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Virtual spouses, furries and online identities – the joys of second life

Hannah Cooke



Second Life. It’s a bizarre concept, but a pretty inevitable one. The ultimate playground to let your fantasies of having ‘magikal powers’ or being really hot, or whatever, run riot. People take this stuff pretty seriously – there is even an online newspaper (www.secondlifeherald.com) dedicated to reporting the events that happen in the world of the game, as if, well, the world of the game were the real world. Clicking on the web page we were greeted with such delightful assaults on our eyes as the headlines ‘Are Furries Doomed? Fallout from enforcing bans on “broadly offensive” behaviour may threaten furry avatars by Cinnamon Twist, spicy reporter’ and ‘The Bare Facts: Nudism in Second Life’ and accompanying disturbing images of avatar porn/bestiality. There’s also the money thing – people are spending ‘real’ money buying real estate for their pixelated selves to live in, like that World of Warcraft game that every geek and his dog seem to harp on about bidding on eBay for stuff to like make them the coolest guy on the interweb.
In spite of the inherent hilarity of such online activities, the fact that people get SO in to them begs an important question – is having a whole other life on the Internet really that awesome?
For us, we find the idea kind of unsettling – the great thing about having alternative identities is that you can be whoever (or whatever) you want. This must mean that trusting someone enough to be friends with them (or even… dare we say… romantic with them) is problematic in a realm where everyone is living out their ultimate fantasy. There are people on line with virtual husbands or wives as well as their “real-life” spouse…is that just weird to us? Furthermore, there are people out there who fantasize about being psychiatrists, doctors, or religious leaders – who set themselves up as Dr Magical Second Life and give psychiatric advice to other second lifers despite lacking any formal training or qualifications.
Obviously, there are people for whom Second Life works – New Scientist magazine recently published an article about the sites popularity with autistic people who find communication on the Internet easier and more straightforward that in face to face interactions, for example. You can attend “real” online lectures from Ivy League universities on Second Life, which could be the only way most of us lowly Vic students could ever attend Harvard (except vicariously though Gilmore Girls…or is that just us?) But the concept of having another personality which can be shrugged on and off whenever you log on to the Internet still seems strange. But perhaps this is just us being a bit biased – we both have MySpace pages – is that any weirder? Even though our pages are our own – they are still constructed by us in a way that puts us forward in the light in which we want to be seen by others. As you will see from our previous article on the quest for Lindsay, there are a lot of freaks on MySpace.
But games like Second Life allow for much more fluidity in identities, and well, more than a bit of poetic licence shall we say. After all, how do you really know that your online fling with a hot lady avatar, isn’t really an online fling with a real life man?