Thursday, April 24, 2008

From Escorts to Party Hostesses...

I have never spent anytime on a virtual reality game, and honestly don't even play any video games either, so my first night “out on the town” on Second Life was very new. I was a little nervous but more excited to explore and pick the brains of these gamers because ever since we have been reading articles and having class discussions about these virtual realities I have been very curious about the people who go on them. When MoMo and I went around Monday night, we spent a little while just trying to find places that people were actually at. I found that this was the most difficult part about the game because I was really anxious to observe different avatars in the game.

Noticing there were a few people at this location, we visited Paris 1900, and upon entering we were given a note card that had the rules of the island that you had to agree to follow. These included no sexual conduct, iterated that no means no, and also that any form of violence or showing a weapon was prohibited as well as any political demonstrations. I thought this was very interesting because it seemed to be laws for the community and definitely showed how seriously the person who created this island takes SL and how much they feel this is closer to real life than virtual. While on the island I was all of sudden partially under ground and couldn’t move. When I tried to chat with other’s and ask for help no one responded. I thought at first that it was just the system and maybe it was running slowly but when I teleported out of the island everything was fine, so I was thinking that someone had made a trap or put some type of spell on me which was weird.

I then ventured off to Amsterdam and started chatting with three female escorts. At first I didn't know who or what they were but I obviously looked out of place because I was not dressed like an escort nor was I a man looking for one. I mostly spoke to Gaelle Barzane, who has been an escort for a while. She told me that Amsterdam used to be the hot spot but now all of the escorts go to the Red Light District. She basically explained to me that escorts were just as they are in RL, you get paid to have sex with guys. She said the competition was high and you had to search for guys that are willing but you can make a lot of second life money doing it. She then recommended to go to nude beaches because a lot of people go there. It was really interesting to hear her speak about this job as if it were her real life job. She said that she spends more hours on SL than in RL which I thought was really interesting. When I tried to talk to the guy that was there probably looking to purchase an escort he wouldn't answer any of my questions as if he was embarrassed to be confronted by a non-escort while in this type of an environment. Gaelle told me that if I didn't want to be around escort environments then to stay away from Amsterdam and obviously the Red Light District, she recommended going to nude beaches because there was usually a lot of people there.

Then I went to France Microcosme because it was the only France location that actually had quite a few people there. But when I got there I was a little disappointed because all the people there were just dancing. It was the weirdest thing, they were dancing in these circles and when I went up to try to talk to them none of them would answer me. Also, I think you had to pay to dance with them or something because above their dancing circles there were prices per 30 minutes. By this time I was getting a little frustrated with the game because I couldn't seem to find places where there are people who really want to have a conversation about the game or where there is something interesting going on.

Then MoMo and I decided to head to Sand Dollar Beach next because we noticed a few people there. We met Saphyre Allen and Danica Voom who are sisters. They were both very friendly and welcomed us to the game, since we were obvious “noobies”. They said that there aren’t enough hours in the day to spend on SL. Saphyre has a job as a hostess for parties that are at the Sand Dollar Beach Resort. She added us to the group so we will get the invitation to the next party which is Friday. When I asked her about the party she said it was a lingerie party and was pretty much like any RL party. She was very helpful, as have most of the people I have talked to so far. She and her sister seem to love it on SL and Danica even said that a week away from SL felt like a year! She also began to talk about how RL can suck sometimes and that she feels like she has more control when in SL. They then gave us a “giggles” animation that made my character look like she is laughing and also a new hair due that I just had to right click on and say wear instead of creating it myself. They then began to share a ton of things like new shoes, clothes, and then gave us landmarks to different islands that all have free stuff that you can have to help change your avatar. It was a little overwhelming while it was happening because I kept getting popup window after window needing acceptance for each item they gave. Both Saphyre and Danica added us as friends and Saphyre said that if I had questions about any part of the game just to IM her. I couldn't believe how nice they both were and definitely appreciated meeting them because they shared a lot of different things with us. Danica then left the game because she said that her kids were waking up, which kinda through me off because it hit home how you just have no idea how old anyone is that you are talking to, what they do, or even whether they really are male or female. When I asked them both what they did other than play on SL, they both laughed and just answered that when it was absolutely necessary to go to work or due chores. SL is obviously a huge, and maybe even the first priority in their lives.

MoMo and I then visited some of the places that had free stuff and it was insane how much stuff you can get. You can get cars, toys, expressions, any type of clothes you can think of, there are themed stuff such as hippie stuff or goth stuff. They have eyes, tattoos, hair dues, and even different body shapes. We spent a good amount of time there collecting new things and trying them on and changing our appearance. They even had magazines and toys, and I honestly did not understand why they would need or have these things on SL. It just showed me how much they have made, or were trying to make, SL as close to RL as possible. There were furniture and anything you would need to set up a house and basically an entire life.

This whole experience of the night was definitely a good first impression of SL. It was exactly how I had imagined it from the articles we have been reading in class about these online virtual worlds. Everything seemed so real, but then not. In my eyes I wasn't taking anything I was doing, wearing, anywhere I was visiting, seriously. Even when I met Saphyre and Danica I was merely asking questions and making conversation to learn about their participation on SL, as well as with Gaelle when talking to her about being an escort. It was really shocking to me how seriously everyone I met take their lives on SL, and in Saphyre and Danica's case, how much they prefer their SL to their real life which really worried me. I think using SL as an outlet is ok, but when it starts to take precedence over your real life, there is definitely something wrong. I am not sure how many people that play on SL think the way that Saphyre and Danica do but if it is the norm to have people feel that they would rather be on SL than living in RL, we most definitely have a problem. I am excited to continue to meet new people on SL merely to see how many people spend more time on SL than in RL, and to just see how seriously they take their avatars life compared to their own in RL.

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