Life 2.0: a move about Second Life

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Watch carefully. This documentary won all kids of awards at Sundance et al. But what is it about?

This is what The New Yorker wrote:

Ingenious… suggests the porous boundaries between the fictive and the concrete, the power of role-playing in defining real identities, and the risky self-discoveries that may result.

And Variety:

A peerless study… every thread here raises a provocative question about the ethics of online interactivity, and serves to demonstrate the Web’s ability to both facilitate and destroy human relationships.

Are they right?  What is it about Second Life that draws some and troubles others? 

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16 Responses to Life 2.0: a move about Second Life

  1. JohnJ says:

    What is it about Second Life that draws some and troubles others?

    The opportunity to blame your bad decisions on someone/something else.

  2. flurie says:

    People want to make addiction to the web about the web, because that’s the new part of this fairy tale story, but it’s really just about our old friend addiction.

  3. PerhapsAnAttic says:

    Second Life allows identity to be as fluid as you want. In the flesh-and-bones world, the fat black woman probably has some difficulty convincing others that inside she’s a sexy firecracker; in the bits-and-bytes world, it’s external — just look at her, of course it’s what she is. The trailer makes Second Life seem like a drug whose effect isn’t up or down or psychedelic, it’s identity. The opposite of a narcissistic injury, Second Life gives a narcissistic relief, time away from the identity that you can’t find any other way of escaping. And it’s addictive because why would you ever go back to being a dorky 26 year old virgin with three chest hairs and astigmatism when you can be the carefree 17 year old girl/jailbait that all the other 26 year old virgins openly lust after?

    Second Life makes it easy to camouflage your identity — or conversely, it’s easier to sneak passed the shallow, snap judgement perceptions that we rely on in flesh-and-bones world. I think that answers both of your questions, actually, why some people are drawn to it, and why it troubles others.

    As for what the film says about it, the trailer made me think of a preview for an episode of Intervention: yeah, they seem happy, but they’re actually broken.

    • AlexWolfe says:

      “And it’s addictive because why would you ever go back to being a dorky 26 year old virgin with three chest hairs and astigmatism when you can be the carefree 17 year old girl/jailbait that all the other 26 year old virgins openly lust after?”

      This is certainly true for some people, but how do you explain the people that play the game who don’t fit your stereotype of broken? You raise a good point in that creating an avatar is narcissistic, but the issue isn’t that simple. There are two HUGE things that explain the draw not only of Second Life, but all MMO games.

      Second Life and other MMOs provide a clear metric for success. MMOs take place in a simplified world that is completely understood. Not only does this provide a feeling of comfort that real life will never have, it allows one to have a clear metric of success and failure. Further, one can obtain this success (i.e. improving their avatar) with less effort than is required for a feeling of similar improvement in reality. For some people, the fact that it isn’t “real” doesn’t matter.

      The second thing is that people are inherently social. For many people, it isn’t that they’re playing the game because they are unable to meet or make friends in real life. It’s that it’s easier to meet and make friends within a virtual world where you and everyone else playing already have something in common: membership in the virtual world. People gravitate towards the path of least resistance when attempting to achieve their goals.

      It’s addictive because it’s easy, not because the people that play it are trying to escape from something.

      • PerhapsAnAttic says:

        Both of your points are rooted in manifestation of identity, though.

        For the first, not only are the metrics for success simply and understood, they’re also public. If they were private, they’d be worthless; it’s not a matter of them being simple, it’s a matter of them being simple AND visible. Visibility matters because the whole thing is about projecting an identity. Foursquare is a good example. It’s a game that has incredibly clear, easy metrics for success. It’s also public — I can show everyone that I was just at the Playboy Mansion, and that tells them that I’m a badass, suave, ladykiller. The problem is, for the most part, I have to actually go places! So if going places isn’t something I do naturally, I’m going to find this game problematic. (Just as an aside, the person who doesn’t do the whole going places thing is probably broken in at least some minor way.) Compare that to building a chair. Again, very straight-forward metric for success — it holds my ass — and relatively easy to do at a basic level, but relatively private. Most people choose not to build chairs etc.

        As for the second point, there are thousands of niche message boards if someone just wants to have something in common with other people. The problem with message boards, I think, is it’s harder to build an identity. On a message board, you’re a series of posts that may or may not have a cohesive theme, structure, and tone. In these games, there are visual identifiers. No one actually believes them, but that’s not the point — the point is that we’re projecting them. How do I project that I’m a happy, successful, rich 35 year old lawyer/fighter jet pilot on a message board? Do I just…say that? That doesn’t seem powerful enough! On Second Life, I can wear a business suit and a flight helmet and gold rings.

        So, yeah, there’s an aspect of ease of use to it, but I don’t think that supersedes the fact that if it didn’t give me the perception of control over my public identity, it would be no different than other technologies already available.

      • sunshinefiasco says:

        I agree with your point that people gravitate towards games like Second Life because it’s easy to be successful, but I think that it’s fair to say that spending a considerable (be that 1 hour or 15 hours a day) amount of time on something that does nothing to improve concrete aspects of your life, but that scratches a mental itch (a mental itch that could be scratched by concrete improvements/changes in your life) isn’t necessarily a healthy choice. And continuing to make the choice to engage in that behavior over and over again seems to be an unhealthier choice.

        It’s like drinking: getting roundly shitfaced once or twice a week in an otherwise completely safe and acceptable manner isn’t necessarily addiction, and for the sake or argument, let’s say that it does no harm, emotionally, socially,financially, or physically. That doesn’t mean it’s an indicator of health in those four areas either.

        What’s wrong with making connections with people online instead of in person?

        Nothing, except (all emotional factors being equal) the online people scratch a mental itch by serving to reinforce your perception of yourself as what you claim to be (which is why it’s addictive for the IRLawkward folks in the first place). They may be there when the IRL friends aren’t, but they can never be as there as the IRL friends can. (Not to mention, it’s a personal opinion, but I think most Americans could use some practice at being alone without a screen/phone to occupy them).

        People you’ve made connections with in real life can (or are far more likely to) do things like give you a ride to the airport, get you a job, or come to your party and marry your sister. Those are the types of things that make your life happen. (And for the time being, you can live a nice life if you’re really good at personal relationships and terrible at online ones. Though we’re moving closer, the reverse isn’t true yet.)

        Lastly, being successful in Second Life isn’t just fun/addictive because it’s less work than being successful in real life. Things being easy (particularly online easy things that are difficult in real life) implies that we are inherently good at them; that we’ve got a natural talent for being a sex bomb/luxury real estate development/cock-teasing 26 year old nerds/ finding a loving relationship. That’s what’s addictive about the easy. “Maybe I don’t have to be a real real estate developer, I mean, I make okay money, and that itch/idea to develop real estate is being scratched/enacted in some form.”

        I don’t feel think that we need to be reinforcing the idea that members of the West should just stick to things that they find it easy to be good at.

  4. AlexWolfe says:

    “Both of your points are rooted in manifestation of identity, though.”

    I never said they weren’t. I said they make it easier, through providing a metric of success and ease of progress, to self-actualize.

    I’m not sure if it’s unintentional, but it still feels like you believe that many people who play MMO games are broken in some way or another. That’s ridiculous. Yes, there are people who create an online identity wholly different from who they are in reality as a coping mechanism. Yes, there are likely far more of them in Second Life as opposed to other MMO games.

    But your analysis still ignores the fact that there are people who play MMOs that portray themselves online exactly as they are in real life.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      To me, the folks who portray themselves as who they are in real life would seem to be seeking the same success. Those folks are just as unhappy/unfulfilled by everyday life; the question is where they place the blame.

      The difference lies in whether the user believes that something internal that is causing the unhappiness/preventing fulfillment (the world is fine, but I would get what I crave if I were different) or something external (I’m fine, but my real life environment prevents me from getting what I crave).

      With the first group, you get the attention-starved nerd playing a sexy schoolgirl, or the bigger black lady playing a smaller black lady. With the second, you get the woman who looks just like her avatar, and whom they imply started using SL to have a loving relationship (which happened to turn into a real one).

  5. Tiburon. says:

    Interesting how World of Warcraft has millions more active players (as in, not just registered accounts), but Second Life gets all the masturbatory applause. Why do you suppose that is?

    One theory: Second Life better fits the critic’s conception of an intriguing story. The “ethics of online interactivity” and “the porous boundaries between the fictive and the concrete” certainly play better when represented by human avatars than the same themes analyzed via elves and dwarves. So the fact that WoW has 12 million active subscribers and SL has ~800k active players, which would logically lead to WoW’s greater relevance, means nothing.

    I know tons of people who play WoW, from all walks of life. Pardon the anecdotal evidence, but I don’t know a single SL player.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      I don’t know a ton about the inner workings of WoW, but is there something to be said for the raids as teams-for-kids-who-never-were-on-teams? Battalion/warrior mentality for the easily bruised?

    • eqv says:

      Plus, WoW is held in total disdain by popular culture at large. There’s even a whole South Park episode, I think…

      • Tiburon. says:

        While SL is the “mature alternative.” Strange, then, that the supposedly immature game is the one that’s far more popular. Or maybe the real oddity is that we even feel the need to justify something like this to ourselves.

        sunshinefiasco, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I played EVE Online for a time (still subscribed, actually), and military terminology had a way of creeping into everyday gameplay. Of course, it’s fundamentally different: you can’t force someone to play a game, so enforce enough discipline and they’ll ragequit (if they’re immature, which is the safe bet).

  6. AlexWolfe says:

    WoW is so different from SL that to say one is an alternative to the other is like saying pasta is an alternative to parsnips. The things that draw people to each are extremely different.

    WoW has quests with objectives to complete, each of them leading the player through hundreds of stories that take place in several dozen varied locations. These quests also lead the player through a long, overarching narrative. Not only that, but there are different stories for each race and faction. Some people just play through all the quests the game has to offer, then quit.

    WoW has areas where players compete against each other. It’s reasonably well balanced, so much that some people (very few) even play professionally. Many are just drawn, as they are in FPS games, to Capture the Flag or Territory variants. Some enjoy the epic scale of a massive 40 vs. 40 player battle.

    WoW has several hundred bosses (think of them as puzzles) of varying complexity for groups of people to attempt to solve. Some get together in large groups (raids), while some stick to small five man groups. Some play with strangers, some only with friends at set times. Some of these bosses are so difficult and require so much perfection that less than a percent of the people who play the game are able to complete them.

    SL has none of the above. Any quests or competitions within the game are made by the users. There is no story. There is no overarching narrative. The games are built for two entirely different purposes and thus, two entirely different demographics.

    • Pastabagel says:

      The reason WOW gets trashed and Second Life gets all the praise is because in Second Life, you get to live in a simulation of the real world, complete with all the familiar branding and advertising, but it’s easier. To those with a vested interest in all those brands and the advertising revenue they generate (including the makers of Second Life), SecondLife is better. Second Life is about being a better consumer, and achieving the fantasy identity that consumption has failed to deliver here. That’s why there are no quests. It’s all acquisition, status, and popularity. (Did you spot the American Apparel store in Second Life?)

      But if you consider all of this commercial exploitation and the empty consumerism bad things, then WoW is a positive alternative. There, it’s about your group/clan/whatever, and your skills, and not much more than that. Do people “waste their lives” playing WoW? Sure, if we can simultaneously admit that people waste their lives immersed in Twilight, Star Wars, and all the other pop-for-adults bullshit.

      In fact, arguably MMOS and online gaming generally are an improvement over other forms of entertainment, because at least MMOs recover the middle-distance social life that TV and mass media obliterated in the 60′s and 70′s.

      There are plenty of people who don’t play WoW and also don’t take action to improve their lives.

  7. Brian says:

    Gaming is expertly analyzed in “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal, it gives evidence for the benefits of gaming and why it’s unwise to villanize people playing games. It’s pretty much what AlexWolfe said about WoW: A. Providing clear goals that increase in difficulty and scale, and sometimes need B. a collaborative group to accomplish them, and C. provides immediate feedback of your efforts on the world.

    Contrary to common belief people play games because they’re difficult not easy, playing a difficult game provides the same intrinsic reward making a chair does -like PerhapsAnAttic suggests gamers do instead, and it gives a safe environment to fail in- lowering stress and increasing self efficacy.

    The point of the book is to prove that if reality is not providing the communal connection and positive feedback that games can, rather then criminalizing games and gamers, recognize game’s power and integrate that into reality to create that lost social connection. Foldit being an example of gaming for a real world benefit, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foldit

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