Op/Ed: The New Priests

by Pixeleen Mistral on 06/03/07 at 6:00 pm

by Fiend Ludwig


Last night I was chatting with Pix about the furor over Tenshi Vielle’s article. I asked her why she published it, because surely she must have foreseen the – more violent than average – storm the article would stir up. Pix replied, “Do you understand the Magic Circle concept – that when you mix real life in [to SL] it ruins the immersion? The Lindens are falling all over themselves to ruin immersion, [for example] that ‘voice’ mistake they want to make – this is more of that.” “Do you think Tenshi Vielle was trying making that point, though?” I asked. “Yes.” Pix said. At least one commenter agrees with her:

One of the important issues here is similar to one raised when the ‘Voice in SL’ technology was announced recently. That is, the way many residents feel about SL is that it’s an *extension* of RL, and representing the ‘self’ in avatar form is logically a process of reflecting RL. Other residents see with clarity the almost endless possibilities available in creating an entirely different ‘self’ (or many selves) from their reality, sometimes extending that ‘self’ outside of the grid. The rest of us fall somewhere in between these two virtual extremes, or possibly have a foot in both camps (I do). When ‘Voice’ was announced, a huge outpouring of anxiety was expressed by those who, given their point of reference, felt it was no more than a mortal threat to their keeping the fantasy/anonymity element of SL safe. Others, although quieter, felt it was a positive, necessary step in the evolution of the platform. And of course the rest of us fell somewhere in between.

And although, in my opinion, Pix’s view and Simondo Nebestanka’s comment both require a very liberal and imaginative between-the-lines reading of the article, and whether or not that was Vielle’s point at all, the idea of the Magic Circle is an intriguing one worth exploring further. Being relatively new to the MMO world I had not heard this term before, but the results of a Google search show that it has been in use for some time to describe the separation effect between reality and immersive game play. But it seems to have its origins in the Wiccan religion.

A Magic Circle is “believed to be an area which straddles two dimensions or realities. It becomes a sacred space between the mundane world and the otherside. The barrier is fragile and sensitive to things passing through it. Leaving or passing through the circle often weakens or dispels the barrier.” (And although trusted and hearty companions for millennia, dogs have been known to acknowledge the boundaries of the Circle but will not enter.)

Just as believing in the powers of the Wiccan Magic Circle requires a leap of faith, so does creating and maintaining the illusion of immersion in a virtual world like Second Life. Some, like me, hold that perimeter as uncrossable, a void over which we dare not stretch. For others it is just a line in the dirt to be stepped over (and on) with disinterest. For others still – just a few – it remains a powerful force, but one through which they can pass without disturbing the equilibrium on either side.

Wiccans maintain that to pass through the Circle without harming it, one must cut a door in the energy of the Circle using an athame. In Second Life, these few that possess athamic (yes, I just made that up) powers will become, and to some extent already are, opinion leaders and policy makers, for they will garner respect and power on both sides of the Magic Circle. And they will not come from Linden Lab, because for the Lindens there is no Magic Circle; Second Life and real life are one and the same.

But questions remain. Will the powers of the Real crush the illusions of the Immersed. Will the World be rent asunder? Will the Athamic Priests unite the Tribes of Mundane and Otherside? Watch this space, for the Book is still being written.

[Picture: Magic Circle, 1886, by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)]

16 Responses to “Op/Ed: The New Priests”

  1. Caramel LeShelle

    Mar 6th, 2007

    Damage control, anyone?

  2. Veronique Lalonde

    Mar 6th, 2007

    Simondo might have had a point in his comment, but the original writer did not. If her point was about destroying the SL illusion with mundane RL, then she undercut it by posting her own RL photo, in which we see a young woman who herself is no glamorous fashionista.

    The *actual* debate between SL as immersion and SL as augmentation is much more interesting, so I’m glad you wrote about that. It’s been there for some time, but the voice issue has certainly brought it right out in the open. I personally do not use SL to extend my RL, which is doing just fine on its own. I’m an immersionist, but one who does not see SL as a game. My “typist” lives through me. I’m not an act. But at the same time, I am a fantasy, and one that’s not going away if I can help it. I don’t know if I possess as athame. I guess I’ll have to find out!

    Nice to see a thoughtful opinion piece anyway.

  3. Prokofy Neva

    Mar 6th, 2007

    The concept of the “magic circle” or “spell-cast circle” isn’t merely proper to the Wiccan religion, which is one of those neo-hodgepodges of the modern world that purports to draw on ancient ideas but the ideas aren’t so ancient lol.

    There are writers and travelers that write about tribes in the Caucasus centuries ago, for example, that if you drew a circle with a stick around a person, they literally could not come out of it. So great was their belief and their fear that they were spellcast and unable to move, they literally couldn’t move out of the circle in the sand. Gurdjieff writes about this in “Meetings With Remarkable Men,” I believe, and I’ve heard of this not only from this source.

    Game devs often use “Magic Circle” on blogs like Terra Nova or Raph Koster to mean something a bit different, I think. I think they’re referring to having to meaning of the game coherent within the space. Like, if you have a men-in-tights game, you don’t put a sports car in it to break the magic circle, it’s an anachronism and from the wrong world.

    I like what Ordinal Malaprop said about voice on Twitter. Voice is the oldest technology. Yes, it’s the most ancient of human communication technologies. I’ll bet it was in beta for many long years before they got it working without bugs.

    So in that sense, everybody jawing on about being “progressive” and “evolutionary” are laughably conservative. In fact, they are merely falling back to the carbon-based world, and refusing to go electronic, which is the real new wave of the future.

    The zealousness with which people cling to voice-only or text-only, and the hysteria with which voice promoters blast everyone else as being non-progressive, FUDded, etc. is really awful stuff, in keeping with the usual tekkie-wiki fiat imposed on our world.

    The main thing is to have choice, and not have it impact the world’s fluidity and coherence. And we all know the way the Lindens will do it will be the usual Stakhanovite and Bolshevik shock-work and imposition, rushing, pushing, inflicting, without it working right, with all kinds of bugs and crashes and even new expenses.

    I do have to agree that pulling a thinky topic out of a spiteful fashionistas screed is really stretching it, however. I think it seems to be the usual SL game: “let me discover something about your RL and inflict some nasty comments about your RL on you before you do that to me.”

  4. Gando Thurston

    Mar 6th, 2007

    “Will the powers of the Real crush the illusions of the Immersed.”

    The Immersed must always suspend their disbelief to some extent; they will always find imaginative ways around such things or simply ignore them.

    Voice will certainly bring about the use of voice changing tools, or The Immersed will avoid using it.

    Most people in the SL (and most people in the SL Fashion industry) will turn a blind eye to The Real style of SL fashionistas.

    There will always be a handful of cry-babies who lack the imagination to ignore such things and get on with the fun things in Second Life.

    That being said, I’ll bet someday I’ll join the cry-baby group in SL. I just hope I can manage it with a little dignity.

  5. Nacon

    Mar 6th, 2007

    yeah yeah yeah… nice try with the cover up on Herald’s actual mistake with Tenshi, pretending it’s all for the attention.

    You’re still an idiot, Herald.

  6. Fiend Ludwig

    Mar 6th, 2007

    Just for the record – I was in no way cajoled to print anything about this topic. No one in Herald management has ever told me what to write about – they don’t pay me enough for that.

    In fact, I commented very critically on Vielle’s article when it was first posted. And you will note that I state here that I still find it a very long stretch to draw any kind of rational point from Vielle’s writing.

  7. metaverse.acidzen.org

    Mar 6th, 2007

    Crossing the Line

    You should pay attention to Op/Ed post The New Priests in Second Life Herald. It is a nice analytical view on RL/SL relationship. One comment on the other post summarizes it:
    The way many residents feel about SL is that its an *extension* of RL,…

  8. Tenshi Vielle

    Mar 6th, 2007

    Lovely piece, although the jump from immersion to the practice of the Wiccan religion seemed to be a stretch for me. Then again, we’re all doing a bit of stretching lately. Fiend, sweetie, are you up for some Yoga with me?

  9. Nacon

    Mar 7th, 2007

    “I asked her why she published it, because surely she must have foreseen the – more violent than average – storm the article would stir up. Pix replied, “Do you understand the Magic Circle concept – that when you mix real life in [to SL] it ruins the immersion?”

    HHAHAHAHHAHAHHA! Forgot to laugh at that part. Seriously, she can’t foresee a worth of shit. What she really saying…

    She screwed up, but decided to play cover up, pretending crap on crap. Stop trying to fool me, that’s just much as calling people, your own readers a retard.

    Fiend Ludwig, it’s best not to stink your “image” with them as deep shit they are in. ….oh, never mind.

  10. Samantha Joliat

    Mar 7th, 2007

    In order to separate real life from second life, the only technique I’ve found useful is to make them both entirely different from each other. Make sure there are clear and well defined differences between your real life and your second life and there is no possible way that you could accidentally mix the two.

  11. Storm Thunders

    Mar 7th, 2007

    Being inside a wiccan circle is about trust. Ramming your athame into a fellow’s back up to the hilt is not an action worthy of a priest or priestess. If Sabrina Doolittle had written an article linking her worlds together that might have been worth mentioning. What Tenshi did was merely violence.

  12. Dave Kobolowski

    Mar 7th, 2007

    The way I see it SL as immersion and SL as augmentation ought to be the same thing. Why should a digital extension of yourself have any relation to your real world self? We don’t need a virtual world to express our everyday selves we already have life for that.

    I embrace SL fully as something different to a lot of the new tools for old jobs stuff where people use chatrooms and social networking like MySpace to connect their real self to more real people. I want to come on SL to not be me and I want to relate to people not as their RL selves but as dynamic transient figments born in the world of imagination and fantasy. I quite like a place where you aren’t constrained by all the tradition and ritual of the real world, I’m not looking for any kind of fixed relationships or friendships and all the fuss, hang ups and commitments that come along with that.

    In SL I can change in an instant and look and act like a completely different person lets make the most of that aspect of the Cyberworld rather than trying to recreate an arena for RL interaction. Voice is a really bad idea and could well kill what SL represented for many people.

    SL ought to be a world where things come into creation in an instant and can disappear just as quickly tied by little or no physical rules. In other words not an extension of our physical selves but an extension of our imagination. You see that’s what worlds like SL really represent a place where people can for the first time inhabit each others creative imaginings and I for one love that.

  13. Steven Warburton

    Mar 7th, 2007

    One very quick comment on this. My analogy would be skype … how many people choose to use skype for text above voice? Voice/text must both be understood within the differing contexts within they operate or are indeed situated – text/IM is very heavily used by nearly everyone with skype … why?. The divide of asynchronous/synchronous presence is one dimension that provides each communicative modality with a different texture. I predict (he say bravely) that it will be the same for SL and the natural balance will remain firmly in IM chat except for certain circumstances. For some reason there seems to be an assumption that ‘voice’ is just better than ‘text’ and somehow users will be forced or coerced into voice-based interaction … WHY would that happen? Technology is always situated … there is no natural hierarchy!

    … and my second analogy here would be to examine SMS vs. voice use in mobile phones

  14. Tenshi Vielle

    Mar 7th, 2007

    … why are we still going on about me? Jeez, I feel like a celebrity or something…

  15. Simondo Nebestanka

    Mar 7th, 2007

    Wow that other piece has really taken on a life of its own. I hope I didn’t add too much to the nastiness.

    Fiend, some cool ideas here. I’m all for comparing and contrasting the completely immersive aspects of the SL experience with the ritualistic nature of religious belief systems. In fact it appears many people already approach SL with a religious fervour. This is both scary and reassuring (and to be honest, I’m a born-again atheist in RL).

    From your chat with Pixeleen .. “..when you mix real life in [to SL] it ruins the immersion? The Lindens are falling all over themselves to ruin immersion, [for example] that ‘voice’ mistake they want to make – this is more of that.’ ‘Do you think Tenshi Vielle was trying making that point, though?’ I asked. ‘Yes.’ Pix said. At least one commenter agrees with her..”

    I should clarify a couple of things (no big deal as I may have misinterpreted your application of “agree”); Pixeleen may well have seen immersion as a core issue but I don’t think Tenshi had this in mind when posting her article. It certainly didn’t sound like that in the entries posted to explain/defend her position.

    I guess in my post I was trying to present both sides of the immersion/augmentation reaction to Voice, and the parallels evident in the reaction to Tenshi’s article. However I’m not convinced that LL are necessarily trying to ruin “immersion”. I think it’s fair to take their slogan “Your World. Your Imagination.” at face value, that we as residents can decide what our SL experience is. LL is adding a tool for the augmentation crowd, but the immersion crowd can choose to keep using the tools they already have.

    But yes I do agree that for many users the mix of RL that say Voice represents, will ruin the immersive structure they have fashioned around their SL presence. This need not be the case, however: they don’t have to resist or purge Voice, all they need to do is find a way to let it coexist in parallel with their presence. It won’t be as hard as some people think. In the same way, the ideas of a young SL journalist can coexist with those of a successful SL fashion guru. Perhaps each has different ideas about the source of integrity and honesty, but in the end these things come from the same place. All we need to do is remember that we have the tools at our disposal to make this virtuality what we want it to be.

    Yours truly

  16. Khamon

    Mar 7th, 2007

    I’m not gonna to use voice for the same reasons I have audio and video muted now. For me it 1)requires loads of bandwidth and processing resources that are better spent, 2)generates excessive background noise, 3)requires my undivided attention when someone is talking and I’m trying to multitask.

    The illusion of immersion, and people’s notions of Khamon’s voice pattern, gender, and race, aren’t concerns for me. If they were, I’d not attend SLCC or reference my real life email address in these types of posts.

    But I’ll bet you a box of unglazed chocolate frosted doughnuts that I get lumped into the singular category of panic and trepidation that somebody might hear me. It seems to be the only reason anyone can comprehend for not using voice. God I hate these binary wars that require we all fit exactly the same mold according the “side” we’ve chosen to support.

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