There’s no place like RL?

September 25, 2007

From a Futurama parody of The Wizard of Oz:

Farnsworth: As for you, young lady, you want to go home, right?
Leela: No, not anymore. I wanna stay here and become the new Wicked Witch.
Farnsworth: Nonsense. Now click your big, honking boots together three times and wish to go home to Kansas, to live in poverty with your dirt-farming, teetotalling aunt and uncle.

As is common after a night talking with my friend Dirk, I came away thinking about SL and how it relates to RL.

I think early into my friendship with Tobie (before we became more 🙂 ), she said something like, “SL brings out things that need to come out.” I totally agree with this, as it explains the desire to have a second life. As I was telling Dirk (perhaps not in these exact words 😉 ), SL is a place of fantasy and wish fulfillment. It’s a place where we are free from the constraints placed upon us by the real world. Not only can we choose how we look, but we can choose roles to which we have no access in our real lives.

I know a lot has changed about me in the nearly seven months I’ve been in SL, and I’ve written about much of that on this blog. What I probably haven’t commented on so much is what *hasn’t* changed about me during my time in SL.

In SL, I’m freer than I will ever be in RL. There’s no question in my mind about this, because some of the RL constraints that SL frees me of are self-imposed. They are constraints that have come out of my life experience and upbringing, and regardless of how they might inhibit me, they are so deeply ingrained that I know they will persist. As strange as it sounds, I’m comfortable with this.

To me, then, SL is a place where the aspects of myself I do not allow to be presented in RL are free to surface. As Tobie said, they need to come out, and that I can do so in SL fulfills that need. SL takes care of some of the deficiencies I perceive in my RL.

It is at this point that Dirk’s and my views on the platform differ, though. I think that what arises from SL can remain entirely in SL and not impact RL. This isn’t to say that happenings in SL haven’t affected my RL, as I’ve written before that they have, but what I’m getting at is that sometimes the fantasy may be as valuable or more valuable than the experience in RL. In his view, as I understood it, whatever RL deficiency you uncover during SL should be worked on in RL, but I believe that is not always a feasible or productive endeavor.

I always thought that people saw SL more like I did, so it was interesting to listen to Dirk’s perspective. He doesn’t see SL and RL as being as different as I do. I think to him, SL is yet another form of communication between people. I think he’s less interested in how someone chooses to represent him/herself than the RL person. To him, it’s not the place of fantasy that I take it to be.

But I need my fantasy. There may be no place like home, but that doesn’t mean the charms of Oz can’t be appreciated.

I need to have people be scarecrows and tin men and lions. I need to walk yellow brick roads and visit emerald cities. I need the option to become the next wicked witch instead of returning home to my “dirt-farming, teetotalling aunt and uncle.” But I don’t necessarily require any of these things outside of Oz . . . or SL.

Dorothy’s life would have been much less interesting without her jaunt to Oz. That doesn’t mean that she wanted her everyday life in Kansas to be filled with flying monkeys, though 🙂


  1. […] Original post by Streeter Scene […]

  2. I actually envy people who are able to draw such a strict line between SL and RL, as I never seem to be able to do it. It’s true that SL brings out very interesting new sides of ourselves and I fully enjoy “living” them on SL, but I can’t avoid that they DO have an affect on my RL, even if it’s only in my head most of the time. For me, my SL quite often has made me think about my RL, especially concerning relationships. This might not be a good idea or might even have negative effects, but I can’t avoid it at all…

  3. I’m so middle-of-the-road, depending on the day, in my SL experience. Because Rosie looks so much like I do IRL physically, and because my personality obviously comes through her, in that way she’s just an extension of me. But then the fantastical things she’s able to do and the amazing things we’re all able to play with and see, make it so clearly fantasy, a diversion — They definitely overlap for me, but it all adds to the experience and makes it a unique diversion and “time investment” for me. I also manage to convince myself that the amazing avatars that have befriended me in-game come with amazing people attached to them in the real world.

  4. I’m going to agree with both you *and* Dirk. Here’s why:

    As you said, SL is a great place for us to be ourselves. The environment inherently seems to loosen up our inhibitions to a certain degree, which is great. This can help us work out “issues” or parts of us that we’re afraid to express, such as shyness, repressed homosexuality, transgenderism, furryness, fetishes, and even negative things such as sociopathology. For some of these, using SL as a means to express them/overcome them are all that’s really necessary; for others, they are issues that need to be worked on in real life, without a doubt. Let me give examples…

    It’s arguable that you can live with being at least reasonably shy or a closeted furry, but other things such as repressed homosexuality, repressed transgenderism, and socipathology…these are things that definitely need to be addressed in real life. Individuals who are repressed homosexuals or transgendered are typically haunted by not being able to express or address this part of their lives, and it’s something that does *not* go away with time. I don’t know much about being a sociopath, but I would imagine that it’s probably similar; if it’s not addressed, it will only get worse (no, I’m not implying that being gay or trans is somethng bad!).

  5. When I log on, I feel rather safe my guards are down, so my personality flows forth a little more easy. What I love to do the most, playing, comes out, some how I repress this a lot in RL. I have found this playfulness will leak out in RL situations were I feel happy and safe with the person I am with (for example dancing. Perhaps in SL we all feel safer and we do not hold back aspects of who we are.

    I don’t think we really change when we go into SL.. Look at me, I got my tail, ears, and fur hehe…
    When we log onto SL, we are not actors trying to be someone we aren’t, that would be too exhausting. We are ourselves, just reacting to things in a different environment than RL.

  6. I’m some where in the middle about all of this. It definally is hard sometimes to remember that the personalities in Second Life are not the true personalities of the RL person. Take me for example, I’m far more likely to chat with random people in SL than in RL. Some days in RL it is easy to take what I have learned in SL and apply it to RL situations. I also agree with Ginseng about how our guards are down in SL and our truer form of our personalities.

    But then there is the fanasty element added to the mix. In SL we can fly and do other things that we can’t do in RL. I also play a female avatar, something that I normally wouldn’t do in RL.

    In the four months that I have been in Second Life, I have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, which at the beginning of the summer I was having troble looking at them. Now, I can realize I will never be a clothes, builder, business owner in Second Life, and that has made me stronger a real human being and much more sane!

    BTW: I’m a huge Futurama fan! I ❤ Bender!
    “Bite my shiny metal ass!”

  7. i personally dont know myself what to think of sl. i know i love being my avatar because she can do so much more then i can, i love the way she looks and in a way she inspires me to do things for her.

    on the other side though i noticed that even though its a fantasy world, i still react to things like i would react to them irl which kind of breaks that fantasy world i try to have. i often feel thorn between the fantasy of my world and the reality of my emotions

  8. “on the other side though i noticed that even though its a fantasy world, i still react to things like i would react to them irl”

    Yep, I find this to be the case with me too. I’m about as shy in SL as I am in rl (not terribly shy, but far from outgoing), and if something gets me down, I tend to be withdrawn, both in SL and in rl.

  9. For what it’s worth, I think SL is many things at many times to a single person. It has certainly been that for me. People are far more complex than most consider themselves to be, and SL offers freedom and anonymity that is unparalleled in my experience. As a result I think a lot of folk are quite surprised to see the direction their Second Life takes. Some role play quite different characters to their own, others look and act much as they do in RL, but very few actually end up where they thought they would. I think that is one of the most enticing things about it!

    Life is (among other things) an ongoing journey in self exploration. The trouble is that we are so emotionally invested in causality. We see our present selves as being determined by our past decisions, and so we hold onto that past far more than we should. Second Life offers a tantalising opportunity that few allow themselves in RL – a new beginning, a chance to be another “me”, or even many different “me”s. For those who are most “settled” in their RL selves the differences are often subtle and SL merely a wonderful way to meet new people. For those who wonder, not necessarily unhappily, what might have been, or who else they could be, SL offers the chance to try and find out.

    Most psychologists agree that fantasy is often a healthy way to explore ourselves, provided that we retain a sense of core identity throughout and are ready to learn and grow from the experience. It’s a dangerous path though, because what happens if we find out that we (and others) prefer some other version of “me”. The strong will take that and change their lives. The others? Well we have probably all met one or two of those in SL – perhaps its truest “residents”, lost to RL but for food and sleep. And what do they do when their SL fantasy turns out not to be what they wanted either?

    That was rather a lot of typing, for which I apologise, but again you chose a subject I am fascinated by 🙂

    To come back to your core topic here I think that the crucial factors are that our emotional and verbal responses are always our own, and that we are so complex that no-one could ever see more than a tiny part of who we are. Given that, whatever facet we present, in whatever life, we are only ever ourselves.

    Perception is everything. Philosophy and quantum mechanics agree on this.

    SL is just more obvious about it 🙂

  10. Wow, awesome comments! I love reading how other people see SL and how their perspective differs from mine 🙂

    I wish I could respond to everyone individually, but that would be rather cumbersome in the comments section :/

    Let me just say, in case there’s any confusion, I *do* care for the RL person behind the avie. I mean, I frequently talk to my SL friends about my and their RL issues. The thing is, I don’t want RL to take center stage in SL. Why get mired in RL issues in a platform that offers at least a temporary reprieve from them?

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