Let’s be honest: attendance at events in Second Life® isn’t just about the act. At least a part of it is about the audience. In My Avatars and I, the main character – who is looking for someone in Second Life® – muses a little about being an attendee. Here are some of her thoughts:
Against the context of a life of quiet, still seclusion, it’s good to go to places and to sit with others and to watch things happen together; to be sharing a make-believe space, except it’s not really make-believe at all. 30 people at a comedy set will all see the same things as they cam around the venue – the same décor, the same clothes worn by the other attendees and the same act (although they might have different opinions on how good it is) – and if the joke is good, then they’ll all laugh out loud at the same time, wherever they happen to be, whatever country or continent they happen to be in. The minds of 30 people are in a place that doesn’t exist, except it must exist because it’s the same for all of them. “Sounds just like watching television” is what the guy at the convenience store said to me when I tried to explain it to him. But he’s wrong. There are more places to chose from in Second Life®. The audiences are smaller. And you can’t show your approval of an act on a TV programme (except via a premium rate telephone number, of course). And you can’t look around at the other viewers and learn about who they are or about who they want you to think they are. And you can’t send them messages. My mission has made me a profile junkie. Sometimes, these little boxes fill my screen completely as I move from summary to summary, following the trail of partner links and picks. Sometimes, it’s not the person themselves that interests me, but the maker of the clothes and attachments they’re wearing. Sometimes, it’s the owner of the land that interests me. Or the builder of the venue. Or the speaker of a certain turn of phrase. Or, sometimes, it’s the owner of a voice… A single curiosity can lead to a cascade of cryptic information across the monitor and a stack of tiny photographs and well-worn quotations to examine, and soon the music or the comedy or the poetry is forgotten.
Profile after profile after profile. There ought to be a collective noun for quantities of self-aggrandising, superficial nonsense. There ought to be a verb for threatening verbal harm to anyone who verbally harms a friend (perhaps an additional verb – or a prefix to the first – for those who follow-up their threat with the words, ‘no, really’). There ought to be a word other than ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ (but better than ‘sibling’) for someone who you describe in your profile as ‘brother’ or ‘sister,’ but actually isn’t.
Virtual siblings. I thought that was ridiculous, at first. I still don’t quite have my head around it. But stranger things exist, I suppose. I get what it’s supposed to communicate: closeness beyond mere friendship. Sure. I can’t help but wonder, all the same, how you go about turning a friendship into a siblingship. Is there some sort of procedure you have to go through? Does one person generally ask or does the understanding somehow mutually emerge? And if you do have to ask, is it a bit like a marriage proposal? What if the other person turns your request down? What if they were waiting for an actual marriage proposal?
And then there are the entries about ‘partners’: some the sweet little collections of greetings card devotedness; some the polite acknowledgements of the partner’s fine attributes. And some the dazed, confused bewildered eruptions of text that somehow seem to cry, how? How? HOW can this have happened to me? WHAT is going on in my head? The passion of some often appears to exceed the capacity of the medium for its expression by a serious order of magnitude. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why poetry is popular in Second Life®: when words are all you have to touch a person with, it becomes important how you use them.