Wired Starts Making Sense


Just when I was losing faith in Wired.com, the following column by Mr. Lore Sjöberg was posted looking at the arrival of Jesuits bent on converting Second Life, as was mentioned in these pages by the adorably ticking Mr. Pearse in one of his comments.

Though the author still tends to view SL as a haven for deviants and weirdos, at least he is tolerant of said deviants and weirdos, which is better then most these days…and sees the Jesuit invasion for the philosophical absurdity that it is.

The following is reposted from Mr. Sjöberg’s excellent, always amusing Alt Text column.

Preaching to the Perverted in Second Life

Linden Labs recently outlawed gambling in Second Life, officially making cybersex the one interesting thing that happens there. A Jesuit scholar has suggested that Second Life is an excellent target for missionary work in an attempt to bring that number down to zero. The very concept of missionary work in an artificial world brings up a number of questions, many of them exceedingly creepy.

Chief among them is this: How do you speak of spiritual things to a giant squirrel person with six breasts? If you’re a virtual missionary in a virtual world speaking to another virtual person, are you trying to convert the virtual person or the real person behind it?

This seems like it ought to be a fairly straightforward question. After all, as far as we know Heaven doesn’t even have broadband. There’s no point in trying to get a half-naked robot lady to take the Eucharist, half-naked robot ladies don’t really enter into God’s great plan. No, obviously you’re going to have to reach the person behind the keyboard, the sinner behind the symbol.

The problem with this is that virtual worlds are someplace where you can be someone else. In fact, you can be anyone else. It would be ridiculous to go a comic book convention and try to talk someone dressed as Doctor Octopus out of robbing banks. Presumably animal-rights activists aren’t trying to convince Glenn Close not to make clothing out of Dalmatians. Why would you wander into a virtual world and pick out likely targets for conversion based on their avatars?

Certainly you can look around for immoral behavior, but that leads to the tricky question of whether pretending to be immoral is actually immoral.

From what I’ve been able to puzzle out, I think most sins are only sins if you’re actually doing them. There have been plenty of attempts to argue that violent video games encourage people to be violent in real life, but as far as I know nobody is arguing that shooting down gang members in a video game is, itself, murder.

(Actually, “nobody” is a tricky word to use in the age of the internet. It doesn’t seem impossible that somewhere out there, on some cramped, crazy little blog, someone’s holding vigil for all the gang members, aliens and orcs cut down in their prime.)

However, some sins seem to be sins even if you’re just pretending. Most of these have to do with sex. If I log in to Second Life as Clorgo Codpiece and pretend to shoot up with my friend Sexxula Bodyoil, I don’t think I’m actually doing heroin from a religious point of view.

But if we pretend to engage in all sorts of unlikely and disturbing sexual acts with each other, apparently we’re actually committing adultery? Or maybe it’s only adultery if we’re doing it for sexual stimulation. If we’re performance artists with a purely intellectual dedication to portraying unsettlingly artificial humanoids working their way through the Kama Sutra, perhaps it’s merely pornography.

The point is, it confuses things.

Instead of trying to figure out who needs a good convertin’ based on their actions, maybe you could ask them. But then you have to wonder if they’re telling you the truth. There are many people on the internet who will tell you that they’re Catholic schoolgirls, but very few of them are Catholic, schoolgirls or both.

And if you meet someone who appears to be a half-naked woman, have a long talk about God’s plan, and come back in a month to find them dressed as a nun, well, it’s possible that you had such an effect on them that they immediately joined a convent that gives novices internet access, but it seems more likely that you just convinced them to switch fetishes.

1 Comment

  1. However, some sins seem to be sins even if you’re just pretending. Most of these have to do with sex.

    And therein lies the great problem, I think. While I rarely use it, these days, I have a brain implant that gives me the ability to burn, spindle, fold, mutilate, and orbit other gentles I may find the need to harm so extremely. Do I think I have actually killed a real person when–on the rare occasions–I have done this? Goodness, no.

    But sex gets…slippery, pun only partially intended. There are such heavy moral guidelines in most of the western world, and many have already decided that sex is sex, whether it’s in person, by chat, or over the phone. (Though apparently if it involves cigars, it’s not. I still don’t quite get that.)

    And that brings us back to–why is it any of their concern, anyway? Technically, they are supposed to make salvation available to me, as a woman of iniquity, but they’re not supposed to necessarily push beyond the boundaries. People forget that. (On the other hand, the common understanding of another Biblical passage means they may wish to know where I got my lovely little brain implant, because they’re not supposed to suffer me to live, period.)

    The rules blur. Why is it not murder in a game, but is sex in the same game, yet both are conducted over distance, keyboards and technology? We seem profoundly unable, most of us, to separate out the moral from the reasonable.

    Tch. And I like most of the Jesuits I’ve met, too. It just seems…rude.

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