No, not Second Life, Grizzy's annual "Walk a Mile in Someone Else's Avatar's Shoes" fest. Okay, so she calls it the Race/Gender Experiment. It was so interesting last year, she decided to do it again.
I went through all sorts of contortions over what to do with my avatar this year. Tall, bald black dude? Used it last year. Black woman? Do that all the time. Man? Ditto. How about a tall white woman with huge breasts? I actually built one of those, but then decided I wasn't taking this seriously.
There was a discussion on Furries, Tinies, and Neko (anthro-kitties) I attended and considered experiencing the "fursecution" they talked about. Apparently, humanoid avatars think Furries and Neko are sex-crazed. Tinies, they just seem to think, get under foot and suck bandwidth with all their prims (not much more than the average hair-do, I should think). In the end, I couldn't find a furry avatar that was 1.) cheap enough or b.) aesthetically satisfying. Then I had what I thought was the brilliant idea of a child avatar.
Now, there's an oppressed minority! I read a lot about the brou-haha over sexual age play and the defenses that the child avis put up. I'm occasionally sexually harassed in SL, but that hardly bothers me. What can they do to me? If I don't want to read/hear it, I can mute them. If they bump into me, I can leave instantly and they are unable to follow. I can also report them. And it's more fun to dodge them and pretend I have no idea what they're talking about. If I am an adult inside a little cartoon child, it should be no big deal.
So I went kid avatar and clothing shopping. And wasn't that an eye-opener! If anyone else attempts this, I recommend sunglasses. The bright primary colors were about to kill me. What, no pastels? Anything you can imagine for your children or grandchildren in real life is available in pixelform. And they have playground equipment to keep your child avatar busy while you shop.
I also solicited some info from Marianne McCann who has a child avatar and I'd read some of her comments on Flickr and visited her exhibit, "Why a Kid?" in SL last year. I was trying to understand why someone would want to portray a child. Marianne is very articulate and positive. With regarding the joys of being a kid she says, "being able to experience a better childhood than you may have had IRL. Getting a chance to relive youth. Being able to have the things denied you as a RL child, whether it be a toy, a pony, or even simply a loving family. With those who go to inworld schools, it can not only be a place to explore their role, but also heal bad school time experiences."
This should sound like fun, but as someone who still buys toys for herself (real ones, plush ones, puppets, etc.) and plays with them (er, okay, some of it might possibly be for work), what was the difference between the adult Lludmila and the child Karrot on a carousel?
She was also pretty frank about the problems with the image child avatars have, that people assume they are into age sex play and either harass the child avatars verbally or "physically" by bumping into them, make advances toward them (ew! ew!), or sim and business owners will ban them from their property. Pretty harsh toward someone who may just want some happy childlike experiences.
I'm afraid the negative aspects of being a child avatar were foremost in my mind. Frankly, once in the avatar and out in "public" I felt creepy. I avoided adults. There were other children (not many) but I was too shy to talk to them. Good grief! This is my childhood all over again! Who wants that? I often think that when people wish they were younger. I worked hard to get to this point in adulthood and I'm not willing to give it up.
I tried an area I had inadvertantly visited as my adult avatar and found far too many adults there, several with sex-oriented labels. And more kept coming. They were also suspiciously quiet, which means they were operating in Instant Message, to keep their conversations private. Even creepier!
Then one of them asked me if I was a demanding eight year old. I responded that my mommy had told me not to talk to strangers. "Even if they can give you what you want?" Hmm, definitely not them. I left, feeling very very very icky. This was a feeling totally new to me. I don't ever recall having any kind of interaction in real life with an adult, or even an older child, that made me feel that way. Of course, my judgment is colored by the experience of adulthood, which is, almost by definition, sexual.
I wasn't the only one creeped out by the new me. A great SL friend took one look at me and said to put him in the "totally creeped out column." Another friend added, "You know the saying: The internet, where men are men, women are men, and children are FBI." Other avatars (mostly female) have just thought I was adorable. "I just wanna hug you," said one, "now go brush your teeth and get into bed." Now, there's a healthy reaction!
Thursday night Grizzy's group got together to venture out and visit some public venues to see how others reacted to their new avatars. Others had chosen a different sex (than their usual SL sex - and let's not get our panties in a bunch over the use of the word; "gender" is for language majors), different shape (fatter or thinner), burkhas, new skin color (black, white, blue), and even a wheelchair. We are spending the whole week like this. Our first stop was the Ahern Welcome Area, a PG oasis for newbies ... and griefers. I don't know when I've been so appalled. And I use the "f" word in real life. Okay, not in the Children's Room, but, you know, casually, around the house, when the spaghetti boils over or the cat tears a ruddy great hole in my ear. No, wait - that's the "s" word. Never mind.
Every conceivable use of graphic language was flying by, both in chat and voice. I found a quiet area behind some ferns and watched other people.
Keeping in mind that it would look bad for a child to walk up to an adult and start a conversation, I decided just to watch ... and turn off the sound. I kept up mostly with the group IM, which tuned out the obnoxious stuff. The people there didn't turn a hair at seeing us. Anything went, and if our titties weren't hanging out, we weren't even noticed.
I did see someone asking about where to get clothes. They were literally Born Yesterday. When no one else there responded, I clicked on them and sent an Instant Message with the info that I had. I recommended going to the Info International Reference Desk where someone could better direct them on how to earn money, etc. "She" apparently was hoping to earn some cash for sex. Good luck to her. Too much of it for free, I'm afraid. But I told her how to use the Search function to find places by subject. And she wanted better breasts. Come to think of it, I think she was in the right place to find this stuff out, not that the librarians would have a problem with answering her questions.
I was careful to stay out of sight during this, because of the avatar. It's fine to say you're supposed to act as you normally would, but I cannot, because of the nature of the avatar. I'm chafing at not being able to wade in with my usual sexual innuendo. And to discuss where you could get laid in SL with an adult avatar seems also beyond the pale. On the other hand, I didn't want to leave a newbie out an vulnerable like that: "Hello! Hello! I don't know what I'm doing! Someone please grief me!"
We opted to leave early because the place was so obnoxious. I must lead a sheltered existence in SL that I hadn't run into anything like this before. My own "home," the Isabel InfoHub, while annoying, is quieter and practically Disneyesque in its restraint. I hadn't felt that way about it before; I avoid the place like the plague usually. It seems a haven by comparison.
Our next stop was the Blarney Stone, an Irish pub. Little Karrot was so strung out by her experience that she needed a double Shirley Temple. She had to make do with a Kool-Aid, straight. [In my childhood I had gone to a restaurant with my parents and their friends and when the drink orders were taken I actually asked for a Shirley Temple, "and make it a double" just to amuse them. I'd much rather have had a coke. But that's me all over: go for the joke.] There was another child avatar there (aside from Rosmairta, who is in the group), but I had no idea what to say to her! I checked her profile and was reduced to asking her how old she was. I recall age and grade level were important to us when we were young. Although she sat down next to me, she said nothing. And that made me a little nervous, but again this is colored by my adult consciousness.
Our third stop was Yadni's, which was strangely empty of newbies and griefers. There was just one avatar in search of a toaster. He claimed it was an emergency. Sometimes you just have to love SL.
All in all, I think my child avatar has affected me more than people I've interacted with. I feel an obligation to not incite other avatars into making sexual advances (by trying to strike up a conversation). I don't want to get too involved with other child avatars because I'm not going to be in this body much longer. Besides, I loathe babytalk. Not that I don't use babytalk, mind you. Worse than that, I use it in real life with my cats both talking to them and then answering myself. When I talk to children in my work capacity, I speak to them as short adults. I soften my voice, but I don't talk down to them. Most of the ones that talk to me speak in what appear to be non-sequiturs, but not babytalk.
Okay, maybe they say, "Where's fwoggy?" I respond with, "Mr. Toad? He went home [aka: dropped dead]. We have tadpoles now. Did you see the tadpoles?" "I see one. I have a cat." "That's nice. I have two cats." "My uncle's in jail." Pause. "How interesting." You learn so much about kids' families, especially in the puppet theatre. Kids are like little tape recorders, witness this exclamation from a very small child: Very small annoyed child in puppet theatre: Gah-dam oo, immah haahse! [Goddam you, in my house!]. Well, if they aren't going to mince words, why should I?
I will be so glad to get out of this body, put on another inch and a half, some knockers, and go find someone to flirt with me (although they apparently have to tell me that's what they're doing, which explains a lot about my dating problems in my pre-married existence). Being a kid? It's not for everyone.
Poster at the entrance to Second Life Children where "kid" avatars can meet under safe conditions and give each other support.