O Superman

The JLU saga rumbles on, and has jumped from Second Life into the real world, on the way losing much of its lustre.

I may have exaggerated a little when I implied that the wannabe superheroes were some sort of virtual Freikorps, but they do seem to be doing their best to make themselves look like a thoroughly sinister outfit. Their latest stunt is to try to censor the Herald’s exposé of the secret JLU database by threatening the paper’s web host with the DMCA. The Herald, to their credit, are not taking this lying down, and have counter-filed a complaint charging JLU supremo Kalel Venkman with intentionally lodging a false DMCA report, which, I understand, is not a trivial offence.

(A side-effect of this process has been to reveal the real-life identity of Herald editor Pixeleen Mistral, who, rather impressively, turns out to be internet legend Mark McCahill.)

The whole story was quite fun when it was confined to the grid and the SL blogosphere, but I suspect it is about to become rather less amusing for the participants now that everyone is getting lawyered-up. A well-connected academic like McCahill can probably look after himself – I’m sure he’ll be able to hit up Lawrence Lessig for some free legal advice – but Venkman, who, the internet tells me, is really a technical writer from Los Angeles, may be having second thoughts about the potentially expensive escalation of hostilities that he has initiated.

Why has Venkman done this? He had a perfectly good role-playing scenario set up, with heroes and villains, intrigue and espionage, skulduggery and back-stabbing, confidential dossiers and secret deals, topped off with open conflict between the forces of good and evil across hundreds of worlds – all the ingredients for a gripping narrative, with Venkman himself right at the centre. He’s trading that for a dull tale of dreary lawyers exchanging dismal arguments in dusty courtrooms, a story that seems likely to end in unhappiness for Venkman and his lycra-clad cohort.

This seems to me to be a case of incomplete immersion, or perhaps over-augmentation; either way Venkman appears to have lost sight of the boundary between the virtual world and the real. The role of “Venkman” has become so important to his self-image that he is unable to see the Herald‘s story for what it is –  a chance to build on the mythology he has already established, an opportunity he should welcome – and instead regards it as a threat to his real-life identity, one which must be countered with a real-life action, regardless of the fact that such action risks destroying his existence, both virtual and real.

The story reminds me of cases we’ve covered before – the tale of another virtual superhero, Twixt, and the Stroker v. Linden lawsuit. Both of these involved people acting in ways that made no sense when seen in the context of the virtual world alone, but became more comprehensible when one thought about the interaction between virtual and real identities, particularly the unconscious aspects of the latter.

Is it possible to be a complete immersionist, to live one’s virtual life in total isolation from the conscious and unconscious influences of one’s everyday personality? Would such a thing be desirable? Probably not, for what is interesting to me about living a Second Life, and recording my thoughts about it, is the way that it casts light on corners of my consciousness that I may have been only vaguely aware of. While projection of real-life neuroses into the metaverse may be illuminating, I’m much less convinced that allowing in-world dynamics to leak out and influence one’s external behaviour can be anything other than harmful. This may be a lesson that Kalel Venkman, or at least his mortal alter-ego, is about to learn the hard way.

Because when justice is gone, there’s always force.

4 Responses to O Superman

  1. annotoole says:

    Total immersion is only OK as long as you know you are an actor and it is a role you are playing and you do not do anything that has real world or emotional ramifications that are negative to anyone. Not many are capable of accomplishing this separation. Those that are happen to be valuable.

    I.e.; Don’t get lost in the novel you are writing. Write it.

  2. Although it is possible to recreate oneself in Second Life (or perhaps more broadly any virtual world) there will always be personality leaks from the real world. When Freud said, “Betrayal oozes out of him at every pore,” he spoke as an acute observer of the non-verbal slippages that can expose elements of the underlying character of an individual. That “character” may be a little fuzzy at the edges, and open to shifts and shimmies contingent on the situation, but the little slips can be illuminating. Part of the fun of SL is trying to understand how much of the avatar you are interacting with is a recreation of a personality or a reflection of the RL persona. The speculation of the “true” identity of Pixeleen Mistral has provided hours of entertainment for folks who care – and admittedly I am one of those who really doesn’t care at all. If Freud were alive today, I bet he’d have a recreation of Bergasse 19 somewhere in SL 🙂

    • johnny says:

      Yes, avatar-analysis can be interesting, though I think one would need to know quite a bit about the person behind the keyboard to make anything other than broad generalisations about unconscious motivations. In that respect it’s the same as regular analysis – one can observe the content of transference, dreams, parapraxes or whatever, but to make sense of it all it’s necessary to have a detailed history of the subject’s life to this point.

      What I find more fascinating are cases like this where it appears the puppet is starting to control the puppet-master. Again though, without more real-life information one can really only speculate about what might be going on, and how much of it is conscious/unconscious. For all we know “Kalel” may be consciously orchestrating the whole story as part of some meta-narrative, in which case the joke is on me.

  3. Pingback: SL Shrink Analyzes DMCA Crazed Caped Crusader | The Alphaville Herald

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