Sunday, 21 August 2011

AWOL and Abused

To keep my mind off life in general, I decided this morning to do a little reading from the book I bought for my course last year, "Coming of Age in Second Life" by Tom Boellstorff. In particular, I've been reading a chapter about lag and afk ("away from keyboard"), and how both complicate issues of time and space. 

To put it simply: time, and unity of time, is a major factor in the creation of a world. If I arranged to meet my friend in a bar in Second Life, we would both have to log in and teleport to that bar at the same time for us to be able to see each other and converse. It seems like a fairly obvious point to make, but I could not go to the bar alone, host my side of the conversation and then leave, and expect my friend to be able to turn up later on and fill in the gaps. If that were the case, we'd have been better off emailing each other - and one does not seriously talk of entering a virtual world when loading their email inbox. You might feel like you're entering another world if you've been away on holiday for a month and don't have a system in place to filter spam, I suppose, but that's beside the point.

When considering time on a very basic level in relation to SL, the gaps begin to appear. Your time in SL is marked by logging in and logging out. When you log out, you cease to exist in the virtual world and are thus not connected to its time. It's not like in "The Matrix" where your body drops to the floor dead when you get disconnected. You just vanish from the virtual plain - which is a relief, really, because SL would be a much more morbid place if everywhere was littered with lifeless bodies!

Time does continue, however. If I log onto my account and look at my profile, it might well tell me that my avatar is nine months old, but I have not spent nine month's worth of time actually logged in to SL. Other SL users may see that and thus adjust their expectations of my competance that then do not match up to how much time I have actually practiced not walking into things, mastering flight controls or trying to adjust my clothing.

Most of the friends I have made in SL actually hail from real world America, and so I often have difficulty catching them online. The virtual world cannot bridge the time zone gap. I can stand in the Necronom VI bar, say, at five pm my time, and Laertes can stand in the same spot at five pm his time, and we would not see each other. There would be no trace that I had been standing there previously, nor, when I returned to the spot, would I know that he had been there. There is no unity of time there, despite the fact that there is a unity of space. 

Now, that is also true of the real world. Unless Laertes and I were standing in the same space at the same time, we would not see each other. As Laertes lives in the United States, and I in England, the possibly of such a thing occuring is only made possible by Second Life - but Second Life only guarantees a unity of space, and not a unity of time. Do you follow?

In the top right-hand corner of the SL interface is a clock that, by default, runs on Pacific Standard Time. It would appear - and Boellstorff backs this up - that many SL users are from North America. If the screenshots I have uploaded previously seem empty, that is because I am logging on at three or four pm GMT, which is far too early in PST for anybody to be around. They're all either at work or lazing in bed.

 AWOL & Abused
What makes this more interesting is the issue of afk - people being logged into SL, but away from the keyboard or the computer. They are not present at that time in SL - but they are present in that space. Their avatar is present and unresponsive. It is a relatively acceptable occurrence, which is almost odd because if someone was standing and staring at you irl, you'd probably think they were drunk or ill, or very rude.

However! In my last post, I introduced the "/me" function that SL offers for verbal-turned-physical interaction. Just because someone is afk does not mean that other avatars cannot interact with them via the /me function. To use Boellstorff's example:
Joe: Tom, are you here?
Joe gets out a pen and draws all over Tom
Joe: hehe
Tom: yes sorry was afk
Now, in that kind of situation, there was absolutely nothing Tom could do to stop Joe from drawing all over him. Like when the woman put the grenade in my mouth, by the rules of fair play you cannot refute someone's /me claim. Their words count as actions. Joe could have done absolutely anything he wanted to Tom. If Tom hadn't been afk, however, he might have been able to say he dodged the pen, or that he, in return, snatched the pen from Joe and used it to scribble all over him. It becomes a text battle, and in text battles...there are rarely any winners. Whoever first said "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was an optimistic idiot.

The other day, I was taken to a sim by Laertes that is used primarily for role-play (which, as I'm sure you have realised, works pretty much the same way as Joe drawing all over Tom, just usually on a slightly more descriptive scale). When we got there, he advised that I pick up a HUD that I could put on and which would make other role-players aware that I was only there to watch. HUDs work by displaying text over your head, like a kind of label - so I could set mine to say "Just watching" if I wanted to, and other people would leave me alone. I could avoid getting into a dreaded text battle with some kind of bigshot in god-mode who wouldn't appreciate that it was getting on to ten pm UK time and that I really wanted to log off. 

The red text above my head is the HUD.
But outside of role-playing, there is no "don't-hit-me" badge. We could, effectively, do anything we wanted to each other using the /me function, and nobody could do anything about it but request that we be ejected from the sim. By logging on to SL, you are agreeing to be subjected to that possibility - without the kind of burly bouncers and law enforcement that protect you in real life.

But if I type "/me punches you", nothing actually happens...right?

I think I have successfully confused my readership for one blog post. I shall return later to write about time and lag.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad it isn't only me finding the time difference between PST and GMT a total


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