Thursday, August 02, 2007

Preaching to the Perverted in Second Life

Only days after Frank started preaching the missonal opportunities for communal living in Second Life, I find the following story pop up on my bloglines list... the only question now, is did the author Lore Sjöberg read Frank's blog and get inspired to write this story, or did he just stumble upon the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life?

Linden Lab recently outlawed gambling in Second Life, officially making cybersex the one interesting thing that happens there. A Jesuit scholar has suggested that Second Life is an excellent target for missionary work in an attempt to bring that number down to zero. The very concept of missionary work in an artificial world brings up a number of questions, many of them exceedingly creepy.

Chief among them is this: How do you speak of spiritual things to a giant squirrel person with six breasts? If you're a virtual missionary in a virtual world speaking to another virtual person, are you trying to convert the virtual person or the real person behind it?

This seems like it ought to be a fairly straightforward question. After all, as far as we know Heaven doesn't even have broadband. There's no point in trying to get a half-naked robot lady to take the Eucharist, half-naked robot ladies don't really enter into God's great plan. No, obviously you're going to have to reach the person behind the keyboard, the sinner behind the symbol.

The problem with this is that virtual worlds are someplace where you can be someone else. In fact, you can be anyone else. It would be ridiculous to go a comic book convention and try to talk someone dressed as Doctor Octopus out of robbing banks. Presumably animal-rights activists aren't trying to convince Glenn Close not to make clothing out of Dalmatians. Why would you wander into a virtual world and pick out likely targets for conversion based on their avatars?

Certainly you can look around for immoral behavior, but that leads to the tricky question of whether pretending to be immoral is actually immoral.

From what I've been able to puzzle out, I think most sins are only sins if you're actually doing them. There have been plenty of attempts to argue that violent video games encourage people to be violent in real life, but as far as I know nobody is arguing that shooting down gang members in a video game is, itself, murder.

(Actually, "nobody" is a tricky word to use in the age of the internet. It doesn't seem impossible that somewhere out there, on some cramped, crazy little blog, someone's holding vigil for all the gang members, aliens and orcs cut down in their prime.)

However, some sins seem to be sins even if you're just pretending. Most of these have to do with sex. If I log in to Second Life as Clorgo Codpiece and pretend to shoot up with my friend Sexxula Bodyoil, I don't think I'm actually doing heroin from a religious point of view.

But if we pretend to engage in all sorts of unlikely and disturbing sexual acts with each other, apparently we're actually committing adultery? Or maybe it's only adultery if we're doing it for sexual stimulation. If we're performance artists with a purely intellectual dedication to portraying unsettlingly artificial humanoids working their way through the Kama Sutra, perhaps it's merely pornography.

The point is, it confuses things.

Instead of trying to figure out who needs a good convertin' based on their actions, maybe you could ask them. But then you have to wonder if they're telling you the truth. There are many people on the internet who will tell you that they're Catholic schoolgirls, but very few of them are Catholic, schoolgirls or both.

And if you meet someone who appears to be a half-naked woman, have a long talk about God's plan, and come back in a month to find them dressed as a nun, well, it's possible that you had such an effect on them that they immediately joined a convent that gives novices internet access, but it seems more likely that you just convinced them to switch fetishes.


Anonymous said...

Yay! I can see this at work now :o)

First, he has presented an already addressed concern (Scott raised it on my blog), the disconnect between the "game" and the real world.

I would suggest the problem with the article though is the assumption that all within SL is fantasy. He's also made an assumption about the way in which missionary activity would be conducted.... ie, looking for those commiting virtual sins.

My argument would be that the disconnect between the unreal and the real isn't as distinct amongst many within SL as he is asserting. The fact that RL businesses are spending real money to have a presence in RL is indicative of the blur.... and I think this will only grow. People are also spending and making real money.

Certainly I will be the first to admit to a high degree of fantasy gaming taking place. I stumbled into a dragon's lair the other day only to engage in one of the wierdest conversations I have ever had with someone who was totally only there as a "character".... a dragon slave.

I don't believe this is true of all though. I think many people within SL have much less of a disconnect between SL and RL and it is these people I am interested in... the people who are using SL as a form of social networking rather than purely as a game.

I would venture to say that it also isn't too hard to discover these people.

I'm not interested in hunting down people commiting virtual sin, convicting them of that sin and making them repent and accept Jesus.... I'm not really interested in that in RL.... I'm interested in making small connections with people and relating to them in a way that makes them think beyond SL and consider elements of their RL.... thoughts that propell them towards Jesus and ultimately committing to being a disciple of him and declaring him King. That's my mission in all of life.... SL provides me another place to outwork that.

Whether I am talking to a character or someone trying to show their full self, the words said and conversations had are still being read by a real person.... those words are still entering a real mind that has real needs, concerns and wants.

Heck, even if I simply engaged a person's totally unrealistic character that they were playing a "game" with and spoke truth.... a real person is still reading that truth and truth still has the chance to have an impact that it may otherwise not have the opportunity to have if we weren't able to connect in that environment.

Anonymous said...

oh, and it certainly does confuse things.... but what missional work comes without its confusions?

These are simply new questions we haven't had to tackle before.