Friday, February 27, 2009

Two Left Feet

Although I can't speak from much personal experience, most online services have their own benchmarks and standards of behavior—so it's no surprise that as a "virtual world" Second Life has its own set of social norms. For instance, walking in SL is a little bit of a challenge—especially for new residents. You're forever overshooting where you're going, backing up, trying again…so you tend to put up with people bumping into you a whole lot more than you would in real life. Similarly, the realities of in-world teleportation tend to mean you tolerate people occasionally materializing on top of you and standing on your head for a few moments while they wait for the scene around them to download and come into focus. You put up with delays of up to a few minutes while typing back-and-forth conversations with people (because sooner or later, lag makes everyone its bitch) and your first thought isn't that these delays are necessarily being rude or ignoring you. (Although, of course, sometimes…that's exactly what's happening.)

But one thing I do not and probably never will understand is Second Life's propensity to offer residents a chance to dance. And not just at, say, music clubs or concerts—you know, where dancing might make some sense in context. But friggin' everywhere. Walk into a store, a public space, or just a balcony somewhere—heck, even just a sidewalk or the middle of a field—and the odds are good that over your head there will be a dance ball "loaded" with a selection of dance animations, or blue and pink poseballs (his and hers!) labeled something like "Slow Tango" or "Couple's Dance." Just like mobile phones made it possible to walk down a city street talking to yourself and not have everyone think you're insane, Second Life seems to want to make it OK to act like you're in a Broadway musical. You know, one second you're minding your own business, maybe considering some new shoes…and the next moment you're going to burst into a song and dance number right out of the Andrew Lloyd Webber's reptilian hindbrain. Everything's alright, yes, everything's fine.

Maybe it's that I don't dance in real life. (And the world should thank me, because if I did so, I would put anyone around me in mortal danger.) But I find Second Life's strong social contract that people should dance for any particular reason to be one of the most unnerving things about the virtual world's social norms. I can kind of understand why people might want to dance at a music concert—and, yes, I think dancing in dance clubs is fine as long as I don't have to do it—dancing in a store or in a field or on a sidewalk somewhere flummoxes me. The only thing I can think is that people don't want to be boring, and believe dancing is somehow cooler than standing or sitting or walking around or…you know, saying something interesting. And personally, oh yeah, watching a cartoon figure loop through a maybe as much as ten seconds of motion over and over again is…yeah, cool is a word. But it's not really the word that comes to mind.

I've swallowed my misgivings a couple of times and tried SL dancing options…and, you know, watching a virtual Lou going through the motions on screen was incredibly disconnecting. Suddenly I was watching somebody else—not only someone who could dance, but someone who wanted to dance. In those moments Second Life Lou ceased being me and starting being a character in a computer game.

And the bottom line? I'm not a gamer.

1 comment:

  1. You forgot to mention how physically fit all SL avatars are, to be keeping up these high-energy club dances for hours on end. Even serious dancers tend to go for a number or two, then take a breather. In SL, no one takes a breather. which makes the whole thing seem even more faker. ;)

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