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Friday, June 17, 2011

Alt Abuse

One of the greatest things about Second Life is the chance it gives you to be somebody else. What would your life be like if you were more outgoing? Would it really be fun to be a giggling airhead? Could you be a successful business person?

The ease with which we can become a different person carries some social and moral risks, though. How often have you committed some awful blunder in life, and wished fervently that you could undo it, take it all back and start over? In SL, you can do just that, and a great many people do.

Tired of your SL partner? Are you out of favor with your favorite club or group? Met someone new and want to ditch your old friends and spend time with them instead? No problem...just make an alt.

An “alt” is an alternate Second Life account. It's easy to make one, just go to the SL website and sign up the way you did when you created your first account. You can even give them the same RL information; you may have up to five SL accounts, by Linden Lab's policy.

There are many legitimate uses for alts. I use one as the group accountant for my land rental group. She serves as the “bank account” to hold rent received from my tenants (so I don't forget and spend it all on shoes). Other people use alts as a storage place for excess inventory, or as a refuge to insure privacy when they want to be alone to build or create. Alts can serve as models for clothing, and as a test bed for checking that item permissions have been correctly set.

Alts are often used by roleplayers, especially for formal roleplay scenarios. One might be a military officer, another a spy, and a third a starship engineering tech. Yet another might be in an entire different roleplay “universe” as an elf, or a powerful wizard.

Sometimes, people are forced to create an alt. Someone is persistently stalking and harassing them, and they feel they have no choice but to vanish – and yet they want to stay in SL, so they create an alt to escape their persecutor.

That last one is beginning to edge toward a line I'm going to draw. On one side of the line are the legitimate uses of an alt, and on the other lies...alt abuse. It's not an absolute line...you may draw it in a different place than I do, and every situation is different.

Using an alt to escape a stalker is understandable. But think: you have to give up all the nontransferable things in your inventory, you have to give up all the friends and relationships you've made with your main account. It's hard and painful to start again from scratch. And if you do, your stalker has in some sense won. He or she has destroyed you. Might it not be better to stand and fight, instead of running away? That can be hard too...but I think that, in most cases, the end result will be better. You will be a stronger, wiser, better person for the experience.

Of course, the stalker who makes alts is much further over that line. Using an alt to spy, to try to tempt one's partner into infidelity, or to harass is flat wrong.  But some people do it, and you need to be prepared for the possibility.  You don't know for sure who is behind that avatar.

(I absolutely despise head games played with alts, by the way.  Any stranger who comes up to me and says, "Hi, Lindal...bet you can't guess who *I* am" is liable to get themselves muted at once.)

Running away from stalkers is one thing. But it's so easy, so tempting to make an alt to avoid the consequences of our own mistakes. We can slip into another user name, another avatar, and be free of guilt, emotional anguish, recriminations from others. People in SL do this every day. There's only one problem with it: like the old saying goes, “no matter where you go...there you are.” You can change your appearance in SL, you can change your Display Name, and you can even make an alt and change your user name. But you take your self with you no matter where you go or what user name you bear. You always have your own character, with its strengths and weaknesses.

Since you can't run away from yourself...why try? Why not stay and work through whatever painful situation is making you think about starting over? Yes, it's hard. It's hard in Real Life too. This is how we grow, in spirit and in wisdom.

What about the person who has one account for their “everyday” Second Life, and another that they use to explore dark fantasies and sexual kink? You'll find folks on both sides of this argument. My own position is, if it's so bad that you can't even do it with a user name that already makes you anonymous, you shouldn't be doing it at all. I have kinks and fantasies and fetishes, like most people...but I've made a conscious decision to live my Second Life as Lindal Kidd, and not try to divide my person up any further than that RL/SL split. I don't even hide any of my groups in my Profile. I am not being holier than thou...I have some pretty racy groups, and some of my friends are very unusual indeed. I make no excuses for them, or for myself. I think the result is that I have a stronger sense of self, of who I am, than if I had six or ten alternate accounts to juggle.

Second Life is a virtual world, but it's full of real people. Our interpersonal relations are just the same here as in RL. No difference. No difference. In this respect SL is not a game, it's another part of life, and we can use it to become better people, or worse.

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