In part two of my ‘Absent’ series, I turn my attention to some of the things I used to do in SL.
I don’t really miss camping. I miss the excitement of camping, although camping, of course, was never in any way exciting. To this day, I still can’t quite believe I actually did it; I still can’t believe I voluntarily stood around doing absolutely nothing for hours at a time in return for three measly Lindens an hour, thrown at my shoeless feet with contempt by whatever management it was that was hoping my mere presence in the vicinity of his or her establishment would bring people with actual money and a desire to spend it. If camping wasn’t bad enough, there was also queuing for camping: a wait of additional nothingness for a camping spot to become vacant, only this time you got paid nothing. And then there was the wait to get into a sim with good camping spots, because the sim itself was full to capacity from people a) camping and b) waiting to be camping. Nobody ever even spoke to each other whilst they were camping because they were so full of self-loathing at having sunk this low any exposure of personality just made the loss of dignity worse. You came, you sat, you kept your mouth shut and you avoided looking anyone in the eye.
What was exciting about camping was the thing you wanted to buy with the money you got from it. This was your First Big Second Life purchase. You’d done the rounds on the freebie shops, flirted with trying to create a more interesting body shape by manually tweaking the slider bars and experimented with different colours on the lump of plasticine on your head which Linden so optimistically referred to as ‘hair’. Slowly, but surely, the realisation had dawned on you that your avatar looked shit. Slowly, but surely, you started to covet the costing-money things which would make it look better. I estimate that the average newbie back then spent no more than a fortnight doing camping, because by then the desire for costing-money things had overwhelmed the ability to delay gratification any longer (as delays go, earning money though camping was a pretty fucking long one). Out went the policy on not spending any real money on SL and in came the Lindens, freshly minted from the LindeX. Camping was exciting because it was one of the things that represented our transition from ‘I find SL interesting’ to ‘I find SL absorbing’. Camping was when we got hooked.
In the early days of my SL, exploring meant walking along a road and seeing where it took me. An inventory devoid of landmarks and a friends list empty of, well, people, it was pretty much the only strategy I had available to me. Through this approach I discovered my first SL art gallery and had there my first SL conversation with another avatar. There was a sense, back then, of SL unfolding around me and that I was in control of the pace at which it unfolded. I could explore one sim of an evening; I could explore two or three or four: it was up to me.
It wasn’t that I was unaware of other distant places, nor that I was totally ignorant on how to get to them. Back then, before both adult venues and their advertisements were moved to their own continent, the newbie avatar had virtual billboards declaring pleasure beyond their hedonistic dreams practically crammed down their throats the moment they took a step outside of whatever info hub it was they’d been sent to. I was indeed curious about ‘cybersex’ as a newbie (chiefly because I thought it sounded ridiculous), but I wanted to discover such places by myself. The idea of hopping about the grid, from one random point to another, made SL seem less like a world – less like one big place – and more like a collection of 3D websites. I wanted it to be a world.
All of which begs the question, why do I no longer explore SL in this way? In part, I suppose it’s because most of the really interesting stuff for me tends to be on private sims disconnected from the mainland; now that my concept of SL as a world is established, it doesn’t really need protecting any more. But I suspect the main reason is pure laziness. I’ve established my places and my people. I’ve grown my avatar identity. Whilst I do from time to time still do new stuff, I’m generally ‘settled’ in my SL ways. Is this a good thing? Probably, it’s not.
I made a ‘stand’ of sorts about 18 months ago. A newcomer to the poetry events I was attending had various racial hate statements in her profile. She was a perfectly nice person to talk to in chat before you realised what she had listed in her profile; she certainly never in my company brought any of these views into conversation. A friend of mine then discovered these profile picks and stopped attending any events this avatar was present at. She dismissed event hosts’ views that banning avatars with hate speech in their picks was a restriction of their freedom of speech.
By coincidence, I attended in RL a couple of days later a talk given by a black UK celebrity about her life in the 60s in Britain. Her family was one that had moved to the UK in response to the drive back then to recruit migrant workers, and they arrived only to be discriminated against in virtually every aspect of their lives. She would go into a shop, for example, and the shopkeeper would refuse to acknowledge her, far less serve her. I felt ashamed at my willingness to find a reason to ignore this person’s hate speech.
I decided that my friend was right, that if we’re agreed that hate speech should not be tolerated – and it’s not like there’s much legal doubt over that – then profile text should be treated alongside public chat. If I perform in front of an audience knowing that one or more people there are displaying hate speech in their profiles like little placards they’ve sneaked in with them (and, let’s be clear here, I’m not talking about statements such as ‘Immigration to the UK is a problem’, I’m talking about statements such as ‘UK SHOULD BE WHITES ONLY’) then I’m passively endorsing such comments. A very easy way to not do this is simply to withdraw my performance. Which is what I did.
And I’ve hardly performed since. And I miss it.