slum magazine

“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval

The Code of Honor for Alts–and How to Spot One

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.

Identity Crisis still photo #17c

From ‘Identity Crisis’

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.

08 dark tutu 2 CROP

From ‘Identity Crisis’.

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.

 How to Spot an Alt

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.

nine alts bw

‘Nine Alts’

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.


About slummagazine

slum magazine is about all things Second Life: art, music, news, reviews, shopping, love and life.

6 comments on “The Code of Honor for Alts–and How to Spot One

  1. Aida
    September 23, 2013

    Well said, I found myself nodding in agreement with this article.


  2. casey wollberg
    November 4, 2013

    I think you’re a bit hard on males with female avatars. Why is gender identity up for special consideration? Must we go about in such young, hot looking avatars, for example, and feel guilty if we do not confess to everyone that we are actually much older, uglier, and more out of shape in real life? That’s “lying” too. What about hair color, impressions of socioeconomic class, teleportation powers, etc.? Aren’t people who pretend to be young and beautiful really just “infiltrating” a club of their social superiors? Shouldn’t you ladies be shamed for not running around with floating text over your head, advertising that you aren’t actually that attractive or stylish in real life? Gender is a social trait, just as abstract and malleable as any other, and second life is a virtual world: everyone in it is playing with fantasy to some degree, or indulging in the exploration of alternative identities. They shouldn’t feel guilty if they don’t reveal the “truth” about themselves to everyone. It’s their business, and it is a literally victimless “crime”, except among people who don’t seem to understand what the medium is and what it is not. It is absolutely inappropriate to equate the betraying of trust on an alt to, for example, the exploration of one’s gender identity in a comparatively safe medium like a virtual world. All you’ve done is to join in the endless chorus of shaming for those who do not happen to fit the socially constructed norms. I suppose you would also expect those “liars” who have completed sex changes to stop “infiltrating” and “betraying trust”. Congratulations on your progressive stance.


    • slummagazine
      November 6, 2013

      When I wrote about men with female avatars, it was in direct reference to one of the themes of the article, which is people using alts to deceive; and I specifically meant, though I didn’t spell it out, the shallow men who are looking for sexual encounters. There are a few of those in SL. I love the diversity of SL and I don’t believe that I denounced anyone in this article, of any background or circumstance, for the way they represent themselves in Second Life. I understand your concerns, and share them.



  3. casey wollberg
    November 4, 2013

    I forgot the “disabled”! You might be surprised to find out how many people walking, running, and flying around SL are actually disabled in real life–of course, you wouldn’t know that because they’re “betraying your trust”. Just like those scumbags who go around spying and cheating. Right?


    • slummagazine
      November 6, 2013

      I might be surprised, but then again, I might not be.



  4. Pearly Queen
    February 8, 2014

    “Everyone seems to have an alt in Second Life these days”. The man I knew had 19. I used to wonder why he couldn’t keep track of what I was talking about. He must have been awake 20 hours a day to fit all his women in. Before I knew this I met him in real life for a beer one afternoon. Sad little creature he was. Continued to lie like a trooper in RL – saying he’d ‘jammed’ (he’s a guitarist) with the Rolling Stones and loads of other ‘names’. I suspect in his youth he’d mostly been a busker.
    Code of honour? He (and many others in SL I’ve met) wouldn’t know the meaning of the word honour even if you googled and read it out for them.
    Good article though – enjoyed it and wished I’d seen it before going into SL. Would have saved me a whole lot of SL and RL drama.


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This entry was posted on September 19, 2013 by in Original slum Content, Reviews & Opinion, SL Life & Love and tagged , , , , , , .


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