My long term relationship with my boyfriend was failing. The details don’t really matter in the long run, just that I was struggling to hold us together and had been doing so for over a year. The computer had always been a double edged sword for us. While I thrived online and flitted from community to community, he grew more reclusive and fearful of interacting with strangers. That’s why I was surprised when he told me he had joined a new virtual world – Second Life, a place I hadn’t even heard of but that he was apparently taken with. So much so that it became all he talked about when I phoned him, this virtual world full of shops and strange costumes.
I was hesitant when he asked me to join him. The Second Life he showed me in his pictures was desolate, empty, and lacking in both people and life. He showed me images of his avatar alone in fields, alone beside empty roads that stretched on forever, alone in nightclubs without a soul around. Things I read online told a different story, a far seeder one. I couldn’t understand the appeal of the place and I refused to be part of it but eventually, it became an ultimatum – join Second Life or forget about trying to fix our relationship. I didn’t have much faith or interest when I created my account. The name I chose was the name of a chatacter in a period piece I was writing at the time, Eleanor, the last name was simply the nicest one I found on the list offered. I wholly expected to find myself in a deserted place with nothing much to do and didn’t intend to be there long. Certainly not long enough to build any sort of identity for this ugly avatar made of pixels who greeted me
Oh how very wrong I was.
From the moment I logged on, I was surrounded by a fully populated, never sleeping, fully functioning world and people who not only wanted to help me get aquainted with how that world worked but who wanted to be my friend and invite me into the little spaces they had created for themselves. While my boyfriend went MIA for my entire first week as Eleanor Ocheis, I had adventures in the mountains of Avaria hatching drakelings under the setting sun, I wandered through The Independant State of Caledon to enjoy the Victorian scenery, I danced at The Galaxy under the bright neon lights until the sun came up and was invited to a friend’s gazebo hidden within the forest of the sleepy mainland sim of Celerio. I barely slept those first seven days, there was simply too much to do and to take in. I completely fell in love with this slice of virtual paradise before me, a place where I wasn’t disabled, where I could be whomever I wanted and where all of my dreams could come to life if I wanted them to. I was addicted.
That’s why, at the end of that week, when my relationship finally broke apart at the seams – I made the choice to stay in Second Life. I may have joined up for his sake and with the sole intent of saving what little we had left together but in just seven days, I had found my own reasons for being there and a new life just waiting on the other side of the screen. The friends I had made ensured I got over the whole ordeal with hardly a scar and, in time, the incident became little more than a memory. Just the entertaining story of how I happened to find myself in Second Life despite my initial misgivings.
Over the years since that day, I’ve been many different people – a pink haired flower pixie, a leggy exotic dancer, a proud and haughty centaur and many, many others. You can re-invent yourself in Second Life every week if you want. It’s a wonderful feeling to just be able to change everything about yourself at the drop of a hat. In my first year, I wore a different avatar almost every day. It was so freeing to explore a variety of identities and parts of myself I’d never dare to show the real world. I could be any one of any gender or any race or any age – the only thing limiting me was my own imagination. I eventually I settled on what Eleanor looks like today around the end of my first year – I made her the perfect image of what I’d like to be but can’t.
My travels in Second Life have been as numerous as my avatars once were – I’ve roleplayed in places like Mystara and Ambrea, danced the night away in various clubs (my favorite was a German rave club which is long gone – despite a language barrier, the people there was so friendly that it was contagious), and explored the beauty of themed sims like Winterfell, Twilight Town and Ode. I’ve had a hundred different adventures, been part of more stories than I can name and passed through the lives of so very many people – all of whom have left me with both good and bad memories, people I never would have met if Second Life didn’t exist.
At the moment, I’m dancing at a lovely little club twice a week and befriending people half way across the world as if they lived right next door. That is when I’m not enjoying the serenity of my own private island or designing some new fantasy persona play with. Though my interest in Second Life has dwindled over the past few years, I’ve never been able to completely give it up. I have a feeling I’ll be there until the day they shut the servers off. It’s a way for me to cope with my disabilities and experience the life I might have had, the life I can only dream about.
If there’s one thing I owe my ex who has long gone away, it’s for handing me the keys to Second Life and giving me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. Though a lot of sims and people have come and gone through the years, the one thing that’s never changed is that no matter how many times I go away, every log in is like coming back home again to a world a little brighter than the one outside my window and brimming with endless possibilities just waiting to be explored.
BIO: Eleanor Ocheis has been in Second Life since 2008 and is the alter ego of someone much more plain and boring who fancies herself a creative writer and “queen of the 80’s”. In her spare time, she collects dolls, roleplays and spends way too much money on My Little Pony toys.