Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The very secret life of Second Life

I have an addiction and it seems to be a tough one to beat. I am wrestling with the thought that I need help; a support group, perhaps like in a 12 step program. I to find a local chapter of AAAvatars Anonymous.

Hello, my name is Robert and I am a Second Life junkie. I have been hooked on Second Life (SL) for several years. I was able to give it up once but I recently fell off the wagon.

If any of you followed my first blog Zenboomer you may have watched as I experimented with Second Life under the pretense of a journalist, reporting dispassionately in third-person about that interesting virtual world. And perhaps you thought the experiment had ended with my final blog entry. Well, Partially it did.

So why did I go back? Well years ago back when I did my first skydive I did what was called a “tandem” – I was fastened by a harness to an experienced skydiver as a “passenger”. I just went along for the ride. But I had do know for myself if I could skydive on my own; totally and completely responsible for my own success and safety. I accomplished that.

My initial foray into Second Life was a similar experiment in that my initial entry into that world was as an "observer". I took on a false persona much different than my own; indulging in fantasy and experiences usually outside my own real life experiences. The ZenBoomer blog was my chronicle of that experience. But after I left Second Life, I wondered what it might be like to live in a virtual world as “me”. So I crafted a new avatar (trying to make it look sort of like me) and re-entered the Second Life world. It was kind of like being in the Witness Protection Program.

Being “me” in Second Life was much easier in some ways; and yet more difficult in others. I conducted myself there as I would, as I do, in the Real World (termed RL in Second Life). This meant that when people asked me direct questions, like if I was married, or what my age is, I answered them truthfully. Predictably, the responses were what one would expect in RL; some responded positively, in other cases, friends disappeared.

SL content is overwhelmingly user-created. As a result, there is a remarkable amount of creativity expressed there. Some places are amazing – but at some point, the experience becomes sterile without other people to share it with. Imagine spending an entire day at Disneyland by yourself; not another living soul to be seen. It would be rather strange.

So what brings people back to SL are the social and human interactions. The avatars are operated by real people with wants and needs and quirks and baggage and creativity… and emotions. Strong emotions, I discovered.

And just like drugs or alcohol can make one feel good, some of the emotional connections one makes there can be equally as compelling... intoxicating. If one is not careful, one can get caught up in emotional situations that have very deep ramifications.

The particulars of what happened to me during my second foray there is much too personal for me to share here. I will say only that I came away from my second experience in SL with some new realizations about myself and people I care about. I have made a new friendship that now exists outside of SL in RL and I hope to continue that friendship.

Anything truly worth doing carries some level of risk, be it skydiving or starting a business or setting out on a course of self-introspection. Often we don’t always realize the risks when we first embark on any journey. But I have no regrets about most of the risks I’ve taken, including my brief step briefly back into Second Life. It isn’t for everybody, but I can assure you… it is more than a game... Infinitely more.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Do you get any people exploring their dark side by pretending to be villains? I wonder if Rachel Noy has played this.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Bananas Oh indeed yes, Second Life is inhabited by all manner of demons, trolls, mermaids, "furries" shape-shifters and militant lesbians. One can take on any shape or persona one can imagine.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if sister Noy has (or is) somewhere lurking within the realm of SL.

Anonymous said...

The (former)chair of a board that I am on relentlessly tried to have the other members involved in SL, to have meetings there, to do god only knows what. I didn't and still don't understand the attraction. Perhaps it is because I am of the pre-video game generation. Besides, I have enough complications in RL-I don't need any more. Thanks for sharing your experience with SL. I'm pretty sure I won't be trying it, though.

Robert the Skeptic said...

BackRow Second Life was touted as a place to conduct virtual meetings and training sessions, so several large corporations jumped into it for that purpose. However, when a large number of avatars congregate in one locality, the processing speed "lags" down making it unusable. There are better "NeetMeeting" video-conferencing products out there which are more suitable for conducting online meetings than Second Life.

Similarly National Public Radio has a presence in SL where your avatar can sit down with Ira Flato on their "Science Friday" broadcast and listen to the show. But it's really much simpler to just turn on your radio to listen... besides, if you actually attend with your avatar, you have to worry about what to wear (grins).

I'm Jane said...

I still have trouble with Pong. It may be awhile before I'm savvy enough for something like SL.

secret agent woman said...

You ever read "Salvation on Sand Mountain?" The author set out to document the snake-handling phenomenon, and got sucked in.

But for me, there is no appeal to virtual life - I've got enough going on in my real life!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jane My buddy William tried SL but gave up when he couldn't keep his avatar from walking into walls.

Secret Agent I actually got into it when I didn't have a "life", that is, during several months of dead time while my film was in editing. It went from "time killer" to "time waster" in short order.

Still, there is a remarkable amount of creativity in the virtual world. A great documentary "Second Skin" (concerns mainly "World of Warcraft") shows people actually losing their jobs and health (and sanity) getting hooked on these games.