Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why Are You Human in Second Life?

Weighing on my mind of late is the question of how we represent ourselves in Second Life, particularly as I re-read Greg Bear's novel Eon for the umpteenth time. A central thread drawn through out that story almost asks "What is a human?" but not quite. Except for a few assumptions by select characters, the novel takes as given that humans are not necessarily what we might consider them. In other words, one need not look "human" to be human.

Key to this concept is that humans have evolved in our future. Neomorphs (humans without human form; "The neomorph— vaguely fish-shaped, limbless—regarded Olmy with a crystalline fox face and picted casual greetings, but no ID."1) and homorophs (essentially human much like your Real Life appearance or mine; "She was a homorph with elaborations designed to heighten both sexual and leadership traits."2) are introduced with as little explanation as necessary and then treated no differently than the more pure, primitive ancestral forms. Being non-human in appearance is as natural as being human in appearance and Bear makes it clear that such is a choice in the book's future society.

What's on the inside is what counts?
The choice is yours in Second Life, too. So why do you appear to be human? Assuming that you are, of course. That many of us have a variety of avatars from animal to cartoon character to golly-knows-what is obvious. But most residents seem to stay with the current concept of a human form for most of their virtual existence despite changes for special occasions or such. With the difficulty of creating virtual clones of ourselves or the desire to make ourselves how we would like to appear in Real Life, most everyone is human.

Why? Why stick with your Real Life gender? Why are most people in Second Life caucasian?

Why, why, why? I'm not being very productive here. Probably because I don't have answers, at least not for anyone but me and that is rather iffy. Being human is what we are comfortable with, I suppose. Being caucasian or blonde or female is familiar to us. But I really doubt that these conventions make us who we are inside. Uccie is a blonde in Second Life after years of being a redhead in both worlds. She is female, like me iRL, as are most of my alts probably because that is what I know best. But she's the only one consistently caucasian for some reason.

Among my other characters, Zyx Flux is now black (sometimes reverting to her original blue) and she's a pre-teen child avatar. Oh, and she's not exactly human. As a pixy she's humanoid. Her big "sister" Zyx Resident is still blue, albeit a darker shade than with which she was created. And when she's black she's obsidian, not a Real Life human shade. My pixies are part of me – a child-like, nature-loving explorer and a confident, aloof loner that lurks and watches – that is often hard to express as Uccello.

Xandah is from India as you may have read elsewhere on this blog. Not really. I was born in Ireland and raised in America, but Xandah the character in Second Life is from India. Through her I've learned a fair bit about the culture of the world's most populous democracy.

My brother and I share log-ins for a few characters: a furry female, a robot, and an all-male caucasian Average Joe. Using these "secret" alts and my known characters I am often reminded of the quote I keep in Uccello's Profile:

"Perhaps it is impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be." O.S. Card

When I'm not being Uccie, I don't feel much like Uccie, though I'm still me ... sort of.

Sometimes when my wife spends time with one of my non-Uccello characters she remarks that she still loves the typist regardless of the virtual form. She sees that I retain my nature and my humanity because when I'm with her I am Uccie regardless of form. With other forms that is not so clear. If you see me when I'm a German Shepherd wearing a hat and bunny slippers my I am different. No, that word is not good enough, but it will do for now.

If I could could make such changes iRL as I do iSL, would the same be true? I'd trade my current physical form to look like the elder Zyx in a heartbeat. Of course, that would simply bring up the debate about becoming the person that others see us being.3 It never ends, does it?

Bear, Greg (2014-04-01). Eon (Eon, 2) (Kindle Locations 4952-4953). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Bear, Greg (2014-04-01). Eon (Eon, 2) (Kindle Locations 5072-5073). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

3 Conger, Cristen. "How accurate is our mental image of ourselves?" 05 November 2008. 04 May 2014.


Orca said...

Uccie, we can't slip out of our "skin" so to say. Of course in SL we can but we're always trapped in our psyche and character. I got 4 alts but never managed to get any of them a unique character trait. Not even my only male one, who is a tiny bunny now. They are all me. Of course I can "play" another character but that would be RP or just method acting.

Of course for halloween I slip into some blue, black or red demon skin and outfit but that's really a masquerade, nothing else.

That's the reason why Orca is in general a humanoid toon, from day one ... and she will never be anything else.

Uccello Poultry said...

Good thoughts, Orca. Thanks for sharing.

Laetizia Coronet said...

Tish is black because way back in 2007 that was rare. I tried to make a realistic African shape before trying a skin on, and I liked the result so I stuck with it. (Sadly, standard sizes have withered away at Tish' more rotund shape over the past years.) So that's why I'm black.

I'm human because I'm simply not into such "deep" fantasy things. I'm a realist - in my fiction writing, my art, and my SL.

And yes, what Orca said... I may be a black girl but I'm always me, although I must say Tish makes it easier to be a little more brash and upfront.

Tali Rosca said...

"Why are you human?" is a question I have often asked in return when somebody asks me "why are you a feline?"
More often than not, it gives pause, as if people realize for the first time that they have made a choice in being human.

My feline hybrid form is "me". I have human shapes I use for, say, photoshoots, but they are costumes for the occasion; I do not feel at home in them in the same way.

Deirdre Graves said...

I was really struck by a photo contest which demanded everyone in it be not just humanoid, but completely human - no wings or small ears. I was briefly tempted to see what I'd look like, or to do it with Deo Starr who is fully human, but I was struck at the time (and continue to be struck) about how there seems to be this divide between human and not, even when the difference is relatively slight. A lot of places I go, I'm the most inhuman in the room, especially if the topic is explicitly non-supernatural.

One of the most fascinating things about Second Life is how subcultures can become super subcultures, where nearly everyone you encounter is a part of that subculture. I find the points where subcultures sometimes meet to be the most fascinating.

Uccello Poultry said...

@Tali ... I love being a cat in SL and probably wouldn't turn down a chance to be an anthropomorphic one iRL.

@Tish ... Blacks are still rare in SL and too many are negative stereotypes 😔

@Deirdre ... My adored blue Zyx was on a beach that Uccie frequents and I saw that the sim had an updated rules card. There was nothing legal about her: wings, ears, color, etc. Took me a while before I let Uccie go back.A total shame. I've also stopped regular donation to their tier costs.

Orca said...

Your beach story made me think, Uccie. First I thought hey, no matter if Uccie or Zyx, it's still the same puppateer playing both ... so how dare they outruling one of your puppets?

Second thought: what defines a human in SL? Most of our beauty queens wouldn't survice 5 minutes in a real world. Those skinny necks are too weak to hold a head upright, our matchstick legs wouldn't be able to carry our bodies. And the list goes on. Apart from that has anybody ever denied the option of flight in SL? Very human, oh yes.

That's the reason why I never describe Orca as human but as "humanoid" or just as "toon".

Uccello Poultry said...

@Orca ... but Uccie and Zyx (and the other Zyx) all behave differently. Really, though, the idea is the Zyx's aren't as "human" in appearance.

Drake N said...

What does it say about me that i have more avs than most have clothing and very few are human?

Uccie Poultry said...

It probably says, Drake, that you have a very fertile and open mind. I have a huge collection of avatars, too, but I keep going back to human.