Pais knows he’s an avatar and he’s got some notions about what that means. Each day he learns and grows a bit more. Like a kid sitting in a church service he’s been hearing things about other dimensions of life. For the most part, he brushes those thoughts aside as he focuses on his life of fun with his pals and pretty much a zero-responsibility life. Some times when he’s sleeping online with his tribe he wakes up remembering dreams of a kind of world that has similarities to the world he knows but is also very different. As time goes on in the life of Pais, he’s found himself talking to his fellow SL denizens about the other side of himself and learning about theirs. The universe may very well be infinite like they say – at least there are more than one [uni/meta]verse to which Pais has connections.
The way that Pais came to visit a place called ‘real life’ is that through his real life counterpart, we visited the real life homes of friends he first met in second life. It was an amazing adventure in a lot of different ways. Part of the adventure was what is typical for a real life person on holiday abroad, but with the added dimension of visiting someone at who lives at the destination. For me, this was a great enhancement, making it more possible to be a traveler and not simply a tourist. Being immersed deeper in the lifestyle of a place – stuff like being able to ask all those little questions one has about the mysterious details of another country or just doing ordinary things like grocery shopping and making dinner.
The main part of this adventure for both Pais and me was meeting the RL versions of friends he first met in SL. This may sound simple, but there were a lot of interesting flips in our minds between what is Pais and what is his real life counterpart. Over time as our trip went from an invitation during an SL converation to visit, to a notion in my mind, then to an actual plan and an imminent departure, Pais and his other self were starting to share levels of anticipation and downright nervousness – my real life self was taking Pais to meet the real life selves of people he has only known online. Not only that, but my real life self is shy to the point of not being comfortable visiting family and others he knows well, let alone people he has only seen as avatars. Pais, however, has always been less inhibited and more outgoing. Often during the trip I was finding my RL self being a bit more like Pais.
I arranged just over two weeks of holiday that would be divided between visiting Pais’ little brother, Sacha, in France; and then Pais’ neighbor and close friend Robin, in The Netherlands. Also while with Robin we were hoping to hook up for a visit with Johna and Gabe.
Most anyone reading this blog is likely well familiar with relationships in the metaverse and how strong emotions can be. In these virtual interactions we can form ideas about people based on knowing their avatars, and for some an insatiable curiosity builds about what that person is like in real life. I have constructed a number of mental models of how the process of getting to know and accurately experience a personality behind an avatar may work. I have even theorized that as two avatars interact, it may open some sort of telepathic channel between the two real people that allows them to connect on levels we cannot scientifically measure. Part of the real adventure of this trip would be to gather some anecdotal evidence, as it were, comparing the avatars Pais knows to the real people behind them, and thus test some of those theories.
If I were to boil this whole blog down to one question, it would be “what is it like to meet in real life someone you first met and became friends with in SL?” And if I were to answer that question by generalizing from the experience gained from the four people I have now met this way, I would have to say the first part is a kind of shock wave composed of seeing a real person – a person that looks differently than their avatar, and having the full bandwidth of reality in which to interact, while at the same time trying to adjust between my regular persona and that which I project into Pais. One of the symptoms of this shock wave I have noticed is that at some times I am not able to make eye contact at first – I think at first my mind is holding our multiple identities at once, and eye contact connectivity walks over signal of the projected personalities we have from SL and gets too confusing. I think if I were to be a spy or an actor, this kind of swimming and surfing of persona would be more natural.
A component of this initial shock wave, I think, is an artifact of how much we may have preconceived notions or stereotypes that say what connection between what a person looks like and who they actually are. We are told not to judge a book by its cover – that someone’s appearance, age, race, heritage, etc – has nothing to do with who they are – yet we do this stereotyping and pre-judging to some degree all the time.
After the shockwave, I found myself interacting with my SL friends in their RL appearance and in very quick order there was a rapport as if we have known each other for a long time… but wait… we had.
Pais and his friends are kids. There are other blogs here that talk about why and such. The point here is that we are all cute and young in SL but adults in RL, so we are not possibly going to be as cute in RL. I remember talking one time to one of Pais’s other little brothers who is a lovable and adorable kid avatar, and he was saying how his RL appearance was nowhere near as cute. So in my mind I conjured up various horrid-looking RL appearances and juxta-posed them with his avatar and the personality I knew through his text conversations. I then came to the conclusion that anyone that could create and project a persona like that, no matter their RL appearance, was the quality of the person I should continue to focus on if I ever met them in RL. To put it another way, I think SL has been teaching me to judge people less by their appearances. To go a step further, to also not limit my own self to my appearance, and to embrace the many facets of my self.
There are people that say that SL is for people that have no RL. There may be a little truth to that – at least insofar as one has to have time from one’s RL to participate in SL. For me, time that previously went to the mindlessness of television has been upgraded to the social connectedness of SL, and I have found interstitial moments of my day to visit there.
This is a image of Sacha’s snuggly and also very talkative cat, Bubble, that I took from my MacBook’s camera on top of the screen. Below is a Bubble’s avatar (also talkative) at my SL home
What is SL like for others in their day-to-day life? It is in this way it was interesting to be with my friends while they were at their computers, in-world, and I at my computer borrowing their bandwidth in the same room, while also in-world. There was a one point I actually found it easier talking to the avatar than the person – this is to not to infer anything negative about the person, but rather I think it reflects upon the familiarity of our SL selves. It reminded me how when I was a kid, conversations with my school pals was so easy and fluid, but talking to adults, or in front of them, seemed to take some sort of extra effort.
OK, so far we have a lot of words that talk around the edges of the trip and meeting people, but then what happened? There’s a lot I won’t talk about here. After all, I only want to be known as Pais here, and not my RL self. I want to give my SL friends the same level of privacy, so there are no specifics like pictures of us in RL. However, I can share the outline of my trip.
One of the cool things was just being able to do stuff together. For instance, one thing we have in common is enjoying food, or at least, when in SL one of us will say, “I am going to get something to eat” it is not unusual to ask, “what are you making?” and after hearing that, perhaps continue talking about our favorite foods, how we prepare them, and so forth. So one part of my trip that was fun for me was not only some really excellent meals in restaurants together, but also things like going with Sacha to his local grocery, shopping for food and wine, then coming back and watching him make a couple meals that he had described before online. Or with Robin, a couple times while were were talking in SL I was in my kitchen making myself an impromptu concoction that I described as I made it; then in RL, he and I shopping at the market in his town (that has been in the same square over centuries) and me improvising a meal for him from the ingredients in his kitchen.
There were the normal touristy things we did, of course. Both Sacha and Robin were generous with their time and their car’s odometers, driving me all around. My previous trips to Europe have been without private cars and primarily within the confines of cities. I have been looking forward to a trip where I could explore the countryside more. Sacha and I went in the Paris vicinity to the Louvre, Versailles, and such, northwest through Normandy to St Michel and southwest to Lascaux and St Emilion in the Bordeaux region. Sacha then drove me to Amsterdam to meet up with Robin. Robin took me through the countryside of Holland. We explored an island to the north called Schiermonnikoog (dutch language still cracks me up), as well as exploring Robin’s town – he even hired a walking tour guide for us, and I was amazed how much I could see, learn, and think on a tour that was personalized just for me. My flight home was from Amsterdam, so we spend a couple days there, where I we also met up with Johna. He’s an amazing guy – I wish we had more time together. Gabe was not able to make it. We hit Amsterdam on Queen’s Day, and it was totally nuts, but still totally fun to be hanging out with such cool people.
“Our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.” – David Foster Wallace.
As I finish writing this I have been home for several weeks. It has been hard to write this, even harder to finish it, because there was so much I learned and experienced that went well beyond the typical holiday trip abroad, and I still have no way to fully express it. I wanted to capture a sense of how what started out as my exploring and otherwise goofing around in SL has ended up affecting my life in so many ways. This has been such a positive experience. I met wonderful people, and then had a chance to meet them again in real life, visit in their homes, share a bit of their lives, and find out they were even more wonderful.
At the same time there was a journey from Pais to my real life self and back again. This is something that is subtle as catching the mists of our dreams as we awake – different aspects of our selves that play hide-and-go seek. Pais is the part of me outgoing and socially brave enough to cause me to embark on such a journey, before that, I thought he was the one along for the ride. As this resonates, it gives me lots to think about
I want to thank Sacha and Robin again for being Pais’ friend, then inviting me to come and visit them in real life. You were generous and I (and Pais) enjoyed ourselves immensely. I hope I have a chance to sometime return the favor. I also got to hang out for a day with Johna, which was also a hugely fun time. I am so fortunate to have met you three, as well as the many other wonderful friends in that miasma of pixels and interconnectedness that is the metaverse.
I have linked to different sets of images, here’s a link to the full set.