Esoteric immersionism

Well, ironically, I hope that you see there are a lot of parallels, sometimes, scaringly so. No matter how well you describe Second Life and explain very thoroughly how it works and what it’s used for — and the social interconnection between fellow human beings is usually very high on the list — most people (and by that I mean almost 99% of them) will simply “not get” it. The problem is not yours, or your lack of persuasive argumentation, or that SL’s interface is too hard to learn. It’s simply because of the nature of SL, which runs against most people’s minds, making them reject it (like most people in the world will naturally reject any kind of esoteric teaching as pure gibberish). And the rejection is extreme.

Some people go a bit further: they might become “tourists” and visit SL after all. They might even join a few live music parties. But at some point, something will happen. Thanks to our avatarisation, sooner or later, you’ll have to face your own notion of “self”. When that happens, most people will feel uncomfortable with the thought. Many residents simply wave it away as irrelevant and can successfully ignore the issue. Most, however, at some point, will have to deal with the issue — at least, you’ll start thinking “how do other people really look like? How do I look like to them?”. When that happens, you start to develop bonds with your avatar — like, for instance, go on a shopping spree to personalise it. You might wave it away as simply something trivial and materialistic. But think again. How many people would pay, say, US$25 a month to buy templates and icons for their MySpace or Facebook page?

Certainly a few.

Nevertheless, the vast majority would find that concept utterly ridiculous. A Facebook page is, well, just a page — there is no self-identification with it. It’s “your page” — something you own or create — but not “yourself”.

SL avatars, however, are quite different. A few, of course, will be seen by their creators as pure art — they’re just a manifestation of their talent and creativity. But, surprisingly, you’ll notice that the vast majority will go from the stage of “this is my avatar” to “this is me”. Augmentationists, for instance, will find it ludicrous to claim that the avatar is anything else but “yourself” (ie. not a mental projection of your fears and hopes in a virtual world ruled by pseudonymity). But they will still dress the avatar in smart clothes for a business meeting. Most will just say “it’s what I would wear iRL for meetings, so that’s what I wear in SL too”. They will dismiss the issue as irrelevant or unimportant, just point to social norms and conducts, respect to others, etc. Also, a few might claim that they “dress in business clothes” to separate themselves from “the other loonies out there, who are escapists, and dream of being dragons or robots — I’m a rational human being and don’t need that kind of escapism, I’m here to do serious business”.

Oh yes of course. But why should “serious business” equate with representing your avatar with a business suit instead of a blue, winged dragon? That only happens if you have to put the word SELF into the equation. And that’s what actually happens, even if you seriously deny it: you identify your self with your avatar and they are one and the same. By doing so, the next step follows: you connect with other human beings. And you understand that what you do and what you say becomes your reputation — the way other residents react to you, positively or negatively. While admittedly a few are eager to get a bad reputation in SL, most of us will strive — even if not conscious of doing so — for getting accepted, for “fitting in”, for establishing good, solid, fulfilling relationships with others.

I’m pretty sure that the majority of SL residents don’t really think about all this, they just do it “naturally so”. However, even if they think little of the process, there is always this tiny issue lurking beneath everything: “this is me in a virtual world; I wish to be accepted, and to accept others; I thus have to behave accordingly”. We might not recite that as a mantra every time we log in to SL, but it’s how we subconsciously think. So, we have no option but to confront ourselves with our own selves (sorry for the redundancy), even if we’re not making a big fuss out of it.

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