“Get a life!
“All right. I will. I’ll get a Second Life
. Here is the new me…”
As most of you know, Second Life is an online virtual community where millions of members create avatars, own land, build houses, make friends, have online sex (...how does that work exactly?), and even have babies. Although everything is virtual, many aspects of Second Life cost real money. It’s more than possible to spend a few hundred dollars a month to maintain an upscale image on Second Life. While you aren’t allowed to die on Second Life, there have been instances of real life divorce and even murder stemming from the virtual relationships begun on Second Life.
And yes, I realize the irony in critiquing an online community while participating in one. However, I think there are differences. Most of the people on Goodreads join to discuss books, post reviews, catalogue their books, and learn about new books. Clearly, we can and do develop friendships, but, for the most part, the community is based on a particular activity – reading.
Second Life has fascinated me ever since I learned about it three or four years ago. In Second Life: The Official Guide
, Philip Rosedale, then CEO of Linden Labs, which developed and runs Second Life, described SL as “a place where you can turn the pictures in your head into a kind of pixilated reality.” However, SL is a lot more than simply creating pictures. As Michael Rymaszewski writes, in the book’s introduction,
Second Life lets you concentrate single-mindedly on the pursuit of your own, private happiness. You don’t need to deal with all the mundane stuff that eats up a lot of time on planet Earth, and you’re free to do what you want….In fact, the only thing that may obstruct you in your virtual pursuit of real happiness is real life. Well, what do you expect? It’s not easy to live two lives in the same timeframe.
Rymaszewski’s comments prompt any number of provocative responses. This is fascinating stuff.
First, he asserts that in SL, you don’t have to “deal all the mundane stuff that eats up a lot of time on planet Earth.” Really? On planet Earth, most of us maintain a number of relationships (friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, etc.), have some type of employment, keep up a home or apartment, pursue our interests, keep ourselves presentable, and purchase stuff. How different is SL? There, you develop relationships, buy/maintain a house, land, yard, etc., work on your appearance (you’re advised to pick a good name and understand the “complex task of making your SL avatar look the way you want it to look”), organize your Inventory where all your stuff is kept, buy more stuff, and if you can’t afford to buy stuff, apply for virtual employment on SL or create and sell your stuff there.
To my mind, there’s as much mundane activity and fretting about stuff on SL as there is on planet Earth.
Rymaszewski also asserts that “you’re free to do what you want….In fact, the only thing that may obstruct you in your virtual pursuit of real happiness is real life.” This is an interesting assertion. First, note that real happiness is set up in opposition with real life. Apparently, you can’t achieve real happiness in real life, because you need to construct it in Second Life. I wonder how true this is? I understand that one of the benefits of the internet is its ability to operate as a leveler. You can be who ever you want, I suppose. But if your real-life ability to nurture friends or maintain a love life is poor, do you suddenly develop these social skills online? I don’t know. I'm asking. Perhaps you do. Perhaps there really is something liberating about the anonymity of virtual life that prompts new identities.
Then, Rymaszewski asserts rather optimistically, "It’s not easy to live two lives in the same timeframe." Given that SL seems to involve all the complications of planet Earth, this is an understatement. How does your husband react, for example, when he finds out you have another
husband, entailing virtual whoopee, and a virtual baby on Second Life? And, unlike some other virtual gaming sites, SL members refer to themselves as "residents," and do not view SL as a game. In one study (not in this book!), SL participants ranked their online relationships as better than those in real life. It would be hard to imagine not only how your SL life and real life would become increasingly complex, but also entangled. How would you react if your spouse or partner were having a virtual affair? How would you react to the real money your spouse spent maintaining her/himself on SL every month? You might laugh it off, and you might not. Out of curiosity, I asked my husband, how he'd feel if I found out I had a virtual spouse. He said, "I guess I'd think you felt something was missing in our relationship." I then asked him what he REALLY thought (he's not that
The book is arranged thematically - each chapter focusing on a different aspect of being successful on SL: selecting a membership package, creating your appearance (i.e. choosing a worthy avatar & dressing it well), meeting people, building your reality, learning where and how to shop, using the scripting language, handling your Inventory, etc. For those wanting to be part of Second Life, the book is probably helpful.
For me, the book--and the concept of Second Life itself--raised more questions it answered.