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.
8 thoughts on “Exploring Second Life Families – Part 1”
Fantastic article Becky! You’ve continued to explore powerful yet I think less well known aspects of virtual culture.
In the case of sex, I think there is a fair amount in a virtual world like Second Life, but if anything, I think the public perception of it is far greater than the (non-trivial) reality. That’s still interesting to look at, but I think many already have some idea that it exists.
Back when MySpace still mattered danah boyd commented that the Neo-Nazi’s on MySpace thought MySpace was a Neo-Nazi website… and the Born-Again Christians on MySpace thought MySpace was a Born-Again Christian website…
I think her point was that it was such a big tent, that peeps could be “lost” in whatever their one corner of the tent was.
In Yordie’s writing about dating and romance and your writing about weddings and community you’ve both opened less famous / salacious aspects of virtual culture. And I think now with the complexity of these family structures you’re covering territory that I imagine even other residents, let alone outside viewers are less aware of.
I hope some of our MMORPG peeps will chime in on this. It’s interesting that the large family you describe might be in the vicinity of the number of peeps in other MMORPG Raiding Parties, and while I’m pretty inexperienced with those, I think each member does have a unique role – maybe not exactly “mother – daughter” but I wonder if there is an analogue between these structures and perhaps between the familial-communal satisfaction-engagement experiences had in them.
I briefly used a child avatar for VB13 – Peace, and I really enjoyed it. It did have a fun, playful, liberating quality to it. I think many of the peeps in VB13 had an extremely positive response to it, yet I also know that a few who’d been in every performance up to then chose to sit VB13 out because they found it disturbing or weird or creepy
I also wore a child avatar to visit Mr. Gandhi in SL Prison (remember when the no-sense-of-humor Brits locked him up after his Salt March!? O_o
Anyway, Vaneeesa cheerleader and Virtual Gandhi in prison is kind of a weird juxtaposition! but I have to say pom poms are just a lot of fun! IDK why I haven’t worn that avatar any time since! For sure I get Aero ‘n Yordie’s enthusiasm for cheerleading
Oh, PS: I made a “Becky” menu bar for you. You can use it (if you like) on your posts to make them more of a “Becky Home” I put the link to your complete post archive, and then some of the categories that you seem to use the most, on it.
Below is a pix of showing how to set it — it’s in the right col of your edit window. You can not use it at all just by setting “Primary Menu” to “Authors,” Or you can set it to “Becky” (as I just did for you for this post (feel free to change back, of course))
LMK if you’d like any categories added or removed or changed wording for your menu. The idea is to make a custom menu for each author, so the home page has the full author list menu, and then each individual post has the menu for that author.
Thanks Vanessa, I’ll look at that more closely and see what suggestions I might have for categories – looks good for now though.
Wow Becky! As you always do, you have fascinated me with a look into a Second Life family. I know some people in SL who have families but I’m always afraid to ask them personal questions about childern. In fact, it has always been very difficult for me to understand that child role-play thing. The only girlfriend I know who had a “baby” daughter told me the child was being played by a female college student. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to shake my own prejudiced view that it’s some guy messing with my girlfriend. So, I’m hanging onto the edge of my chair, waiting for part 2 of your article.
This comes to mind – http://fwwixliwirxli.blogspot.ca/