So you have a new girl-/boyfriend in Second Life and you have been having a marvelous time with her/him? She/he is intelligent, witty, easy-going, loves parties, enjoys herself and pleases you, and she/he even has lots of interesting friends. Sounds great, right? But is she/he actually like that in RL?
Well, Second Life drops all barriers, and while people may disagree a lot about this issue, the old saying – “in the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” – certainly applies to SL, too. With a vengeance.
Forget about age, ethnicity, religion, social status, or even sex. In SL everybody knows that the avatar can be infinitely changed at any time. So people simply don’t care about “appearances”. You just can’t rely on it. The shyest person in the world may be online as a strip dancer. Who knows? And more important – who cares?
This, of course, is a great thing that SL doesn’t share with RL. There is simply no conception about “prejudice” because it doesn’t make any sense at all. How can you have any type of “prejudice” against someone who may look completely different in 5 minutes or so – the time you take to completely switch your avatar to something different?
Then again, there is a hidden danger. While there are no barriers to communication, there isn’t any body language to give you hints about the other avatars. You simply can’t know who’s behind the pretty animated graphics. The only way to know more about the avatar’s “owner” is… to talk to her/him!
And after a while you see a pattern… there are lots and lots of people who use SL as an escape from RL. From the simple view “my RL sucks, I play SL just to forget about it” or “in RL I’m just a geek, here I can be a hero”, to “nobody cares about me in RL, that’s why I play SL”, you can come across many more serious types of problems. People with disabilities – social, mental, physical – or severe illnesses come here to enjoy “normal life”. For them, it’s much more than an “escape” from RL. It’s the only way they have to enjoy absolutely normal human interaction without any prejudice at all!
Therapists have actually encouraged some of these people to join an online 3D game for that reason. Since it’s unpolite to ask people what they do or what they are in RL, they can enjoy hours, days, months of a completely normal and healthy “life”. Even if it is a virtual one!
This amazing characteristic has begun to attract the attention of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and many types of mental healers – several even setup their own offices in SL! People are writing their college thesis on human interaction in a world without barriers or prejudice. All this is absolutely amazing and probably a completely unexpected “side-effect”.
It will be interesting to see it evolve…