Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wonderland with thorns

I had intended to write here a fairly dispassionate article about my perceptions of how SL might combine personal, human relationships with serious pursuits such as academic and educational endeavours or the creation and management of art works. It seems to me that many in SL pursue one or the other - recreation and relationship, or serious endeavour. I will enlarge on these thoughts in just a moment. However, my ability to be dispassionate has been ripped apart in the past 24 hours, and I feel a need to share this experience first - partly because it may help me just to deal with it; partly because it may be instructive to others; and partly because I have discovered that some at the UWA Art Challenge presentation on Sunday may have been shaking their heads wondering what kind of fool I am.

My own focus in SL has up to now been purely recreational, pursuing several sports as I have mentioned in my last post, and also, I have to admit, pursuing relationships of the kind which many critics abjure and scoff at. It is often felt that cyber relationships are a pathetic substitute for real world ones; and maybe they are, but I might explore that another time. However, that is what I was doing in SL, when I was here, on and off since early 2009. Because of the time I could spend in-world, and because of my strange time zone compared to so many, my relationships have usually been fleeting and unsatisfactory. But I had a much better experience some months ago, in a relationship I mentioned in my last post. Well, for a while I did. Then Tasha and I had some time apart because I got too busy in my real life and had also sown some latent seeds of damage into the relationship through my own foolishness; but we seemed about to reconnect, and she seemed receptive. She came to Sunday's UWA event with me, and with stars in my eyes I made us complementary 'titlers' proclaiming our affection. She was willing to wear the one I gave her, and I was proud to have her by my side. We started to dance at the afterparty, and then I left her for a moment to speak to one of the artists... and suddenly she had to go. Innocent enough, I thought - but it wasn't to return to RL, instead apparently to meet another friend. Still, I didn't sense anything untoward. And then, for some reason I don't recall, on Monday I browsed idly through her profile. Suddenly the bottom dropped out of my SL. Although I am still listed as her "Aussie friend", suddenly there was an ardent proclamation of love for another girl at the top of her Picks, a special group for just the two of them, and reciprocal declarations of affection on her lover's profile. Now, let me unpick this, as I have tried to do in my own mind since, and maybe it will be instructive, or maybe it will just be me licking my wounds.

What are my emotions about this revelation? Well, I have always been realistic enough to know and accept that, as an Aussie, most people I meet in-world are going to be on a different time zone, and hard to meet regularly. I love meeting people from around the world... I actually love the challenge, even, of intelligently using a translator and exploring someone else's cultural approach to SL and life in general. But I have had to accept that I am unlikely to meet "Miss Right", and I have never sought a monogamous relationship. I knew that I did not have that with Tasha. But what has hurt me was that I attended the UWA event with her at my side, proclaiming our love in our titlers (in the cold light of day... those titlers... god, what am I, 14 years old???) ... when anyone who was interested (hopefully few!) would have checked her profile and found that I was rather low on the ladder of her affections. I feel such a fool. I am an intelligent woman, a bit too loquacious at times, but someone who tries my best to be sincere with people. As I have since said to Tasha, I would have preferred her to politely refuse my titler... maybe even to tell me about her new love, but at least not to let me parade before so many people something that was so obviously untrue if anyone did their homework. All I can hope is that no-one cared enough to bother, and indeed the focus of the evening was on the artists and their work, so I am hopeful. But it doesn't take away my sense of shame and foolishness. Tasha has since apologize for not speaking to me about her new relationship, and I accept her apology, though my first instinct as I realized what was happening, as the tears flowed, was to savagely remove her as a Friend. I am emotionally quite immature in many ways. But I haven't, and although I am not sure if there is any future for our friendship at all, I am using this as an opportunity to reflect on relationships in SL, and yes, even to write about it and tease out my emotions and responses.

So I am starting to think more deeply about matters such as the psychology of involvement in virtual worlds, and of relationships people might experience in them. This is happening at the same time as I begin to dip my toes into the waters of the serious uses of SL and other virtual worlds, through my tiny, infinitesimal contribution to the UWA art project and the UWA in SL blog. So it is a fascinating time for me, despite the roller coaster ride my emotions have taken in the past 48 hours. I expected my essay to be simpler, from a perspective of someone who had a satisfying relationship, albeit not a monogamous one (Kip Yellowjacket, I know what you will say to that, hee hee!) who was also starting to find satisfaction in substantive work in SL. But the exercise is no less valid now, and if I can put aside the emotions a little, maybe my thoughts will still be worthwhile.

SL is a world. People have lives here. It is in one sense an extension of the real world. People continue with their lives in that world, hopefully occupying the majority of their time there, and enter SL or another virtual world as if through 'wormholes' of a kind, transcending space and time in a way that Einstein may have been fascinated by. But when they are here, their lives can be multi dimensional, I believe. They can do science, mathematics, art, literature, music, movies... they participate in an economy... they can be involved in government, journalism and real estate. It is a world in the fullest sense. And so why are relationships excluded? Friendships most certainly take place. But what about intimate relationships? This is a difficult question, controversial, the subject of mirth for many but of intense importance to others. I must admit my bias. I came into SL initially in pursuit of an intimate relationship. So my perspective is certainly biased and, some would say, warped. But really, any more so than those who have come here for science, research, education and the like? Many who come to SL limit themselves only to sexual pursuits, sometimes of a quite extreme variety and without any real sense of relationship at all. On the other hand, many come here only for noble pursuits, and find all they need of human relationships in the other, the real, world. At this moment in time, I find myself between the two, precariously straddling two or more purposes and spheres of endeavour in SL... trying to find some fulfilment, a sense of purpose, of making a difference... and yes, to find pleasure and emotional satisfaction as well.

Will I succeed? Has all this been said before? It's going to be interesting finding out. This is just the beginning of my thoughts. I want to simply thank those who have been part of my journey so far - dear Tasha not least among them, despite my raw emotions just now - and ask a reader of this to not think too badly of me if you dislike some of my perspectives. Constructive comment is always welcome.


  1. dont worry sayumi, no one's shaking their heads at what you described. perhaps though they may be shaking their heads in wonder at how beautifully you have described the artworks through your words....

  2. There are few of us who have been here for a while who have not experienced this, Sayumi. In one way or another people have let us down on occasions, and, honestly, I can't really say whether it is better or worse than RL. It is, after all, the same people in both worlds.

    As far as the future goes, I do have a small group of very lovely, honest and faithful friends who are pillars, supporting me thro my emotional ups and downs. They are gold.

    I see no reason why you should feel bad because someone has misused your emotions. You acted honourably. If we have to waiver between naive and cynical, let us err on the side of the naive.... painful but a 'softer' existence than full-blown cynicism.