“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
I (Cat speaking) generally define a game as something that has a goal or quest or other A to B challenge attempted by the player. A game involves winning and losing. Second Life, of course, has no such innate qualities except perhaps the goal of finding something interesting to do (not an insignificant challenge). But there is no prize, unless your business is very successful, or you meet the person of your dreams, or fulfil yourself in meaningful ways, or have a ridiculous amount of fun. Hmm, they do sort of sound like prizes.
Maybe Second Life is a game. But it is a different kind of game, as anyone who has “played” it for any length of time realizes. In SL you are your avatar, which can be anything at all – animal, mineral or vegetable! You can role play, just like in many other games. Wait a minute though. When you hide behind an avatar, you can behave in ways that may reflect your innermost desires and dreams, but are not possible for you in the real world. So your avatar in many ways is more “you” than your human self.
So I’m confused. Luckily, we have Gwyneth Llewelyn, SL guide and blogger, to examine Second Life in the context of the interviews with two gentlemen who broke their “addiction” and now look back on their time in SL with disdain. Why? Because it was a game, drenched in drama and inhabited by back-stabbing pretenders. There was only one person who was real in the game of Second Life. The person who was interviewed.
Fortunately, Gwyneth explains it all far better than I do. Here is the article, from her blog:
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.
Above image by Gwyneth Llewelyn.