Meta Chatting

Another feature of conversation in the world is that there are multiple dimensions to conversations: multiple layers of conversing. One is not only having the conversation, one is also, at the same time, commenting on it, embellishing it and inserting another conversation into it. All conversations in the world are multi dimensional, often to the extreme. This is then further compounded by adding multiple other layers of textual interaction until one is engaged in a series of conversations that are each often meta conversations of the others.

The first type of text conversation that one usually has in the world is to talk to another avatar in local chat. Any conversation in local chat is geographically defined, that is, it can be heard by any avatar located within twenty metres of the speaker1. This is the channel where the role play usually happens, the one where, ostensibly, no OOC chat should occur. It is also the channel where any system notices, messages from the scripting subsystem or messages to advise that other avatars have logged on or off appear. This channel is often a confusing morass of information. The following block of text has not been edited, except to anonymise users, and clearly shows the raw experience of local chat. When one first enters the world there is no explanation as to what the various obscure types of entry in local chat refer to or mean. This is information that must be acquired by osmosis as one goes along. This adds confusion and uncertainty to the process of becoming a resident. In order to share this experience with you I shall provide an explanation of terms after this excerpt so that you encounter it as I first did, in all its inscrutability.

Chat Excerpt – Raw Local Chat

Djoser: me and brother Pepi r going to go to the marketplace
Thutmose: well you must think upon it for your initiation is today and you must choose then
Pepi: I will study on it
Khenut: Well I shall go back to my duties and leave you all to your work. Senebty Priests
Thutmose: senetby Khenut
Djoser: senebty
Takelot: Senetby
Pepi: senetby
Thutmose: I have work to do here
Thutmose: I must prepare for the ceremony
Pepi: we are going to the marketplace
Removal of the object 'Omega Drop and Go Teleport' from the simulator is disallowed by the permissions system.
Nimaathap is Offline
Teleport completed from
You decline '::: B@R ::: Sweet Room'  ( ) from ::: BareRose ::: Raffle Item Orb.
FlipTitle-BAst: To set a title: title <color name> <title text>
FlipTitle-BAst: To remove title: title off
FlipTitle-BAst: <color name> can be: white, black, red, green, blue, pink, cyan, purple, yellow, orange
SL Exchange Magic Box white gave you 'kalb' ( ).
You decline schedule for week of March 8, '09 from A group member named Berenike.
A group member named Berenike gave you Summary of Roleplay in Thebes, 2-8-09.
Berenike: This one.
Berenike: Yay, it isn't a wading pool.
Inenek-Inty is Offline
Berenike: Hmmmm, I am...
Berenike: And this might explain that black dot.
Try moving closer.  Can't sit on object because it is not in the same region as you.
Inenek-Inty is Online
Thutmose: em hotep
IM: Nebty-nub: nan you come to the temple and help me with this scroll case I am building?
Berenike: Em hotep.
Thutmose: mind the well
Nimaathap: ((Gimmie a sec, I'll change))
Thutmose: a man fell down it yesterday and i had a terrible time getting him up again
Berenike: hehehehe, which man?
IM: Nebty-nub: okay I'll get a coffee and be back by then 
Thutmose: Intef
Berenike: show off.
Berenike: Intef????
Xstreet SL Terminal v2.2.5 st: Contacting server. Please wait.
Xstreet SL Terminal v2.2.5 st: Deposit $500 successful. Your account has been credited.
Thutmose: it keeps deleting the trees before I can place them
Nebty-nub: It is truely beautiful
Intef: The Nubians are waiting for a palace
Nebty-nub: Do they expect us to give them men for labor?
Nebty-nub gave you cow  with moo sounds YS.
Nebty-nub gave you Cow Sound Module.
Second Life: Items coming in too fast, automatic preview disabled for 10 seconds.
Cow with moo sounds YS: Could not find sound 'Cow Sound #5'.
Copy failed because you lack permission to copy the object 'kalb'.
Copy failed because you lack permission to copy the object 'cow  with moo sounds YS'.
Thutmose: I shall set you the task of find out out which god shall be the one who you speak to above all others
Thutmose: though all the gods must be worshiped
Thutmose: most find one god speaks to them particularly
Khenut: (brb)
Takelot: I have chosen Anubis
Djoser: em hotep all
Takelot: em hotep
Pepi: em hotep
Thutmose: a brave choice
Djoser: it is good to see you again brother Thutmose
Thutmose: em hotep
Djoser: em hotep
Thutmose: I see you too have been practicing the arts of fighting
Djoser: yes
Djoser: ((Amon said i am like a warrior
Thutmose: have you chosen a god to protect you?
Khenut: (back sorry about that)
Thutmose: or you aspirant have you chosen a god/
Thutmose: Pepi?
Pepi: not as yet Brother Thutmose

It is interesting to note that when one is in the world and communicating via local chat the experience is perceived as much less cluttered and confusing than it is to read a log of the same thing later. One somehow filters out that which is not immediately crucial. In order to preserve for you as much as possible the experience of being in the world I have not edited any notecards or chat excerpts except to anonymise participants. This means that they contain all the original typographic and spelling errors and remain formatted exactly as the residents typed them.

As well as messages from other users in local chat, which are identifiable by starting with a resident’s name followed by a colon, there are private messages sent from one resident directly to another. These are identifiable by the presence of ‘IM:’, which stands for instant message, before the sender’s name. While messages of this kind usually appear in a separate tab in the communication window, there is a setting in the client which allows these messages to also be displayed in the main chat window. This enables one to see such messages without having to switch to the particular resident’s tab when one is also chatting in local. If one wishes to reply to such a message one is however obliged to change to the resident’s tab. Also present are system messages, for example on the twelfth line one can see “Removal of the object ‘Omega Drop and Go Teleport’ from the simulator is disallowed by the permissions system.” This is a message from the system, generated in response to some action I was taking, advising that removal of the named object is not allowed. There are also messages advising when particular residents leave or enter the world. This is limited to residents who are on one’s friends list. There is also a system messages that says “Try moving closer. Can’t sit on object because it is not in the same region as you.” This is indicating that the object I tried to sit on is on the other side of a sim boundary to my avatar. Sim boundaries are not normally apparent, there is a setting in the client to draw a line to show where they are, but, because one can move one’s camera independently of one’s avatar, one might move one’s view and see an object and try to sit on it, not being aware that it is actually on the other side of the sim boundary. There are also messages from objects in the world, for example “Cow with moo sounds YS: Could not find sound ‘Cow Sound #5′”. This is telling me that a nearby cow object, with which I am not explicitly interacting, can’t play its embedded sound due to not being able to find the sound file. Despite the no OOC in local rule there are several OOC messages in this sample, they are identifiable by the use of parentheses.

As complex as it is to extract meaning and follow the thread of role play in such an environment, this is only one layer of the experience. In addition to local chat one might have any number of other chat windows open. In addition to local chat one can chat in a private conversation (instant message) with any one other resident, in a group conversation with any two or more residents, in a group chat, which is to say a chat channel associated with a group – for example the priests group – and have voice chat as well.

figure 10. An avatar praying at the shrine of Osiris

Figure 10 shows a typical chat situation. Here my avatar is seen praying in a temple in the world. As he sits there, apparently awash in a sea of tranquility, his meatspace self is in fact engaging in several layers of chat and meta chat. In the ‘Communicate’ window at the top right of the image one can see many tabs, each containing a different chat. A chat with a particular friend is initiated by double clicking their name in the leftmost tab, labelled ‘Contacts’, which contains a list of one’s friends. Subsequently a new tab opens, labelled with their name which is a private chat window with them. No other avatar can see the contents of this chat, unless, as mentioned previously, one logs it, inserts it into a notecard and disseminates it, or unless one is the system administrator, in this case Linden Lab. To the immediate right of the ‘Contacts’ tab is the ‘Local Chat’ tab. To the immediate right of this is a tab labelled ‘Friends Conference’. This indicates a multi user chat between two or more persons from one’s contacts list. To the immediate right of this is a tab labelled with the name ‘Maat’ with the remainder obscured. This is a private chat with an individual, likewise the next four tabs. The penultimate tab, partially obscured but showing ‘Kingdom’ is a group chat. The final tab is a private chat with another individual. Despite the fact that whenever new text appears in any given tab the tab will flash, it is often hard to keep track of these conversations. It is possible to separate the tabs so the entirety of each one is fully revealed at all times, but there is obviously a limit to how many of these separated tabs it is feasible to have on the screen at one time.

Apart from this visual layering of conversations there are many other layerings occurring. For instance, these chats will usually be populated by many of the same people. That is to say that those chatting in a multi user conference may well be a subset of those present in local chat, group chats and private chats. Multi user conferences are often used as a way of establishing a clique. Because one must be invited to join a conference people often run these multi user group chats populated by their friends and excluding those in the sim of whom they are not particularly fond. It is sometimes the case in a role pay community that the main role play may well be taking place in one of these conferences instead of local chat. This makes it hard for newcomers to integrate themselves into the community. The most limiting factor to the use of multi user or group chats is that they are incredibly unstable. They would often crash, send messages out of order, or not send them at all.

Multi user conferences and group chats are also used as a way of minimising OOC chat in local when an event is occurring. Stage directions and so on may be given in a multi user or group chat leaving the local chat a much cleaner, and hence more immersive, experience. In addition to all these in world chats and meta chats it is not uncommon for one to also be sharing meatspace with another person at another computer who is likewise in the world. Or one may be conversing telephonically, or via online voice programs such as Skype. In addition to all these inputs residents may listen to the inworld music stream which allows each sim owner to stream their choice of music into the sim. Users also often either listen to music they play on their own computer or watch television or movies while in the world. Immersion in the world is therefore less of an immersive experience at many times. It can be more like a multi media assault on one’s sensorium. But on many occasions one easily slips into a deeply immersive experience of flow2 wherein the meatspace world fades away and one becomes the avatar.

  1. Second Life Wiki, Communication,, Accessed 02/04/2014. ↩︎
  2. Csíkszentmihályi M., (1975), Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. ↩︎

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