Some visitors to this blog may know that I was recently the maid of honour at my friend’s wedding. Among many new discoveries, one of the most remarkable things about that experience is that the bride has a huge family in Second Life. And, her family is complete with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, cousins… and all of them have kids… and some of their kids have kids!
Since the wedding, I asked my friend more about what she gets up to with her family, how it formed, and how it grew. Her experiences may be different from others, but they offer a fascinating window into this lifestyle that seems to be very, very popular in Second Life.
Like friends in clubs or other social groups in Second Life, families hang out a lot – and yes, they refer to each other as “mom”, “dad”, and “sis” and all the other roles they have in their families. Apart from more formal family get togethers like weddings and birthdays, sometimes they’ll do things together in groups of six to seven people, like celebrate holidays or go on adventurous outings.
Time, loyalty and authenticity, more than anything else, seem to be the values that make these communities work. The use of Alts (alternate avatars) in family communities, for instance, is one of “the biggest no-nos” because some may use them to join other families outside the first family. Sometimes, disloyal family members will use Alts to escape responsibilities – and that means spending less time with the first family. To hear it described, it sounds like this kind of disingenuousness may almost be as hurtful as one might expect as a result of the infidelity of a Second Life partner.
The amount of time, I found, is not specified, although if a family member has been offline for something like two days, questions start being asked. The amount of time spent between family members is helped much by living together and by being in the same time zone. And, when there are members of the family from different age groups (e.g. children and teens) there is a significant amount of role play involved.
Role-play? Hmm, is this an incestuous sexual fetish? No. While my experience with Second Life families is limited, from what I’ve seen there is a genuine interest in experiencing a closeness with others that is purely platonic, but in many ways goes beyond friendship. Of course, one might think there is a risk of sexual age-play, given certain role-play situations like “tucking in” youngsters into bed, however, if it happens at all, it seems to be very much on the fringes of the typical experience and widely frowned-upon.
Yes, adults are driving child avatars, but it seems they are mainly role-playing with the implicit understanding that the person behind the avatar is an adult, playing a role. I know for a fact that it’s not just adults, but that teens play teens, and both adults and teens play children.
As I’ve observed these relationships first-hand, it seems to me like a young woman playing the role of a mother to a teenage daughter must have its benefits for both. For the daughter, she has a pretty cool mum she can do things with, like shop and dance with, pose for great pics like this one below, talk to about her ideas and issues, and just generally have a good time with another female that might even act as a role model. In Aurora’s words, “I was looking for a mother who’d accept me for who I am and would always be there for me. Like a best friend who you can trust with anything.”
Why would anyone play a child, or a parent, in a virtual world? Having never done so, I can’t speak from experience, but I can appreciate why someone might. Some might be aiming to engage in the kind of childhood they didn’t have, but wished they did. Loving parents, stable homes, lots of siblings and cousins to play with – these things are understandably attractive.
On the flip side, I can also imagine adults who yearn for the experience of being a mom or dad, whether they are practising for a future physical world reality, or in cases where nature has denied them of this opportunity in the past. Adults, who have had children in the physical world might be aiming to relive a time before an empty nest or might even be wishing for a do-over with the education that only experience can provide. For some, family role-play, with all of its benefits and responsibilities, might just be a lot of fun, and a way of adding a narrative structure to life.
“It can get tough finding the right family, but when you do it’s worth it.” Aurora says. A statement one could only hear in the virtual world, as we all know we don’t get to pick our families in the physical world, unless of course, we adopt. On that note, how do these families start? How do they get together and how do they grow? That will be the subject of Part 2.