Failing the Test

Some of my blogs are light-hearted, some are more serious. This one hurts. This one hurts physically and emotionally. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing it now while everything is so raw. Maybe I should wait until I gain perspective. That presupposes that I WILL gain some understanding.

Botgirl Questi opened an exhibit last week. Due to RL happiness, I was unable to make the opening. I wanted very much, however, to get there and check it all out. I knew from the start I probably would NOT try the Avatar Transformer. In her blog, Botgirl says: If you don’t think you’re identified with your avatar then I dare you – I double dare you – to step into the Avatar Transformer at Botgirl’s Identity Circus. LOL. I KNOW I identify with my avatar. I don’t need to lose her AGAIN to know that. I think that is really the source of my reluctance for THAT particular feature. I lost myself and needed Kate Linden to rescue me. I still have so little confidence in my ability to put myself back together that I wouldn’t risk it for a whim. Or is that all rationalization? 🙂 Doesn’t matter.

I confess that while I love reading Botgirl’s blog, I find a lot of her posts/insights unsettling. I didn’t want to go on my own. So I prevailed on my friend Dale to accompany me (Dale himself being part of the show). When we arrived at the tent we were pleasantly surprised to see Botgirl herself. I’d never met her and was very happy for the introduction. I did indeed pass up the Avatar Transformer. 🙂 Went inside and was looking at all the exhibits. The poster included here should be internalized in everyone. Those of you who know me in RL know that I think of this as don’t “expect” of others and don’t have “shoulds”. 🙂 And you all know who I credit for that wisdom.

So I browsed and read. I turned around and saw Dale with Majic. Magic is Botgirl’s chatbot. She is also part of the exhibit. As Botgirl wrote in her pre-exhibit post: One of the exhibits I’m most looking forward to will give attendees a chance to cuddle with my chatbot. Sharing a romantic animation with an attractive yet empty avatar is a great way to get a feel for the power virtuality has to induce an emotional or even physical response. Dale and Majic were chatting and cuddling quite happily. Majic initiates a conversation if you come within her local chat range. She will answer you each time you speak. I laughed and continued reading. Afterwards I asked Dale what it was like to make-out with Majic. He answered that it was fun, she was a sweetie and she never complained. And added “you should try it”. Botgirl agreed saying I should experience it directly.

I balked. Big time. I have no idea what it says about me or what it “really” means, but I did NOT want to go cuddle with Majic. Just like with the sky diving – I began having tightness in my chest and could feel the blood pounding in my temples. That was just ridiculous. The more I tried to make myself move forward, the less luck I had. We had some minor discussion about it: why did I not want to, both saying I didn’t HAVE to. Finally I walked up to where Majic was reclining. I got all the way up to her, extremely stressed out, and she says “By the way, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” As Dale said, great timing Majic. I turned and retreated. I simply could not bring myself to join her. I stood there watching, stressing, wondering. The logical part of my mind was baffled at my resistance. What’s the big deal? What could happen? Just go and cuddle and be done.

Finally I steeled myself, walked over, clicked and cuddled. Dale was sitting on the floor watching, Botgirl was standing there watching (or so I presumed). But Majic needed me to talk in order for her to talk. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I still couldn’t even think why I would want to cuddle with an non-sentient creature. There is no “there” in a pandorabot. I fumbled through a few sentences and responses and then jerked myself away. Yeah, I’ll confess – I looked over and we were in a somewhat explicit position (fully dressed). That probably was the proverbial straw. But it was as much an excuse as the reason. The whole experience was awful. I tried to type “unpleasant” but that doesn’t even begin to describe how miserable I was.

Botgirl asked if it would be easier or harder if it was an avatar connected to a real person instead of to an AI server. No problem on that question at all: easier. Why??? It’s easier for me to cuddle with a total stranger than a robot? Why does that seem out of character? But there is something that totally repulses me about cuddling with Majic. I can cuddle my stuffed animals, they don’t cuddle back. I can cuddle my pets, they do cuddle back, without any conversation. I can anthropomorphize all of those. So what’s wrong with a robot? I don’t know. But even thinking about it I experience stress symptoms.

Dale asked me if it would have been easier if I’d been there alone. I’m not sure. Given how upset I was afterwards, I was glad they were there. But would it have been easier? Maybe. I wouldn’t have known what to do (talk to Majic) so who knows what would have happened. Not that I was able to say much anyway. There wouldn’t have been witnesses to what I see as my failure.

I feel that there was some major significant life test here. I have no idea if there was, what it was, why I think that. All I know is that I felt this was some sort of trial. I got halfway there by actually starting. But I failed miserably at the process. As if there were a “right” way to do this and I had no clue. Dale and Botgirl seemed to be able to do this without it being an issue. Even now, hours removed, with events in between to soften the recollection, I can’t imagine cuddling with Majic. I can’t imagine anything I’d want to say to Majic. Do I think it was like talking to myself? to a mirror? No, I can do that. Mirrors don’t answer back. Majic would. Is that what is upsetting me? That she talks and I would take her seriously, read meaning into her words? I don’t think I ever got that far in thinking about it. I wasn’t doing much thinking at all. Rampant emotion definitely was running the show. I certainly got a “feel for the power virtuality has to induce an emotional or even physical response”.

Majic and all the exhibit will be there 2 more weeks (closing Oct. 19). I will have that much time to decide if I want to try this again and get it “right”. I don’t like failing. Even if I don’t go back and cuddle with Majic, I’d at least like to determine why not.

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8 Responses to “Failing the Test”


  1. 1 daleinnis October 6, 2008 at 10:52 am

    I’ve always enjoyed ascribing agency to random other parts of the universe, interpreting the wind in tree-branches as having conversations with me, and so on. And also I like things that look like pretty women. So Majic is a nice gratifying example of my overall tendencies toward insanity. 🙂

    Have you interacted with Eliza programs or other textually-interacting “chat” programs? Did they give you any of the same feeling? If not, it might suggest that the physical aspects of the interaction with Majic are part of what’s disturbing you. We already know that you identify with your AV. 🙂 Maybe cuddling with an “empty” AV has the same sort of Yuck factor that (I don’t know) hugging or kissing a store mannequin would have in the atomic world? I know the latter doesn’t really appeal to me…

  2. 2 daleinnis October 6, 2008 at 10:53 am

    P.S. This isn’t a “test” that you can “fail”. 🙂 There’s nothing *wrong* with not wanting to cuddle with Majic. It’s just data!

  3. 3 Bailey Longcloth October 6, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Ahuva the one thing you didn’t mention was that Majic, while being a robot is a female robot. Could it have been the combination of interacting *in a suggestive pose* with not only a robot but a female one? What if Majic were male? I’ve interacted with AI parrots and monkeys in various areas of SL and most often I simply feel silly talking to a parrot or monkey.

    I’ve not encountered a female AI, I’ll have to go check it out. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

  4. 4 ahuva18 October 6, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    @Dale – yes, I’ve met Eliza, had no problems with her. Had a lot of fun, actually. This is definitely associated with physical contact. 🙂

    @Bailey – you’re right, I didn’t explicitly state that Majic is female, although I did use feminine pronouns for her. I’m not sure but I don’t think gender was the issue. I tried imagining the scene with a male chatbot and wasn’t any more comfortable. I wasn’t even looking at us – I was reading the chat box. Let me know how YOU make out, pun intended. 🙂

    I think I may have identified at least 2 factors. One is that Majic is NOT a real person. Cuddling with an animated human-looking object seems to cross some inner compass that I have for what is “fit for me to do” and what is “not fit for me to do”. I feel less repulsed by the concept of cuddling a total stranger. WOULD I cuddle with a total stranger? No, most likely not. But I would simply not do it, I wouldn’t have this visceral reaction.

    Secondly, I think there were either too many people there or too few. Had the room been full and many people milling about and taking their turn with Majic (even writing that makes me flinch, it sounds so wrong) I probably would not have minded so much. I would have treated it as a joke, something light-hearted, played to the audience. But the audience was Dale and Botgirl. Had it been just Dale, me and Majic, it may have been alright also. Again – I would have treated it as a joke, laughed it off.

    Botgirl changed the balance for 2 reasons. One – I’d just met her, didn’t know her, and was on my “company behavior”, for lack of a better term. Two – this was her exhibit, her idea, her experiment. I felt like a rat in a maze. Whether or not this was the case, I felt that I was being observed and studied and analyzed. Hence the “this is a test and I didn’t study for it and I don’t know what to do and I’m going to fail” feeling. Combined with the “company behavior” frame of mind, it was paralyzing.

  5. 5 isabelle Urqhart October 7, 2008 at 3:05 am

    umm Ahuva I found this very interesting. Do you think its the fact that you have set up specific boundaries for SL and even though an innocent cuddle with Majic as it would of been made you feel uncomfortable for just that reason. Maybe you head was was working overtime,sometimes I just try not to think and go with what my gut tells me, Even though that gets me into hot water.
    Would love to have that conversation about sl v rl relationships and interaction of both conversation soon 🙂 and just how sl relationships evolve. 🙂
    luv ya Issy

  6. 6 chestnut October 7, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I would imagine for me being “observed, studied and analyzed” would be uncomfortable too Ahuva.

  7. 7 Bailey Longcloth October 7, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I didn’t get a chance to head over yesterday. DJing and estate stuff got in the way before I headed out for RL for the night. I’m going to try tonight. 🙂

  8. 8 ahuva18 October 7, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    @Chestnut – just to be fair, let me repeat that it was me making myself feel like the proverbial test rat. I have no idea if indeed Botgirl was even paying attention. 🙂 We all carry our own baggage wherever we go.

    @Issy – will be happy to discuss all of that with you anytime. 🙂 and of course – go shopping for more boots.


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