Monday, 31 March 2008

SL Bloggers Party

Last night, Tenebrous and I attended the SL Bloggers party hosted at Crap Mariner's Clocktower.

I had a great time and it was nice to finally put avies to names.

Here's a few of the photos I took.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Pixelated Partying or Realistic Raving?

Sometimes I wonder why I find it more fun to visit a club in Second Life than I do in real life. I sit in my house, on my couch, staring at a computer screen displaying pixels moving around completely out of time to the music being streamed by someone sitting in their own house, on their own couch, when I could be out there in the real world meeting people, soaking up the atmosphere, indulging in a few cocktails and dancing my pretty little heart out. Some people would probably choose the second option without giving it much thought, but not me. And not some 50,000 other people who regularly sign into Second Life on a Saturday night to partake of some pixilated partying.

For a start, I have nothing to wear! “Yeah, yeah, whatever!” I hear you say, but it’s true. When most people are out partying, it’s about minus 2 degrees Celsius outside and walking around in a short skirt and high heels in that kind of temperature just doesn’t hold much attraction for me. Nor does the rain and yet taking a raincoat or an umbrella with you when heading out clubbing appears to be forbidden. So unless I invent some new outfit that is cool and sexy indoors yet warm and waterproof outdoors, then I honestly have nothing to wear to a real life clubbing session. In SL however, ta da! With a few simple clicks I have almost every conceivable type of outfit all fitted and tailored just for me! Recently I’ve even been learning how to make clothes in SL, something I’d never even imagine wanting to do in RL, which really does confirm just how unlimited the options within SL are. You want an itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka-dot bikini? Give me five minutes. You want a pair of pink fluorescent flares? Step back and shield your eyes!

Secondly there’s the issue of people. In SL I can easily go to a club on my own, or with my boyfriend, Tenebrous, and not know anyone else there. It’s not a big deal. Within a few minutes, we could be chatting away to other people in the club as if we’d known them for years. But in RL it’s the exact opposite. You walk into a room and everyone there wants to know what you’re wearing, what brand it is, how your hair is done and sometimes quite frankly I can’t stand the constant assessments. If I want to be dancing in my pajamas, I should be able to dance in my pajamas. People should talk to me the same as they would if I was wearing the latest *insert current hot designer* outfit. They do in SL! They will probably ask if you realize you’re still in your pajamas, but unless you’re actually offending anyone they’re unlikely to actually let it affect their judgment of you.

So basically, if I go to a club in SL I can actually sit on my couch in my house wearing my pajamas and drinking hot chocolate while talking to non-judgmental people in a non-threatening environment. While still listening to good music, dancing like a maddy and making new friends. Who would give that up for spending a few hours in a sweaty night club full of drunken people and then an hour in the freezing rain waiting for a taxi?

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Your Avatar vs. Your Personality

Have you ever wondered what makes you choose how your Second Life avatar appears? Why you are tall or short? Which furry you are or what colour your fantasy eyes are? At first I assumed that it was because in Second Life people could look however they wanted to, so obviously they made themselves look like they would in Real Life if they had the opportunity.

But after going through numerous skins and shapes, I've finally settled on something I am mostly happy with and I'm not at all convinced that this is the reason. My avatar is petite, with big blue eyes, human skin and shape but neko ears and a tail. If I stand back and ask myself if I would want to look like this in Real Life, then the answer is no, I wouldn't. I would like to be slimmer, and I am already short, with blue eyes, but the biggest part of my avie is the neko side: the ears and tail. Would I like to have ears and a tail IRL? I don't think so... Imagine the trouble I would have getting trousers and hats to fit! I would have nowhere to balance my glasses and I'm pretty sure that my tail would get in the way when sitting in the car.

So if I have established that the most dominant aspect of my SL avatar is something that I wouldn't want in RL, why do I have it in SL? We could take the easy way out here and say "because we can" but I don't think that quite covers it. I mean, I "could" jump off a bridge... but I don't. On a daily basis we are confronted with millions of things that we "could" do, yet for one reason or another we don't. The reasons behind these differ... I don't jump off that bridge because I'd most likely get hurt, I don't tell my boss what I really think of him because I'd get fired. But in SL there are no consequences of how we look.

Or are there?

Recently I've started to hang out at a place called Luskwood, which is intended for (but not exclusive to) furries. I have seen some amazing avatars there, from huskies to vampire bats and just about everything in between, but the one thing they almost all have in common is that somewhere along the way they have all been customised to one extent or another. Be it adding hair or clothes, or changing some fundamental aspect of the avatar, they have all put some effort into making their avatar look that way. They have had the creativeness and the patience to do this and have therefore invested some small piece of their real life self into that avatar. After all, who would want to look like a huge spider if, in RL, you are terrified of spiders? The very nature of our avatars means that to an extent they do represent out RL selves, or at least an aspect of them. But as I mentioned above, this isn't borne out of a desire to physically look like that. It's something more psychologically intrinsic than this. It's something we can't just pluck out of thin air.

Take me as an example. Recently, with the help of my boyfriend, I added two silver safety pins to my neko ears, as if they were earrings. I would never put safety pins in my ears IRL (no offense intended to anyone who would) so why have I done it in SL? I could simply say "because it looks good" but again, I think there is more to it than this. To me, it represents a little bit of rebelliousness coming out. It makes the cute neko girl look a little bit dangerous. But not as dangerous as a big spiky collar or walking about with an Uzi attached to my hand. Why do I want to look like I have a rebellious side? Maybe because society has taught us that rebelling is not something to be proud of. We are constantly shown images on TV and in newspapers that show "rebels" being punished, therefore those of us that sometimes do feel the need to differ from the mainstream find subtle ways to do this. In SL, the easiest way to do this is by modifying your avatar. Hence the safety pins.

My example is very subtle, especially since there are avatars out there that are positively screaming out with aspects of their RL person's personality. The child avatar that longs for care and attention. The giant tattoed weapon bearer that craves power and control. The all round average Joe that just wants to fit in. To someone who wants to look a little bit closer, they give away huge chunks of information, whether intentional or otherwise.

So if we are unconsciously bearing our desires or longings to the entire population of SL, there must be some backlash somewhere. As is so often the case, this takes the shape of discrimination and in some extreme cases, hatred. Luckily, I have not come across too much of this in SL, but I know of people who have and I would find it extremely difficult to believe it if you told me it doesn't happen very often. After all, there are groups that are "anti" this and "pro" that. Human nature lends us to forming opinions on things and thus taking sides. Luskwood is a place that welcomes people of all shapes and sizes but there are many places that don't. There are people that actively attack people who choose to represent themselves as a furry, or as a child, or as a neko. Why? Because they are different? I do not know the answer to this, but I do know that there are definitely consequences of the way that we look in SL.

There are places we cannot go because of the way we look. There are people who will be mean to us. There are weapons designed to "fight" us and people employed to eject and ban us.

So why do we choose to look different? Why don't we all look the same? Because we are human, that's why. Would you want to look exactly the same as the person sitting next to you on the bus? Would you want them to look the same as you? I bet you wouldn't. Why? Because as humans we intrinsically long for the opportunity to express our individuality and in SL, we do this by customising our avatars.

So the next time you see an avatar you think is horrible, or scary, or just plain weird, stop for a minute and consider why they chose to make it look like that. Then remember that at the end of the day, it's a human being controlling it. Be it that tattooed gunman or the crying child, it's someone who wanted to look like that, and there's a reason why.