Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Part Three of the series formerly known as The impact of immersive worlds on human emotional processes

I guess you noticed I ditched the old headline. I've been following a wandering muse rather than a map already charted, so I find out what happens next just a little ahead of you. Before continuing this netless trapeze act, let's recap the first two legs of the roadshow:
  • A human's sense of reality is based on a just a homeopathic dose of sensory information from the external world. Stories fill in the blanks.
  • Humans experience internally generated conception as the direct perception of external reality.
  • When external information contradicts internal beliefs, humans tend to ignore, discount, reject, distort or otherwise co-opt the new data instead of modifying the story.
  • Early childhood trauma can disrupt psychological development and create long-term emotional deficits and dysfunction. Very few people reach adulthood unscathed.
Sue entered Second Life not knowing
there was a bomb inside her longing to explode.
Light My Fire

Entry into a 3D virtual world begins with the creation of an avatar. Some people intentionally create characters with encyclopedic back stories. Others pick the first name that comes to mind. It doesn't matter. As a human interacts through an avatar in a virtual environment, the new persona becomes a bridge to an explosive subconscious matrix of repressed thoughts, stories, emotions and memories.

In human form, Sue kept her demons locked safely away. She had been an emotionally distant bookworm since grade school. Her posture, speech, body language and dress all reflected a distinct identity that was reinforced by the expectations of family and friends. Sue had a few boyfriends, but had never been "in love."

After a few weeks learning the basics, Sue began to experience a different sense of self while in the form of her Avatar, Jana. She felt freer, more open and more alive. She changed Jana's look to reflect the spirit of her emergent identity. Jana's new friends in Second Life didn't know about nerdy Sue. They flirted with Jana. She flirted back. A couple hours a night online was a great way to relax at the end of the day. Then Jana met Jolene and both her worlds turned upside down.

Jolene was unlike anyone Sue or Jana had ever met. Sue had never been attracted to women, but Jolene's hot sweet flirting left Jana flushed and feeling out of control. Sue began staying up all night to be with Jolene. The first few weeks together passed by in a blur of shopping, dancing flirting and erotic encounters. Then one night, Jolene didn't log on and the bomb in Sue ignited.

(Sue's post-childhood tale is a fictionalized composite of many people's stories.)

Stay tuned for part 4.


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A beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar. My creator's site can is at