Real Virtual People

How “real” is the virtual world? Is it more than a cartoon, a video game or a fantasy? And what does “real” mean, anyway?

Is this place realThere are many shades of real.

We might say that something is “realistic” if it closely resembles reality. Subtle shading and shadows in the corners of a room, or motion capture animation may make a scene look “almost like” the real thing. To say something is “realistic” acknowledges the craftsmanship of its creator. But saying that something is “almost like” the real thing is an admission that it’s not the real thing. It may resemble a real tree, but it is not, in fact, a physically real tree—it is a collection of pixels. I don’t think very many people believe that the virtual world is the same as the physical world.

That doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Whether or not it’s physically real, the virtual environment can affect us physically. It’s like when a skillful filmmaker weaves together story, cinematography, acting and other elements to make light, color and motion affect us emotionally, and even physically if we recoil in a horror movie or weep over a sad ending. In the same way, a well crafted scene in a virtual world can evoke real-world physical sensation and emotion. The serenity of a quiet virtual forest, under a protective canopy of giant trees, with sounds of birds, brooks and breezes actually calms my physical body in the “real” world. The desolation of a vacant shack on a dry, windswept plain makes me cough as if I can feel the swirling dust catch in my throat. Standing around in a virtual snow scene makes me feel cold in the physical world—and putting a sweater on my avatar warms me up.

Of course there is the whole matter of virtual sex and BDSM, and the very real arousal it can incite. “In the real world, arousal mostly happens between your ears anyway,” a friend of mine said recently. “Virtual sex is just like physical sex—but with better animations!”

We all know that the emotions we experience through our encounters in the virtual world are real. The whole gamut, from mirth to rage, wonder to repulsion, heartbreak to love—yes, love—all just as authentic as if they were triggered by events in the physical world. And the qualities of the human spirit we encounter are also real: generosity, creativity, selflessness and selfishness, forthrightness and deceit.

Flower AvatarSo, is the virtual world real?

A better question would be: are your experiences real? Does the virtual world evoke real emotions and sensations? Is pleasure real? Is inspiration real? Is friendship real? Is excitement real? Is beauty real? Is laughter real? Are art, craftsmanship and creativity real? Dare I ask: is love real?

Some people ascribe no reality to the virtual world; they see it as a cartoon, with no value in and of itself. They treat it as if it were only a screen separating them from other “real” people. They seem impatient, then, to get past this screen and connect with a physical person, who is, to them, the only person who matters. These are people who typically don’t put much effort into their avatar, since the virtual world is not important to them. They don’t care about their avatar, or yours, but they are very interested in who you are in “real” life, where you live, what you look like, how old you are, etc. For them, the virtual world is not real at all. For them, the physical world is the only reality.

On the other end of the continuum, some of us inject so much of our conscious awareness into our avatar that our physical self becomes secondary. As in the movie “Surrogates” I live through my avatar much more than through my physical self. If you only know me in the physical world, you don’t really know me. Camryn Darkstone is the “real” me. In the virtual world, I am freed from some of my physical limitations and allowed to be my most authentic self. Of course it can’t be carried to extremes, since I do enjoy some pleasures with my physical body that aren’t available in the virtual world, for example singing and food. But in terms of my sense of self, and everything else that is most important, I am much more present as Camryn Darkstone.

For others, the avatar is a fantasy, a character they have created, through which they role-play. Some even view the avatar as a separate person, with a life of its own. I know at least one person who, when speaking as his avatar, refers to himself in the third person, as though he and his avatar were two different people. The avatar refers to “that person behind the keyboard” as if it were someone else.

virtual-worldI can’t wrap my mind around that kind of disconnection. For me, there is no boundary between myself and Camryn Darkstone. I am Camryn Darkstone. Camryn Darkstone is real. In fact, Camryn Darkstone is much more real than my physical self. Camryn Darkstone is a better representation of my sense of self than my physical presence.

The seamlessness between virtual and physical has been enhanced since I accepted my Master’s collar. He is a TPE Master—Total Power Exchange—and he is my Master all the time, 24/7, not just for the duration of a scene. I don’t segment off certain areas of my life for him to dominate. He has total access. He gets to be in charge of every part of my life, virtual and physical. So the seamlessness between the virtual and physical aspects of my life is strengthened even further by him.

It is also strengthened by the culture of our family. Whereas many people draw strict boundaries of anonymity and privacy when interacting in the virtual world, within my family we are very open. Each of them, for me, is the same type of blended virtual-physical person as I am. We don’t role-play, we are our authentic selves. I voice with them. They know my real name, and some even know my address (and are likely to send me mail order gifts, as I do for them). My Master has been to my home. They know what I look like, where I work and what I do for enjoyment. And yet, even with all of this “real” world information, I am still Camryn Darkstone to them. I am one person—submissive, builder, tree lover, horse racing enthusiast, fashionista, bourbon connoisseur, anglophile, musician. This—all of this, virtual and physical—is Camryn Darkstone.

I am not a virtual person. I am a real person in a virtual world—a real person whose real life is extended, enriched and enhanced beyond the limits of the so-called “real” world.

I thought it was just me

If we ever got honest enough to go out in the streets and uncover our common grief, we would discover that we are all grieving over the same things.

–Miguel Unamuno

shared-sorrowWe all know people who are a little too generous in sharing their troubles. On the other hand, there are those tight-lipped souls who refuse to share anything at all. I’m not sure which is more frustrating.

How often do we try to mask our heartbreak with a veneer of cheerfulness? Sometimes “official smiles” are necessary when you have to function professionally despite being in pain. At other times, I may do it to protect my privacy. It is not everyone’s business to know whether or not I am upset about something.

But in the context of an intimate relationship, whether a close friendship, romantic or D/s relationship, I am not sure that “official smiles” are helpful–or even effective. The people who know you know if something is wrong, no matter how brightly you are smiling. They may just feel the subconscious tingle of discomfort that comes from knowing that something is wrong and you are concealing the truth. Or if they realize that you aren’t telling them what’s troubling you, they may feel hurt at being shut out. Or if they are paranoid, like me, they may not be able to stop their imagination from worrying whether they caused your pain.

So before you “put on a brave face” and hide your sorrow, take a moment to consider if doing so will protect those close to you–or hurt them.

Nobody owes it to me to reveal their troubles. I have no right to demand it. But with those I love, I am always hopeful. I want my dear ones to tell me when they are upset. It’s not a burden. Actually, the honesty is a relief. And when they choose to share their pain, I am honored. I will listen with an open heart, and will not judge. I probably can’t take away their pain. But I can care. I can be with them in it, and support them with my love.

My belief is that love is stronger than sorrow. The only thing worse than being in pain is being in pain alone. Not everyone is able to help. But there are people who will listen, and not judge, or argue, or try to talk you out of your feelings. They will simply care about you, and for you. I try to be one of those people.

When your heart is aching with disappointment and sorrow, it does not make you weak, or flawed, or needy. It makes you the same as every other human being on the planet. We are all grieving. That ache in your heart resonates with the ache in my heart. And when that happens, by being open with each other about it, we both might find strength and healing in our common grief.

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Expectations

firebird

“Expectations are limiting.”

I have said this before, but in our goal-oriented world, my assertion is usually met with blank, uncomprehending stares, or polite dismissal.

It is fashionable to have expectations. We are supposed to decide what we want, and go after it. Admiration is lavished upon those who achieve their goals, and get what they want.

The problem is that most of us get so focused on achieving our goals that we totally miss glorious surprises that don’t fit into the preconceived plan. When something comes along that isn’t what we set out to achieve, it is too easy to simply dismiss it as irrelevant.

But what if this unexpected development is actually better than our original goal?

Not only do we miss glorious surprises, we may get mired in the negative emotional energy of resentment, frustration and disappointment. I have known so many people who seem never to see or appreciate what they do have. Instead they can only think about what they don’t have.

When I was younger, I had goals and expectations. Almost none of them came to fruition. My life has turned out very differently from what I imagined it would be.

The way I see it, I have a choice. I can be sad and resentful that I didn’t get the life I wanted. Or: I can pay attention and notice all the wonderful things I do have… and be grateful.

My life isn’t what I wanted.

It’s better.

Let go of the limits of expectations. Have enough humility to admit to yourself that you don’t know everything. Accept that you may not be able to know, in advance, exactly what the best outcome is. Have aspirations, but be mindful that there might be something even better waiting for you, something you can’t envision or predict. Be open to the possibility that you will be surprised by something wonderful you could never have imagined. Open your eyes, and your heart, to the surprise and delight of unexpected pleasure.