~By The SL Parade’s own Heather Ann~
When meeting new people in Second Life, one of the questions I always ask is “Why are you here?” If you are speaking to a veteran avatar, you will most likely find their purpose for being in world has changed with time. Just as any human being will change over time and with experiences, our avis also tend to evolve into something…perhaps something we didn’t originally intend. The following people have been on the grid long enough to experience life changing evolution that has also changed their lives in the real world.
In retrospect, I have often theorized that many people have similar experiences and find over time they have evolved personally in ways they might never have thought possible had they not explored and experimented in virtually reality. The opportunities are endless and the possibilities, exciting.
Sharpe: Human to Fox Furry
Sharpe is a fox having been in world for almost 8 years. His intention for coming to the grid was for virtual world exploration, but he soon found that he was more comfortable in fox skin instead of human.
During his travels, Sharpe began to understand what Second Life was all about; however, something he didn’t realize would happen was that he would come to better understanding himself. Sharpe realized that he felt highly vulnerable in human form and sought a way to feel more comfortable in world versus his life in his real world. SL provided him with the opportunity to slip into fox clothing and parade around as a confident, intelligent Furry. The Furry world is one of much discrimination and misunderstanding; there are many sims that deny Furry’s from entering and participating in events. This is actually very sad because the people behind the fur are actually intelligent and intriguing people. Maybe a bit shy, or anxiety ridden due to both life’s harshness, but well worth getting to know. Sharpe is one of those people.
Sharpe states, “Every member has their own definition of what it means to ‘be a fur’, but in my case it gives me a sense of anonymity similar to a costume.” For some, even the option of a human form different than our own isn’t enough to give a sense of comfort in world. The added layer of fur offers Sharpe the comfort that no one really knows anything about him. In talking with Sharpe, I asked him if his ‘Furriness’ in world has helped him become more confident in the real world. He responded, “In a way, I’m noticing that the more extroverted I get in either reality, I become more introverted in the other. After a period of time of being extroverted, I have to take a step back, retreat and recharge when I become overstressed.”
Sharpe has learned that being a little different in world doesn’t always mean you will be ostracized by those you interact with. He has been able to take this information and assimilate into his real life and apply it to his working world as well. He told me that at his real world job, “I thought I would be critiqued constantly by everyone, yet nobody seemed to care near as much as I thought they would.”
In discussing the Furry community, Sharpe pointed out there are other traits Furries have that make them interesting. “We have a large pool of talented artists and take pride in our writing. We are more tolerate of others because we know how extreme and diverse we can be ourselves. We are aware the outside world sees us as ‘weird’ but its fine. We push boundaries and explore the new.”
Willow: Shy Girl to Confident Woman
Willow continues, “What I needed most was positive friends who were there for me whenever I needed to talk, have fun, or just do nothing.”
Coming from a small rural town, Willow also felt as if she couldn’t talk to anyone about how she really felt, nor discuss what she was thinking. This all changed, however when she arrived in Second Life. She explains:
“I found new people who had a more open method of thinking than I ever experienced in world. My RL wasn’t anything special: home, work, kids, repeat. I was drowning in a stressful marriage, difficult children, and had little time to socialize or have fun. But when the kids went to bed, I found a new life through my computer screen that let me explore who I really was behind the mom sweats and slacks.”
Willow initially began her journey in SL fearfully; she was afraid to be seen naked, so she often hid herself while changing into ball gowns or other fun costumes. Willow says, “Once I realized anyone can cam over and see me through any structure, it didn’t make to much difference. But what really helped me overcome my shyness was my first stripping job at a tiny little club high in the SL clouds.”
While shy in SL sounds silly, moreso because we are nothing but a pile of pixels that can look like anyone or anything, many avatars like Willow have come a long way since those days. Now that there are mesh bodies and clothes available inworld, it is also fair to say that we look so much better…however, as Willow contends, getting SL naked “felt like I was putting my RL self out there to be seen. Over time, I found that I became more confident even though it wasn’t my real body dancing naked on that pole.”
Her time in SL as a stripper also helped Willow in her Real Life. She says, “In real life, when I started to feel self conscious I would pretend I was Willow in the real world. What I found was, I AM Willow, in RL and SL. Eventually, instead of wanting to sit around and watch my avi dance, I wanted to get up and move too (no I didn’t want to strip). The inspiration I felt from watching that little cartoon character shaking her booty helped me want to be a better flesh version of the real me. Today I am not fearful to enter a room full of strangers and can hold my head up. I am more self-confident and independent than ever before. I feel I can now talk to anyone and achieve whatever goal I have set for myself. Without SL, I have no idea what my life might be like today.
Willow continues, “All I can tell you is that my in world experiences have helped me change and realize, I am never alone….that there are people in this real world that think I am pretty awesome and…hot avi or not…I am just me and I am ok with that.”
Ivy: Introvert to Dinkie Kitty
When Ivy came to SL, she started the game like everyone else…as a human. As time went on, the sexualized under pinnings of SL started to intervene with her fun; she began to feel that being hit on was like being hunted. One day, she decided to transform from a human to a cute Dinkie kitty.
Ivy explains, “I am basically a really shy person, and dealing with all of the people making unwanted sexual advances on me was really stressful. [Once I became Dinkie Kitty,] I found men weren’t that interested in me as a Dinkie, and with that I was very happy.” Now, Ivy gets to dance at clubs in peace because she doesn’t exude that “sexual come hitherness” that most female avatars do. Ivy reports having a lot more self confidence as a dinkie, and has also become more extroverted than she really is in real life. “In SL…” Ivy says “I make friends easier and feel confident in joining in conversations.”
Having interacted with Ivy, I can say she is a very sweet and intelligent woman who deserves to have a voice not only in SL but also in her RL. I can only hope someday she can assimilate some of her new found confidence from SL into her real life.
There are people who truly believe their real lives are not affected by their second life. Maybe if they spend only short periods of time online this could be true. People who spend a lot of time in traditional video games with no other human interaction also experience changes to their persona. However, for those of us who have spent many years here interacting with people from all over the world, we have found ways to enhance and evolve into people who we never thought we could become. When asked if the time they spent in world was a waste of time or a true investment, most would tell you that SL is definitely an investment. Willow affirms this by saying, “The friendships I have made in SL are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. I am thankful for the opportunity to make positive changes in my life and look forward to many more in the years to come.
*Top Featured photo is called “Turquoise” by Sari Choche, and is provided courtesy of http://www.photoree.com/photos/permalink/2573780-22511817@N08. All other photos provided by Heather Ann….