If I think X is Y’s alt, then they are

Let’s dwell on this post’s title a little. If I choose to believe that X is Y’s alt, then there’s nothing that will change my mind. How many times have we encountered situations where we’ve been accused of being someone else’s alt? How many times have we introduced friends to others, only to see our friends be wrongly accused of being our alts and be given a terrible time – with all the consequences that follow from this? I’m sure you’ve all been in situations like this. And, sadly, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Second Life provides a degree of anonymity and privacy that we usually don’t enjoy elsewhere. It’s liberating. It’s fun. We can be whatever we want, we can experiment and explore, and it normally won’t have any impact on how we’re seen by our social circles in RL. But there’s this drawback… If someone chooses to believe something about you, nothing you say or do will make them change their mind.

In SL, we can freely make alts for all sorts of reasons. We may want to use an alt as an estate manager for our land; we may want to use an alt as a “bank account” of sorts; a merchant might want to use an alt for a sub-brand they decided to start in order to cater to a different market; you may want to use an alt as a guinea pig for testing scripts and permissions; photographers and fashion bloggers use alts as extras for photoshoots; others may want to use an alt for sexual gratification, leaving their main “untainted”; you may want to make a “fresh start”, in a different social environment within SL; you may want to use them for roleplay scenarios; or, you may want to escape a persistent stalker.

Then, there are people who abuse this ability. People who use alts to play head games, spy on others, cheat on them, stalk them, to circumvent blocks and land / group bans, to rip others’ content through the use of copybot viewers, people who use them as honey traps… All of this is alt abuse, plain and simple, and there’s absolutely nothing that can excuse justify actions like these.

Sometimes, you’ll see a “young” avatar whose command of SL doesn’t match their age. They may be only a few weeks old, but they know how to move around without constantly bumping on things, they have a well-chosen animation overrider, they know how to emote, and their appearance is much better than you’d expect. Immediately, alarm bells begin to ring in your head: “this is someone’s alt”. Or a friend introduces you to someone they brought into SL, and that new person, besides being good-looking and capable of chatting and emoting, shares traits with your friend: avatar gender, basic shape, country of origin, some interests… “Oh, this is my friend’s alt”, you begin to think.

Hold your horses a bit.

Yes, it’s very likely that a new, good-looking avatar who knows their way around SL is someone’s alt. Then again, there are possibilities that one should consider. For instance, the “bring an RL friend” scenario. Typically, when you introduce a friend to a new system or social environment, you help them learn how to use it, how to fit in, and you even give them things, hints and tips to help them get started and avoid being pigeonholed as a “n00b” (more on that later). And remember that friends do tend to share interests – if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be together in the first place.

You might even do what I do: Encourage them to start learning on a “guinea pig” account before deciding whether they like SL or not. When they’re ready, and have decided they actually want to stick around in SL, they can make their “main” account, the one by which they’ll be known to others. It makes sense, actually. When you make your main account, you’ll want to give things some consideration – from your user name and display name to your profile’s contents.

Regarding moving around now, SL really isn’t that much harder in this department than any

As far as emoting is concerned, I’ll have to remind you all that many people are acquainted with emoting in other contexts. More people than you’d like to admit, actually. The chat facility in Gmail / Google+ implements emoting with the /me command – exactly like SL. Emoting has been around for many years: IRC has it, Yahoo! chat (remember it?) has it, etc… Don’t assume that someone’s first use of chat is within SL.

Then comes the “wrist” factor: I’ve noticed – in RL – that people for whom one language or the other is their second tend to use common syntax and spelling conventions that come from the books they studied in order to learn the language. People who took the Michigan Proficiency test (ECPE Michigan) write and speak differently from those who took the Cambridge English: Proficiency test, and each group’s members speak and write using similar conventions.

Oftentimes, people speaking a language as their second are unfamiliar with the slang used by native speakers, and they also tend to be unfamiliar with grammar and syntax errors that might be the norm within various circles of native speakers. Furthermore, depending on their country of origin, they make similar pronunciation and / or spelling mistakes to each other. I’ve encountered these issues while speaking in person to various people in RL for whom my language was a second one. Were they all each other’s alts?

Another thing you might want to consider is that someone might have actually taken the time to learn how to properly use SL and how to make a good-looking avatar for themselves to avoid being rejected and marginalised for being a “n00b”. Remember, many places and people are not exactly friendly to beginners, so new avatars are under palpable pressure: looking and talking like “n00bs” doesn’t act in their favour.

That said, I understand very well why people are wary of alts, or of the possibility that someone they meet may be an alt. But there’s a line that separates cautiousness from paranoia, and one needs to be careful not to cross it.

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7 thoughts on “If I think X is Y’s alt, then they are

  1. Within my group of friends is a person who is rather famous for his plethora of alts. When he first arrived on the scene some people were alarmed especially when he started creating alts with names of well known members of the community. People thought he was trying to steal identities. After a while it was apparent he was not being malicious in any way, in fact from what we’ve managed to learn, he’s a very caring person with a rather unique view on how to use virtual worlds. There is not a day gone by where he has not turned up as a new person with a new backstory, a member of a band who’s just gone solo, or a starship captain rescuing people who have got lost in worm holes. He, like you described above, has difficulty in communicating and it’s this that allows us to recognise him in what ever role he turns up in. He’s opened my eyes to a different way Second Life can be used.

    I’ve know people to change to an alt for all sorts of reason. Some just want a change in scene, i’ve had Asperger friends loosing their temper and having to start a new persona either because they upset all their friends or because the Lab Perma Banned them. Some people make alts because they went away from SL for a while then forgot their login details so decided to start afresh.

    SL brings up some interesting concepts on personas, identity, trust, friendships, forgiving.. its one of the many things i love about the place :-p

    1. Thank you very much for commenting, Loki.

      There can be indeed numerous reasons why people make alts. Contrary to popular fear, most of these reasons are not nefarious at all.

      And then, there are the possibilities I described in my post:

      1. Someone “tested the waters” a bit, learned how to use SL on a “test-bed” account, and then created a new one that would fit their persona much better;

      2. Someone isn’t an alt at all, but was brought to SL by a friend who acted as their mentor – and then is accused of being their friend’s alt…

      I wish more people had your healthy view on things.

  2. Well there is ONE thing you can do, if this is an issue. This doesn’t come up for me personally very much since I use just one (real) identity in all my virtual world interactions, since I’m there for work.

    But I also regularly interview people on the phone or Skype. A voice conversation quickly establishes someone’s gender, (very) approximate age, and uniqueness — without necessarily disclosing their real life identity. For example, they could call you on your land line and block their Caller ID, or they can set up a new Skype account just for the call.

    A video call takes that one step further, in that there’s stuff you can do to modulate your voice with technology, but not much, yet, that you can do to make your Skype video look like someone else.

    If I was involved in a significant business deal with someone, or a personal relationship was getting serious, I’d probably insist on a video call (at the very least). Yes, the other person could have an excellent reason for hiding their identity. But the number of bad reasons is large enough, and significant enough that I, personally, wouldn’t want to take the risk.

  3. I confess there are times when I wish I’d name my alt something besides Pay Writer, but I wanted people to know my alt was me. That didn’t stop Pay from developing her own circle of friends and personality! I don’t get caught up with suspicions about alts even though I can understand how harmful someone could be with that. What I’ve seen happen is different: people creating a first life alt, a phony life story for one reason or another. Again, people get upset about that but I just don’t see this as that different from first life. I prefer transparency but some people need masks.

    Thanks for a very thoughtful, insightful post!

  4. I use an alt as a backup for group, land and all sorts of stuff (one time i left my own group and it was via that alt that i managed to come in).
    I had found a few alts along the time, but all but 2 never denied being so and i didn’t ask why or who.
    The 2 exceptions where from well known stalkers that we both reported to Linden Lab by violation of tos and to regional authorities for real life threats against my soul mate, that lived on same state and to the real life representatives of the native american tribe they proclaimed to belong to.
    Those 2 where an exception and i also found a few newbies, to well good looking that where in fact new users advised by some friends

  5. Interesting blog topic.

    I recall when I was around 3 months old or so in SL [my first place of this kind I was involved in also] I kept hearing more and more people in my circle of acquaintances saying they thought I was someones’ alt.

    At first I didn’t really understand this [because I actually was a noob…lol] but learned quickly why they did think this.

    I caught on rather quickly from what I have read since then.

    The thing that bothers me though is those who seem to have as their raison d’être sniffing out alts. It seems to me they are so invested in this kind of thing that they see them everywhere, and you can say this or that if you wish to try and convince them otherwise, and they won’t budge.

    I think that is rather a twisted POV but que sera, sera.

    I do have a few alts that I use as what I call “quiet” ones…just to be unknown in my travels [throughout the hypergated Meta]. I don’t especially try to hide them or change some backstory or way of presenting myself that is known in some places, but enough to be able to travel freely and quietly and casual acquaintances would not be invested enough to care to make connections.

    What I find somewhat annoying is some people who use other peoples’ writing to copy and paste into conversations attempting to lead others into thinking they are me [or whoever else they wish to emulate or use].

    It bothers me as it skews the conversations in very negative ways and makes it near impossible to correct.

    Referring to Maria’s comment, the voice side of things [and video]. I used to use voice quite a lot in all this. But the thing that annoyed me the most is those guys who go around believing that any “presenting as a” woman who won’t voice them just because they express this lack of credulity and insist, is not a woman.

    It bothers me in a way that speaks to who I am as a woman…and to do something because some unknown man says I should, to “prove” to him I am a woman, is ludicrous. Who is he to say such nonsense and why should I do anything he says in the first place.

    I just accept people as they present themselves, and that, is just that, to me.

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