Sunday, 6 June 2010

First Things First

Welcome to the blog recording my avatar's adventures in Second Life. In world I play an adventurous 'almost 12' year old, a member of Loki Eliot's Second Life Goonies and a sometime Dickensian street urchin roaming the steampunk city of New Babbage.

So first things first, the obvious question most people will be thinking is why do I spend hours of my free time pretending to be a kid when it's 'Your World, Your Imagination' and anything is possible in Second Life?

Why Play A Child Avatar?

Well, while the original concept of Second Life was that anything is possible, most people seem to spend their time in world shopping at the mall, dancing at night clubs or flirting, dating and even getting married. Most people's Second Lives are a lot like their real life...

Don't get me wrong, there are artists, builders and roleplayers in Second Life who embody the original 'Your World, Your Imagination' vision of Second Life, but for me, the community that fits this the most, and most importantly is the most fun to be a part of, is the adventurous child avatar community.

Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

After a long day at work, I come onto Second Life for some escapist fun, and kids are all about having fun. In 'mainstream' SL spaces, most people's socialising is all about flirting, dating and sex. If I socialise in kids spaces, even if we're just hanging around at a friend's SL home or dancing in a club, everyone's telling jokes and having fun. Being a kid is the perfect way to avoid being chatted up, which is not something I'm interested in wasting my Second Life on at all.

Being A Kid Is The Best Way To Explore

As I said before, there are some amazing artistic and imaginative builds in Second Life, and to me the best way to explore these with the wonder and excitement that's appropriate is through the eyes of a child. It's common in fantasy stories that the stranger in the strange land is a child, seeing the weird and wonderful sights without the baggage and cynicism of adulthood. So what better way to explore fantastic new worlds than with a gang of other adventurous kids?

And kids are friendly. If you go to a new place and meet someone else playing a kid, most likely they'll treat you as a new friend and show you around. The child avatar community feels strong and welcome. If you meet a new kid, it's a new friend, after all, we're all there to have fun.

Roleplay Worlds Need Kids Too

Second Life is only open to players aged 18 or over (younger players are able to join the 'Teen Grid', a version of Second Life separated from adult players). A well rounded roleplay world such as the steampunk city of New Babbage or even the alien world of Pandora would be incomplete if all the residents were adults. Having kids in your roleplay setting adds colour and makes the world more complete and believable.

And roleplaying a kid is more fun. Playing a kid I can slip into complex scenarios and not have to act like a character who knows things, or needs to follow the stricter social mores of the setting. As a street urchin in New Babbage, I don't have to follow the strict formal Victorian gender roles that adults have to follow. I can roleplay in the style of a cheeky kid, or act like a Terry Pratchett Discworld character, asking innocent but amusing questions from a position of childish ignorance that entertain the adult characters I interact with.

We Like It This Way...

I've been spending a lot of time recently asking friends who also play child avatars why they do it. Most people said much of what I said here, that being a kid is just more fun and less complicated. More than one actually said they can't understand why anyone would want to be an adult in Second Life. Many said that when designing their perfect avatar on their first day, they just naturally ended up being childlike, others thought they'd hit on the most amazing idea to be a kid, then later discovered others were too. A common experience is to join up as an adult avatar, explore Second Life for a while but then to change to a kid as soon as the possibility was revealed. I personally had an account for three and a half years that I barely used until I stumbled across the YouTube videos of Loki Eliot, and made my own child avatar the next day, and I've used Second Life every day I've been home in the six months since then.

So there's definitely something that captures the imaginations of some people, making playing a kid seem right.

A Second Childhood?

Some people play as part of a family, meeting people who want to roleplay their parents or brothers and sisters through Second Life 'adoption agencies'. These players tend to talk about how they're reliving aspects of their childhood they have fond memories of, or working out issues with an abusive or unhappy childhood, trying to live the childhood they never got to have.

The type of kids I spend my time with don't tend to have parents in world, possibly brothers or sisters. We're more like Peter Pan's Lost Boys, Pippi Longstockings, or a gang of adventurous kids like The Goonies. In New Babbage, we're like street urchins from Oliver Twist, everyone basing their character in some way on The Artful Dodger or Oliver himself. This type of player tends to talk about having an affinity with children's literature, movies and TV.

I personally prefer to read either completely out there science fiction and fantasy, or fantastic stories where the protagonists are kids. I'd prefer to read His Dark Materials, Diana Winne Jones or the Harry Potter series over most well regarded modern literature. I don't think it's any secret that I'd rather watch Doctor Who than The Wire, and I'd rather watch The Goonies than The Godfather. It's not just nostalgia, although of course that's a factor, some of my favourite kids books, TV series and films are those I discovered when I was well into my twenties. And it's not just that I prefer escapism and fun (although I do like TV shows I watch to have humour and likeable characters as well as a good story), there's definitely a level at which I relate better to stories about kids, or at least to protagonists who don't yet have all the answers in life.

Young At Heart?

I long ago realised that when I attempt to write fiction (or interactive fiction games) I end up writing young adults or kids stories. This used to bother me, because I usually wasn't setting out to do that, it's just where my imagination ended up taking me.

I'm a happy adult with a good job that I enjoy and, while I'm currently single, I've been in committed relationships in the past. But I've realised that I'm very much in touch with my inner child, that a big part of my imagination has remained in childhood. I think this is the creative part of me, the part that falls in love with stories and imagines escape into the fantastic. And, although it used to bother me, playing a kid in Second Life has helped me to come to terms with this aspect of myself. I don't think there's anything wrong with keeping the child alive inside yourself, I think some of the most creative minds in history were the same. Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie were the same, some of the most creative people in Second Life are, and I'm sure some of the authors and film makers today whose work I love are too. And there's nothing wrong with that.

And like I said earlier, playing a kid is just more fun! :)

"There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes" - The Fourth Doctor, Doctor Who

Amy Pond: "I grew up."
The 11th Doctor: "Don't worry, I'll soon fix that!"

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