Miscommunication in a Virtual World

Misunderstanding-wristbands-624x524Though we have bodies, movement, and ways to express ourselves in Second Life, it’s still possible for misunderstandings to occur.

If you look at my avatar, I seem to have it all together. I use a fairly dignified AO, and am usually dressed all right. In real life, however, I could be crying or running from room to room. I could be standing on my head and singing Battle Hymn of the Republic. If I stopped long enough to type a sentence now and then, no one in SL would be the wiser.

Even in first life we can hide what we’re feeling. How many people at work have wanted to punch a boss but instead nodded seriously and said “Yes, sir” instead? In social situations we often smile and act gracious when we really want to take a nap. It’s even easier to hide in the virtual world.

If we’re close friends with a person in Second Life we can often read them without seeing their facial expression or hearing a tone of voice. We can tell by their text, by the way they stand, and we get familiar with what is normal for them. If they deviate from their usual behavior we see it – and some of us are better at noticing than others.

Being able to read people is a mixed blessing. Those who do not notice disdain, pick up on sarcasm, or read between the lines can actually be happier than people who do. Knowing what’s really going on can be a positive thing, but if you’re sensitive it can also be a curse. Think about it. If you could read minds would you really want to? What if people thought you were ugly or that you acted stupid? Do you really want to know?

I pick up on things. I am an observer of behavior and habits, and tend to see in both practical and spiritual ways. I usually know when people are lying, when female avatars are controlled by men, or when someone secretly fancies a person. I know if another person likes me or if they prefer I drop dead.

And yet, I have let my guard down. There have been times I’ve been so comfortable that I’ve missed it. Once I was DJ-ing and what I interpreted as banter was actually someone getting offended. I didn’t recognize immediately because I was projecting my own feelings onto the topic. Also, I am so used to friends teasing that it’s easy to forget that even those who banter can occasionally take things wrong or say something not-so-nice. We are, after all, human.

Miscommunication is bound to happen in Second Life. It happens in first life where we see facial expressions and hear a tone of voice, so how much more in a virtual world? If a misunderstanding occurs (and it will at some point) we have to figure out the best way to deal with it. This can be challenging, but if we do our best to make things right, that’s all we can do. We shouldn’t stress out after that.

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  1. Great blog. I think there is always a fine line between offence and humour, and it’s sometimes possible to cross that line unintentionally. I have been guilty of that more than once after ten years in SL! But I also think it depends on how well you know that particular person, and how much you understand their humour. Something that one friend may find highly amusing banter, another friend may not. When an old friend of mine returned to SL a few years ago we started the banter straight away like he had never been away, but some people thought we were actually arguing when we called each other daft names. It’s difficult sometimes to cater for the entire room, as if you stopped to think “will this offend someone” before every sentence hardly anything would ever get typed. I think close friends do know each other well enough to understand what is a joke and what isn’t though. At least I hope I do !

  2. There’s a further compounding factor in SL that we don’t have to contend with quite so much in the real world, and that’s the misunderstandings that can occur when you bring together people from different cultures and nationalities.

    Something our friends of a similar upbringing may find utterly hilarious may be completely bemusing to someone from another country, as anyone who’s found themselves painstakingly explaining a humorous anecdote inworld to a friend of another nationality will attest – especially when they still don’t ‘get it’ even then!

    When I blog, I do so in the knowledge that the majority of my readers are North American, some are Russian, Thai, even Peruvian, and as a Brit, I consciously think through much of what I write – especially humour – from that perspective. We don’t have that luxury inworld, and once something is said, there’s often the potential for misunderstanding and embarrassment.

    The solution, I think, is to take everything ‘spoken’ with a large pinch of salt, be prepared to occasionally bite our tongue, and not take anything too seriously. In my experience, thoughtless remarks only become an issue when we choose to make them so!

    s. x

  3. I have had many experiences of being “misunderstood” in SL, and mostly by long time friends who I would have hoped understood my humour and viewpoints…

    I can be overly sensitive when it comes to verbal or written communication in SL, but as the years go by I gain more perspective, and have learned that it is often best to bite your tongue, or indeed ignore comments unless it becomes blatantly obvious you are being insulted!

    I always think that regardless of how well you know people – or indeed, how long – you can never be fully aware of what mood they are in on any particular day or time, what has already happened in their day, who may have already upset them, what news has been relayed etc. which are all things that would affect their SL experience, even if they do not intend or want it to.

    I myself find that SL can be too much if I am having a “bad day”… On the other hand, SL can prove to be a true “dose of salts” when I need cheering up, and a moments escape from the mundane and sometimes upsetting realities of RL.

    I think we need to learn what our “boundaries” are – understand how we will react to certain things when we know we are depressed, sad, sombre, stressed, unhappy, and be mindful of what to expect when we log in to SL and go to certain places or be in the company of certain people. If we know this is likely to make our mood worse or cause offence, well, it is best to stay away.

    I agree with Seren when she says things are only “issues when we choose to make them so”… I also agree with Shauna that “We are, after all, human. Miscommunication is bound to happen in Second Life” and also in RL! As for SLate – well we know he just insults and offends most of us most of the time and we expect no less! 😉

    As in most things in any “life”, my motto is live and let live… I do my best to be amiable, friendly and non-offensive unless it is absolutely necessary, and even then I always try to find the “common ground” for a peaceful solution and happy ending, and am always ready to apologise if I have done otherwise and am in the wrong.

    I guess we can only hope that all those we meet Second Life are like-minded in that they too want a peaceful and pleasurable experience, and having a good time with fun banter and that added spice of madness thrown in for good measure… if they don’t want or expect this then, sorry, time to take yourself elsewhere lol

    Di x

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