Sunday, March 09, 2008

Me, myselves and I

I mentioned some time back having been to a long interview and a few seminars in Second Life on the subject of identity, body, image and embodiment. I have since spent quite a bit of time with the seminar leader and her circle of friends, discussing these matters but also just hanging out. They are all very much freer in their explorations of self and SL (and "self" in SL) than I have been, and in the course of time the desire arose in me to extend my own boundaries a little. But how to do so? The Udge who writes here is very much the Udge who is present in SL, and both of these personas overlap extensively with the real-life, real-world "I" whose physical identity is known to a select few readers.

I wanted to experiment, but felt constrained in the nature, appearance and actions of the SL Udge by his history there, by the people who already knew him in-world or from my reports here on his doings. I felt that "Udge" could not do the things that I wanted to do, even though I didn't yet know what those might be.

So, in mid-December I decided to create an alt, an alternative identity, a Third Life if you wish: a brand-new account with a brand-new name bearing no connection whatever to Udge. Her name is not even vaguely "Susan," which is why I'll call her that here. I played Susan exclusively for about two weeks, for many hours every day. (During this period, I stopped writing about SL, because I couldn't use Udge's voice to describe Susan's experiences. She now has a blog of her own, which I shall never link to.)

The discussions about alts in the seminar group have been quite fascinating. All of us have at least one alt, and one has (at last count) seven. It is very strange that one uses "I" for three distinct personalities in such conversations: Udge, Susan and the real-world "me" behind them.

We all experienced our first avs as being the projection of our RL selves into SL, and felt that this became confining after a certain point; we all experienced the alt as significantly bolder, braver and more open to experiment than our original avs; and also in a way freer, more playful and humorous. Which perhaps goes together well with the willingness to experiment.

I was at first very cautious and careful as her, because I dreaded giving the game away by letting slip something like "Susan scratches his head," so I gave her a style of speech and a syntax of her own. It soon became clear that my caution was unnecessary, as her style was actually so strong that it began to influence Udge (on the occasions when I logged in as him).

But I was even more surprised to find that she had a personality of her own: Susan surprised me by the things that she liked and wanted to do, and I have learned to let her have her way. She is much bolder than either Udge or "I," more willing to try new things and to state her opinion about the results. The difference expresses itself in strange little ways. Take the matter of camping (getting paid for parking your avatar on somebody's land, to make their site appear more popular). It's a really dull process, and poorly paid too: about 3 U.S. cents per hour on average, but Udge spent many hours camping on his own and with M2. Well, Susan tried camping too—and after about five minutes said "To hell with this noise;" she went out and got herself an e-mail account and a paypal account and damned well bought a thousand Lindendollars ($4 US). Jus' like that. I was most impressed.

This too is a common experience in the seminar group, that our alts develop in ways that we could not have predicted, like a child growing into its own personality.

I am very surprised that Susan fools people so well, even Biff who is a very clever and empathetic person didn't suspect. As far as I know the only person who has seen through her is an English teacher in RL, who claims always to be able to tell because "men and women speak differently."

I had heard but not really believed reports of women being aggressively chatted up by men in SL, to the point of being molested or stalked; and while that hasn't happened to Susan, she has seen and heard it happening. She is chatted up on average once a week, but (so far) always in a friendly and amusing fashion, by men—and women—clever enough to understand the subtext of a barely-lukewarm answer. The Barbie dolls and the Barbarians gravitate to each other and leave her alone.

I think it's because of her appearance (which principally means body shape, because it holds true whatever she wears). Susan is no more a Barbie than Udge is a Barbarian, though she is young-looking and very pretty. I spent quite a bit of time giving her a real-woman appearance with definite "problem zones" compared to the Barbies. I think she looks quite wonderful, and clearly so do many others because she won a dress contest at a dance club. The prize was a job in the club, which she accepted.

I am pleased to report that she's having a great time.

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Blogger zhoen said...

She is not you, she is a character, as in a novel. They tend to want their own voices, and choices.

March 9, 2008 at 9:47:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Pacian said...

What happens when she suddenly wonders how she logs out?

Take the blue pill, Susan!

March 10, 2008 at 12:28:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Dale said...

Well, you know, I'm a Buddhist, and I don't think any of the "real" identities are real either :-> We just pretend longer with them.

March 10, 2008 at 2:50:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Lioness said...

My God, what a fascinating post! I know we talked abt this before but I was still riveted. And I know we already talked abt Pessoa and his heteronyms but it bears repeating, it's amazing how independent she is.

I know characters often take on a will of their own and you watch ihn disbelief as things unfold that you could not have expected and indeed do not want, but I don't think she's just a character, I think she tapped into a different sort of you, one you don't allow out, one you might not have know existed. And blimey, she's cool! Therefore, you are too, far more than you thought. ;)

March 10, 2008 at 9:14:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous liquicat said...

this is so very interesting! i agree with dale and with lioness. i wonder how many other aspects of your personality are in you that don't get let out.

this is something i try to achieve IRL, to free myself from the social constraints that stop me from being all the ways i really am. while i've made a certain amount of progress, i think it will prove to be a life long activity.

March 10, 2008 at 10:11:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Diana said...

That really is most fascinating and I hope you'll continue to post some of what you are experiencing through her here on this blog.

March 10, 2008 at 3:48:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

FernandoPessoa is indeed a fascinating case of multiple identities, worth reading about.

March 10, 2008 at 4:13:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous May said...

How weird (fascinating too)!

I couldn't assume another identity not even if I wanted. My nature is to be like an open book. I know, it sounds boring.

March 10, 2008 at 6:53:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Lioness said...

Now, now... Don't ruin my hero. Honestly, it wasn't so much multiple personalities, or not in the sense on would understand it today, but I remember being about 12 and reading Álvaro de Campos [my fave] and in the foreword they explained abt the heteronyms with excerpts from Pessoa's letters and it was fascinating, there is another heteronym called Alberto Caeiro, who was actually A.deC.'s mentor and seems deceptively simple, he will write things such as "There is enough metaphysics in not thinking at all" and there's another one called Ricardo Reis who, frankly, is a bit prissy and pompous and whom I cannot enjoy at all, and Pessoa mentions in a letter that Caeiro was born in Scotland and is an engineer and looks vaguely like a Portuguese Jew, and how his Portuguese is not as fine as Soares' bcs he will say "It is me" instead of "It is I" (not quite that but am giving you an English equivalent of sorts), whereas RR is a doctor and was educated by the Jesuits and yes, it shows a tad. Pessoa himself wrote The Message, a quite mystical book about the Seefarers and was very esoteric (he was good mates with Alistair Crommwell I believe, I can only imagine what they got up to).

Eh, sorry abt the rambling, I just love the man so much and my host father used to annoy me insisting they're just pseudonyms, which they bloody well aren't, I am always careful to spread the truth. As it were.

As fas as we know they only came out when he wrote, these different voices, entities, and he was fully aware of them.

March 11, 2008 at 7:56:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

True, "multiple identity" is too bland and simple (and too psychologically loaded) a description of what Pessoa was up to. He called his alternate personalities heteronyms:

"The literary concept of heteronym, invented by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, refers to one or more imaginary character(s) created by a poet to write in different styles. Heteronyms differ from nom de plumes (or pseudonyms, from the Greek "False Name") in that the latter are just false names, while the former are characters having their own supposed physiques, biographies and writing styles."

It's a short and fascinating article, do read it.

March 11, 2008 at 9:58:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

Interesting and helpful comments, my dears, as always. Thank you.

March 11, 2008 at 10:34:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Jean said...

Gosh, I really don't know what I think about this. Which is interesting, and unusual for me. Interested by Zhoen's analogy, which is not one that would have occurred to me. Hmm. The discussion group, sharing of your experiences and reactions, does seem a good thing and perhaps a good guard against addiction and the potential for this 'third life' to seem more real than the first (I've no idea how much potential there is for that - just projecting what my own fears would be).

March 11, 2008 at 11:07:00 a.m. GMT+1  

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