Most people come into Second Life in one of two ways.
One way that’s familiar to most of us might be termed dissociative. We might first consider Second Life as something to try as a diversion. When we enter, we look for what immediate needs it can fulfil. We tend not to see our avatar as ourselves – but as nothing more than a game character.
We enter the world as babies do, unaware of ourselves and others. We learn to walk, talk, dress and connect with others in superficial ways. Some people in this stage remain this way – some might choose to grief others, or quickly tire of Second Life, wondering what the point is.
Other people enter the world aiming to get a job done – like teaching, building, or performing. They will come online to do this job, and log out when finished. They don’t tend to engage with the greater community unless it’s necessary as a consequence of their role, preferring usually to mix with the people associated with their work. Educators, like my friend Ylva, came into Second Life this way; as do some artists – especially, I’ve noticed, performers like singers and musicians.
Moving from these stages to the next, where one begins to engage in the world on its own terms, instead of an “analogy of real life”, is the first major Second Life milestone.
Once that happens, we are a sponge slipping into a sink, becoming immersed.
Different things might trigger it. It can happen little by little, or all at once. We might recognise it as a gentle touch on our elbow, from someone we’re working with – as remembered by my friend Lark. It might happen when visiting to an art gallery, and when reflecting on one’s experience, feeling like one was actually there – which is how it happened for my friend Huck.
Often, the trigger is a feeling for another person. Sometimes it’s a feeling of personal pride in how one might appear, or an embarrassment as a result of some clumsy thing we’ve done. In that sometimes fleeting moment, the avatar is no longer apart – she, or he, is you.
From this moment, I think the world can really begin to expand. One might identify with one’s avatar to the point where there is no meaningful distinction, whilst others may remain disassociated, but still feel attached and immersed.
It’s at this stage where one involves oneself in meaningful relationships, where one is faithful to the feelings one has, and learns how important it is to be respectful and empathetic with others. It’s also at this stage where one might become heavily immersed in projects or other interests here.
These things, these activities, these feelings – become very important to us, because they are for us, as real as anything.
From there, I think we experience the typical milestones we experience in real life – within the limits of virtuality.
We make friends.
We feel love.
We share more of ourselves more than we ever thought we might.
We make ourselves vulnerable.
We feel loss.
We get up, and we keep going.
Rinse and repeat.
There’s no order to it. Just like life.
Eventually however, many of us grow up. We mature and become less worried about the past, the future, or the vagaries of the going ons of others. As my friend Ylva discovered, we begin to live much, much more in the moment. We take it all – all the weirdness, the hopes, the frustrations and enjoyments – with a very large grain of salt, and remain aware that not everyone sees, and feels the world as we do.
And in this moment, we find peace.
Note: This post is a slightly more tidy version of my contribution to last night’s Basilique Chat Salon, on the topic of Avatar Milestones. If you’re interested in joining our discussions – we meet every Wednesday at 2pm SLT, at Basilique.