I awoke this morning from a dream of sacrifice. Not the ritualistic kind that offers up some gift to propitiate a deity, but the kind of sacrifice meant by people doing things for other people, without thought for themselves. Awake, but still in the free-associative dreamstate, looking for a meaning to bring away from the revelation before it faded, thoughts — mine and others’ — about Second Life floated up, offering themselves to be seen in different ways.
“Why Second Life?” you might ask, and I’ll reply: For reasons which are nobody’s business but mine, Second Life is my life. All but two of the people who mean anything to me are there, and only there. Even if I have another way to reach them — by email, Twitter, Skype, etc. — they are forever and unalterably associated with where I met them and how I came to know them as persons.
But this isn’t about me; this is about them, and thousands like them… like you.
A couple of weeks ago, Lauren Jones’ posted “It’s Only Meat” in her blog called When It Changed, wherein she took some different looks at a scene from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, one of the seminal fictional works that has driven thought about virtuality. In her musings, she says:
If we assume for a second that the flesh and blood body is merely an avatar for our consciousness, just like our pixel avatars are, then we’re getting into deep water. People often say “it’s only pixels” when referring to someone’s avatar in say Second Life, the implication being that it is of no importance. But if the vehicle of our consciousness is of no importance then surely the same must apply to our meat avatars?
Turn that around: If our consciousness — our self — is the important consideration, the nature of its vehicle holds equal validity, whether it be pixels or “meat”.
Lauren concludes this way, which I take to mean that she agrees:
Finally, this also raises the question of the way people treat other people in cyberspaces like Second Life. “It’s only pixels” is used as the justification for acting badly, for saying terrible things. We would never do such things when face to face with a person and yet we do them when faced with that person’s avatar. Does that not also indicate a disconnection between ourselves and the essence of who we are dealing with?
The fault, says Lauren, is not in our avatars, but in ourselves, when we fail (or deliberately refuse) to be mindful that other avatars are also selves.
My post “More on Roleplay” was derived in part from Botgirl Questi’s theme at the time of how the art of ventriloquism might relate to the interface between a person and that person’s avatar. I said then,
[I]t has to do with the audience’s willing — often, eager — suspension of disbelief and the embracing of […] identity. This speaks to our perception of other avatars more than it does to our perception of our own…
So what about other avatars? Are they “just pixels”, non-player characters you can forget about once you ctrl+Q out of “the game”? It seems that way sometimes… (make sure to read the comments). But, no: We are “other avatars”, every one of us, from the most experienced oldbie to the person who just now rezzed in-world for the first time while you were reading this. We are no more “just pixels” than we are “just meat”. We are conscious beings, with hopes and despairs, thoughts and denials, talents and shortcomings, who manifest simultaneously in the biological and virtual worlds. We are the rabbit and the duck.
Two months ago, Botgirl asked “Are virtual friends as real as physical friends?”. Today (17 November), I think she has an answer, and it is “Yes.”
From almost the start of my virtual existence, it seemed to me that the primary benefit of a second life for humans is its potential to lift up one’s first life.
Implicit, of course, in her latest entry is this: We lift up our own lives by lifting others.
Yesterday, in what has now become an incurable habit of lurking at the SLUniverse forum, I found this thread, which points to this one at the official Second Life Forum. Desmond Shang and the folks in Caledon have some plan — it’s not clear to me precisely what — to reward someone particularly good at “paying it forward”. It’s a laudable cause, couched as it is in the sentiment we unfortunately seldom see except at the approach of The Holidays, made still more laudable in the following posts in both threads. Many, many, many people live their Second Lives in the spirit of helping those “other avatars” — Us — as they themselves were helped when new.
Caledon, I have heard (not been there yet, but will correct that soon), is a steampunk sort of place; hence, once assumes, with a Victorian grounding — so thoughts of Dickens immediately arise. Desmond himself invoked Scrooge in one of his SLU posts, abeit jokingly about himself… but I have always held that these words of the ghost of Jacob Marley sum the entirety of that lesson:
Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!
Make that “avatar-kind” as well, friend Jacob, and you will have entered the 21st Century with no less power and relevance than you had in the 19th.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
 Credit and warm thanks to intellectual fellow-traveler and balloonist par excellence Katelyn Manamiko for telling me, the non-gamer, what “NPC” means after pointing out its applicability.
 The full text of “A Christmas Carol” can be found here at The Literature Network.