Au emphasizes that he also looks for “consistency” in stitching together real-world tales. For example, Au cites avatar Catherine Omega. In 2003, Omega claimed that she’d found herself temporarily homeless in real-life British Columbia. Still, she logged on to SL by stealing Internet access with an old laptop, went dumpster-diving for the necessary video components, and tapped into a live wire for power in the place where she’d been holed up. “She said she was a girl in her 20s squatting in a burnt-out apartment, but she could be a 50-year-old fat guy living in Milwaukee,” Au explains, pointing out that three years later Omega is still an SL resident and her biography hasn’t been debunked. “She could’ve been making this all up, but even then that is really fascinating: the level of detail that she has put into this role-playing — it’s almost as important as it being true or not.”
That’s essentially the same policy of the Metaverse Messenger (MM), a weekly SL community newspaper. “We don’t print anything about a person’s real life that they don’t want us to,” says publisher Kristan Hall, who sits on the MM masthead as her SL self, Katt Kongo. Hall herself embodies the weird disconnect between meatspace and virtual space. “In Second Life, I have a mansion, it’s on an island, I have a Mustang,” she says over the phone from Texas. In real life, she’s a 37-year-old mother of five who admits, “I don’t have a nice vehicle.” In Second Life, as the bosomy publisher of a 27-page newspaper with a circulation of 12,215 (up from six pages, and 400 readers in just a year), “a lot of people know who I am. I’m stopped. I will go somewhere and people will say, ‘Oh my God, it’s Katt Kongo!’ ” she laughs. “In real life, the neighbors are like, ‘That’s the lady with too many kids and too many cats.’ ”
Another real-world person experimenting with an entirely different SL persona is Boston-based blogger Andy Carvin. Last fall he joined SL as Andy Chowderhead, but he got “bored with it” and decided to create Abdi Kembla, an African refugee he modeled after photos he found online of former Somalian child soldiers.
“Previously, when I used my old Andy Chowderhead avatar, I found people were more likely to come over, say hello, and start a conversation. But with Abdi, people tended to just act as if I just weren’t even there,” says Carvin, who estimates that he spent between 20 and 30 hours in February and March exploring as Abdi. “The more I traveled through SL, the more I realized I seemed to be the only African-looking character around anywhere.” He adds, “I encountered gnomes, floating beams of light, characters that were shaped like boxes, elves, everything you can imagine — but no African-looking characters.”