Exclusive to NWN, Iris Ophelia's ongoing showcase of all things stylish in SL
When I joined Second Life in 2006, I didn't expect a lot that's happened to me since then. I didn't expect to still be involved three years later, or become a regular SL fashion columnist, let alone lecture about virtual clothing at a New York design school.
Most of all, though, I didn't expect my own real world parents to join me in SL. But that's exactly what happened.
While I'm in my early twenties, my parents are middle aged and in Second Life's key demographic, so it really shouldn't have been that surprising. The metaverse is what you make of it, and between three distinct personalities, my family's taken three equally different paths. While my parents would prefer to keep their Second Life names private, they did agree to pose for some family photos (in my kitchen), and let me write about their in-world identities. The funny thing is, I learned a lot about my parents by sharing this virtual space, things I didn't know even after living with them for 20 years.
Take my mother -- the club-hopping vixen who sometimes dances with herself.
Mom Is Wilder Than I Thought She Was
About two years ago, my dad called me upstairs so I could explain a sexual joke my mother had just heard on a TV show she was watching, because she just didn't get it. That pretty much sums up my perception of Mom, before she got into SL: Magnificently intelligent, but maybe a little bit old fashioned; a small town-born, big family-raised, office managing mom. She didn't use the computer much, except for an occasional puzzle-style adventure game. Mostly she was upstairs watching TV, reading, gardening, knitting, and other "normal" mom activities.
When I came home from my first year in college for the summer, however, I spent most of my free time in Second Life. Mom spent a lot of that time peeking over my shoulder, watching me play with what she perceived as big girl Barbies. It didn't take long before she created an avatar of her own. I tried to skip her past the noob stage of clubs'n'bling, but to my surprise, that was exactly what she wanted to do. She likes dancing, big gowns, slightly oiled avatar skins, riding horses, hanging with her SL sister, and living in large Scottish castles on the shores of Hawaiian beaches. Who am I to stop her?
But that's not all. Mom also has a dozen alts, including a cute Asian girl and a studly male avatar she logs in from her second computer, so she can dance with herself, which I admit makes me a bit sad. I'm pretty sure I've caught her in a couple awkward situations. Once I glanced at her profile, and saw that she was SL partnered to someone, and not my dad. She scolded me for looking (at her public profile), because "That's private", though I'm happier knowing she does have someone other than her alt to dance with. I've wandered downstairs to hear a flood of hip hop and rap coming from her speakers. Second Life has shown me a somewhat daring or even surreal side to my Mom.
Dad is a Steampunk Pseudo-Rockstar Science-Fiction Socialite
My dad first resisted joining Second Life at all. He would get snarky with Mom about the guys she was dancing with; she would just tell him to either join, or get off the pot. One night when I was at home, my Dad asked me to make an SL account for him, adding rather dejectedly, "Technology seems to invent new ways for husbands to get in trouble with their wives." He had resisted for so long because, from what he saw Mom and I doing, he hadn't seen anything that appealed to him. Instead, he played Uru Live, the MMO based on the classic game Myst, only coming into SL when Mom insisted on having a dancing partner.
When Cyan Worlds announced the closing of Uru, my father became more invested in Second Life, even bringing a group of other Myst "refugees" with him. They started developing tribute sims like Eder Gira, and holding weekly karaoke parties (an Uru tradition) in SL, and dad participated actively (and still does.) He also joined Jax Streeter's band, playing a set of drums pimped out with particle effects. Finally, he was just as entrenched in SL as Mom... much more than me, even.
Real World Families That Stay Together Don't Always Play Together
Second Life is a great tool for connecting people, but the virtual world I operate in is very different than my Mom or my Dad's reality. In fact, we're all relatively spread out, socially. Dad just isn't into digital dancing, no more than I'm into Jax Streeter, or mom is into fashion blogging.
My parents recently bought a full sim together, and cut it across the middle with a river, to indicate whose side is whose. (Mom made Dad hide one of his favorite prefab buildings behind a mountain, because it's a freaky black and red tower, and she didn't want to see it from her side of the island.) In fact, the most contact I've had with them in SL in recent months has been to help them terraform and landscape their island. Before that, it was when my dad wanted me to give stern avatar style advice to one of his female friends. (I was really scared I would hurt her feelings.)
All in all, though, none of this is a terrible thing. Second Life allows each of us to pursue our very individual, very unique interests, and often, there's just not much cross-over between them. If nothing else, I can enjoy the irony of watching my parents getting attached to their avatar friends -- the same kind they mockingly called "Fake Friends", when it was only me who had them. And yes, I often shake my head and roll my eyes at what they do (and what they wear) in-world.
But then, isn't that the reaction most of us have to our parents, no matter who we are?