology can only give us a picture of the mechanisms of the human condition. The application of metaphysical conjecture and philosophical motivations can help us to see what oils those mechanisms to help them run more smoothly. Something far greater and less structured powers them.
When I first came to SL, I was expecting to die soon, as I am very ill in RL. I had already given up inside in so many ways and had come to SL with the hopes of learning the world quickly so that I could contribute to it. I wanted SL to help me get my poetry, art, music and writing into the hands of people that would carry it with them when I was gone. I sought to help as many people as I could. I needed to pour out everything I had left in me to benefit others. And wonderfully, in the process, I made certain friends that began to also change the way I had been thinking about my own situation. I am happy to say that as of now I have outlived the expectations of my doctors. Had it not been for what SL enabled me to do, had it not been for the people in SL to love and the SL people loving me, I would not be here writing this article. The power our thoughts have over our bodies is undeniable, and I have become a living proof of what virtual connections can do to augment and improve the physical world.
So any advice I might offer through this article are more like encouragements. Give compassionate consideration to the relationships you make in virtual environments. Train someone to be able to let your online friends know if anything bad happens to you; for when you get sick, end up in a hospital or die. Consider your online friends have far fewer resources by which to learn about your real life circumstance, but are just as concerned about your well being as the friends in your real life. Embrace what you experience in SL, because just like in the real world, you will get out of SL what you pour into it.