Recent experiences in Second Life have made me think about the preconceived ideas people have about online worlds. Most people who have been in SL for a while can hardly avoid noticing the multitude of more or less known subcultures and groupings in there. A very visible group are the furries - residents who have chosen animal (often feline or canine) avatars. Quite a few of the SL residents seem to be into BDSM. The Goreans with their rather strict rules seem to be another big group. But there are of course many, many more. The multitude is astounding.
I'm not entirely sure what rumours are spread about SL right now though. Many of the newbies seem to think it's a "cartoon world" where they can "have sex" or do things that doesn't affect themselves or the one they are dealing with in any way. I've heard the headline of this entry (or versions of it) a number of times in the last few days, and somehow it bugs me. The main point for me is probably the question why some people seem to forget any socialization they might have undergone IRL, and think that the rules are entirely different in Second Life.
I'm not sure where I'll take this, but while SL in many ways is a medium for communication, it at the same time seems to be a "place" where people bring their fantasies out in the open, a free space for experiments and "play." Some residents focus entirely on the latter and think that whatever they experience in SL is just a part of a fantasy with little or no bearing on their real world lives. And therefore nobody should be able to say that something is "inappropriate" or "not allowed." As if being in SL takes away the personal responsibility. As if their fantasies are not really theirs. They seem to place them outside of themselves and presuppose that these fantasies (of whatever kind they may be) are inherent in the medium.
William Gibson talked about Cyberspace as a "consensual hallucination," and obviously some residents see SL as a type of hallucination. They can log out of it when they don't want to be in it anymore. But the problem is that people don't necessarily share the same fantasy, and thus the hallucination is not very consensual. Yesterday, Robert argued when we were chatting on Skype that "fantasies are part of who we really are" and I agree with him. I think that fantasies are often what drives us. The problem with this is that when SL is "supposed" to be just a fantasy world, where you play the role of your choice and create your dream world, and then your fantasy is ripped apart by someone who doesn't share your particular fantasy. Some people actually feel that this ruins their experience of SL.
And this is a part of what interests me in Second Life. SL is definitely a social "game" with basically the same mix of interesting meetings and neighbourhood fights you would find IRL. But in some ways it's almost as if SL is a distilled version of real life, an online world in which people's fantasies are far more out in the open than they are offline. And, as Robert said, these openly displayed fantasies tend to say quite a lot about the people behind the avatars in SL. For better or worse.