Second Life has no humans?

What-the-heck-realityAn interesting series of interviews run by  has given me some food for thought.

Aria has interviewed old residents of Second Life® who have given up on the virtual world. She asked them about their engagement — what they mostly did, why they remained for so long, and, naturally, why they left.

The two first interviews show an interesting trend. Both are from former content creators, who had a “vision” about what to do and how to do it, and the desire to meet others with the same ideas. This didn’t work out precisely as they intended.

Why? Both give the same reason: drama. Or, to be more precise, sex. It’s also interesting how for those two people, drama means emotional frustration from power-struggles and manipulation in relationships of a sexual nature.

If you begin reading those interviews, they both make the same assumption: “Second Life is a GAME“. But, at the same time, they explain that neither of them was into role-playing; instead, they “used their ‘real me’ avatars”. They didn’t “pretend” to be anybody else. They weren’t into escapism, nor even fantasy. They took everything seriously. Well… seriously… but not by considering SL “serious” — after all, it’s “just a game”.

As they describe their experiences over the years, two or three things pop up in their stories. First, they had to struggle with addiction. But it’s not quite clear what they found so addictive about SL, just that — after the fact — they looked back at their experience as an addiction, and they left SL with the sense of breaking up their addiction, like an alcoholic looking back at their drunken times with disgust, from a distance.

Addictions have many causes, most being psychological, although many naturally have physical causes (i.e. drug addiction). Pleasure is also addictive — and so is lust, passion, and a lot of strong emotions. Adrenaline is addictive. And so is power, wealth, and the ability to control and manipulate others. So we’re not sure what exactly made SL so addictive for them, but one thing is clear: whatever they found in SL that is so addictive, they don’t experience “in the real world”. And they warn future users not to join SL, “because it’s so addictive” — but they don’t say why.

Now we could wildly conjecture about reasons for SL being addictive. For instance, since both interviews mention sex, one might think that sex, and the complex inter-relationships (pleasure, power, control) that come from sex, are addictive. But the interviewers are quite adamant on all that: they were not after extra-marital relationships, even though they admit that “their families were neglected” (one has to assume that merely staying in-world for hours and hours caused this “neglection”). More interestingly, it’s clear that they don’t see other avatars as real.

Here is the interesting ambiguity. Both seem to repeat the same mantra, “it’s not real it’s not real SL is a game SL is a game” in order to protect themselves and their own feelings of getting involved with other human beings. By doing so, they objectify other people. They don’t “see” a real, breathing, warm-blooded human being behind someone’s avatar. Instead, they have a very solipsistic attitude towards the virtual world: “everything (and everyone) is fake, SL is just a game, everybody is playing a game, except me, I‘m real, I’m not pretending, I’m not role-playing”.

Consider that thought carefully. Probably as a form of defense — “I don’t want to deal with what I feel about other people [in SL], because I will get hurt” — they created this vision that there are no “real humans” in SL, except for themselves. By doing that, they see SL as merely a fantasy role-playing environment, and, escaping from that, what do they do?

They go to chat on Facebook with utter strangers. Because, well, these strangers are real and are not pretending.

Really…?

Now, please understand that I’m not criticizing the amount of suffering that these two people have gone through. It’s clear that their emotions were utterly wrecked by their experience with SL. They hint, more then affirm, that power-struggles among sexual relationships between business associates, partners, and friends, have led them to experience the suffering from jealousy, bad temper, deception, manipulation, and power struggles. This suffering went for a long time, and crushed them emotionally, and made their lives a mess while they were active SL residents. All that suffering was certainly real, and quite worthy of deep compassion.

But maybe none of them had ever experienced these kinds of feelings in the real world, and, because of that, they were utterly unprepared to deal with them once they were triggered by situations experienced while logged in to SL. It depends so much on what kind of business you work for, what neighbourhood you live, and so forth; you might have been shielded from all that. Giving my personal example: while going through most of my professional life, I was mostly unaware of the sexual innuendos in the background, and while once or twice it was clear to everybody else that I was being manipulated, I was way to naïve to be aware of that. It was just years afterwards that I agreed that possibly there was a bit more to the nice smiles and apparently innocuous invitations…

So if I had that kind of naïve experience, and got landed in the middle of the complex sexual struggles in SL, I might have developed the same attitude that these two. I might have gotten scared about how sex completely dominates the minds and actions of everybody around me; and I might have given up on SL, shocked that nobody there is interested in anything else besides sex. And — reluctantly I agree that this could be a possibility — I might even believe that Facebook users are not interested in dating but in having meaningful conversations about high-brow subjects…

Well, think again. We all know that Zuckerberg’s original idea was to create a dating site, and as a dating site, that’s what Facebook is really good at — specially because people are so stupid to tell everybody what they’re doing, so, if you have a manipulative mind, you can even spy upon your sexual partners to see if they’re being faithful and honest or not.

I might look around most of my friends who are also on Facebook and say, “nooo, they’re not all here because of sex!” But then I would have to remind myself that my cousin just registered to Facebook to get a husband; once she married, she never used Facebook again. And a good friend of mine collects sexual partners through Facebook, and discards them as soon as she figures out that they’re not worth spending time with them. Ok, so, these are exceptions — that’s what I tell myself. So, in a sense, I’m using the same barriers to protect myself as these two guys did with SL: I tell myself lies, because the truth is too scary to accept. I cannot accept that most of my friends are on Facebook just to get a date. There is nothing wrong with that — but life is so much more than the next hot date 🙂 — but it simply scratches the nice, naïve bubble which I have built for myself. I like to think, “nooo, my friends and I are special, we think differently” when this is clearly not the case. And, of course, that doesn’t turn my friends and family into monsters, just because they enjoy online flirting and arranging for dates. They’re doing just what most humans do. Why do you think that Facebook is such a huge success? 🙂

By “falling back to real life”, these two people have shut off a bad experience that they had, when they finally saw people as they are — and not as they pretend to be. This is precisely the reverse of what they claim that happens in SL!

Let me try to explain again. A large proportion of the sentient beings in this planet are, indeed, manipulative, control-freaks, jealous, fond of gossip, and love power struggles, of a sexual nature or not. But due to societal constraints, they “pretend” not to be anything like that, and “behave” for “fear” of displaying inappropriate behaviour [I’m quoting Kohlberg, btw]. This “fear” is not necessarily visceral fear; it can be pragmatic, like “I won’t make a fool out of myself at work, or else I might lose my job”. So one refrains from engaging in certain behaviours, because they have consequences that might not be pleasant. This is rather reasonable. Not everybody keeps themselves that much in check, however, and that’s why we point fingers at them and shake our heads — they’re a “bad example” that we don’t want anyone to follow, much less ourselves. Think Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky!

But in SL — unlike what those two have claimed — many residents feel that those constrains are looser. They can, for a while at least, display their real motivations and intentions, because there is little fear of discovery, and few or no incentives for maintaining a certain amount of respectability. After all, “everybody is doing the same” — which means that in the society of SL, those displays of emotion are tolerated, even if they’re not that actively promoted. But contrast that to “real life” where they are suppressed. It’s a world of difference!

So the irony is that, on one hand, we might be wearing nice avatars as masks. But on the behavioural side of things, we drop all masks and pretenses, and display our inner feelings — feelings of desire, of lust, of power, of greed, of jealousy, of control and manipulation. Because we know that if all goes wrong we can always start with a new avatar. Nobody will know. There is no responsibility — and the lack of accounting means a rather more liberal attitude towards displaying strong emotions. You can always turn SL off if you have gone too far.

What shocked these two persons in the interviews was not that “everybody is pretending, everybody is fake, everybody is not real, this is just a game”. No, what shocked them was that they got a glimpse on how people really are beneath their mask of smiles and pleasantries — what happens when all social norms are discarded, just because there is no point in keeping them around. SL is much more than merely “a fantasy” — it’s a way to unclench our deepest feelings, which have to be kept at bay in “real life”, but we can be exactly what we wish to be — and behave, act, and say exactly what we wish to say — inside the virtual world.

This creates a reality fracture in those who believed naïvely in a nice world where all people are perfect, loving, compassionate humans. Because it’s too horrible to contemplate the idea that people are not like that, they turn the table and pervert the whole classifications. People displaying their true selves are labeled as “role-players”. Situations which these people create, to give vent to their desires of pleasure, control and manipulation, are turned into “fantasies”, “gossip”, and, of course, “drama”. And, seen from that perspective, it looks like “in SL, everything is about sex”. No: it’s in the real world that everything is about sex. Only that in SL we are not constrained to pretend otherwise!

Of course this is a very dark view of Second Life and its inhabitants, and of the whole world in general. In fact, I’m quite sure that it’s not all about sex and relationships for all people. A few among us are a bit above animal lust and evolution’s drive to procreate — there is more to life than that. And those kinds of people are also in Second Life. They might be overwhelmed by a vast majority who does not think beyond the next relationship, the next hot date, or the next manipulative power struggle, but that doesn’t mean these people don’t exist at all. Thankfully for Humankind, there are plenty of those around.

Aria commented on my own comments:

If you think about it in RL when we are “dating” it tends to be more activity related.  We can actually spend a great deal of time with people without ever really communicating effectively.  In RL you have all kinds of situations where people get together and it does not work out because it turns out one or both partners were not at all who they seemed to be.  We don’t focus so much on that because it is RL … but when it happens in here, and happens much quicker than RL because we are pretty much dependent on communication, we suddenly are talking about SL as being the “cause.”

She hits on a quite interesting point, one that wouldn’t ever be obvious for me, because I cannot envision a relationship without constant communication 🙂 and where the only “activity” which matters is, well, communicating 🙂 But I realise this is my own very narrow view of the world; and, seen through my pink glasses, my partners and best friends have always been the kind of people who couldn’t stop talking for a single instant; any “activity” we would engage in would merely be a pretext for more talking.

But Aria might be right — for the vast majority of people out there, it’s all about “activity” and “feeling” (in the sense of tasting feelings and emotions about doing things with their partners). There is no communication — except in the sense that enticing feelings is a form of communication. But, as Aria points out so correctly, this gives you the completely wrong idea about who the other person in the relationship is.

In Second Life, there is a lot more communication. Oh, sure, people can spend endless hours clicking on pose balls, but, even in spite of that, there is far more communication going around. In fact, as many sexual workers in SL have reported, it’s not about the way you look (because everybody can look sexy in SL), but the way you talk — or write. Not surprisingly, sex workers in SL are prolific writers, tend to have awesomely well-written blogs, and, when they do “serious” discussion events in SL, they’re among the most interesting and well attended. This is a very unique characteristic of virtual worlds, as well as of online communities who use mostly text (and perhaps a few images) to communicate: “sexy” people are the ones who know how to best write erotically. And that’s hard to do. Specially because in the real world we don’t tend to have much “training” in that — but, of course, dating sites like Facebook (or IRC in the 1990s) are changing all that: we pick partners for the interesting things they say.

Still, if you’re not used to that — and if, for you, a “relationship” is merely “doing things together” — then coming into SL can be a huge shock. For some, the complete inversion in values is too drastic to grasp, and they might leave in shock; for others it might become “addictive”, in the sense that if you’re not gorgeous-looking in RL, and have few interests in “going out and do things”, but are a good writer, you’re suddenly a SL sex symbol. That can be very addictive for sure.

It’s a strange world. But perhaps not so strange. However, this “excuse” of labeling “SL is a game” in order to protect oneself and objectify everybody else, thus detaching completely from the strong and intense emotional mess one has gone through — well, that’s simply denial. But a very persuasive form of denial. Everybody — specially our friends, relatives, acquaintances — will silently nod agreement, if we tell them that “SL is a game, everybody is pretending, so it’s stupid to establish meaningful relationships there” — because that’s what people’s expectations are: virtual worlds are fantasy, escapism, and places where morons or mentally disturbed people go to have some fun.

On the other hand, it’s ridiculous to claim “Facebook is real, nobody is pretending there, so I’m going to establish meaningful relationships there”. Open your eyes, learn your lesson from SL: these are the very same people, with exactly the same motivations, hidden behind a picture (which might be fake anyway) and just idly chatting in other to persuade you to have sex with them. The only difference is that they don’t have pose balls in Facebook.

Yet.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

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  • Moribund Cadaver

    A fascinating, if unsurprising, comparison here is how these people’s reaction to their time on Second Life mirrors the attitude many persons have about the Internet itself. It is old and has been with us as long as the internet existed: an “aggressively defensive” othering of the entire online world and everyone in it. It’s not real, you see – it’s just a glowing screen full of nonsense. It’s just a video game. Everyone you see and hear about online is a character.

    The simple marketing brilliance of Facebook was this: by adapting the college senior experience to the Internet, Facebook presented just the right image to sooth the average person’s disquiet with the Internet. Here were real people! See? They each have a photograph by their name. And that name looks nice and familiar. Like a real name from real life. This isn’t like that strange “Internet” at all…

    … the joke of course is that everyone plays a character, including in real life. We all wear masks, we all try to be the person we think will appease others or manipulate them, and will allow us to get ahead. It could be that the Internet takes this and displays it back to us – and like a “true mirror” that doesn’t reverse the image we see, it’s shocking and even scary to see ourselves as we really are. Objectively. The knowledge that the reality we take for granted is, outside of a very basic biological foundation, fabricated and constructed is something many folks can’t face. It begs too many questions, too much self reflection, and invites insecurity.

    As a wise man once said, it’s only water.

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  • Bravo, @Moribund Cadaver ! That’s exactly it: there is that “false sense of security” in seeing a “real” photo (when most are enhanced/faked/forged… or simply pictures from cats 🙂 ) and a “real” name.

    As for the rest of your comment, I couldn’t agree more, but I’m biased, I’m following a training to discover what lies behind that fabricated and constructed “reality”, and yes, it’s a path full of many questions (most of them very unpleasant for my fragile ego!) and lots of introspection. Definitely not for everybody.

    As another wise man said, the problem is that we see the reflection of the Moon in the water, and we think the Moon is real. We neither understand it’s a reflection, nor do we see the water and its awesome properties, and, on the top of everything, we are completely and absolutely sure that this reflection is the reality.

    Or as another saying goes: the wise man points to the Moon; the fool looks at the finger doing the pointing and thinks he has made a huge discovery!

  • Draxtor

    Awesome Gwyn!!! I can’t wait until they get those pose balls on Facebook.

  • I knew someone was going to say that 🙂

    LOL!

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  • Are people still debating whether SL is a game? Even today, I go back and forth on the issue. If one were to posit, as Shakespeare does, that Real Life is a game on a stage, then surely Secondlife is one too. Remember the board game “Life?” It was about the real world. http://www.gamehouse.com/download-games/game-of-life And Game Theory “is the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” Game Theory applies to the so-called Real World. Does Game Theory apply to behavior in virtual worlds? Of course. And is Secondlife somehow Real? In an Epistemological sense, of course it is. It exists. You log into it. It’s some kind of Real. So it’s not a simple either/or question of whether Secondlife is a game or whether it is Real.

  • SL is very much like the real world – it’s full of manipulative, controlling, nasty little smallminded folk. Therefore, for me, people who distance themselves from it by saying it’s “only a game” are the ones running away from reality – not the SL population. They are running away from the fact that real life can be as ugly and nasty as SL can be.

  • Second Life is what you want it to be. So yes… it can be a game.

  • Exactly… SL is a mirror of reality, just somehow it got shiny and bright, and, suddenly, people get exposed to what was always in front of their eyes but they refused to see.

    The twist I was trying to explain was slightly more subtle. In these two interviews, they have suddenly realized how people really are. This shocked them so much — specially because they were also involved in all that; so they recognised themselves as being precisely the same as well — that they defended their exposed egos by claiming that “SL is a game, it’s not real, we’re all much better than that, only role-players and pretenders and escapists go to SL”… and then went back to Facebook, where people pretend all the time but… are not so open about it.

    Perhaps the more fascinating bit about SL is that, although we all wear masks (= fancy avatars), and we all know we wear them, it allows our true nature to shine through, in a way it would be impossible in RL (due to social constraints). For many, fortunately, this means showing off their best 🙂

  • Remember, Wizard, in the concrete example of those two examples, these people used the label “SL is a game” to shield themselves from the bare emotions displayed by others — and to detach them from that. The point was… they found out how people really think, really act, really behave, really feel. And they, very likely, reacted in similar ways. In the aftermath, being utterly shocked about having all these emotions bared, they distanced themselves from all that — saying “SL is just a game”. That’s, mmh, like demonization — the very same trick that armies use in all the world to artificially detach them from fellow human beings they will have to kill shortly. So they re-label those other humans as demons, monsters, whatever — anything but humans! — which makes them easier to kill.

    The labels used by the two interviewed guys are pretty similar. Once they create this image in their minds — “SL is a game, it’s not real” — then all the “people” there suddenly lose their humanity. They become… “role-players”, “gamers”, “escapists”, “fantasists”. Anything but humans.

  • Nebulae

    I’ve never had these problems with SL though I’ve certainly seen them. I think SL is just like RL in some respects – there’s nice people and weird people, people I like and people I don’t. Same for FB. I’ve never had trouble understanding there are people behind the avatars. I’ve advised people a few times that if they are having a hard time with someone in SL just go meet new people until you build up a group that suits you. I suspect the people who have problems in SL also don’t know how to solve problems in RL. There are so many people and groups in SL, why stick to those that give you grief? (btw, I don’t use a ‘real me’ avatar, and that’s the main difference for me, no one can make assumptions by simply looking at me. They have to talk to me to get to know me. That’s made for some very funny conversations!)

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  • Virtual Girl

    I have this debate a bit with myself all the time. I’ve been in SL a while — years — and have a long time partner in SL as well. You’re right in that ultimately SL is really just a lot of talking. It’s entirely mental, and so in the end what you’re doing is just that, talking. My SL Partner and I keep things entirely virtual — we talk about RL, but don’t share names, choosing to live in SL and not RL. I’ll admit to also not being monogamous in SL — and it’s just me when I’m honest with myself about it — but I communicate about what’s going on. It’s a no secrets kind of SL, and my Partner’s interest in SLex just isn’t as high as mine. I’ve also been able to explore things about my sexuality that I’ve never felt comfortable about in RL.

    I like to think I have a pretty healthy SL/RL balance, treating people with respect and remembering everyone is a person. I often wonder about the addiction portion of SL. It’s clear to me it is addictive, and I wonder if I’m damaging my RL with SL. When you put a bunch of time into something, you take it away from other things. Even if my relationships are “healthy”, they’re different than RL ones — and does it warp my perceptions? Does placing value on those SL relationships damage my RL ones?

    And then you throw sex into it. When I first explored that about SL, it was liberating — I felt I could explore things I was never comfortable with in RL. But does that go from being an outlet to being an addiction? Has it changed my interactions in my RL in ways that aren’t good?

    Funny, I’m even not posting my SL name (which I keep totally distinct from my RL!) as I don’t want to damage my SL too! That has to say something — and while i used to always think it was good, I wonder if it’s me hiding things, even from myself.

  • the secret ANSI

    I never got any Drama in SL. I always have fun here except there is a annoying Bug.

  • Dahlia Jayaram

    What a great post, Gwyn. Very sincere, intuitive and deeply thought out. I really enjoyed reading it and reflected on my own experience and the experiences of others I’ve known about also. I would think that musings like this could be very valuable to people interested in entering Second Life or other virtual worlds, and people should be aware of how all these human conditions can come into “play” or affect whenever they open themselves up to relationships of any kind, whether in a virtual environment or not.

    I got an entertained laugh out of the mention of the saying: “Or as another saying goes: the wise man points to the Moon; the fool looks at the finger doing the pointing and thinks he has made a huge discovery!”

    It reminded me of another small story of a man who was standing on the banks of a river. For as far as he could see, there was no bridge to cross it. When he spotted a monk walking along the opposite bank, he shouted out: “Hello over there! How do I get to the other side?” The monk stopped a moment, looked up and down the river to both sides, then shouted back to the man: “My friend, you are already on the other side!”

  • I think it’s you getting in touch with two difficult concepts: the notion of self and reality 🙂

    It’s hard to be a regular user of SL and not think at least a little about about both.

    Siddhartha Gautama would have loved to have SL back then; it would make things so much easier to explain 🙂

  • Ah yes, that’s another lovely story as well 😉

    What I sincerely believe is that nobody who is involved in SL for more than a few months will be unaffected by they way it forces us to think about it.

    There are, of course, several conclusions one can reach; most of them will be simply wrong, but they will allow us to feel a certain sense of “security”.

    The first is rejection and denial (which is what these two interviewed guys experienced): label SL as “unreal”, and completely separate it from your everyday experience. That way, everything that seems uncomfortable in SL (namely, understanding how people really are) can safely be stored away, and one pretend to go on as if SL didn’t exist.

    The second — adopted by most people, and I read in the words of the commenters this same attitude — is to accept that we’re all humans in SL and RL, but somehow SL is “different”. It’s “virtual”, and, as such, plays by different rules. So long as we’re aware of the rules, then we can behave in one way in SL, and in a slightly different way in RL. We can still respect relationships in SL, and even cherish them, even if we tell to ourselves that they’re a bit different from relationships in RL. This gives, to most people, a sense of balance, of keeping things in equilibrium, and of sanity.

    The third is more rare, but not so rare as to be hard to find — thousands think that way. It’s saying that the barrier between SL and RL is artificial. It doesn’t exist: it’s like saying we have “phone friends” and that people contacted through a telephone are different from contacting them in flesh and blood. To an extent, this is the success story of Facebook: while we’re just text-chatting with (possibly) a static image (often forged), we assume the person on the other end is as real as we are. Many do the same in SL: SL just becomes a medium of communication, and people do in SL what they do in RL. Sure, there are differences — in the same sense that one behaves differently at home; with friends in a bar; or at work. Different social norms apply to each of those situations, and SL is just one different situation, with different norms — but the rest (meaning, the way we thin, behave, and relate with others) remain the same.

    And, finally, the last group is where people like me find a niche 🙂 This is the realm of understanding that RL is not “more real” than SL (nor is it less real…), but both are of the same nature, and both are, in fact, merely projections of our own minds upon external phenomena. It makes little difference if those phenomena are made of atoms or pixels; it’s our minds that will ultimately interpret what we see, according to our own tendencies — forged by genetics, education, and social constraints — but there is no “external” reality existing by itself, it only exists in the sense that we perceive it. But our perceptions are always clouded by our own mindsets: if “blue” is a pleasant colour to me, it might be a horrible colour for someone else, and there is no intrinsic blue shade that everybody likes. Blueness is an aspect of the way our own minds interpret the perception of a specific light wavelength.

    So, in that last category, if one experiences things in SL as being “real people with real feelings” or just “role-players pretending emotions they don’t feel”, that ultimately depends on how we perceive things. Let me give you a typical example. Someone who is constantly depressed will not be able to believe there is happiness. Even if they see people behaving like if they are happy, this depressed person will just assume they’re pretending — since all they experience is the deep suffering from depression. Sure, they know they can also pretend to be happy, but it’s just a fantasy for them, and, rejecting fantasies, they will just scorn how others “role-play” happiness, because they’re pretty sure they cannot feel that. Similarly, if you have an habit of lying to others, then you will see everybody as potential liars – and your relationship with others will be a struggle to figure out when they’re lying or not. If you’re a cold and disillusioned person who went through lots of failed relationships, romantic love is just a childish pretense, and seems ridiculous. And so forth: so basically you just view the universe depending on your mindset, and it makes little difference if you’re interacting with atoms, pixels, or ASCII characters — there is nothing “out there” which is not tainted by your mindset, your own tendencies, your cultural background, your own education, and so forth.

    My personal aspiration as a SL resident is to encourage people to go from the first level to the fourth by shaking up their own beliefs and make them think a little bit 🙂

  • Dave Bell

    If anyone asks me, I tell them that SL is a stadium. You can watch games there, or play games, but you can do so many other things.

    And the same applies to many much older places on the internet. Once people are given a chance to interact, so many different things can happen. Did Samuel Morse expect two people to get married by telegraph? It happened, and maybe two people can for-real marry in Second Life.

  • You are welcome to see and hear real people in real time here https://www.youtube.com/LiveCaptureVideo it is a live stand up show recorded and live video streamed here http://www.livestream.com/SecondLifeComedy each Tuesday 5 pm Second Life Time.

  • Oooh I like that analogy!

  • “There are so many people and groups in SL, why stick to those that give you grief?”

    I’d ask the same thing about people in RL as well 🙂

  • And so can real life.

  • Mona Eberhardt

    Extremely interesting and poignant post, which gave me a starting point to expand on it a bit, as there are some issues that begged to be discussed.

  • Thanks, @monaeberhardt:disqus 🙂 There certainly are a lot of issues to discuss hehe… I just thought this could be a long follow-up on my “Self series”, which hasn’t seen a post in a long, long time.

  • I can think of some topics that would lend themselves well to some extra analysis, such as what it is about SL that can be addictive and also whether SL deserves to be labelled as an addictive pastime more than, say, browser-based MMO strategy games like Ikariam and Grepolis (w.r.t. Ikariam, I’ve seen friends of mine spend the better part of a whole week engaged in battles between various alliances)…

  • Eric Coffman

    Great post.

    As far as I am concerned, I have no friends in SL if I can’t learn about the their real life. The 3 people who I call friend in SL and who I’ve exchanged friendship with, have revealed their parts of their lives to me. One is a published author, one is a retired politician and one is a house wife. I’ve phoned them, talked to via them via email, talked to their RL partners, etc. to help me figure out who they are and, if the opportunity presented itself, if I would invite them into my house.

    All the others that I socialize with are really only ‘tools’ that help me waste time. If I never talk to them again, no big deal.

    Yes, there are some who I would like to get to know better because some seem from conversations that they might be interesting people. But, when it becomes obvious that they stick to the ‘RL stay RL and SL stay SL’ mantra, I stop communicating with them in any meaningful way.

    Well, that is how I live within SL.

  • Jezzy

    I keep coming back to this piece of great thinking you present. Finally I think i have absorbed it.
    Just telling you that your effort has helped me. I am still in SL. Since early 2005. 8 yrs and counting.
    BTW- for me it all started on Quantum Link 🙂

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  • Samantha Atkins

    I have seen some come and go in SL who were not at all like the above pair of folks. These were people who were utter joys in world, highly involved, highly creative, content and community builders. Beacons in the world as it were.

    But I have watched several of these also ‘burn out’ and leave over the years. Mostly they say that that they want to put that energy back into the RL existence. Some say they are burned out but I haven’t heard many of these people say that themselves except as a shorthand when they just feel like moving on. For some it is like they cared so much for so long and then one day looked around and asked “is this all there is? Was it worth all that energy? Is it still worth it to me or am I largely running on inertia?” When those answers turn negative then people leave.

    Many see such possibility and promise for a time and are in awe of all that is good here. Then they see it not progress and people wander away and most aren’t there for awesome but for a bit of entertainment of very little depth. The ones that aren’t wired that way may eventually feel they are in a vacuum.

  • ommm

    But real life (and SL) can also be full of beauty, fragility, and compassion. As in the “real world,” it’s all about where you look.

  • ommmmish

    Baloney. How people “really” are depends on which of the 7 billion people on the planet that you are talking about. People “really” are very diverse.

  • achillesinasuit

    Great essay. Thanks.

  • Frodo Firehawk

    I have been on second life for about 4.5 years ( sense the summer of 09 ) and when I joined the community of TSL ( teen second life, I was 17 at the time ) I absolutely loved the community. And I am still good friends of the tsl community, but unfortunately, I have left SL, for the most as a whole. While i still log in, the flare that sl had is gone. Maybe it was the fact that I became aware of what the general SL community was and I speak on the bad ( power hungry, manipulative, greedy, political assholes, pardon my language ) and the reason why i joined Sl, was to escape the reality of what I saw in the real world. But unfortunately, SL outside the community of people has another effect on people, it is a drain on the wallet. As a gamer, personally, I know it is hard to resist the urge to purchase in game content, but SL drains the wallet more so than buying a brand new game that you have been saving the money to get. It is just as bad as going out to the mall and buying on impulse. I can go on and on, but i will leave it at this

  • NeverInvestLifeintoSL

    This type of mentality is what is hurting the line between fantasy and fiction. Correct, SL is a simulator and by those very terms it is a game. The avatar is not the person and an avatar can not be a person. The only one who is real is the user who is manipulating the avatar puppet from behind. Too much emphasis on RL is why so many of these users who are named residents by LL take SL far, far too seriously. Ontop of the overpricing of land in LL encourages it. $1000 real-life renting for a sim is crazy. I have fond game servers that can host expansion worlds like minecraft for only $8 a month in comparison of the price. And unlike LL, a user can keep the items which they have made or downloaded from other users for their own purposes. Fact of reality is LL is a company to make a business and a profit and unfortunately there are those mentally ill on LL who have believed this fantasy-make believe pixel world of avatars is actually “real”. It is not. The very core of SL is infact, role-play no matter how ‘realistic’ someone tries to make an avatar on SL that avatar will never look like the actual person. Because a real person has physical features which an all-perfected avatar, does not. They are essentially muppets.

    It’s a wonder these type of social problems occur because there are individuals who treat the land of 3D animations and polygons like the land of real-life. The virtual world should never be treated as the real world and half of the so-called e-laws don’t even align to real-world conduct and businesses. But those allow these things to creep into the virtual videogame, hence the problems that are created. These problems are created by personal wants and illusions.

  • Sehnsucht

    This is coming from a religious perspective, so you may not agree with it in the least, but I really believe that the only “real” part of a virtual world is the souls behind the polygons, and the only “real” part of the physical world is the souls behind the molecules. At least, this feels the safest to me. I can treat any world as a game in this sense, keeping in mind that there will be different consequences for my actions depending on the medium (e.g. I might get an achievement for jumping off a skyscraper in a PC game, but it would result in a non-reloadable game-over and a lot of depressed teammates in the physical world), and that the other players will be as real as I am no matter what. If a cup of yogurt in the physical world or a particle lamp in the virtual world gives me a moment of joy–hey, games are supposed to be fun, right? As the author points out, people deceive and play roles wherever you go–depending, of course, on the individual, their ethics, and what they think they can get away with at any given time. Even in the bodily sense, no one is exactly what they look like. Maybe a virtual-world model looks plain in the physical world, and maybe a physical-world model is wearing half her weight in makeup while her flattering clothes conceal how badly she’s worn down her avatar’s hit points with bulimia. I’ve been burned by discontinued MMOs before, but ultimately what I learned was that my inventory does not matter, my points and ranking and currency do not matter, even the outcome of an epic battle does not matter. I matter; and by extension what I experienced and how I developed matter; and by further extension, all the other players and their experiences and development matter. Someday everyone’s breedable ponies/mesh shoes/stamp collections/sports cars/Nobel Prizes will be stardust; what happens to us sentients in the meantime no one can agree on. I believe we’re eternal, and from that angle, we are qualitatively different from all the proto-stardust in the entire cosmos. To put it another way, my pixels have more in common with my molecules than *I* have in common with either.

    I’m sorry to take this in such an abstract direction. The blog post was already quite fine.