Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Journey into Second Life

I never ever thought that second life would hold any purpose in my life. I will be honest. I never really understood its function and to this day, although I am clearer about the potential gathering and sharing information power, am reluctant to say that I wholeheartedly am behind the idea of an online community in this capacity.

Creating my avatar on Orientation Island was something of an experience. As a female, I was drawn to the female avatars and named my avatar Cara Blitz. I was astounded that the three choices I had were all scantily clad. “The girl next door” avatar, although in a sweater and jeans was busting out of her top and baring her midriff. I think that a community ought to at least start off with an avatar that does not perpetuate the stereotypes of beauty. When I then had to further create my avatar by changing the appearance, I could not believe the choices for female: cleavage, buoyancy, hooker-looking makeup that came default. Truly this moment did not help my original opinion of the site as the stereotype that it is boys in their mothers basements playing the game. While the ideal of female’s bodies even on a video game is set up to have zero body fat, yet hips, butt and boobs (even the smallest setting was above what the average female is packing), I couldn’t help but wonder why this is the way it is. Even I, a feminist in my own mind and offended at the body image would not give my avatar much different looks than what she came with. Granted, I toned down the makeup, tried to tone down the cleavage, hips and butt factor, yet I did not attempt to make my own avatar into a “normal” looking woman. This made me reflect into my own idea of self portrayal. Although I was offended, I did not want to be the avatar that looked different from the group, so I portrayed myself within the norms of this culture.

My friend Debbie and I went through Orientation Island together. Here we learned the basics, how to walk, change appearance and fly. From there we first visited Santa Clara Island. Although the school spent a lot of real money on this virtual property, when Debbie and I went there was no one there. I must say I have yet to see the value in having Santa Clara involved in this particular real estate endeavor.

From Santa Clara Island, we went searched the map for people to meet. We then went to “Sexy Island” because there were a lot of people there. There we learned how to reach for objects, such as balls that say “dance” and learned how to dance. Debbie got into a conversation with another avatar about where we could change out of the clothes that came from the original avatar creation. We explored “Sexy’ a little more and I personally was astonished to see the level of hormonal interaction in a virtual world. Although I had been forewarned that you can see people interacting in a sexual manner, I guess I just didn’t know how open and out for the “public” in Second Life it would be.

I must confess, during the time spent dancing and walking around this island, Debbie and I were approached and “hit on” by a number of avatars. This opened our debate about whether or not virtual sex or flirtation is cheating. I mean technically if I were to become involved with someone in second life, it would not be my real life, so would I be cheating on my real life boyfriend? The ultimate conclusion for me is that I wouldn’t want to do it any way in real or second life, so there is no problem. The lines however are very grey. Does what happens in second life stay in second life like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? This question gets to the heart of the matter of the article A Rape in Cyberspace. Is what happened in that MUD something real? Were the feelings real? I don’t know the answer to the question. But I do know that people who are creepers on the internet, get arrested for stalking, etc. There are lines of reality that exist in this online world.

After Sexy, Debbie and I transported to Iwo Jima. This is where we could go “shopping” for new clothes. I must admit that ninety percent of the outfits I saw were something that normal everyday people would never wear. They were ridiculously low-cut and sexed up. Debbie and I used our knowledge of pointing at the object and buying to purchase clothing that was free to keep with us in our inventory. From there, we changed outfits multiple times to find ones that were suitable.

After this island, I must admit my feelings about second life grew from skeptical to somewhat of a fan. I found my way into a conversation that was completely in Spanish. Although I have taken Spanish before, I do not usually get the opportunity or feel comfortable enough in real life to speak it. In second life however, I felt completely comfortable in reading the conversations and even participated in the conversations in another language. In this interaction, I experienced the power of second life. that it can connect people across the globe and in different languages. Although I found the positive, I am still unsure about some of the negatives of second life. that it can separate people from their real lives. The jury is still out on this matter, but I did enjoy overall my first go at second life.

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