Drama... decried by many, disliked by most. What is it? Why does it happen? Is all of it bad? Can it be avoided? In this brief article, I will attempt to offer some answers to these questions.
In this context, drama usually refers to an expression or behavior that is "over the top" emotionally. The common emotions involved are anger, jealousy, and sadness. Someone expressing a great deal of joy is rarely described as a "drama queen", but sometimes even moderate levels of sadness may be so labeled. Perhaps the most common "drama" in SL relates to relationships, usually romantic or sexual in nature. Even there, different people will see things in different ways. One person may identify emotions as drama where another sees reasonable levels of emotion. For the purposes of this article, let's assume we are describing emotional expressions and behaviors that are so intense as to be likely to be seen as "drama" by most anyone in SL.
Why do people get so emotionally bound up? What could lead someone to experience that kind of distress in SL? SL is an interesting place in that it affords a combination of intimacy with anonymity and physical safety. People (and it IS always people behind the avatars) are able to engage in activities and relationships that would, in RL, be far beyond their comfort zone in terms of risk and potential harm. Under these conditions, it is easy for people to underestimate how mentally and emotionally involved they can become. The signals and RL conditions that might otherwise prevent them from getting too caught up in a situation are not present. Every avatar is the expression of a RL person who comes to SL loaded with all of their RL intellectual and emotional baggage. Add to all of this the fact that communications within SL are not as robust as RL communications (lacking as they do so many elements of verbal and non-verbal communication routine in RL) and the potential for someone getting into a deep hole of emotional pain and misunderstanding looms large.
There are many ways that drama can develop. It might be a misunderstanding and a perceived insult leading to anger and a desire for retaliation. It could be an emotional attachment to someone who decides for whatever reason not to start or, if started, not to continue the relationship leading to hurt, anger, jealousy and sadness. It could even be someone coming to SL in the hope of achieving something missing from their RL existence who becomes frustrated, depressed and discouraged in the attempt. There are at least as many ways for someone to get caught up in an emotional storm in SL as there are for them to do so in RL. Losing control in an emotional storm is not a sign of mental deficiency or weakness, but rather an indication of how profound their experience is for them. Sometimes the best response to someone's drama is compassion and understanding. If that fails, then avoiding the drama is a next option.
What might someone do to avoid drama in SL? Many strategies are used. Some feel that there is a measure of safety achieved by removing aspects of the anonymity of SL. They may insist on some kind of proof that the other is a known entity. Others feel that safety is achieved in precisely the opposite manner, by reinforcing the anonymity of SL, the barrier between the RL person and the SL avatar. Both are right, and both are wrong. The methods may reduce some of the risk of drama, but neither will eliminate it.
The simple method of putting "NO DRAMA" in one's profile is often used, and disregarded by some, respected by some and mocked by some. You can put a "Please do not walk on the grass" sign on your yard, but it still requires the other person to honor the request. Some, ironically, respond to any perceived drama with anger and hostility, thus creating some additional drama of their own. Personally, I believe that the single most effective and functional way to avoid drama in SL is to both practice non-drama in one's own behavior and to "walk away" from unwelcome drama that appears in others. Unlike RL, SL offers its users a "mute" option... the ability to neither see nor hear an unwelcome other. Sadly, there is no equivalent option for muting our own emotional outbursts, but we can try.
We can try.