So you have lots of experience with online conversations, for years and years, have been accused of starting flame wars and managed to escape without getting burned, and you’re the nicest person in the world, so there is no way you’ll get misinterpreted in Second Life, isn’t it?
Think again. 12 years of online communication has not avoided me to mortally offend two very nice persons, both having helped me out often, and where, in both cases, I had started to build a trust relationship with them.
I thought they would already know me better and understand that I never mean to offend anyone. Still, it happened – in two consecutive days! What was wrong with me? Just woke up the wrong side of the bed? But true friends ignore a “bad day” easily – in this case, as said, we’re talking about mortal offense.
The problem with SL compared to other types of online communication is the fine line dividing role-playing and our true selves. In the RL (and also on many online chats) we certainly use our “masks” to hide our feelings, but there are “cracks” in this mask, and you tend to look through them, so it’s perhaps easier to understand if you’re touching tender nerves there…
In SL that’s not so easy. Your avatar may be laughing a lot, telling jokes, having general fun, but inside it may be weeping. Or you may pose as a fool and be rather a genius instead. As you can be anything, and your persona in SL is defined by what you say and what you do, you tend to jump to the wrong conclusions, when you react in the expected way to those words and actions. Because the “real person” behind the avatar may be quite different from what he/she appears to be!
How can you be sure?
In one of the cases, the person in question posed as a very open-minded intellectual, who had studied a lot about everything, and had very interesting views and opinions on things in general. Since I’m an open-minded person myself (not an intellectual lol… but I tend to read a lot about stuff, both con and pro, to make sure I understand both sides of the argument correctly) I felt naturally attracted to a similar open-minded person. I open up my inner self very easily with likely-minded people.
Of course, all went well until I discovered that the person in question is not open-minded at all but filled with prejudices in RL, and that his views/opinions are based on a world conception which is fixed, immutable, and not subject to discussion of any sort. In SL that person was just role-playing open-mindedness – but how could I know?? My mistake was to assume how people think based on what their avatars do and say!
A similar thing happened with another player, a very charming, helpful and amusing person. Still, a bad taste practical joke offended him deeply. Everyone in the group just assumed he was having fun, too – but he wasn’t. The joke was really bad taste – something you can joke with when you are among long-time friends whom you know very well for a long time. Not something to joke about with when you’re among people you really don’t know at all, you just know their avatars. So offense was taken, and it was pretty serious.
Lessons learned: SL is not RL, and the ease of communication does not mean you can assume everything about other persons’ feelings! As in RL, people are not so open as they may appear. To really know what they think and feel, you need time. And it’s not easy.
I lost two friends in a week for thinking otherwise. Worse than that, I could live with indifference – but they have now labeled me as a mean, unpolite, uncaring, untrustworthy person. I’m ashamed of what I said and what I did, and apologies are simply not enough – there are things you can’t simply apologize and forget about it. In both cases it goes much deeper than that, I’ve abused their trust and confidence, and shattered a relationship based on my own assumptions. So even if they’ll ever forgive me (time heals wounds), they’ll never change that opinion, they’ll just discard my existence as inconsequential and irrelevant. That’s my punishment for “taking friendship as granted” and it certainly hurts. In RL that would never have come to that point! Like every other human relationship, it takes much more time to grow and mature, than just a few conversations. Time in SL is hectic and the experience is pretty intensive, but some things just don’t happen so fast – some things are just the same as in RL!
Remember the old saying: “Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate”. Take good care about what you say and the way you say it. And your “intuition” in RL may simply not be enough to deal with people in SL!
Well, if you meet me in SL and find me cold and distant, now you know why. I just can’t hurt anybody’s feelings again by assuming how you think. I must make sure I know how you really think. And that can’t be done in a few hours/days of intense conversation in SL…