New to Chat?
This page is one of several that we will be creating to introduce the world of internet chat to new users.
Chat Primer: Is this a Game or is it Real?
A first look through the Looking Glass of chat
When you first go into a chat room it is unlike anything you have ever seen before. Once you get past the noise of everyone talking at once to undefined others, and you begin to have a coherent conversation with another person, you will inevitably ask yourself, "Is this a game or is it real?"
There are two parts to this question: (1) Are you real? and (2) Am I real?.
Are You Real?
Lets deal with the easy question first: "Are you real?" ("you" meaning the other person you are chatting to). The simple answer is a definitive "yes" and "no". Believe and disbelieve everything you see and hear.
Why should you Believe people? Because you can be assured that there is a human being behind the text your are seeing on your computer screen. If 10 people tell you to stop verbally abusing someone online, you should listen to that - they are probably right. If 5 people think you should give your marriage another chance, then it is probably worth a try. If a person tells you that your sexual come-on was offensive, then it probably was, and you should probably appologize (if you get the chance). If someone says your angry expressions are "flaming" then you should probably watch yourself and backtrack. If you wouldn't treat your dog that way, then you should probably not be treating your chat room acquaintances that way. These are living, breathing humans who hurt and bleed, just like you. It's easy to forget that, when you are angry or "just having fun", and it is wise to do your best to remember.
Why should you Disbelieve everyone? Because you just never know, when you are online. And because many others see this as just a game, and don't see you as a real person. Many people have no problem with lying, betraying, leading you on toward a passionate but false cyber-relationship, screaming, flaming, threatening, or abusing you in any other way that they would never do to a person in real life. Plenty of people (though not most) have no problem giving out free advice to you which, if followed, could have devastating consequences to your life. One man implored a woman to leave her husband - after a 20 minute chat. Four years later, the woman is still with her husband and children and plans to stay that way. One could conceivably argue whether or not she was wise to have stayed, but you can't argue with the totally insanity of the advice, and other similar crazy ideas you can hear on chat.
So how does one believe and disbelieve at the same time? One point to keep in mind is that most of the people are descent and good-intentioned and even wise, most of the time. In fact, people are wonderful...most of the time. So don't believe any single person, but believe in what lots of people say.... most of the time.... when they are making sense.
That is not to say that the majority of people in a chat room at some time can't get all crazy and tell you to go to hell at the same time. That kind of "mass psychosis" is not rare, but is not the norm. But have patience, and with time you will find that usually, most people are inclined to communicate in a meaningful, positive way.
I will claim that if you approach chat with the right attitude of suspended belief, and a basic confidence in humanity, you will learn and grow from the experience over time. People are basically good and even wonderful at times!
Am I Real?
Now for the hard part, "Am I Real?" This isn't all as easy as it appears.
First the easy part. You can't be fully open about your personal identity to people you meet for the first time. You aren't being threatened with a knife through the computer screen, but you may be cutting your own throat and bleeding to death if you are exchanging full names, phone numbers and other things that can lead to your being identified by that person in the real world. Since you don't know for sure if they are real, you don't know what they will do if they can find you. Of course, with some people there may be a time when it is right to meet in the real world, and only you and perhaps your parents can make that judement. But be assured that the time is not at the first few hours of a meeting. This is not like meeting someone in the real world - you can't see their face and their nonverbal behavior, and you can't evaluate their safety as easily as you can in real life.
On the other hand, it is dangerous to view chat as a complete fantasy game. The dangerous games of chat take many forms, and here are just a few:
Cyber-rampage: I once saw this first-hand when I was showing
a new chat program to my then-14 year old nephew. This is a fine, bright
young man who would never harm anyone. He is a commedian, and he likes
to keep us all laughing with his irreverant humor. It was an eye opener
to me to see this young man with his first chat experience. He was yelling
obscenities, insults and other abuse as quick as he could, jumping randomly
from one person to the next. He had the whole room of early-teens laughing
hysterically. Yet, I knew from past experience how this was being viewed
from the other side of the modem. It's a real annoyance and almost all
people hate it. It is disruptive to any potentially meaningful conversations
others are having, and occassionally a naive new person will be hurt
or offended. So just don't do it yourself, and if you see someone else
doing it, just "mute" them and ignore them. At some point, we will be
wise enough to set up special rooms for "Arguments" and "Abuse" (like
in the Monte Python skit) but outside of those rooms, it's not cool.
Less Dangerous Fantasies
a/s/l Some people misrepresent themselves with respect to the
basic tags of "a/s/l", that is, "Age, sex and location". One kind of
comical scenario is when men represent themselves as woman. I don't
think this is very common (who knows?). The reason this is funny is
that many men have a huge phobia about meeting a woman on chat
who would turn out to be a man. They will avoid chat altogether just
to avoid the possibly of such an encounter. Much more commonly, kids
will represent themselves as older teens or 20 year olds. Also some
people past their prime will represent themselves (through avatars or
text) as being younger than they really are.
So How Real Am I?
Pretty real. Relax, play and have fun and try stuff. But never forget who you are, and never forget that there are real, living people on the other side - just like your family. Handle yourself and others with care.