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alignment Issues

A friend who read the entry below wrote me an email. I wish she had left a comment, but she didn't: She is wondering whether it isn't all about encroaching middle age and the loss of youth, rather than the alignment of "self" and "persona", as I put it.


Here's the thing: I had a bit of a nasty shock a few years ago when I was made to listen to a tape recording of myself at the age of 20 or so. As much a friend today as then, Neshet Ruacan, secretly tape recorded a lengthy conversation between myself, his sister (and my beloved friend) Nukhet and a close girl friend of ours, Silva. Apparently the inanity of our chatter got on his poor nerves to such an extent that he decided to record it and play it back to us at some later date. The tape got lost only to resurface almost 30 years later, which is when we finally heard it. The vapidity of what it was that I actually said, coupled with the obnoxiously opinionated, self-important and humorless delivery had me really gobsmacked. And then of course, there was that "world weary", nasal tone very much in evidence as well? - hhhh. I was taped candidly in more recent years also, and I am thankful to be able to say that these days the way I sound seems to be more or less acceptable.

So, I can say in all honesty that I am actually quite thankful to have outgrown youth and have become middle aged. The young me had a lot of pretensions (intellectual, political and what have you). I was a very wild girl but always with a mission behind my wildness. I always had to make a point somehow. In short, looking back, I must have been hair raisingly boring. (And incidentally, the middle aged me is in grave danger of becoming hair raisingly boring too, unless she stops all of this self-indulgent "me-me-me" crap ASAP!!!!)

But... but... but... I most certainly do not want to look middle aged in the sense that I did a year ago. The defeatism of saggy jowls. The tired step of a heavy body. But conversely, I would love to have crows feet!!!! Crows feet add laughter to your face. Alas, I do not have them. What I have instead is a marked potential for droopy mouth corners, which make me look negative, pessimistic, ill humored, tired, un-enthusiastic - just totally obnoxious really. So, I get them filled out every once in a while. Yup! So kill me. I will do it anyway - hhhh.

The birth of an avatar named Alpha Auer

So, the time has come to talk about a certain young lady, who seems to occupy a central position in my life; who, in a very bizarre way has actually managed to acquire a life of her own - an almost separate personality that is quite capable of evoking changes and responses in me, I might add. A decade or so ago, I used to do these visualization exercises, that were also somewhat related to magick. One of them involved getting your thumb to talk back to you and I was extremely good at it, I must say. So, I think Alpha's origins lie in there somewhere, in all of my readings on Aleister Crowley... I was ready for her, I think. (Oh, and incidentally, no I do not practice magick or anything of the sort. My interest in all of that was to help me to get through a particularly emotionally turbulent period. So, really, no occult interests whatsoever over here...)

Alpha was born on March 5th 2007. She arrived in this world screaming to know where the appearance tab was - she had to do something about how she looked for god's sakes!!!! Did Linden Labs think she would spend even a nano-second in these dreadful jeans and purple shirt??? And those flip-flops??? And that cardboard hair???? Please...  please... PLEASE!!!

In the event, it took her only a short time to sort out her shape (luckily her human did know her way around Poser) and she very swiftly replaced the noob uniform with a black jumpsuit and boots but the rest took longer, of course. Finding her way to the Free Dove where she got her first freebie flexi hair took a couple of days but skin turned out to be a much bigger problem: I have this compulsion to make Alpha look like Elif. A huge part of this does have to do with the thumb syndrome I was talking about, but in the beginning there were other reasons as well. Anyway, finding a skin in Second Life, that looked right, that would make Alpha's expression somewhat similar to mine in RL took months! Finally, quite by accident Alpha stumbled upon the Mami Skin that these days Cory Edo is actually giving away as a freebie (!)...

During all this time Alpha went into Second Life every day, completely alone, completely lost. I was not at all sure what I was doing, what I was looking for, or looking at even. I had suffered a huge bereavement in Real Life very recently and part of it was an escape for sure... To a certain extent, I was reminded of all the psychotropic trips that I had been on in earlier years - the altered state of being... I saw very ugly landscapes and buildings... I teleported to art galleries where the work displayed had me lost in total amazement at the futility of it all. Why create things in a place which offers you a chance for an altered state of being/expression that look exactly like the sort of stuff you would churn out in Real Life, I wondered?... I joined groups and went to meetings - only to immediately drop them... I attended some educational conferences only to be gobsmacked by the vapidity of it all... I went to a lot of live music events: I found that the best ones were classical music events, so I joined a group for that... And also the Bliss Basin, where they did have some nice concerts I guess... I made some acquaintances but nothing earth shattering... So, when all is said and done, I did not see or do anything that was in any way rewarding or would have provided a reason to stay on - but I did anyway...

Somehow, through all of this, somewhere I saw the glimmerings of what this place could be: It left you alone to do what you wanted to do. And given the right circumstances it could provide a matrix for a vast transformation of self thorough make belief and play. True, no one that I observed around me in those early days seemed to be engaged in anything of the sort, but I somehow managed to recognize this embedded attribute within the system nonetheless. And that is why I stayed...

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole law and nothing but the law..."


SL is a leap ahead in that there are extensive modeling tools that change everything from body shape, to hair style, to outfits. Because all of this choice is present, you are now much more vulnerable to being exposed by the choices you have, or have not made in creating the avatar you created to represent YOU.

Mike Shannahan

Given the changes that can be wrought upon one's avatar, the question as to what extent residents enact completely different roles to the ones they possess in Real Life is a valid one. My feeling is that while physical identity can be manipulated and changed, personality cannot. It is of course true that within the bounds of a superficial aquaintanceship the personality who sits behind the avatar may be successfully concealed. However any deeper relationship, any length of time spent together will reveal character, warts and all, even if the identity itself remains under wraps. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the avatar somehow presents a more accurate embodiment of the inner self that the Real Life persona does. The avatar embodies the most secret wishes and dreams. The avatar can also be the representation of prominent personal traits. Thus, the naughty, irreverent, politically incorrect dwarf avatar Hardwarehacker Hoch, whose "human" is no dwarf by any definition of the word, is not a representation of the actual Real Life body but of the human spirit, embodying a marked ability to create mischief, to be nosy, unscrupulous, mercurial and unpredictable, as well as the owner of a highly developed sense of humor!
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The fallout rate of the metaverse is high. While there are well over 10 million Second Life accounts, only about 10% of them are active. Of these active accounts a sizable proportion belong to those individuals who access SL for "what is in it for them". Projects, teaching, networking, amongst much else, is what I think, compels the majority of users to initially come into Second Life. I, with my PhD research, am certainly no exception to this. However, while for quite a few initial users Second Life never acquires any meaning beyond that, for others, like myself, it ends up becoming highly meaningful in itself. This small group of individuals are the real Residents of Second Life. The amount of time they spend in SL is certainly an indicator, however, to me, it is not the main one: What is significant is that these individuals are the ones who have no real objective in being there other than to just be there. Yes, they may also engage in creative activity, they may teach, they may network, they may be merchants of virtual goods - but their "presence" is not really attributable to these activities that are somehow related to Real Life in the first place, but to the fascination that a "Second Life" which is quite independent from a "Real Life" actually holds. And, as far as I can tell, this fascination is very closely intertwined with "play".

I am extremely hesitant to go into this, to examine what "play" is actually all about, although I do know that at some point of my research I will have to do so. Don't they say that trying to understand the nature of play is somewhat like tearing up the wings of a bird to figure out how it flies? So, I am terrified of losing my own recently re-attained ability to play in the process and will probably be defering probing into it until I feel much more confident in the permanence of this very precious novel re-manifestation in my psyche.

I am not at all sure if all hard-core Residents engage in play as much as we; that is Hack, MosMax, wolfie and I seem to be doing. I am reluctant to say this but I also have a sense that, in general, men seem to be somewhat better at it than women are. For instance a recent comment on my Flickr feed has given me much food for thought:

My artistic output is also slowly but surely moving towards play, and this is one thing that I am immensely pleased about: Although this is not a discussion for this page, I have very very serious problems with the over-conceptualization and intellectualization that is rampant in contemporary art and I have often been quite horrified at manifestations of this in my own output. What I seem to have started to accomplish in my building activity in Second Life is a kind of unselfconsciousness: I am building water basins for my underwater animal entourage... I have constructed a huge and elaborate powerplant the ultimate aim of which seems to be rejuvenation... I love to see the detritus of my avatar family's plane and car accidents scattered all over my carefully planned layouts... I have built a very fancy tent complete with cushions, stove, tripod camera and bicycle...

It is true that where initiating communal games is concerned I still severely lag behind Hack and wolfie, who, as said, are indeed the true masters; but I join in zealously in anything that they instigate and once in I do get  caught up in the moment (although probably still not as fully and completely even now, since I have yet to get to the point where I am no longer at all aware of the glorious photo opportunities that these so often tend to provide).

The Environment

"How horrifyingly ugly!" was my first thought when I landed on the grid. And, yes, without putting too fine a point on it, for the largest part, Second Life is ugly indeed. "The absence of zoning and building permits as well as a total lack of city planning have created "a mess of urban sprawl that makes LA look like a utopia. Virtual homes are on the same lots as content shops, and one can’t help but feel lost... ...SL has proven itself as evidence that city planning is a necessity because neighbors will build a floating castle next to your gorgeous view of the virtual ocean, without a permit!"


Nearly all MMOs hook players by making them invest in their character’s reputation, and SL is no exception. (Pearce, “Emergent Authorship” p.23) However, where other MMOs define reputation by an achieved experience level- a number- SL has redirected the fervor of leveling-up into the creation of impressive content that attracts attention and reputation. The detail of an SL player’s virtual home and avatar are status symbols that are physical evidence of that player’s technical skill and creativity.

My Second Life began in March 2007

I am doing research related to art education in virtual spaces and my specific quest is the implementation of a learning strategy known as the Groundcourse, which was developed and practiced by Roy Ascott, under whose tutelage I am studying towards a practice based PhD at the Planetary Collegium. During my research update in Sao Paulo in December 2006 Mike Phillips, my Director of Studies, suggested that I might do worse that take a look at Second Life.