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Theatre and democracy in Second Life

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Off off off off Broadway

Those were interesting questions, involving the unconscious, second-nature elements of how I play my character, and whether, in a sense, my character has started reading from its own script, so they deserved answers better than, "that's just the way I feel".

I do sense that my character has taken on a life of her own which appears to be developing independent of my conscious control, primarily through contact with other, regular "cast members": i.e., SL Destiny's in-world friends. And if we keep the theatre analogy going, one could say that the play in which she's a character is being written and performed daily by myself and the people behind the avatars that SL Destiny is most often in contact with. It's a play with many authors and many directors, performed on the fly, by people who come and go as they please.

So, carrying the analogy one step farther, we can see this more precisely as a marathon improv session in which regular characters enter at will and contribute as they see fit, allowing story lines to evolve through everyone's continued personal interactions, and through each player's tendency to form new connections outside the core group, and bring new players in.

So, what holds it together? Why does it not deteriorate into irrelevant chatter? Well, it often does, in fact. I've met more players than I care to remember who cannot or will not keep their behaviour relevant to the situation they are in. In roleplay, typically there are rules, or at least conventions. And yet, even with RP, it's common for a scene to break down into out-of-context chat, debate, and bickering over roles and regulations.

That can be bad enough sometimes, but when you play your default character in SL at large, you're on your own, as are the people you meet in world. There are no rules or conventions; you decide the character's appearance, behaviour, speech, and backstory. Meanwhile, everyone else is doing pretty much the same with their default characters, at least outside of RP. This means that the majority of residents you meet are going to have quite different ideas about what they are doing on the grid, and what they imagine others ought to be doing.

Indeed, it's a miracle that it works at all. But it can work, and sometimes it works surprisingly well. For one thing, sims and clubs are themed - sometimes rather broadly, sometimes more narrowly - giving you an opportunity to increase your chances of meeting like-minded residents.

If you want to join others who are fairly serious about how they play the game, and willing to collaborate on a long-term story, you'll need to hook up with players who are committed to their characters and respectful of the virtual environments in which they operate. For all the residents you'll encounter wandering aimlessly about and propositioning everyone they meet for cybersex, you'll find others who take the game seriously. If you should as well, you will eventually find a few of them, and those acquaintances will lead to other acquaintances, and so on.

I'm by no means suggesting that anyone ought to take the game seriously, but I've found it to be fun, and all the more fun if you put some thought and effort into your character, especially when your in-world friends do the same. It would be too simple to say that you get out of it what you put in, because what you get depends on what others put in as well. So, yes, you need good friends to have a good Second Life. But then, that's true everywhere. ®

Previous Columns

Role-players amok in Second Life
My big, fat, lily-white Second Life (NSFW)
BDSM blossoms in Second Life (NSFW)
The ins and outs of a Second sex Life (NSFW)
Reg embeds hack in Second Life (NSFW)

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