Miss Ophelia's Metaverse Manners: Is It Wrong to Secretly Gender Bend? And Other Thorny Questions for Avatar Alts
Exclusive to NWN, Iris Ophelia's ongoing take on etiquette and ethics in virtual spaces
Alternate accounts, or alts, have always been a hot topic in Second Life, but even moreso with the recent Redzone scandal. Linden Lab has even officially made it a violation of its Community Standards to disclose the indentities of someone's alts without their consent. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other moral quandaries caused by alt accounts, so this week and next I'll be diving in to a few of the most common.
What's the best way to deal with someone when you have reason to suspect that they may be an alt of someone you want nothing to do with?
It's true that you don't have to befriend everyone, and you have a right to dodge people that you find potentially threatening or suspicious. But, be delicate about it. Remember that there's a slim chance that this person is entirely unrelated. Don't confront them or have an ALL CAPS IM YELLING MATCH accusing them of being someone else. Just limit your interactions as much as you can, so it will simply appear that you're busy or not that into them.
Keep reading for another big alt dilemma -- this one on gender-bending alts!
So, how do you deal with people who are offering friendship to your alt, when you are in-world roleplaying the opposite sex of your RL self? Best to come out and tell them up front? Or do you just continue to roleplay AS the alt then destroy their illusion?
For this answer, I'll assume you're both roleplaying in Second Life, at least in the sense that you haven't shared any real life details with each other. Since you're both roleplaying, you shouldn't feel any more responsible to disclose your real gender than you would to disclose any other RL details, since it's a given in these situations that you're playing a character on some level. If you're roleplaying as this gender in the general population and not in a roleplaying environment, it can be a little trickier. Don't go out of your way to be deceptive, but your true gender isn't everyones business... Unless they're pursuing you romantically.
Even if you are both roleplaying, if this person is clearly trying to put the moves on you for more than a one-time session of anonymous pixel-grinding, you should give them the facts. A lot of people won't care either way, but if you're dealing with a person who does care, then you will have just avoided a very messy and dramatic situation. I know many readers will bristle at this idea and say that it's still no one's business but yours, and that if they like your personality then your gender shouldn't matter. But the fact is that to some people it does matter. It's not up to you to make that choice for them, and there's a very high chance that things will end roughly if/when they find out your true gender. Not only will their original prejudice still be there, but they will feel deceived and betrayed on top of that. It would be a lot more constructive to spend that time with someone who's comfortable with both you and your avatar.
Submit your virtual etiquette dilemmas to ophelia.iris [at] gmail [dot] com, or submit anonymously to the Metaverse Manners Formspring. Be sure to include a pseudonym (i.e. "WTF from the Welcome Area") so you know when I'm addressing your query!
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.