Cancer, Death, and Virtual Worlds

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Photo by Marcel Scholte on Unsplash

Yesterday, I found out that I might have bladder cancer.

I’m going to have surgery on October 3rd. The voluminous paperwork I filled out yesterday said it was for a “Transurethral Resection—Bladder Tumor”. I underwent all the standard pre-operation routines: EKG, chest X-ray, bloodwork. (Yes, I had to pee into a little cup.) The urologist who is operating on me will be doing a biopsy to see if I indeed have bladder cancer. (Thank God for Canada’s universal healthcare system.)

This is all happening so fast that it is making my head spin.

And, well, obviously, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own mortality.

I actually don’t have a lot of material possessions. My biggest purchases in life have been my computer and my car. And I don’t have a will yet; I’ve been putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off. Nobody wants to think about death and dying. But now it’s time to start to think about who I want to leave my possessions to.

Ironically, over the past couple of weeks, I have been reading the book Living and Dying in a Virtual World. Reading about how people deal with the death of someone they knew from Second Life. And, as Strawberry Singh herself wrote very recently:

…I was recently reading a post on RyanSchultz.com about a New Book on Second Life: Living and Dying in a Virtual World by Dr Margaret Gibson and Clarissa Carden. The book takes readers into stories of love, loss, grief and mourning and reveals the emotional attachments and digital kinships of the virtual 3D social world of Second Life. If you are interested in reading it, it’s available on Amazon (this is an Amazon affiliate link).

Reading about this book got me thinking about how often I’ve heard it happen that people create friendships and relationships in Second Life (and other virtual worlds) and then one day one of the friends just disappears. They never login again and their friends are left wondering what happened to them. People usually start to assume the worst and think that they’ve passed on, and sometimes that is the case, but regardless, it’s always heartbreaking.

Recently I’ve been very busy in the real world so my blog posts have been a bit sparse. If I don’t blog for a week or so, a number of you reach out and check up on me, to make sure I’m okay. It’s very sweet and actually pushes me harder to find time to login and blog again. Juggling both lives can be hard for a lot of people but I never want to give the impression that I’ve suddenly left SL without a word or something worse has happened to me in the real world.

I thought I would take this opportunity to make you guys a promise, a birthday promise. I promise that if I ever plan to take extended time away from Second Life, for whatever reason, I will always do a blog post and let you guys know. I’ve already been doing this, when I go on vacation or if I have a family emergency come up. If you notice that I have disappeared for a while, maybe a week or two or maybe even three or more and you haven’t heard a word from me, it’s most probably because real life has me so incredibly busy that I just haven’t had a chance to login. I will definitely be back, as soon as I get the chance, I will be back! Now the promise: if something were to happen to me in the real world where I will never be able to return, I have asked both my husband and my brother to let you guys know, either through my two best friends in Second Life (Zaara Kohime and Winter Jefferson) and/or this blog. My husband and brother have all of my passwords and Winter also has access to this blog and can write posts here.

So, like Strawberry, I am making you the same promise: I will not just disappear from Second Life one day without letting everybody know what happened to me. I will set something up, and I will do the same thing for all the other virtual worlds where I am a frequent visitor. I don’t have details yet, but when I do, I will post them here on my blog.


Earlier this year, and quite obviously, not knowing that all this was going to happen to me, I wrote a blogpost about how I want to leave my Second Life avatars to other people when I die:

Here is a photo mosaic of all the avatars I had created during my first five years in Second Life. (I created this photo mosaic back in 2012, as a sort of ceremonial way to wean myself off SL and move on. Of course, that didn’t really happen! I took a long break and came back in 2016.) Many, if not most, of these avatars I have since deleted, but I have kept the rest of them.

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I understand that it is currently against the Linden Lab Terms of Service (TOS) to give your SL avatar to another person. I believe that we need to make an exception. I would take great pleasure from knowing that some of my Second Life avatars, on which I lovingly spent so much time and money, would live on after I die. It would be a kind of digital immortality.

Of course, I understand that Linden Lab does not want avatar accounts to become a commodity, something that is bought and sold on the marketplace. I was surprised to find that there are even some places online where people actually sell their old avatar accounts, especially those legacy accounts created with a proper first name and last name; this might even be one of the reasons why LL is bringing back avatar last names.

I would never want to sell one of my avatars; I find the very idea repugnant. But it would give me great pleasure to be able to freely give one of my avatars as a gift or a legacy to a friend or family member. And I want Linden Lab to explicitly allow this.

Second Life is soon turning 15 years old. I’m certain that this sort of thing has happened in the past. And I’m quite certain that some of the people driving an avatar in SL are not the original creators. As more of SL’s original userbase starts to die off, this will be a perfectly natural thing for some avid SL users to want to do.

And no, I don’t think it’s creepy at all. The people to whom I would leave my avatars would be free to do as they please with them, redesign them, or give them on in turn.

And I found out that you can, indeed, leave your SL avatars to other people when you die. Linden Lab actually has a process and procedures in place, to deal with just that possibility.

Which leads me to my next point.

Simply put, I need to figure out who gets what avatars when I die. Yes, avatars. Plural.

My (at times, obsessive) hobby over the past eleven years has been to create and design many Second Life avatars, most of whom have interesting legacy names; that is, a proper first name and last name, like my clown/drag queen avatar, Velcro Zipper:

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You see, she’s both a clown, and a drag queen. (Both involve wigs, and a lot of makeup!) Here’s a picture of one of my clown looks for the same avatar:

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Here’s another, more classic clown look:

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Over the last decade, I have built up a whole inventory of clown-wear for this avatar (mostly freebies I have picked up here and there), and recently, I have expanded it to include drag queen accessories like big hair and ballgowns (again, mostly freebies).

(Yes, I know what some of you reading this are gonna say, I know, it’s a strange hobby. Some people golf. Others play solitaire. I happen to create Second Life avatars. What’s your point? I happen to be damn good at it! And it has given countless me hours of enjoyment, and a boundless outlet for expressing my creativity. So don’t judge me.)

I have spent a great deal of time, money, and energy designing my Second Life avatars, and God fucking dammit, they are all going to live on, and provide enjoyment to others, long after I am gone!!! I am not—repeat, *NOT*— going to let all my hard work and creativity go to waste!!!

I also have to figure out who is getting my stuff in all the other virtual worlds of which I am a part: Sansar, High Fidelity, etc. This means that I am going to have to initiate discussions with the people running the various metaverse companies, many of whom have probably never even considered the issue before: what do you do when you want to leave your avatars and other virtual world possessions to other people when you die?

Well, I have decided that It’s high time to start having those discussions. Avatars are property, pretty much the same as any real-world property. (My lawyer is going to have an absolute field day drawing up my last will and testament!)

Stay tuned for more details.

And please, don’t worry about me; I am going to be fine, no matter what happens. And I am not depressed. I just need to take care of things, work out all the details.

I may also need to suspend blogging, and be absent from the various virtual worlds, for a period of time. I do hope that you all understand.

As it turns out, like the hobbit, I’m off on an unexpected journey. Wish me well. And if you believe in God, please say a prayer for me. I’m going to need all the help I can get.

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