“If you get to know me, then you’ll know me”

There are a lot of reasons people choose not to use voice. But, there are those who tend to just start assuming things and they are likely miles off-target in most cases. What’s worse is when they become insulting and rude about it. They can be really damaging emotionally to some people for no good reason.

They are part of that third camp. The one almost all griefers and newbies are part of.

It would explain why newbies tend to just mow-down others in crowded places without thinking about it, or have no qualms about asking the girls if they ‘wanna play?’ and just being overly obnoxious. It also explains the whole griefer mentality.

The common understanding is that there are two camps in places like Second Life: the immersionist and the augmentationist. (Full essay about the concept here.)

But what about the third camp? What I would call the ‘puppeteer’. Upon first entry into Second Life, I believe this is the ‘persona’ everyone will naturally assume at first blush, until they learn otherwise.

You see, the immersionist may be the serious role-player. Deeply entrenched into the fantasy world they choose to be a part of. And the augmentationist might simply see SL as an extension of themselves. And there also are those who actually mash-up the two in varying degrees. But what about that group who are almost, if not totally, emotionally disconnected from the ‘fictional cartoon character’ they drive and control on the screen?

Well, these are the people who simply cannot grasp the idea of attaching any emotion to their avatar (and that’s all it is on screen: just an ‘avatar’ – not even a representation of a RL human) and consequently cannot understand any emotion tied to any other avatar. These are the ones who insult others without even really trying to. But they don’t understand, there are times they could be really hurting someone in a far more profound way than they could possibly imagine.

Now, take the first two groups – immersionists and augmentationists and throw them into a room together. Mix in a few technologies. Oh! Let’s start with voice…

Watch the sparks fly!
The immersionists would rather not use such a technology because it can ruin the immersion aspect of their experience. The augmentationist immediately assumes the immersionist (and possibly not realizing the immersionist is an immersionist to begin with) is hiding something.

If the person in question is female in SL, it is immediately assumed the Real Life half of this person is really a male or (on rarer occasions) vice-versa. All because she refuses to use a microphone and allow herself to be heard.

This is the most common accusation in this kind of scenario. However, I believe most augmentationists either really don’t care or simply don’t think much about it. The ones who seem to worry about most are the ones who tend to have at least one foot still in the puppeteer camp.

Now, let’s throw the puppeteer into the mix.
The puppeteer also will usually fall into one of the other two camps by default. The difference is the world they see on screen is 100% synthetic and so are all its inhabitants. They tend to speak or do without thinking how it might affect other people. Why worry about what you say and to whom? These are only synthetic fictional characters, right? How can computer cartoons have any emotion or feelings?

And if the cartoon is a female, why would the person controlling that ‘puppet’ refuse to use voice? Unless… they want me to think they’re female. Ahah! So that’s it! You’re really a DUDE! A dude playing a chick! EEEWWW GROSS! HAHAHA lulz.

Now… these puppeteers, who simply can’t or won’t choose to grasp the idea that the majority of people in SL actually do view their ‘characters’ on screen as some form of themselves, don’t stop to think about the myriad of reasons why this character’s ‘operator’ would choose not to use voice. Or a webcam. Or skype. or any other technology that could or would reveal their real life anything.

It simply does not occur to them that the immersionist who may be a faerie elf simply does not sound or look too much like such a fantasy creature in real life and would probably like to maintain the illusion represented on screen.

Or that the augmentationist has had a harrowing experience in real life in the past that turned scary for real reasons… identity theft, stalking by a stranger/estranged relative or spouse/or other reason and so on.

No, they automatically assume that because it is a known practice, (though far less often than people think, I believe,) everyone who refuses to use the microphone, (whether they have the voice feature turned on or off,) simply must be a “guy in girls skin” trying to pull the wool over everyone else’s eyes.

To those people, I say there are likely real reasons. Legitimate ones beyond the immersionist frame of mind. Even beyond the basic security reasons. There really are people in SL who are legally deaf and probably feel the voice feature is pretty useless to them at this point. And yes, sure – anyone can claim to be deaf and there probably are more than a few. So what? More power to them.

Yes, there are guys in girl skin. So what? More power to them. I mean, is it your intention to reach through the internet and actually mesh lips in a real life passionate tongue-swapping blissful french-kiss with them? Sheesh, get over it. Unless you are actually intending to take any kind of relationship out of SL into RL, it doesn’t matter. Just focus on what you see on your screen and go with the flow.

It’s likely you’ve noticed SL is in the news a lot over the past couple years. In 2006 through the first part of 2007, it was over-hyped ‘ZOMG SL IS AWESOME!’ – then through most of 2007 it was completely the opposite. But, if you’ve been paying attention, there are a couple of human interest stories that flew-in low, under the radar.

They featured how Second Life is proving to be a huge benefit and rehabilitative boon for those with practically any handicap. I’ve known this long before any of the news agencies even thought of reporting it. And I’ve known it works. First-hand.

There is a girl I want to tell you about. I know this girl in person, an acquaintance in RL. She’s been in SL almost as long as I have. I won’t bother giving her name here because she doesn’t know I’m using her as my example to get a point across.

She’s more or less an augmentationist, with a little immersionism thrown in. She refuses to talk about RL to strangers, and even to those she knows well, she gives nothing of identifying content. She absolutely refuses to use her microphone and if you earn enough of her trust to get her to send you a picture, the best you’ll likely get is one that is two or more years old. Never, ever anything current. Her most recent self-portrait that she keeps in her profile is even almost two years old.

In RL she doesn’t have a lot of friends. Unfortunately, because she refuses to use the microphone, she tends to be somewhat of a loner in SL, too. You see, she is shy. She is shy because she is self-conscious over what you cannot see or hear or feel about her. And if you ask, she likely will not say or explain.

In fact, it is stated in her profile: “In SL we all are beautiful and glamorous. In RL, I was beautiful just like you, once.” Okay, it’s pretty sad she feels this way. She’s young, only in her 20’s.

You see, she was involved in an auto accident a while ago. A terrible one and almost lost her life only hours after that profile picture was taken. Many reconstructive surgeries and hospital visits later, she still struggles with her loss (her father, my friend), what happened and the emotional trauma of it all.

I introduced her to SL while she was laid-up in the hospital, stuck in bed undergoing all the long and painful treatment back then. SL turned out then and to this day to be her escape from her “RL Hell” and has provided a way for she and I to stay loosely in touch with each other since then.

I recently chatted with her after a few months of not seeing her around. It turns out she had temporarily left SL. Her always flying so low under the radar, I noticed… but didn’t really notice… and I know her in real life!

Among our other catching-up chit-chat, I asked her why she had left SL and for so long. It turns out that ever since voice has become so prevalent, she is constantly questioned why she isn’t willing to use it when she has it active (typing instead of speaking with the microphone.) She chooses not to say.

Then, of course, she is immediately snickered-at, eyes-rolled-to and basically accused by insinuation that she is just another guy in girl’s skin. She got tired of the insult accusations about why she refuses to use voice. I also asked her why she returned, even though I already knew the answer.

“Because in SL I am beautiful again. I am normal and people can see the real me inside without all the distraction,” she said.

You see, my friend’s daughter had massive injuries. Broken collar bone and shoulder, broken neck, her skull was badly fractured. She’s been undergoing facial reconstructive surgery off and on since then. A long, painful process. This is why she simply refuses any picture be taken of her over the last couple years. She sees her entire life as being ruined… her real life, that is.

In the accident, her throat was crushed. Speaking is difficult and painful. And when she does speak, beside the slurring, the synthetic reconstructive elements surgeons inserted into her neck make her voice sound “like a monster” (her own words.) She refuses to take a current picture or to speak on the microphone “because they are distractions that keep people from seeing and getting to know the real me.”

So, my whole point is this: Second Life is so much more to other people than it might be to you and for completely different reasons you may never have even fathomed. In this girl’s case, it makes her “whole and beautiful and normal” again. Literally a second life. And I suspect this is true for a lot more people than you or I might think.

If you run into her, and decide not to learn more about her and quickly cast her off as a guy-in-girl-skin all because your litmus test is whether she is willing to use voice or not… it will be your loss. You’re the one who will be missing out on the friendship of a wonderful, funny, beautiful person. And you, in your own shallowness, will simply become just another one who decided to judge a book by its cover and turn away from someone you’d really enjoy getting to know.

So, augmentationist, immersionist or even puppeteer: remember that everyone in SL is here for their own reasons. Some for simple fun, others for social reasons, others to simply experiment, explore, learn and so on. And though there are sometimes ‘suspicious’ reasons why so many choose to mention in their profiles that “SL and RL are and will always be separate” – and many reasons why someone might refuse to speak into a microphone, even if they have voice turned on, some of those reasons really are legitimate.

Such as immersionism. Being legally deaf. Or because it’s simply easier to be mute, rather than dealing with the pain of hearing yourself.

Sometimes, they just want to be “beautiful and normal again.”

The next time you see someone who isn’t using voice, or perhaps has that little white dot over their head but always tends to use the keyboard and refuses to use the microphone… think outside the box for a change and remember… there are real reasons why this may be so. And you may not even be close as to guessing why.

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