Thicker than water? Exploring Second Life Families – Part 2

H ow do Second Life families start? How do they get together? How do they grow?

Let’s say one wanted to be part of a family in Second Life – a daughter, mother, auntie or sister – how would one go about doing that? Take my friend Gwen and me for instance: We love each other like sisters, we do and talk about a lot of things sisters might do and talk about, so I guess by virtual standards, I could qualify as one of her sisters, right? I asked Gwen’s daughter, Aurora Jones-Ravenheart (incidentally, Aurora’s mother’s family name is Jones, her father’s family name is Ravenheart), about how I might go about becoming Gwen’s sister:

Well how I see it is that when it comes to brothers and sisters it can be only those two’s decision. If for example they don’t have parents. But when parents are involved, it’s nice to discuss it with the whole family. At least this is my opinion, but everyone has their own. But then there’s those who become siblings, but don’t share the same parents. It’s a lot of options I’d say.

Clearly, there are no hard and fast rules for virtual kinship. Presumably, if I wanted to become a part of Gwen’s family, I could, provided that they accepted me as one of their own. And it’s this organic nature of familiy development that seems to be a prevalent form, as echoed by Kyleigh Reyes:

(Second Life) Families seem to come from friendship that is deeper then just aquaintances…. Usually they are people you have known online for sometime…… For me my family came from Role Playing, and at first the story of who my parents and siblings where, was just a story made up by myself and my Sister in real life , who of course naturally is my sister in (Second Life),  but together we formed friendships and a family  formed out of our friendships along the way…. Even though in the end our role playing came to an end, the people who were a part of our (Second Life) family,  till this day are still, our Mother, or Father, Grandmother, and sisters,  They are still friends who are closer then just aquaintances and in most cases , you end up knowing these people outside of (Second Life) as well…….. Again most times , (Second Life) families just happen, it just feels right….. So if you are in world enough it will happen to you as well….People you are close to, will just fall into the role, and before you know it you will have your own (Second Life) family… Of course if you don’t want that, then it might never happen…

So, it seems that families grow in a similar way to how friendships are formed. But what if you don’t know anyone who’s in a family you want to join, or you don’t want to wait or depend on fortunate circumstance for your family to start? Enter the virtual adoption agency.

And image of the MAWTC Information Area

The MAWTC Information Area

My first visit to MAWCT (Making Adoption Wishes Come True) was an eye-opening experience. With 6 years in business, Kalle Harmison and Maddison Dagostino clearly saw the early writing on the wall and recognised that there is, like in so many relationship-based businesses, a rendevouz problem between adopters and adoptees. Like a dating agency, MAWCT specialises in connecting parents seeking to adopt with childen, teens, and even adults, seeking virtual parents.

There are huge number of parents seeking children to adopt. Some do a better job of portraying themselves than others.

This is a considerably more organised way to start a family, complete with adboards, rules of conduct, inworld messaging to inform you of a mutual “like” match, preset trial periods, and even adoption certificates. You might, like many, apply as a couple, but single would-be parents are also encouraged to apply – I’d say it’s about half and half. MAWTC plays the role of platform, but stops short of matchmaker: “You choose your family. We won’t select parents or kids for you. You will choose for yourself” says the instruction notecard.

While I was there, I counted up the occupancy rates:

  • There are 144 available panels for parents, with 85 occupied (59%)
  • Of the 60 teen panels, 38 are occupied (63%)
  • 4 of 24 adult kids (16%)
  • 9 of 24 twins (37.5%)
  • 66 out of 100 kids

For adoptees, clearly young children predominate, followed by teens, but an interesting group, are twins, which no doubt brings an all together additional dimension to the role play. From what I understand, adult children have the toughest time finding adoptive parents. In terms of gender, girls outnumber boys by about 10 to 1. Parallel to the ethnic diversity found elsewhere in Second Life, the options are generally white caucasians, mostly blonde, followed by brunettes.

For a starting fee of $L200 (you can pay more if you’re able), you can simply post a picture of yourself on one of their boards, add a completed application form detailing your experience and views on virtual parenthood, and find yourself receiving applications of interest (“likes”) from prospective adoptees within 24 hours. If you are interested in a child after reading their notecard, just click “like” on their panel. If 2 panels both click “like” you will automatically go on a 6-day trial. If you go on trial, the panel goes free to someone else. If you don’t find a match within 14 days, you need to renew in order to keep looking.

Image of boards of children seeking adoption

As you’d expect, the “cuteness” factor is pretty significant in the children’s section

Upon entering MAWTC with my friend Gwen as my guide, I felt very much a stranger in a strange land. There’s seems to be a whole industry devoted to supplying the needs of new families. There was the enormous quantity of vendors selling family styled furniture, including of course family-oriented poses, cribs, toys and other nursery paraphanalia. As I sat in some of the furniture aimed at young parents with infant children, I could even imagine such a set up in my own home. I wondered what we might do, what we might talk about, and what games we might play together.

An image of a redheaded girl seeking adoption

Mini-me… would you complete me?

I noticed how I felt a bit sorry for a little brunette girl that was less than what we’re told pretty and cute is supposed to look like, who’s notecard had been “viewed” about 9 times and had no “likes”. Having never gazed on as many avatar children in my life, I couldn’t help but realise how sweet and innocent they looked.

As I panned over the faces of these children, one captured my attention, and struck me as incredibly familiar. There she was looking at me, red hair, freckles, pale skin, blue eyes… she was by all appearances, a miniature version of myself.

I clicked on her picture and opened her notecard. As I read it, I couldn’t help but smile when she answered the question to tell a bit about herself:

I’m very bubbly, but very shy.  I’m not the kinda brat to jump around and make noise.  I would fink that I like to be a princess, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever been a princess.  hehe. I am very lovey and need hugs, cuddles, & long sleepytimes.

In response to what kind of activities she like to get up to and what kind of family she was looking for:

having get togethers with other fams or family members, time at home, exploring the grid, theme park trips, and the occasional shopping?  😀 I’m not sure, but I can be kind of picky.  I need the perfect fammyy.  don’t let that stop you from giving me a chance!

As I weighed up her plea, I wondered: Is this how it all starts? And if so, what might be the outcome of relationship that has all the trappings of blood, but is really no thicker than water at best? Could a bond actually develop as a result of these circumstances, or would it be forced? And if it didn’t work out, might it be saddled with compromise and guilt? How do you tell a virtual daughter, “I don’t want to be your mommy anymore”?

From what I read on several cards, adoptions don’t always end successfully. Some parents and some children, might lose interest in each other, or even Second Life in general, and what I wondered, happens then?

Clearly, this is not a step to be taken lightly. I left MAWTC, safely assured with the fact that these were not questions for me to answer, at least, not for now.

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Katie VizenorLizzy BowmanVaneeesa BlaylockGuestYordie SandsGuest
Second Life avatar, entrepreneur, club owner, and social media socialiser. I photograph, film and write about the virtual experience: sex and relationships, virtual community, music, art and Second Life.
  • Yordie Sands

    WOW Becky! I can say I’m surprised, but I’m fascinated. I’ve heard bits and pieces of what you describe from different people, pro and con. This is the first time I’ve read about adoption from an objective perspective. The key quesiton you’ve raised for me is, “Could a bond actually develop as a result of these circumstances, or would it forced?”
    I’ve done some fairly elaborate role play in my Second Life and I know that even in the best of circumstances there’s always Out Of Character (OOC) time. I think if there was OOC with a baby or even teenager, it might completely destory the illusion. Yanno? If you can RP that you have a baby and then for maybe 5 minutes you go OOC and find that your baby is a 20 year old student at Vanderbilt (hehe, just having some fun with the girls there… sowwy), I think that would be a complete bust for me. I’d always see the child as a college student after that.
    This is by far one of the most elaborate forms of role play I can imagine. And yet I know people in SL, especially women who’ve never given birth who seek this chance to experience motherhood. Dads too.
    You’ve raised even more questions. I’m almost afraid to ask if there’ll be a Part 3 because it can only become more intimate from here. But ok, I need part 3. *smiles*

    • Harvey Crabsticks

      +1 on the part three 🙂

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  • Vaneeesa Blaylock

    Another fantastic post Becky! I’ve never visited the agency you’ve profiled, but I have poked around a couple of others. I’ve never actually been involved in an adoption, just explored a bit.

    I think one of the places I visited had a boarding house too, so kids without parents could get a room, a place to put their stuff, meals and recreation.

    It’s really an interesting story how we always seem to create culture and community. In a way the Second Life foundation legend fits right in with this: Philip Rosedale’s insight at Burning Man was that given a barren place, people fill it with creativity. So instead of populating his world with stuff to see, he populated it with tools to build.

    Whether it’s building stuff in Physical Black Rock City, or Virtual Black Rock City, or building community and family in virtual space, I think it’s the human impulse to make for ourselves that which God or The Universe or Happenstance or Infertility failed to provide.

    Or maybe we’re just terrified of vacuums. “Horror Vacui”

    Of course, now somebody’s going to have to write about virtual pregnancies and tummy talkers and birthing centers and neonatal prim babies and, and…

    • Canary Beck

      Hahaha… Are you reading my mind? Yes, all of those subjects are on the agenda 🙂 Stay tuned and watch this space.

  • Lizzy Bowman

    This is so great Becky! I’ve thought about adoption a bunch of times, but I never thought I’d be around enough to make that kind of commitment. I’ve played a few different ages, it’s kind of funny how you get pushed around by circumstances. And how sometimes people can be SO in your life, and then *poof*

    Ohhhhh, I guess THAT has to be a new blog post! 🙂

    • Canary Beck

      Yes Lizzy, the transcience of Second Life; the emphemeral nature of our relationships, the not-forever-just-for-now mentality… there is so much that can be explored on that topic alone! What is the character of our relationships in such a transient and easy-eject environment? Or better said, the characters?

      Does it make relationships stronger and more intense? Many people say that relationships in SL travel faster and more intensely than those in the non-virtual world. Why is that? Is it a consequence of the medium? Do we become more intimate with each other faster because we are shown an open window into each others true selves, leaving the trappings of physicality and mundane triviality at the threshold between RL and SL?

      Or does it make relationships flimsy and superficial. I remember once working in an environment where you dared not make fast friends with newcomers, as the staff turnover was so ridiculously high, they might disappear, without a word, from one day to the next. But, is that just a viscious cycle? Might they have adjusted better, and potentially managed to hang on longer, if they had been nurtured from the outset, assuming they’d be around until they left?

      So many questions and so little time… but so much to write about! Thanks so much for your comment.

      • Vaneeesa Blaylock

        Great ideas Liz, Becky! Just for myself, I’ve found that “Persistence and Presence” are the qualities that make for compelling experiences / people.

        In Nymwar terms, if we think Anonymous, Pseudonymous, Orthonymous — I think the ability to be anonymous is certainly valuable and important, but less interesting to me personally. On the other end, the Facebook / Google+ demand for your Orthonym (“wallet ID”) just seems unnecessary.

        But a Pseudonym, like an avatar, if it’s persistent over a period of time, then you have a knowable persona and an ongoing experience and cultural perspective.

        How long do you have to be persistent? Well, long is nice. But since some candles do burn bright and fast, that’s where Presence comes in for me. Separate from how persistent over time, is simply that for however long or short a persona may be accessible to my sphere of experience, that they’re really Present, really there, really alive.

        Sometimes we know people for decade after decade. Sometimes those years grow in depth, complexity, richness, and beauty. Sometimes we know people for one amazing day.

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