When I first started my Second Life, I used to hang out in sex clubs a lot. This is not surprising knowing that your first click on any advertisement in Second Life automatically teleports you to a sex club. Well, I am here to admit that my avatar, Defne Demar, was born in the midst of dancing poles in Belmont (which no longer exists). Then it became a force of habit, I met the coolest people, had the most engaging conversations, made the best friendships in sex clubs. My favorite at the time was Celestia which was by the ocean (I grew up by the sea) with a nice fire in the beach that people gathered around to sit and chat and a gorgeous view of the sunset… Again, closed. I remember meeting a guy in Celestia who was a pilot in RL. After we made friends, he told me that he had been in virtual worlds for years now, mainly he participated in MUDs. Then the conversation got around to cybersex and he told me that sex in SL was nothing compared to the ones he had in MUDs. I was baffled. How can that be? If anything, Second Life is the proud provider of virtual sex. Looking at the media these days, Linden Lab should copyright it, if you ask me. Goons make fun of it and call it “pixel-banging” and grief it as much as they can, but if you consider that you can visually see what you are doing and you can make your avatar look stunningly attractive, surely text-sex can’t be compared to SL… He told me that text-based virtual worlds leave a lot to imagination and can get really intense. Not having been to a MUD myself, I took his word for it.
This conversation was about a year and a half ago. Fast forward time to two weeks ago… No, I didn’t have sex in a MUD, disappointed? Don’t be…
A friend of mine, Ren Reynolds, whom I met at the Ludium conference this year, forwarded to me a friend of his from Terra Nova, Julian Dibbell, who apparently was writing an article on goons and griefers of SL. Julian Dibbell has written a lot on LambdaMOO. I read nothing by him accept his most famous piece “A Rape in Cyberspace” and was intrigued by it at the time primarily because I too am doing my research on disruptive behavior in cyberspace. Anyway, I finally got around to starting the complete book that came out his LambdaMOO days: My Tiny Life. And all of a sudden I realized what I had known all along, that the pilot at Celestia was correct in his assessment after all. The first couple of pages of My Tiny Life hit me like a two-by-four as I realized how emotionally engaging that text-based environments can be. As I was reading how Mr. Bungle had raped a couple of the community members with a voodoo doll in the likeness of an ugly clown, I started remembering my own experiences in SL. One of his victims, while she was declaring that she wanted his ass for what he had done to her, was so upset that apparently started crying at the keyboard.
But for what? No real rape has occurred. Or has it? Do we really dismiss what happens to us in SL as mere pixels? Why do we get worked up over it? Needless to say, having worked with griefers for the past year and a half, I ended up getting griefed a lot. I was the researcher that they were lolling all around. They had nothing but disdain for me. I handled myself pretty well, I think, but Dibbell’s story reminded me of one particular night when I cried myself into the night, asking myself what I have done to deserve this or that whether it is all worth the pain and suffering. It is real, all of it.
I know for a fact that it is real, because I remember in my early days in SL that I actually fell in love for the first time. Lasted for two months before we pulled the plug. But it did happen, it was as exciting as it would have been if we were living in the same house, it gave me the same pain when it was over as it would have if it were a real-life break up. As a matter of fact, I was spending more time with him than I was with my boyfriend at the time (which we soon broke up). But the experience was that intense. After that incident, I was really careful not to get too close to anyone in SL or online. EVER.
My point being is that the mere fact that Dibbell’s story can conjure up all of this (which I had forgotten long since) is the mere proof that text-based worlds can be as engaging as (if not more) their 3D counterparts…and that Dibbell is a hell of a story-teller..