Bees And Flowers: An Essay By Extropia DaSilva

Getting back, finally, to the bee/flower analogy, just as flowers need pollinating insects if they are to persist, and have evolved patterns that manipulate the behaviour of some organisms into serving their needs, so this applies to digital people. Of course, a flower’s success is not entirely due to the mind-controlling effect of its patterns. Rewards and personal gain for the insects must be taken into account as well. It is equally plausible to say a bee lands on a flower because it knows it will find nectar there. Similarly, GP, the primary of Gwyn, is not just lured back to the login screen by the tractor-beam effect of digital self’s patterns, but also because it is rewarding.


Some people find it all rather disturbing. One reply posted on my ‘Virals’ essay commented, “I don’t doubt that we’ll end up with digital personalities floating about which will endlessly confuse people in this way. I don’t think that’s a good thing”. And when I attended an event promoting the book ‘Coming of Age in SL’ by Tom Boellstorff, someone asked “how can we say this (SL) is “real” when people are role-playing? For instance, I can say I am Native American, even the member of a tribe such as Cherokee. Does this mean I have become authentically Cherokee? Is it real?”.

Replying to the latter question, another participant said, “I do not think one could be a real Cherokee here because it has a counterpart in RL that would have to match. But one could be a real ethnotype that exists only on the grid, like a real Caledonian”.

Comments and questions like these lead to no end of speculation and thought experiments. Someone creates and develops a character in SL, an “outrageously brash, vaguely tipsy ballerina with blue butterfly wings” (Wagner James Au’s description, not mine). Is that a good thing?

The RL person behind the character can no longer manage the work required to maintain that character’s personae and reputation as a premier designer in SL. S/he logs off and that digital person is never seen or heard from again. Is that a good thing?

She’s back. Friends ask where she has been all this time, and smile at her reply. It’s just so *her*. She has lots of new ideas and invites journalists and bloggers alike to report on work-in-progress. Reports enthuse about the new direction her work is taking, but note that there still the unmistakable signature of her style manifest in the projects. Is at that good thing? Would the answer be positive or negative depending on whether or not the original RL person was still behind the personae, or if the account had been handed over to someone else? Would that digital person still exist, or would it be merely be an imitation and what difference would it make if nobody could tell? Would the Mickey Mouse we see in cartoons today be denounced as a fake if it were discovered that the original team behind the character had all been replaced with different animators, editors, sound crews… or would people treat the cartoon mouse as the same character?

Is being a member of the Cherokee tribe less, as, or more real than being an ethnotype that exists purely on the grid? If there are indeed actual ethnotypes in SL, is there an actual human roleplaying a furry in RL, or an actual furry in SL who roleplays a human in-between logging-on?

A person imagines that, tomorrow, he will roleplay a Gorean in SL. Something triggers a forgotten memory and he recalls an early childhood spent among the Cherokee. Which is ‘real’, the child he remembers, or the Gorean he imagines?

Well, you could go on all day. I will leave questions such as these hanging in the air and point out that, by describing such hypothetical scenarios, I assume my readers (whoever they may be) are roleplayers. They are all people capable of building fantasy worlds in their minds and populating them with imaginary folk whose actions lead to consequences. There would not be much point in setting up hypothetical situations and asking my readers to imagine the outcome if they did not possess any roleplaying ability. But wait. Not everyone in SL indulges in roleplaying. If you are not a roleplayer, does it therefore follow that you cannot play these scenarios in your mind?

Really, I do not need to worry about that, because SL is not divided up into people who can roleplay and those who cannot. Ok, I guess that comes as no surprise. But, equally, it is not divided up into people who DO roleplay and those who do not. Nor, for that matter, is the act of creating and developing imaginary characters, places and situations something that is limited to cyberspace. Roleplaying goes on in RL too, in all sorts of ways- not all of them recognisable as fantasy. But then, the question must be asked: ‘how can we say RL is “real” if people are roleplaying?’ Well, what is ‘real’, anyway?

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