Separatists And Integralists

I had been in the community for about three months when Seti told me he had decided to make me a high priest. More people had been joining the priesthood and he felt that more high priests were needed to help and he especially wanted someone in my time zone to help those who weren’t Americans or Europeans. Many people had come and done one ritual or role played for a bit and then left. But a number had been around for enough time that it looked like they might stay so we needed to organize things for them to do. I was in the community for upwards of twelve hours a day. Mostly I stayed in the temple in order to avoid the combat and capture role play. The priesthood had become populated largely with people keen to explore the history, culture and religion of Egypt in detail. We had fitted out the library with a whole series of scrolls with information about Egypt for perusal by the citizens and were holding regular classes about Egyptian culture and religion. We had still had no success at encouraging the combat role players to integrate priests into their role play.

I was in the temple library one day when a priestess I hadn’t seen before came in. She came over and, in character, greeted me and introduced herself in a very subservient way. She then asked me if she could show me a mural she had made. She rezzed the mural and asked me to comment on it. I looked at it and saw that it had an image of two gods and one goddess, Osiris, Horus and Isis. Playing the role of a high priest trying to have an educational interaction with a new priestess, I asked her to tell me what she could about the gods in the image. She reluctantly and most apologetically advised me that she only knew the identity of the goddess. She then spent about ten minutes asking for forgiveness and begging me not to beat her. The mark of Gor was clearly upon her.

I asked her then to tell me about Isis and she replied that Isis had instituted reincarnation in Egyptian religion. After further conversation it was clear that she believed that there was some theology particular to the cult of Isis that held with serial, physical reincarnation. I replied that I did not believe this was the case. That Egyptians had believed in one life on Earth, followed by, for those who lived a good life and did the proper funeral rituals, a perfected life in the afterlife, known as Aaru, the field of reeds. My corrections produced another round of remarks about her worthlessness and more begging to not be beaten.

Ignoring her protestations of unworthiness and remarks about beating I gently encouraged her to seek out information about the gods depicted on the mural, whose names I told her, and I asked her to come back once she had learned something about them. She continued on with begging not to be beaten and was exceptionally obsequious for some time, until I said I had work to do and suggested she come back when she had found out about the gods on her mural. Thinking little of it, I returned to building items for the temple.

The next time I ran into Seti he advised me that she had come to him and told him that I hated her and had treated her cruelly. She had told him she was going to leave the priesthood and go back to the combat role play where, she claimed, people were much nicer to her. He calmed her and she agreed to remain in the priesthood as long as more focus was put on the priestesses. Seti agreed.

She soon came to see me and asked my permission to rejoin the priesthood. I politely advised her that she didn’t need my permission to return, as Seti, as first high priest, had already made her a priestess. Then she somewhat surprisingly asked me to be her teacher in the priesthood. I was unsure what was motivating her so I tried to find this out. The following conversation details our interaction.

Chat Excerpt – Cleopatra Asks Me To Be Her Teacher

Cleopatra: I have been invited to return to the Priesthood but I wanted to speak to you first
Thutmose: yes...
Cleopatra: Is this something you approve of ... or have feelings about?
Thutmose: why does it matter to you what I think?
Cleopatra: It matters a great deal since it was our discussions that lead to my resignation
Thutmose: I still have no idea why...
Cleopatra: I respect that. However my question is how you feel about my return
Thutmose: If I don't know why you left how can I comment on your return?
Cleopatra: Valid ...
Thutmose: If I don't understand what it was about that conversation that made you leave I may do it again
Cleopatra: Since I was the one triggered it is up to me ... and not your's to carry
Thutmose: then I can have no comment on your return
Thutmose: and I will treat you as I have always done
Thutmose: and I can accept no responsibility for if I do it, whatever it is, again
Cleopatra: I think that is fair ... and responsible
Thutmose: so be it
Cleopatra: So be it
Cleopatra: Then I shall return
Cleopatra: Will you be my teacher, illustrious one?
Thutmose: Not unless you tell me what it was that caused you to leave
Thutmose: because there must be trust and honesty between a teacher and their pupil
Cleopatra: What year is it here in this sim?
Thutmose: approx 300BCE, within the reign of Ptolemy I soter
Cleopatra: Indeed
Thutmose: why do you ask this question?
Cleopatra: The very year he took power
Thutmose: actually I believe it was 323BCE that he took power
Cleopatra: because it was HE that was behind the establishment of ISIS as a primary deity in Egypt
Thutmose: what has this to do with my question?
Cleopatra: yes
Thutmose: that question doesn't have a yes or no answer.
Cleopatra: You seemed to know nothing of this
Thutmose: what led you to that conclusion?
Cleopatra: You told me so ... as well as stating there was no High-Priestess in this RP Sim
Thutmose: I most certainly did not say I knew nothing of Isis
Cleopatra: Of our HP?
Thutmose: obviously I know of the high priestess.
Cleopatra: I apologize for reading otherwise
Thutmose: I do recall that I told you there was no concept of reincarnation in Egypt, except for the life in the du'at
Cleopatra: By 300 bc the cult of Isis was well on its way of establishing a cosmology of reincarnation ...
Cleopatra: Cleo herself in 79 bc thought herself the reincarnation of Isis
Thutmose: yes, but cleo thought of herself as a goddess
Cleopatra: The Goddess showed us her wings that She created herself ... indicating that we could do so as well
Thutmose: in Egyptian religion Isis did not create herself
Thutmose: she was the daughter of geb and nut
Cleopatra: but she manifested her wings herself
Cleopatra: They are attached ... not grown
Cleopatra: She is the Mistress of Magick
Cleopatra: Meaning that She is showing us .. as humans we can do the same
Thutmose: this is not Egyptian religion
Thutmose: this is something else entirely
Cleopatra: It was a new religion that was the excitement on the Mediterranean... and what lead Rome to its destruction
Thutmose: I do not take your meaning
Cleopatra: There are many sources relating to this
Cleopatra: Anyway
Cleopatra: It is not the issue here
Cleopatra: I was playing a role ... I got triggered by your line of questioning .... and I resigned
Cleopatra: Now I seek to resume the RP
Thutmose: you still have not told me what it was that I said that made you resign
Cleopatra: Your attitude about women and the priestesshood seemed ... obvious.
Thutmose: you are inferring meaning I did not insert
Cleopatra: Obviously .... we are dealing with lines of text in the middle of the night on the internet
Thutmose: indeed, and it is not what I said, it is what you hear
Cleopatra: As I said ... I was triggered. I am in the midst of the biggest transformation of my life .... I am going to Egypt in just 5 months
Thutmose: and?..
Cleopatra: Exactly my point ... you are completely disconnected from the emotional impact of why players come to this sim
Thutmose: au contraire - I am well aware of them
Thutmose: but you cannot communicate effectively with me
Thutmose: I speak plainly and I expect my students to do the same
Thutmose: you cannot do this
Cleopatra: I disagree ... I can ... I was in a process at the time ... and as a woman sometimes we get lost in our emotions
Thutmose: so you were overcome by your emotions
Thutmose: and because of this you did not convey your meaning?
Cleopatra: Then, women should not be allowed into the Presthood?
Thutmose: you are extrapolating your own state on to all women
Cleopatra: No ... only mine
Thutmose: only your what?
Cleopatra: My emotional context. That sometimes I can become ... triggered
Thutmose: your statement that women should not be accepted into the priesthood implies that you think that all women are at some time so overcome by emotion that they cannot communicate effectively
Thutmose: this is not a fact
Thutmose: in fact women are usually much more adept at communicating than men
Cleopatra: {smiling}  .... ahhhh .... well PMS is real you know
Cleopatra: just stating the facts
Cleopatra: Anyway
Thutmose: I do not feel that we have sufficient rapport that I can accept you as my student. You should select another teacher.
Cleopatra: I respect this
Thutmose: I say this for your own good.
Cleopatra: Will you accept me as a member of the presthood?
Thutmose: it is not up to me to accept or refuse your entry into the priesthood
Thutmose: each priest may accept who they please
Thutmose: If a high priest will accept you then you shall be a priest
Cleopatra: That is not what I asked ... if you will not accept me I will not return
Thutmose: that is your choice
Cleopatra: No, not as your student, as part of the priesthood
Thutmose: as I said, it is not up to me to accept or refuse you
Cleopatra: Very well
Cleopatra: Then we shall accept our differences
Cleopatra: thank you for this discussion
Thutmose: go in peace
Cleopatra: Blessings Illustrious One
Thutmose: may the gods walk with you

I was, to say the least, confused. She had clearly had an unfortunate reaction to our conversation, one she could still not explain to me. It was obvious I had not behaved as she had expected me to, and yet she was now decided that I should be her teacher, that I should accept her as such or she could not remain in the priesthood. It seemed obvious to me that she should seek another high priest to be her teacher and that I should not respond to her threat to leave unless I did as she wished. She also obviously felt that I had some objection to women in the priesthood and continued in her belief in serial reincarnation for ancient Egyptians. So I decided to ask Berenike, the oracle, by rank a high priestess, for her opinion. Was there something I was missing? My conversation with Berenike took place simultaneously with my conversation with Cleopatra.

Chat Excerpt – Thutmose And The Oracle Consider Gor

Thutmose: Cleopatra is giving me a big D&M
Berenike: What is D&M?
Thutmose: :) deep and meaningful..
Thutmose: usually a bit sarcastic in meaning
Berenike smiles a slow, wide smile.
Thutmose: she practically had a nervous breakdown the other day after I told her not to be so obsequious. 
Thutmose: and then she went all "I am so worthless" on me.
Berenike: shit...I knew Gor dehumanized the men, but wasn't really aware of the damage it was doing to the women.
Berenike: I hate Gor, I hate Gor, I hate Gor.
Thutmose: ditto, ditto, ditto
Thutmose: I told her to hold her head up and be a good example to the people of Egypt
Thutmose: and she burst into tears.
Thutmose: I mean ..
Thutmose: wtf?
Thutmose: She wants to come back and she wants me as her teacher
Thutmose: shakes head slowly...
Thutmose: her interpretation of the conversation that "made her leave" is amazing
Berenike: I should slap her silly.
Berenike: She is an intelligent woman.
Berenike: But the first time I saw her, she was in silks...and behaving in a sub manner.
Berenike: I think she belongs with Amon and Nebty-nub...she understands them better than she does you.
Thutmose: yes, so why does she want to pick me?
Berenike: Either because she thinks she can convert you, or because she really does enjoy learning...and I think it is that latter.
Thutmose: ROFL
Thutmose: convert me to what?
Thutmose: raises an eyebrow
Berenike: She is a Believer.
Berenike: She believes in Isis.
Berenike: The new Isis.
Thutmose: here she is again trying to tell me by 300BCE the cult of Isis taught reincarnation...
Berenike: You will only "make" her leave again, you know.
Thutmose: she seems to be confusing the fact that Isis brought Osiris back to life with human reincarnation.
Thutmose: wow I am truly a mighty magician!
Berenike: hmm, ask her if she believes that the Christians teach reincarnation?
Berenike: Since resurrection is the same.
Berenike: in both instances.
Thutmose: I am trying to wrap it up with Cleopatra...
Thutmose: this is going downhill...
Thutmose: we are at, paraphrasing, "because she gets too overcome by emotion to communicate this is true of all women and I hate women"... apparently...
Berenike: Gor strikes again.
Thutmose: now we are at emotional manipulation...
Berenike: /grin
Thutmose: "If you will not accept me as your student I will not return".
Berenike: I would not accept.
Thutmose: she wants me to tell her she has my permission to come back.
Thutmose: I have told her that I do not think we have sufficient rapport for me to be her teacher and that she should select another
Berenike: /nod
Thutmose: now we are at "Even if I am not your student will you accept me back".
Thutmose: I said it is not up to me to accept or refuse you, if a high priest will take you as their student then you shall be in the priesthood.
Berenike: Ah, that is the real question.
Berenike: Not the priesthood...she is asking if there will be enmity from you.
Thutmose: she does not seem to be able to understand that I can be in a state of emotional neutrality about this.
Thutmose: she can only do two valued logic
Thutmose: either A or B
Berenike: Yes.
Thutmose: no other options
Berenike: She is an English speaker only...has not studied other languages.
Berenike: English is an either/or language.
Thutmose: this limitation is not inherent in English
Thutmose: I don't agree
Berenike: /grin
Berenike: This will be a delightful exchange of opinion, when you have the time.
Thutmose: and for proof I cite the existence of the word 'maybe'
Thutmose: sadly I do not have the time now
Berenike: /nod
Thutmose: I must go and work on a proposal that I must submit this week.
Berenike: We will store it for another time.
Thutmose: indeed.
Thutmose: I do hope the poor girl finds someone she can communicate with.
Thutmose: but she sees her own motives in other's words
Thutmose: text only communication can accentuate this tendency
Berenike: Most do.
Berenike nods and grimaces.
Berenike: Almost 90% of the female applicants to this sim are Gor players...
Thutmose: oh dear
Berenike: I don't know if that reflects on the female population of SL or on the sim, or on a grapevine...I suspect the latter.
Thutmose: well that explains some of the strange reactions I get from some females here...
Berenike: Last week, we had clots of Gor females in here chasing the guys.
Berenike: Ahhh, Thutmose, you make me feel like a sophisticate.

In this interaction I am separating my character and my meatspace self. I am being what I shall call a separatist. I am cognizant of and consciously choosing to maintain a separation between my character and my meatspace self. Cleopatra is on the other hand acting as what I shall call an integralist. Her character and her meatspace self are one. Cleopatra seemed unable to separate role play from OOC. I am being so much of a separatist that I don’t even conceive that Cleopatra will have an emotional reaction to my character’s actions. Her conversation with me makes clear that her emotions are transferred directly through her role play performance, and that emotions generated by the role play interaction feed back directly and completely into her meatspace self. This is seen most clearly where she says “I was playing a role … I got triggered by your line of questioning …. and I resigned”. She was playing a role during the conversation about the mural and admits that her OOC self was “triggered” by the emotions generated by that role play and this caused her to resign, which she did OOC. Berenike’s conversation demonstrates that she understands that Cleopatra is an integralist. Berenike indicates that she sees that Cleopatra’s meatspace self has been overcome by the emotions of interacting with my character and is trying to get an assurance that it won’t happen again, should she return to the priesthood, when she says “Not the priesthood… she is asking if there will be enmity from you”. Berenike sees that Cleopatra is an integralist trying to communicate with a separatist, and that I am being so much of a separatist that I don’t understand why this is so hard for Cleopatra.

What was interesting to me was Cleopatra’s understanding of my comments about women. Obviously I had failed Gor 101. I had ignored her protestations of worthlessness and any talk of beatings and encouraged her to do more research and go forth and be a good example, but she had somehow understood that I thought women were too emotional to be allowed in the priesthood. My steadfast separatism had been understood by her as a critique of emotionality. Our reality tunnels were clearly not intersecting much at all. My recognition of this, and thus my suggestion that she seek another teacher, had only caused her to embark on another episode of integralist engagement (her threat to leave, an OOC action) if I didn’t give her what she asked for, but clearly didn’t really want, that being more engagement with a separatist.

She was playing a role within a role within a role. But then she was forgetting that she was playing a role. She was (probably) a meatspace female playing at being a female Gor inclined avatar playing at being an ancient Egyptian female. But then, forgetting these roles, she became upset that my character did not engage with her meatspace self’s emotional issues, which she had played out via her character through the script about worthlessness and beating. It was her back stage self coming through the role and causing her to act integrally, so she didn’t recognize it. My failure to play the expected reciprocal roles, a meatspace male playing a Gor inclined male avatar playing an ancient Egyptian male, had clearly not fitted in with her expectations, resulting in her taking drastic steps to try to force me back into the role she expected me to be playing. The things she didn’t know she didn’t know had put her into this position. She didn’t know that she was enacting her back stage self in the role play. So she didn’t realise that my failure to engage with her role played emotions was the cause of her meatspace self’s reaction. She didn’t know I was a separatist and she an integralist. Because she saw a male avatar in a community where most males were into Gor she had presumed I was likewise so inclined. She didn’t know this wasn’t the case. Her character was her meatspace self in Egyptian clothing so she had taken my character for the same, completely. Her intellectual knowledge that the character is not the person had been subsumed by this role playing short circuit and her preconceptions and perceptions.

Because I haven’t met her meatspace self I must allow that she may be a meatspace male with a female avatar. But my sense is she really is a meatspace female. Her integralism is the main reason. She wasn’t guarding her meatspace persona at all, her comments about PMS and so on, and her continuing advocacy for females in the priesthood, as we shall see later, all combine to cause me to believe she was a meatspace female. Moreover she just wasn’t a convincing enough role player to be a meatspace male with a female avatar. Being an avatar of the opposite gender to one’s meatspace self requires careful and relentless role play and an avowed separatist mindset. Traits she had not exhibited.

The separation between avatar and meatspace person was a fine perceptual line, often crossed. The everyday dialogue of denizens of virtual worlds is peppered with references to how anyone could be behind that cute manga chick with the purple hair, death ray tits and jetpack boots currently being chatted up at the bar by the centaur bunny with a devil’s tail. One of the most discussed aspects of this phenomenon is gender bending1, with about a quarter of users doing so, with men being much more likely to do so than women2. It is well known that persons sometimes drive avatars of a different gender to their meatspace one. But the fact is that this awareness totally fails to prevent residents of virtual worlds from treating other’s avatars as if they were the person the avatar portrays. While some few are unfazed, most are angry, hurt, sad or betrayed when the discrepancies between the meatspace self and the avatar self are revealed. The discrepancies that everyone was always talking about existing: always talked about, seldom realised. To me it is a lesson that we are not what we appear to be, that all is illusion. While many seem totally incapable of converting these revelations of an avatar’s variance from the meatspace person behind them into an understanding of this phenomenon, experiencing a succession of unhappy realisations each time this seemingly obvious situation reveals itself to them, I found it easy to transfer this realisation into the meatspace world. Indeed it caused me to consider who might be driving our meatspace selves. Perhaps it is avatars all the way up. An endless string of self driving other reality self, driving other reality self, and so on ad infinitum.

Some will then ask “which is the real self?” and then it’s down the rabbit hole, as there are many reals. As Thomas’ theorem says “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”3. We choose to believe that certain things are real and others are not. Next we choose to believe our own propaganda, beginning to think this makes things really real. If we adopt a belief sincerely enough it is real to us. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck. But it may well be a duck avatar being driven by a large Maori gentleman. Humphrey argues that our perceptions not only form our reality but are responsible for consciousness4. This perfectly explicates the reality of the virtual world where things are all appearance and no substance.

Virtual worlds allow us to submerge ourselves in the illusion. In a virtual world no one knows you are a duck. You can even begin to believe you are a duck. You can inhabit a duck avatar community with a whole lot of other people who have decided to live a uniquely anatidae lifestyle. Then one day you find you start to believe you are a duck. You start having duck consciousness. You do duck things. You have visions of being a duck in another life. You find yourself talking to meatspace ducks. Hanging out with them. You start to see reality from the perspective of another being, another order of life to your meatspace self. You become less anthropocentric and feel a new sense of connection to all kinds of other creatures. You have learnt how to see the world from the point of view of another. You realise the universe is an amazing interconnected stream of reality tunnels. What an amazing lesson!

And then one day your spouse screams at you in a fit of virtual widowhood “Why are you wasting your time hanging out with all those duck dressing losers pretending to be a duck?!” And it all comes crashing down. You realise you aren’t really a duck. You are a human who has a job and a mortgage, and that really ducks are just things that go well with orange sauce, and how silly you were to believe you grokked ducks. You find yourself wondering how it was that you managed to get so caught up in something that wasn’t really real.

This integral conflation of one’s character’s with one’s meatspace self’s emotions is certainly more likely to occur in a free form role play scenario than in a game where one’s character’s actions are more closely scripted. Second Life role play is almost entirely unscripted. The content must be generated by the participants as they go along, off the cuff. Certain rituals might be scripted, but such scripts were also the creation of the role players, not of a game company. To create one’s character ex nihilo demands a whole order of magnitude more of one than following explicit missions that have been set out for one, such as happens in games like World of Warcraft. If one is unable to conceive a cogent character, one that has depth, with its own characteristics and qualities, or if one is unable to maintain that character through the huge number of hours of role play that take place in such communities, then one is apt to simply have the avatar be an expression of one’s meatspace self, to be an integralist. Certainly this happens to greater and lesser degrees with all role players. We can’t help but put something of ourselves into our characters, and we also can’t help that they put something back into us. I feel that separatists make better role players. An integralist approach means that one can only ever have one character, a character which is a reflection of the meatspace self. The meatspace self in Egyptian clothing. It also makes role play less fun. If one is an integralist one can only role play scenarios that the meatspace self can cope with. The combatants in the community role played dying in battle innumerable times. If they were unable to insulate their meatspace selves from experiencing the emotions associated with dying they would be having nervous breakdowns in short order. Yet integralists predominated. Clearly they are not experiencing the emotions associated with death each time their character dies in battle. Perhaps this is because an avatar doesn’t really die. However most members of the community were constantly experiencing emotional reactions to role play events and then taking OOC revenge for them. Slights to characters in role play would regularly result in furious OOC conversations. On one occasion a female avatar came to visit the high priest and in character asked him to officiate at her wedding, which she wanted to be held in the temple. When he replied to her, politely and in character, that priests had no role in marriage and that it was not a religious ritual she became embarrassed that she hadn’t been aware that this was the case in ancient Egypt and subsequently complained, OOC, to many people how the person playing the high priest was mean as they had evilly refused to participate in her wedding. This phenomenon was much more prevalent in the combatants than it was in priests. Of all the priests only Amon and Cleopatra were integralists, whereas most of the combatants were.

Those of us who were separatists recognized integralists easily and as a result we would avoid role playing with them, motivated as we were by a desire for the role play to be a source of fun, rather than a source of continual grief. Ironically, it was those moments when this separation failed for us who normally maintained it that produced the most engaging role play. For separatists, when a scenario was so engaging that we entered a flow5 state and became the character, and felt their emotions, it was a triumph. We lauded those able to produce such moments, deluging them with OOC praise. This was in contrast to integralists who, unable to make the separation, deluged others with OOC grief when they felt unpleasant emotions as a result of their character’s interactions, or hounded their victims with all kinds of OOC propositions if they experienced pleasurable emotions in role play scenarios.

The key difference is that we separatists were using the role play to explore scenarios and characters we created, while the integralists were being played by the role play.

Horemheb was a separatist who knew most people in the community weren’t. He willfully played on this as he found the results entertaining. This was the source of his inconsistency in applying rules. He would make rules, but if he thought it might be fun to ignore them he would. This phenomenon might not be unique to Second Life.

  1. Rheingold, H., (2000), The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, The MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 169-172. ↩︎
  2. Lastowka, G., (2010), Virtual Justice, Yale University Press, New Haven, p. 47. ↩︎
  3. Thomas, W. I., Thomas, D. S., (1928), The Child In America: Behavior Problems and Programs, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, p 572. ↩︎
  4. Humphrey, N., (1992), A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness, Simon & Schuster, New York, p. 115. ↩︎
  5. Csíkszentmihályi M., (1975), Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. ↩︎

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