Virtual Hypocrisy  (04/29/2012)

Hypocrisy, whether experienced in Reality or Virtually, is an awful thing. It's far worse, however, when the hyprocisy is seen from within the domain of a major charitible organization, or by one of that group's leaders.

Consider the case of the American Cancer Society. Each year, that organization holds a major fund gathering drive, called 'Relay For Life'. Much of this event occurs online, in various Virtual Worlds as well as in Real Life.

Two years ago, my Second Life Partner and I decided to host an event within Second Life to support the charity effort. We decided to host a dance event on our property. Both of us had loved ones who had fallen to this awful disease, and this event would provide us both a way to honor their memories and bring a little bit of good out of their demise.

We had nearly 10,000 meters of woodland and exposed meadow that could serve as a gathering spot and impromptu dance floor. We had a friend who volunteered to be the DJ. My partner was already a skilled hostess, and would greet people and make them feel at home as they arrived.

We decided to make the event a 'Roman Toga' party, to give it a unique look and feel. Purchasing a 'His and Hers' Roman Toga outfit, we used our photo backdrop studio to produce several excellent shots of us, in costume, standing in front of a view of Mount Olympus. We turned those into banner images that we could use as the basis for hand-out sheets, Posters, and email stationary images. Everything was all set to go, and the event would have been fabulous, had it ever occurred.

The event never happened, however. We submitted our materials for the event to one of the American Cancer Society 'Relay For Life' leaders in Second LIfe, a woman who we'll call 'Cinder Bella'. The reply from Cinder was strong, hostile, and immediate.

They would not sanction the event. In the view of Ms. Cinder Bella, the concept of using Roman Togas as the theme was 'pornographic'. It supposedly was too 'Licentious', too 'Erotic' to be allowed for an American Cancer Society event. Ms. Belle was, after all, a God-Fearing Christian and the exposed thighs my virtual partner showed in our banner image was 'an affront and an insult to god-fearing people everywhere, and something 'our Lord' Jesus Christ would never condone'."

I quickly pointed out to Cinder Bella that her jesus lived under Roman occupation, and that the sight of at least the most wealthy people in his society dressed in togas would be common. But she would not budge: The Roman Togas were 'Evil', 'Filthy', 'Pornographic', and would not be tolerated.

Sadly, the event never occurred. Though my virtual partner continued to work with this misguided organization (only five percent of their gathered funds go towards research, according to online sources: the rest is used for salaries and expenses), but I withdrew and never offered to help them again.

So, an unfortunate tale this is, true: But where is the hypocrisy in all of this?

Fast forward, two years later: Recently, a dear friend of mine and I went to visit this year's American Cancer Society 'Relay For Life' event: a Fantasy Faire. The event begins in a rotunda of incredibly gorgeous diorama displays built into a circular wall; each of them showing a different Fantasy-based scene. By clicking on the placard next to each, we were teleported to a more involved area setup in a particular fantasy theme.

And these areas were, in a word, beautiful! The buildings in each area were setup as shops, with a portion of the proceeds from every sale going to benefit the charity. We walked for hours through many of these wonderful exhibits, coming at last to one with a slightly mystical bent to it, an area called 'Arcanum'.

The 'Arcanum' exhibit concentrated on their specialty: Witchcraft, Magic, and Sorcery. Their area was one of the most gorgeous we had seen, by far: with fantasy creatures galore, mystical buildings and artifacts, magical effects, and incredible vegetation, trees, and plants.

My companion and I wandered immediately into one main store and looked around at their products. The initial awe of their area was dispelled here, for me, a little, though: The products they were selling in their shop seemed a bit decietful, and wicked.

The shop sold gadgets (called 'HUDS') that could be used in Second Life to take over the actions, speech, and inventory of another Second Life Avatar through trickery. This was their 'Magic' that they were offering for sale in the shop.

In Second Life, a character can walk up to you and give you a bouquet of red roses, for example. When that happens, you'll see a popup message that reads something like 'Eldric the Mad finds you very beautiful and would like to present you with a bouquet of red roses. Do you accept?'. The receiving character then chooses 'yes' to accept the gift, or 'no' to refuse them.

Accept them and the gift is added to your inventory and, in some cases, a bit of programming language, called a 'Script', is written into your character. That script stays there FOREVER; it is not possible in Second Life, short of deleting your avatar and recreating it, to remove that script. They're used to provide cute animations that accompany the gift, or to trigger expected reactions ('Andrew Gorham bluses profusely and says 'Oooh, roses! I love roses! Thank you!')

Here's the problem with this, when you consider these so-called 'Magic' gadgets I found in this one store. Eldric the Mad can't ask you 'Eldric the Mad would like to be given permanent and total control over your avatar, allowing him to strip your inventory completely, make your character act like a complete moron in public, or cause you to engage in bizarre sexual antics in public: Would you like to accept this?'. I assure you, that's the INTENT of his so-called spell, but he can't actually ASK you that.

Every character in Second Life would, of course, REFUSE that request. So how does Eldric the Mad get a sucker avatar to GIVE HIM such power over their beloved characters?

Simple: They LIE. These magic gadgets don't TELL the user that is what's about to happen. Rather, they use a FALSE permissions message. The window pops up still, but rather then asking the avatar if Eldric can make them engage unwillingly in bizarre sexual antics, it simplys asks the recipient if they'd like a nice bouquet of roses.

The user may select 'Yes' but when they do, they don't receive roses. They wield up control of their avatar forever and ever to Eldric the Mad. Logging out won't fix this, either: the next time Eldric spots them, he can quite easily re-trigger the script buried deep in that character and take puppet control over them, all over again. If accepted, this 'Magic' turns a Second Life Avatar into a virtual slave.

Isn't THAT special, right? The same organization that found my 'Roman Toga' party offensive and evil to the eyes of their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, some two years earlier were now openly condoning, presenting, and supporting the sale of products by this organization that allowed second life characters to be duped into permanent slavery!

Now THAT'S hypocrisy.

I left the shop in disgust, to be quite frank: I bought no products from that store. I don't know if ALL the Arcanum shops peddled similar wares, I didn't bother to check. I couldn't get out of that simulation FAST enough, let me tell you.

But as I was leaving? I heard a voice in nearby chat. 'Andrew!' said the happy voice. "How NICE it is to see you here! Thank you for supporting the American Cancer Society 'Relay For Life' charity drive! It's so WONDERFUL for you and your friend to visit us!"

I turned. I spotted the voice.

Any guesses as to who greeted me with such cheap, shallow enthusiasm; the true voice of the Dead?

Yup. You're right.

The voice came from Cinder Bella, one of the Second Life LEADERS of the American Cancer Society effort in Second Life; the very same person who, two years earlier, found the concept of a 'Roman Toga' party to be an affront to her dead middle eastern god...

How sad. I find that very VERY sad...

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