July 2, 2009


Much has been blogged about keeping your first life identity secret in Second Life.   So often the tone is either cheerleading for it or thinly veiled contempt for something that people see as inherently dishonest.   If you can guess from my post on the relativity of boundaries, I’m pretty neutral on the issue; I believe that people should be able to approach their second life as privately or as openly as they choose, so long as they are respectful and responsible to both of their lives in the process.  Yet when I’ve talked with others about it, the next follow-on question tends to be:  “If someone is hiding important pieces of his/her identity, is that truly being respectful and responsible?”   And I think that the best answer is: It depends.

It depends?  What kind of cop out answer is that?  Well, I believe we should strive to be straightforward with who we are, but there are situations where being direct about first life identity might hurt more than it would help.  Perhaps an example could help explain.  Recently, Drew Carey mentioned in his blog that he enjoys spending time in SL (and gave props to the creativity of Pandora Wigglesworth’s Curio Obscura).  I’ve also heard rumors of other celebrities enjoying the more peaceful interactions that Second Life can offer.  (Also, there was an article some time ago about Halle Berry’s experiences visiting chatrooms.  Apparently, she would meet people, strike up a friendship, and, at one point or another, share her first life identity.  What happened?  No one believed her.  Sadly, she was instantly recategorized as a crankpot and her friends would fade away.)   Were I famous, I think Second Life would be a great place to feel like you’re having interactions with people based on how you relate to each other and not that you are a celebrity.   Plus, we would all hate to see a half-true seedy tabloid article about how some celebrity’s avatar hangs out in – gasp – Zindra!  (And if you don’t believe we could see an article like that, I have a nice quiet parcel of land to sell you on the mainland.)

I don’t think anyone would dispute that celebrities should be entitled to their privacy in-world.  But think about it for a moment, to maintain privacy a celebrity might need to recast things about his/her first life identity. If sharing accurate information about their identity – even vague – could possibly result in loss of what brought them to want a second life in the first place, could you blame a person for trying to hide things?  Given our fame-obsessed culture, I would think that going to great lengths to hide your first life identity in Second Life to be a generally responsible and respectful thing to do.

So my question to you, dear readers.  If protecting yourself from adoring fans is a good reason to maintain secrecy about your identity, could there be other reasons?  Any examples leap to mind?


  1. Transsexuals and the physically handicapped.

  2. Simply being visible on the Internet can invite harassment. I feel the more pertinent questions are:

    – What good reasons are there to NOT protect your privacy through keeping your RL identity a secret?

    – Under what circumstances should a individual’s right to privacy be usurped by someone else’s desire to know the RL identity of that individual?

  3. I volunteer to be friends with Halle Berry!

  4. Thanks for the great comments!

    @Tina: Good examples!

    @Pandora: Ultimately it should be an individual’s choice on maintaining whatever level privacy they choose; some people seem more comfortable with it than others. I tend to be more of a a cautious sort about it because you never really know what could happen. Finally, I don’t believe that there are any circumstances where someone’s desire to know trumps another’s right to privacy.

    @Valentina: Maybe you could surf chat rooms to find her? I’ll bet it would be easy! 😛

  5. Another thoughtful and well-written article, Lanna. It’s really a matter of comfort level and I’ve found some people who press me for first life information can be extremely discomfitting. And Tina, there’s a wonderful guy I’ve met in first life who has MS, makes no bones about it, and even his avatar uses various wheelchairs that he has designed as well as amazing designs from very creative friends. It’s really a personal choice and one of the best things about Second Life is the TOS requires tolerance and thereby honors everyone’s right to privacy.

  6. I don’t see how anything about your first life is anybody’s business in SL with one exception. That exception would be if you started a romance or sexual relationship with someone on Second Life. Then I believe the other person has a right to know if they are getting involved with an adult and that person’s gender.

    I think a lot of people are missing the point of Second Life. This entertainment is a form of escape from first life just like staying glued to the TV. If you really cannot let first life go at least for a little while, you are not escaping properly. Nor using your imagination. Go immerse in first life fully until you get that out of your system. Then come back to Second Life where you can be anything and anyone, when you are ready. Any attempt to bring first life limitations into Second Life shows an insecurity, a reliance on “known constructs” of what you perceive your identity to be, an inability to let go of the familiar and strike off in new territory. The whole world is open for you there and many just want to repeat what they have already done in first life. Refuse to be labeled. Refuse labels. Are you so insecure that you need to pull in first life credentials to prove what a worthy avatar you are? How ridiculous. I do not care what you have or have not accomplished in your first life nor should you care about mine. The only thing that matters in the game is how well you are playing your game today by the standards you have set for yourself. Watch what you are doing and why. Others can see what you cannot. I think it must be very hard to break out of an institutionalized hive-mindset especially when you continue to perceive value in it. There is power in fluidity, anonymity. Here you have been given the keys to the kingdom of limitless possibility. And yet many are still sitting on the ground in the mud outside the gate. Open your minds. Open the gate.

    (end rant..lol)

  7. Thanks, Panther! I think the people come to SL for all sorts or reasons and while that range of reasons sometimes creates drama, I don’t think I can say those reasons are wrong. My hope is that whatever the reason, people will find ways to learn something new about themselves.

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