Though we have virtual bodies and ways to express ourselves in Second Life, it’s still possible to have misunderstandings. If you look at my avatar, I seem ok. I use a decent 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 or singing. If I stopped long enough to type a sentence now and then, no one in SL would even know!
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 forced social situations we often smile and act gracious when we really want to take a nap or tell someone off.
If we’re close friends with a person in Second Life we can often read them without seeing or hearing them. We can tell by their text, 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 are better at noticing than others.
Being able to read people is a mixed blessing. Those who do not pick up on sarcasm or read between the lines can actually be happier than some who do. Knowing what’s really going on can be positive, but if you’re sensitive it can also be a curse. If you could read minds would you really want to? What if people thought you acted stupid? Do you really want to know?
I often know when people are lying, when female avatars are controlled by men, or when someone secretly fancies a person. I usually know if another person likes me.
And yet, there have been times I’ve missed it. Once I was DJ-ing and what I interpreted as banter was actually someone getting offended. Also, I’m 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.
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 about it.