(Continued from Part Three)
Part 4 – Thus the use of “Alts”
But what of the use of Alternate characters, aka “Alts?” Both my wife and I have created alts for various reasons (some valid, some not). When you run a business or are hugely popular in the virtual world like I was, you need an Alt to “get away from yourself” so you can go and have some unobstructed “down time” and relax outside the constraints of your normal avatar, who people may constantly ping and prod and message and otherwise interfere in what would be your relaxation time, or alone time with your partner.
Of course, SL has the facility to go into “busy” or “do not disturb me” mode, which automatically sends any interruptions a courteous message letting them know you are away or are concentrating on something that needs your utmost attention.
However, much like having a mobile device strapped to your person for work, you can’t always really get away from it all. It’s hard to avoid being paged or having messages and calls come in RL unless you unplug the phone and turn off the mobile or what not, and so it goes in the virtual world, too, sometimes it’s just as hard to get away. Just because you set your mode to away or busy doesn’t mean you’ll avoid peeking at that incoming message or package delivered to you from another user. So, for that reason, people create alts.
There are two “business” reasons for creating an alt as well, here is the first example:
If you’re a small company, you may have a single phone line that has a answering system, press 1 to place and order, 2 for customer service, 3 to talk to the manager. You may have separate emails for sales, service, and support. Nevermind that the same person may be responding to all calls and emails themselves, even to speak of themselves in the 3rd person to their clients “Oh, yeah well I work here to provide customer service, do you have something you want me to pass along to the management?” as if the person could be more candid talking to someone further down the line whom they know and have a rapport with.
In the virtual world, people often create alternate accounts for their online store, Linden Labs tells most people that if they have a virtual business, they should create a few alts to help recover things should something happen to their main account, or just to deal with customers setup a “customer service” Alt (if not actually hire someone to do customer service or virtual sales rep for you). One person represents the store itself, they are the main contact who does all the building and promotion. Then, they may have another person or group of people who do the basic pre-sales and post-sales customer support, how to use the product, land parcel, or service they sold you, do training and installation or placing objects or what-not. And, there may be another person or group of people who help with more technical issues such as item delivery, scripts not functioning as expected, that sort of thing.
So, there may be a group of people (paid or volunteer) who deal with running the company’s business, while other companies employ alts, all run by the same person, and it only appears that they are separate entities. It just depends how much time you have to devote to these tasks, and if you are comfortable off-loading the work to other people.
The other business reason is, to effectively back-up your stuff to another account.
It’s good to have a back-up as well, so if anything happens to one avatar, the account is hacked, suffers from a database issue that wipes out your inventory, or some other system glitch like you simply forget your password and can’t access the account anymore, then an alt you created for the purpose of the back-up of your data may work to rescue or re-appropriate things if the need arises.
On the OpenSimulator-based grids, a person can backup their inventory (.iar) or their entire simulator region (.oar) to a sort of gzip file right from the command line. Since Linden Labs doesn’t give people command-line access to their accounts or simulators, then the alternative is to use an account or bot that can be given copies of all of your work, and store it for you just in case something goes awry.
There are third-party programs out there for the Windows PC users like “Second Inventory” though as a Mac OS X user I’m not familiar with it or how well it backs things up to your hard drive.
Now, let’s consider people using Alt accounts for other reasons, besides the business or “get away from it all with your loved one” aspects. Let’s say you create other identities, or a disposable, temporary avatar of sorts who can just be this unknown presence or bot that you keep around for some other purpose.
Bots: Bots, or “scripted agents” as they are called, are software controlled avatars, think of them as simple AI or non-player-characters who you may interact with, normally just over text, though others may be programmed to do various things for you or with you, like tour a facility, jump on a poseball with you, give a pre-recorded presentation of some sort, model clothing or other avatar enhancements, whatever you can imagine a bot to do, people likely do it somewhere within Second Life or other virtual world grids.
Now it gets a bit weird. Let’s say your main avatars are paired in a marriage partnership, but your alts are not, that is, they appear to be single people. Should your partnership vows extend between the alts as well, given their pixel bodies aren’t officially tied or betrothed? That is, would the expectation of faithfulness be valid, or as “disposable avatars” are the alts subject to deviations and distortions of a malevolent kind? Generally, I think the moral or monogamous answer is no.
Regardless how many Alts you have, they’re all controlled by the same typist, it’s the RL person, their intention behind the avatar. If you need to hide from your main avatar and indeed your partner to use an alt, that indicates other problems exist in your RL that you need to deal with.
In other words, if there are things you need to talk to your RL partner about, then do so, be frank and open and honest. That’s pretty straight forward and simple. For some the effort may bring some stress and uncomfortable back-and-forth to hash things out, but I believe the end result will be worth the it, in both SL and RL.
The reason I even mention that scenario is because it’s a common occurrence in Second Life (fooling around or what-not), whether people are single, engaged, married, in RL or SL or not, people hook-up in one way or another, so it’s also been known that virtual affairs can happen, and many emotions or interactions seem to be amplified or accelerated in the virtual world, thus Second Life is said to be the ruin of many a relationship.
For people whose moral wiring puts them into a open polygamist relationship, the partners may likely already have “sex toy alts” and perhaps encourage it, though neither my wife or I are a Mormon, swinging lifestyler or such a person to desire more than the 1 true companion in life (virtual or real) so that isn’t in our modus operanda.
Another reason people make “disposable” Alts is for malevolent reasons, that is, to login and just mess with people, break stuff, cause server lag, or otherwise be disruptive. This is an activity called “griefing” and the most common thing is to attack an unsuspecting newbie with a flood of flying penises or other body parts that follow you around, orbit, push, or hit you in diabolical ways. Some people think this is funny, though Linden Labs doesn’t think so, and this practice is against the Terms of Service (TOS), because SL just isn’t the place for that kind of juvenile behavior.
There are plenty of people who would simply argue, “well, it’s just a game” in direct contrast to the throngs of people who will insist “it’s not a game, its something more” and equate the virtual space as a 3D world wide web or conferencing platform, a media outlet for musicians and artists, and educational model or virtual classroom, that sort of thing.
My Alt.. ( beware, this rant is me stepping on the soapbox )
I have an alt named Andron, which sometimes has been a man and sometimes a woman (as Torley Linden is known to be either), but nowadays it’s just inactive, I don’t use it.. that is to say I’m not really into SL at all these days, my wife and I have a lot of other stuff going on so just don’t have time to play virtual world with each other, or anyone else for that matter… so the avatars are just sitting there until such time (if ever) we pick them up again.
Back to my story though, about Alts and the use of them, well for one, I feel that the use of an Alt creates a kind of deception and the potential for consequences that I’m not ready to accept. Perhaps I take this too seriously!? Since my alt isn’t “partnered” (again, the SL term for virtual marriage) it makes him/her look single and available– true SL isn’t all about dating, but there’s enough people looking for dates that it I’ve been asked (while either gender) for sex. So, I’d rather just be myself: I am taken and happily married in RL. Perhaps any alts that I or my wife have should be partnered to each other, just to turn people away from the idea that it might be open territory. We don’t use them often enough for this to be an issue, nonetheless, whenever those rare moments are that we find ourselves online, the requests and proposals come in. I also feel that continued roaming in this sort of pseudo-uncharted condition may strain RL relations or create distrust, as history has shown (and why I agreed to leave sensual RPs like Bloodlines or Gor in the past). But okay, this is getting way too personal and psychological for me, so let’s move on; In a nutshell I’ll just say that I’m not in SL to date or flirt or any of that, just as I don’t go into bars in real life and flirt or date or anything behind my wife’s back.
Ok sure, been there, done that. Let me reiterate my earlier spiritual commentary: A general rule of karma says that if you are doing something positive and good in the world, it will bring happiness, conversely if you are doing something negative and bad in the world, then it will bring sadness. That’s pretty straight forward, and applies to both you and the people around you who may be influenced by your actions.
What you are doing directs your attention somewhere, whether if it’s watching TV, doing an activity, game, or anything, and I will term this an intention.
Putting this idea another way, first ask yourself “What am I intending to do here?” This is as simple as making a plan to do something, whether the action is a natural, spontaneous, or random event, you are going over in your mind exactly what, when, who, why, and how. It has something to do with your will– your will puts that intention into action. Even choosing not to do something is an action that will have repercussions on your present and future path, and these will be either positive, negative, or neutral.
Next, ask yourself “What will the end results be from this action?” In other words, you are exercising your conscience, you are making a choice to solidify the action or non-action, based on what you expect to happen as you do it, or what will become of you and anyone engaged in that action with you — that is, the effect, impact, reverberations, whatever you want to call it, it is what sustains or lingers for awhile. This is true even if you don’t consider it, as Newton’s third law states, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
For example, when you strike a tuning fork, it can be said to follow the principle I just described: First, when you decide to strike it, that is your intention, then the initial hit, that is putting it into action, then the note that vibrates for a time afterwards, that is the effect. Due to the impermanent nature of the physical universe, the audible note doesn’t just go on and on forever, and the vibration eventually dampens to a point where the object returns to a resting or dormant state. However, you can strike the tuning fork again and again until the thing just wears down, disintegrates, or otherwise becomes unusable, but that’s another lofty topic. People used to pay me to make analogies and coaching obscure topics with metaphors in this sort of way.. 😉
Now let’s return to our conversation about my Alt.
When you use an alternate identity in the RL or SL world, you are focusing your energy outside the space of your normal life, this is true for any avatar or game character really, you are temporarily putting yourself into that role, and that’s part of the fun of gaming.
I’ve always liked to use girl characters in video games, I just happen to like watching their bum and body run around instead of a guy, and sure I liked playing Tomb Raider because Lara Croft is sexy and adventurous, but that doesn’t make me want to be Lara Croft in RL. Playing a female avatar doesn’t make me gay, bisexual, a cross-dresser, she-male or transvestite in the real world, but that doesn’t stop my partner from not liking the idea. She isn’t comfortable with me playing a girl. She did have a male Alt for trying out clothes and men’s avatar bits while she was in the business of doing upscale avatar customizations, but that’s different, in the sense that her Alt was just a glorified mannequin used occasionally for a virtual store.
Some psychologists like Freud might say when you take a virtual Alt and engage it with someone other than your partner, it’s affecting your subconscious in subtle ways which can be destructive to your RL relationship. The act of being virtually unfaithful is like a lucid daydream, it is in effect pushing your real partner out of that space in your heart they would normally occupy, and temporarily putting someone else, even if in jest, in that role and position. Repeated use of this idea will bleed into your subconscious and psyche– thoughts are things, and such intentions, no matter how innocent in appearance, will grow to consume more and more of your thinking.
Some fans have been known to think about a celebrity or fantasize about them so much that they stir themselves into delusion. Then, when they finally do (if ever) meet the person in real life, they soon realize things are not as they think they were, because the real world is much different than their one-sided fantasy portrayed it to be. This may also be the reason that 85% of virtual partnerships don’t work out – because people are falling in love with someone’s avatar, not the person behind it.
Like any addiction, the way home to what is real and true may have you ripped back awake kicking and screaming and full of disappointment.
Though, I think I am wandering off on a strange rant again — the point I was making here, though, as I have seen things and heard from other visitors to the virtual world, is that Second Life is a fantasy; People may get caught-up in the fantasy of it all, escaping more and more into the virtual world, perhaps losing touch with the real world — there’s lots of cases of kids and adults with video game addiction — take for example World of Warcraft or other MMORPGs that people spend way too much of their waking life playing, and become a computer hermit using all of their free time and money to be in the game world instead of getting outside for some nice fresh air and sunshine.. ah that’s another topic entirely!
Where was I? The avatar Alt.. I originally created it to get away from myself, as in the earlier example, to literally be someone else. The reason for that was because I wasn’t happy with how my virtual life was going so decided to start another one. I had the need to escape from my virtual girlfriend so that I could be with other people (gasp!) and I also wanted a bot of sorts I could use to run tasks for me while I was busy working somewhere or on something, so I wouldn’t have to pop back and forth from place to place with 1 avatar, I could be in two places simultaneously by logging in both avatars at the same time!
Realistically though, the cure was simple – break friendship from those who weren’t good choices for associates, and continue on, and take more time to pop back and forth between places with just one avatar, which is what I eventually did.
That is to say, not everyone I dropped from my virtual friends list were bad people, per se, it’s just that I wasn’t involved in certain sims or games or activities in SL where I would frequent with them, so, as I left those areas, I also dropped all the friends I had there. SL is a big world, and only one of many virtual grids. Yes I established friendships with some of the people I left behind, but just as with real life, people come and go in your life. You don’t normally go out and seek people who you went to high school with, whom you haven’t spoken to for 20 years and had no real reason to do so, that’s kind of silly in my humble opinion — if they were such good friends 20 years ago, then it would be likely that they were still friends today, inspite of websites and social networking companies who offer such services.
It’s good to clean out your friends list just as it is good to drop people in Facebook or Myspace or whatever, just like a guy throwing out the little black book of fuck buddies and booty calls once he finds himself his true mate, it’s kinda like that. 🙂
Hence the term “disposable” Alts, some people create Alts just to build some objects, write some stories, join a certain club or group of people, or hang out with a certain crowd even if temporarily, then, if you ever decide to leave said group, you can do so cleanly without ever affecting your true identity, just un-friend everyone, or delete the Alt entirely, boom, done. That may sound messed up, really, but it’s often the way of things in the virtual world. Better still, have 1 avatar, and be the wiser and choose your friends and activities very wisely, so you won’t ever need an Alt in the first place 😉 Perhaps there is a learning curve for all this virtual world stuff, who knows?
My ramblings are just thoughts and opinions based on my years of experience with Second Life, so your mileage may vary, your experiences may be totally different. If you are so moved to comment on any of this (good, bad, or indifferent) you are most welcome to do so!
Venture on, traveler, your quest awaits!