Although it wasn't my intention when I set out this morning, it's possible this could get a teensy bit philosophical in nature. I apologize in advance.
I'm a coward. There I've said it and it's true. As intriguing and, in some cases, appealing as I find the idea of Role Playing I'm terrified of it. I suspect it's a fear of looking foolish/stupid as a newbie amongst all these people who know the rules and what they're doing. I'm so afraid of it that I haven't been able to persuade myself to even visit something identified as an RP sim in all my years inworld.
I was determined to overcome this fear this morning so I went to visit the Valley of Shadows.
Created outside of the laws of time and space as we know them, the Valley of Shadows exists unknown to mankind. Its residents and rulers are placed here by a higher power for a shot at redemption before their final judgment. Most find themselves waking up at the old mill from a seemingly deep sleep, and upon wandering the valley and asking a few questions, confusion and anxiety sink in. Then begins the journey to figure out how and why you have found yourself in this place.
Forces of good and evil thought to be of created out of myth and legend reside in the valley hoping to influence you to make certain decisions that will follow you to the end of days and perhaps beyond. Some will fall prey to the lies of the evil that their book has already been closed and there is no hope for redemption, others will seek a way towards redemption and allow themselves to be led by messengers of the most high and yet some will be torn between the two unable to make a definitive choice.
Here in the Valley the ageless battle for the souls of men rages on, what will become of yours?
In case you're thinking "Great! A brave and mature step!" I have to point out the two things that made this visit possible .......... well three things:
- First there's a landing spot outside the Role Playing area so you aren't plunked down in the middle of people involved in actual RP.
- Second you can acquire Observer status, which allows you to explore without having anybody expect you to participate (in fact you aren't allowed to speak).
- Third there was nobody there at the time I visited. I checked on the map.
I loved the sim. I looked at it like the backdrop for a fantasy novel and could picture groups of participants acting out their stories. While I wandered around imagining scenes from some of my favourite books unfolding in the cobblestone streets or the countryside I started to ponder the nature of Role Playing. And then I started to ponder the nature of Avatars and what makes Role Playing different (because it is or at least I think it's supposed to be).
In my metaversal journeys my avatar is a manifestation of me. The person behind the keyboard. She has a more interesting look and a better wardrobe, but what she says and what she does comes from inside the real me. I still feel this is true even when I'm wearing a bird avatar or a non-traditional skin. For good or for ill... that individual is the dorky, sentimental and often naive me.
In the vast majority of cases I believe this to be true of Second Life's residents. Gender switching doesn't automatically imply deceit any more than my bird avatar does. Even those individuals who use avatars to explore just one aspect of themselves or what they sincerely wish was an aspect of themselves, are still showing the rest of us part of the true "them". In my mind just simply living out a fantasy life as a dragon avatar or Lady of the Manor isn't Role Playing if the personality and behaviour reflects the person on the other side of the network connection.
But I'm not dumb enough to believe this is always the case. The iconic fat guy in the basement with the hot female avatar searching for sex is a reality and there are others whose motives for "acting a part" are not benign.
It might seem to those who don't inhabit any part of the metaverse that it is ridiculous to expect "honesty" in a virtual environment. But we talk about meeting and working with people from around the world, making friends and even having relationships. I don't think we expect to be doing that with fictional characters. I believe we feel that we're interacting with "real people" using fun technology so discovering that somebody is just playing a game would come as a blow in Second Life as much as it would in real life.
All of which leads me back to Role Playing. It just might be that the only way to assure yourself of "honest" interaction in a virtual world is by inhabiting a venue controlled by a strict set of rules. You would know you were dealing with a "character" who has a history and predictable behaviour tied to a role.
I would have to climb a big hurdle to attempt that. In the meantime I'll take my chances with the rest of you and hope for the best.