“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Cat Boccaccio.
Everyone seems to have an alt in Second Life these days. Rather than simply change our display name and the way we look, we choose to open a second (or third) separate account with Linden Lab, give ourselves a new name, and burst into Second Life like a newborn, anonymous baby. The common attitude towards alts is one of suspicion. What are they sneaking away from, what nefarious activities will they engage in, what are they trying to hide?
Distractions abound in our Second Lives. While we can simply “uncheck” our friends en masse to make ourselves invisible, this tactic usually ends up upsetting and offending people. An alt is truly anonymous and can provide a blissful opportunity to explore, play, travel, and rediscover in an environment free of IM’s, notices and spam. I see alts in some of the music clubs, relaxing, dancing and otherwise enjoying the atmosphere, distraction-free. Some log in to do SL work without interruption. And others want a concentrated focus on their role-play community. There are lots of harmless and even helpful reasons to create an alt.
But since Second Life represents a spectrum of personalities, just like in RL, some do engage in nefarious activities. They are cruelly invasive, they connect with friends without disclosure, they sometimes stalk, and they act without regard to other commitments. In other words, they lie, cheat and betray our trust.
A very simple Alt Code of Honor would banish those behaviours. As tempting as it may be, an alt should:
—Never Spy. Of course we wonder what our lover, friend, ex or competitor is up to when we are not around. It is natural. SL lets us spy with impunity. If you can’t trust your friend, perhaps one or both of you are too immature to be in a relationship. You will probably misinterpret what you see, find out things you never wanted to know, and feel like a shit for doing it. Don’t do it.
—Never Cheat. The shine is off the apple, the thrill is almost gone, or the grass is greener. Whatever the excuse, man (or woman) up to your responsibilities. If you really must cheat, don’t resort to an alt in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of ever getting caught. Live the life you want to in Second Life without resorting to lazy cowardice, and try to be honest with those you care about.
—Never betray trust. Of course both of the above are forms of betrayal; this category includes lying about your alt. I will use the specific example of men with female alts, many of whom “infiltrate” women’s communities for whatever reason. They gain trust and are confided in. They may be close to their new friends, but their relationship is a hurtful lie. Lying to get what you want is sleazy. Lying to someone you care about is cruel and to me, unforgivable.
Because I have multiple alts, close friends can’t help being curious and a little wary. So I decided on these rules, and I stick to them.
I used to make a new alt when I was upset or bored, neither an uncommon experience here in Second Life. Since we all became “Residents”, I don’t bother much with alts, but it was fun to find all the accoutrements like skin and hair and clothes, and a “look”, and even a new personality. Someone more reckless maybe, or more assertive, or kinder. It was an enlightening and often surprising way to explore different sides of oneself. An obvious example in my case is my alt named “Fury”–guess what her character traits are, and guess when she tends to log in? The alt phenomenon became so fascinating to me that I did a scripted piece called “Identity Crisis“, and in 2010 also took part in a collaborative exhibit at The Caerleon Museum of Identity.
You will have your own reasons for making a new you. Whatever your motive, consider taking the high road. SL is not fun when you are slinking around like a criminal, and feeling guilty about it.
In general it is not that difficult to spot an alt. They are often “young”, with blank profiles but impressive avatars. They may have success and knowledge of SL beyond their days.
But what about the alt of someone you know? Just as it is tempting to make a spy alt, it is easy to be suspicious of one, especially after a dispute or break up.
There are a few factors which, taken together, can help you identify an alt.
First, you meet them in a location that was familiar to you both, like a club or regular event. If they are spying, they will go where you go; either way alts find it hard to avoid their own favorite hangouts.
Second, listen to what they know. See if (as above) their comfort and knowledge of Second Life doesn’t match their profile. They might know what flatters you, intuitively know what you like to talk about. They may have information that is surprising. They will most definitely refuse to chat in voice, if that is part of your history.
Third is the “wrist”. This is the rhythm and style of typing and is adapted from the “fist” of Morse Code operators. In World War II, according to Wikipedia, “using a methodology called ‘The Fist of the Sender,’ Military Intelligence identified that an individual had a unique way of keying in a message’s ‘dots’ and ‘dashes,’ creating a rhythm that could help distinguish ally from enemy.”
“Wrist” usually refers to particular typing/keyboard patterns and pauses. But the style of “talking” in text is surprisingly specific to the person typing. If you are concerned, pay attention to the chat window: Do they send short, spunky IM’s or long paragraphs? Do they type in all lower case? Do they use emoticons, or third person (/me)? What words do they consistently misspell? Do they say “your” when they mean “you’re”, for example? Or talk in text speak (how r u)?
I know my wrist would be easy to spot. There are lots of words I consistently misspell (“consistently” being one of them) and I often transpose letters (“thna” instead of “than”). I’m a prodigious (and probably annoying) user of smiley faces since I dread being misunderstood. I betray myself in a million ways. 🙂
But I am not worried about betraying myself. I think I, like most people, want a simple Second Life (and RL) where I am comfortable with my friends, enjoy myself, and explore the worlds without the burden of deceit.
It shouldn’t be that complicated.
For slum magazine.
SL Photographs by Cat Boccaccio.