The New Priests

09Apr07

(Originally published in the Second Life Herald on March 6, 2007)

john_william_waterhouse_1849-1917_-_magic_circle_1886.jpg

Last night I was chatting with Pixeleen Mistral about the furor over Tenshi Vielle’s article. I asked her why she published it, because surely she must have foreseen the – more violent than average – storm the article would stir up. Pix replied, “Do you understand the Magic Circle concept – that when you mix real life in [to SL] it ruins the immersion? The Lindens are falling all over themselves to ruin immersion, [for example] that ‘voice’ mistake they want to make – this is more of that.” “Do you think Tenshi Vielle was trying making that point, though?” I asked. “Yes.” Pix said.

At least one commenter agrees with her:

One of the important issues here is similar to one raised when the ‘Voice in SL’ technology was announced recently. That is, the way many residents feel about SL is that it’s an *extension* of RL, and representing the ‘self’ in avatar form is logically a process of reflecting RL. Other residents see with clarity the almost endless possibilities available in creating an entirely different ‘self’ (or many selves) from their reality, sometimes extending that ‘self’ outside of the grid. The rest of us fall somewhere in between these two virtual extremes, or possibly have a foot in both camps (I do). When ‘Voice’ was announced, a huge outpouring of anxiety was expressed by those who, given their point of reference, felt it was no more than a mortal threat to their keeping the fantasy/anonymity element of SL safe. Others, although quieter, felt it was a positive, necessary step in the evolution of the platform. And of course the rest of us fell somewhere in between.

And although, in my opinion, Pix’s view and Simondo Nebestanka’s comment both require a very liberal and imaginative between-the-lines reading of the article, and whether or not that was Vielle’s point at all, the idea of the Magic Circle is an intriguing one worth exploring further. Being relatively new to the MMO world I had not heard this term before, but the results of a Google search show that it has been in use for some time to describe the separation effect between reality and immersive game play. But it seems to have its origins in the Wiccan religion.

A Magic Circle is “believed to be an area which straddles two dimensions or realities. It becomes a sacred space between the mundane world and the otherside. The barrier is fragile and sensitive to things passing through it. Leaving or passing through the circle often weakens or dispels the barrier.” (And although trusted and hearty companions for millennia, dogs have been known to acknowledge the boundaries of the Circle but will not enter.)

Just as believing in the powers of the Wiccan Magic Circle requires a leap of faith, so does creating and maintaining the illusion of immersion in a virtual world like Second Life. Some, like me, hold that perimeter as uncrossable, a void over which we dare not stretch. For others it is just a line in the dirt to be stepped over (and on) with disinterest. For others still – just a few – it remains a powerful force, but one through which they can pass without disturbing the equilibrium on either side.

Wiccans maintain that to pass through the Circle without harming it, one must cut a door in the energy of the Circle using an athame. In Second Life, these few that possess athamic (yes, I just made that up) powers will become, and to some extent already are, opinion leaders and policy makers, for they will garner respect and power on both sides of the Magic Circle. And they will not come from Linden Lab, because for the Lindens there is no Magic Circle; Second Life and real life are one and the same.

But questions remain. Will the powers of the Real crush the illusions of the Immersed. Will the World be rent asunder? Will the Athamic Priests unite the Tribes of Mundane and Otherside? Watch this space, for the Book is still being written.

[Picture: Magic Circle, 1886, by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)]

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One Response to “The New Priests”


  1. 1 And Anonymity Masks Much But Reveals All « First Person : Second Life

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