Let it be.

It was inevitable that people were going to start claiming that Rheta faked her own First Life death. Various bloggers have been quick to rush in with reports that there appears to be no evidence for a pregnant woman getting killed by a van in France — indeed, Europe — on April 3rd, and that it is therefore clear that Rheta is alive and well and laughing at us all.

I will freely grant that I have doubts about the details of the story given. My own entry, written immediately after getting the news, all but beats the reader over the head with that. But I also think those trying to “out” Rheta now are completely missing the boat.

I would submit that there are at least a dozen possible scenarios here.

  • It’s possible that Rheta’s typist did indeed die in the manner we’ve been told, and that the media failed to notice. The media does sometimes miss stuff, especially stuff that would be in the Saturday edition of the paper.
  • It’s possible that Rheta’s husband found out that she was leading a Second Life—one in which she was proudly active in BDSM and had a female partner—that he insisted she immediately cut all ties to the world, and that he made up the whole hit-by-a-van story to get rid of us.
  • It’s possible that Rheta’s typist died by some other means, perhaps in childbirth, and that either her tech guy or her husband changed all the details in order to keep her identity safe. Perhaps they suspected that an army of bloggers would try to violate her privacy once informed of her passing. (I for one have assumed from the start that “Valérie M.” was not her real name.)
  • It’s possible that the last scenario applies, but that she’s actually comatose with little hope of recovery.

I’m sure you can think of any number of other possibilities yourself. The only common denominator between these scenarios is that Rheta Shan, Second Life avatar, is no longer with us, and that this is true for reasons either largely or entirely beyond the control of her typist.

Opposed to all of the above is the hypothesis advanced by various bloggers, that this is all a deliberate attempt by Rheta to screw with us and/or see how we react to her passing. I would say that this is, by far, the least likely possibility of the bunch.

(Actually, two motivations are given for the alleged deception, but the greed argument doesn’t even make sense. The claim there is that she had to leave in order to claim the L$500,000 she was given in-world by Dusan Writer. But as staying or leaving wouldn’t have had the slightest impact on her ability to cash out, that can only be regarded as empty sensationalism.)

Ultimately, the assessment on all sides hinges on Rheta’s character. Certainly, there are known cases of online personalities faking their own deaths. But those cases have generally involved one of two scenarios: either they’d woven a web of lies that they couldn’t maintain anymore and couldn’t get out of by any other means; or they were complete drama queens using death as the inevitable culmination after months of attention-getting tactics. Those of us who knew Rheta could tell you that neither applies here.

Of those bloggers claiming that Rheta is alive and acting out of greed, perversity, or psychosis, one has spent months in active opposition to Rheta personally and everything she stood for, and the rest claim not to have really known her at all. I would submit that this makes all of them poor judges of what sort of actions she’d have been likely to have taken. Is it impossible? Nothing is impossible. But for those of us who actually knew her, loved her, and have a basis for knowing how brilliant, sensitive, and self-effacing she was, it’s far less plausible than any of the other scenarios given above.

That being the case, the question is whether we really have any business prying into the sordid details of Rheta’s First Life. My answer there is a very firm “no.” For one thing, they don’t matter. We don’t get to see those cards, and they’re not going to bring her back. I’m reasonably convinced she wouldn’t have wanted the release of what little information we have gotten.

Rheta was a standard-bearer for Immersionism. Like almost all of us, she was actually somewhere on an Immersionist-Extensionist spectrum, or we wouldn’t have known she was pregnant in the first place, but for the most part she guarded the boundaries of her worlds. It is sad, but not entirely surprising, that some are now trying their best to posthumously (or otherwise) tear those boundaries down and drag her First Life into the public view of those she knew in Second Life… and, unavoidably, vice-versa. Any prurient interest I might have in the exact nature of the catastrophic event that caused her avatar to leave us is far outweighed by my interest in safeguarding her privacy.

I will never forget Rheta Shan. But let her rest in peace.

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One Response to “Let it be.”

  1. Rest in Peace, Rheta Shan « Pervasive Games: Theory and Design Says:

    […] discussion and […]

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