By Dainiz Karst
I am not entirely new to SL, but the more I live in it, the more involved I am in all the aspects of personal relationships and sex. It has been a “steep learning curve” but now I begin to see how wonderful and at the same time how complex all is. Reading Caroline’s blog produced a moment of clarity in the midst of confusion, and I find myself now contributing to the discussion. The following notes are “work in progress,” and I don’t claim originality, but just sincerity in what I say. (This is edited and improved version of some error-filled notes I have been collecting in my SL blog. Comments are welcome!)
In the past few weeks I heard many times demands for a total separation between SL and RL, but these statements came from Avatars who seemed to be mixing things very badly. Many were incapable of seeing the complex relationship between the Person and the Avatar, and I experienced several cases where people were judged and condemned for whatever the Avatar did. This is an angle which merits analysis, for –if SL is to be our common virtual world—we should at least have a similar comprehension of the complex roles of the Person and his/her Avatar.
The confusion seems to begin with the fact that some SL residents clearly take this virtual world as a “game,” but effectively project fantasies which should be better left outside of it. There is a brutal, strange energy that comes straight from RL and (despite all declarations) blurs the area between the two worlds. These are fantasies of control and exclusivity which are not difficult to find.
I am both fascinated and repulsed by this and feel the need to explore the issue fully. If SL is really only a place to “play” why all the negative energy and the peculiar methods used to isolate, challenge, control or test people, especially newcomers? Why do the “older” citizens of SL many times tend to create walls of suspicion and silence?
I am sure that this lack of insight means really that SL has a more complex structure than we perceive at first sight.
To clarify these matters it is useful to consider that the structure of human perception and action is fourfold. In SL this is shown by the fact that each “individual” (person) displays four and not two “identities.” There are not only two possible realities for those who are engaged in SL. In fact, in each of the two worlds we have two identities: a) the public RL and the private RL identities, and b) the public SL and the private SL identities. The term “identity” here is not the best one but I use it provisionally to designate a more or less coherent unity of belief, self-perception and interaction with others.
This structure of Being (the quadruple identity) is behind the complex exchanges between the Person and the Avatar, and between the Persons and the Avatars themselves. In particular, this appears as the basic mechanism of “inversion of fantasy” we can see in SL. By inversion I mean the paradoxical justification of asocial behaviour as a “game” while simultaneously the players judge others with some exclusive and private “standard.” This shows that, despite claims of the more naïve players, they are fully invested, in particular with the private side of their RL identity that is the source of vacuous aggression, control, scheming and exclusion.
So for example, the naïve player displays the same morality of “banishment” and “scapegoating,” of domination and control that is so common in RL. This obviously contradicts the notion (frequently affirmed by the same players) that “all is only a game.” Truly the naïve but committed player is immersed in a double illusion by which he or she seeks a world that exactly reflects the desires of the private RL identity but simultaneously rejects the possibility that other players (other persons) have similar fantasies.
The other players are condemned to conform or be banished, all under the pretence that the ego is not projecting RL anxieties and shortcomings into SL. Nothing less than total conformance can satisfy the RL ego and especially the private RL side of it. This by itself is not the essential problem though. What causes disruption and pain is the inability of the alienated player to see his or her own projection into the game and the farcical insistence that they are here only to “play.” Indirectly then, the deluded player re-confirms her/his own private “real life” through the mechanism of the SL Projektion.
In these notes I use the word “naïve” not to mean “innocent” or “inexperienced” but to label the state of “unknowing of Being.” In other words, the naïve player shifts between his or her identities without knowing how these are connected. The ‘impossible heart’ of being, which normally lies hidden in RL is thereby displayed as a bare contradiction and a painful scenario in SL.
In turn, this contradictory manifestation undermines freedom, pleasure, sociality and understanding. The RL private person surges ahead and hides behind the apparent separation of the two worlds. In truth these worlds are not separated but are instead an inversion and reflection of each other (a complementation which is more problematic the more oblivious the player is).
As it happens with the Internet-based social circles in general, SL also has a “primitive era.” I need to do more research still but probably we are still in it. In any case, the important observation here is that “primitive” in the context of the Grid is a state where “anonymity” is sought and even necessary to live a virtual life. Maturity will come if and only if the Second, the Third and even the Fourth Life can be lived without anonymity.
Or, better, when anonymity becomes only a minor part of the articulation of being and not its primary manifestation within the Grid.
The decent SL life must be one where both the Person and the Avatar are fully one and the other, differentiated in their immediate essence, but undifferentiated in their overall structure. The quadruple identity should be fully assumed and visible, lest either the Avatar or the Person (or indeed both) sink into incompleteness and falsity.
It is still painful to see how otherwise intelligent people in Real Life can be unrecognisable when they adopt their Avatar parameters. As Persons they are still conversant and able to articulate communication. As Avatars they are despotic and narrow. It all happens as if during impersonation the Person surrendered rationality for the sake of the “common beliefs” of the Second Life. In this, the Avatar always “knows” what is good and what bad “behaviour” is without seeing that whatever is so classified must be only a matter of belief and not a matter of principle.
In silence, the Avatar abuses the extreme volatility of the digital medium to impose her or his absolute rules, whereas in Real Life the same individual would know that no rules exist that are not socially negotiated. Even more perversely, while in RL the individual is obliged to civility and understanding– in SL there is always a vast space for the empire of the ego (and I mean not the ego of the Avatar but the hidden side of the RL person).
The naïve Avatar, oblivious of the quadruple structure of identity, always “knows” the truth. But she/he does not ask him/herself how we come to know the truth! Who is she who knows? Who is he who knows? Who is the knowing entity? This should be clarified, for –as a prolongation of the Personal –, the Avatar knows, but not autonomously. Her/his knowledge is always the knowledge of the Real Person, but it is a knowledge that is mediated by the Avatar. In other words, the Avatar is an instrument or agent of knowing, but no knowledge resides in it.
Following from this, looking at my experiences in RL and SL I ask myself the question: what is love then? If relationships and sex are more complex and difficult to define and understand, then love is also less simple. This is a hard question but I think I know why.
Love, in particular love rooted in sexual attraction and desire, has become more complex. Love is not anymore a single “thing,” something that can be defined singularly, as a whole. It has now more than one meaning. Love has become “fragmented.” And it has become fragmented because we –as individuals– are also fragmented. As indicated above, we have a RL “public life” but also a “private life,” and simultaneously we have”public” and “private” aspects in our SL or Grid life too. Because of this we need to think of the digital world in general, as an “opening up” of our persons, where new branches of our Being grow and take their own paths. These are new branches of being that would have never existed outside of the digital world.
As for the essence of love– according to what I see–, we have now four kinds of love: RL public love, RL private love, SL/digital/virtual public love, and SL/digital/virtual private love. The key point is that the Avatars have a public “known” and a private “unknown” side which are the reflection/projection of the public and private sides of the individual. The more the digital worlds evolve, the more complex love becomes, but that does not diminish its importance, quite the contrary: love is more important now because there are more forms, more manifestations of it. In fact love grows throughout the multiple worlds and reveals itself as that force that is fundamentally against exclusivity, control, domination, oppression and jealousy.
Nothing I wrote here means that the committed, many times oblivious Avatar is entirely wrong in her or his beliefs about SL or RL. Nobody can be either completely wrong or completely right. So in honour of truth we must recognise that the committed player “knows” that love is different in SL even if he or she does not know how or why it is different. In the “player’s mind” love is “different” in SL but he or she are unclear as to how this related to love in RL. The “players” may say that SL does not admit exclusivity or jealousy in sexual partnerships, but are confused regarding the root of this, the necessity of it. In fact, the lack of exclusivity is not a “norm” of the “game” but actually only the nature of the medium itself. Because the Avatar is a projection, even if it has public and private sides (as the RL person), its activities are completely contingent, volatile and outside of any law or convention.
The nature of the digital medium is resides in its infinite changeability. It is this nature and not any “convention” or “good sense” that determines that there cannot be permanent or exclusive relationships. The digital medium liberates the person to grow in every direction, and this in turn liberates sexual behaviour.
So, the committed Avatar is right to the point that he or she excludes ideas of “drama” and “jealousy” as either desirable or reasonable, but he or she does not see that this is not a convention of the Grid-world this is not one of the “rules of the game.” Love and sex in SL are not exclusive not because of any “rules of the game,” but actually because there can’t be any rules of this nature here.