23 October, 2008

Taking a Second Look

To my surprise, I have encountered an inordinate amount of negativity towards Second Life, in my discussions about it with friends (or in some cases, with person(s) who I thought were friends). And my experience of Second Life has been so positive, that it's left me guessing. Why so much hatred? I could understand if these people just didn't like the program, but they seem to feel the need to express fairly strong negative opinions about it.

For example, one "friend" - who is no stranger to MMORPG addiction, by the way - seemed to take pleasure in deriding Second Life, despite the fact that he's never even tried it. It's not just that he never bothered, but, in his own words, he "couldn't bring [him]self to actually play it." And yet, he apparently knows it well enough to profess that the "lowly" SL isn't worth his hard drive space.

I tried to figure out where his prejudice was coming from, but all he could tell me was that SL "does everything *poorly*" (whatever that means), and that he pities the "zombies" that play it. This coming from a WoW addict. And despite the fact that I'm the one actually playing SL, and actually having a great time with it, he insists, "given that I have more knowledge and experience with games like this, you'd damn well better give me credit that I know what I'm talking about moreso than you." So I gave up.

That's one thing, but even the friend whose opinions I actually respect has expressed negative feelings towards Second Life (although he at least took the chance to try it). It seems that he has more of a philosophical problem with the game, and the whole idea of embracing fantasy instead of reality. I can understand that, though, because he's doing pretty well dealing with reality, from what I can tell. I, however, have good reason to escape into a fantasy world.

But that's not all. This friend has repeatedly referred to Second Life as a low place that must be sunk to, and on different occasions compared it to, and also professed it to be even lower than, 4chan and its ilk, stating that it exists in that same niche of the internet. Which one? Well, "the shitty one", of course. This, to me, was quite a blow, because frankly, I don't see the relation, and I agree that places like 4chan are pretty shitty.

Look, I'm not trying to call names or be bitchy or anything by using direct quotes - I just want you to get an idea of the kind of abuse I've had to deal with. I mean, my one friend actually said that Second Life was, and I quote, "worse than drugs". Okay, to be fair, I've said that WoW is as bad as drugs in the past. But worse? Seriously?

So how do I make sense of all this? Well, I read some stuff recently that might just clear things up a bit. Specifically, I've read about cases of people getting hooked on Second Life and letting their first life fall apart. The classic case of addiction. But unlike with other games, there's the added confusion that comes from Second Life pretending to be real life. This is especially difficult when it comes to forming relationships in SL. Does it count as cheating if a married (or otherwise committed) person falls in love on SL? When you've got SL friends to hang out with, do your rl friends matter anymore? If an exciting adventure is just a teleport away, why should you bother leaving the house?

My response to this angle is to say that you shouldn't hate the drug, you should hate the addiction. The simple truth is that Second Life can be just as much a positive influence in a person's life as a negative one. It depends entirely on the user, and how they choose to live their second life.

I'm reminded of a specific scene in Chobits - a series that takes place in a world where intelligent computers in the shape of pretty girls (called persocoms) are commonplace. There's a lot of drama that goes on about people who fall in love with persocoms, and whether they should be treated like people, and all of that ugliness. Well, in one specific case, there's a man who falls completely in love with his persocom, to the point of neglecting and then completely forgetting the very existence of his wife. The "best friend" character in the story befriends the wife, and learns to hate any man who would fall in love with a persocom, forsaking reality for a fantasy. But later on, he comes to the realization that it's not a man who falls in love with a persocom that he hates - what he hates is simply a bad husband, a bad person, who would cheat on and forget his own wife.

I approach Second Life in the same way. If a married person falls in love with someone on SL, and allows their rl marriage to fall apart; or if someone gets so engrossed with SL that they give up on important matters in rl; then it's the *person* who is making bad judgements in his/her life. It's not the game's fault.

So maybe people that hate Second Life so much, only really hate the people who play it irresponsibly. Maybe that's part of the puzzle, after all. But I don't feel it's a complete answer. I think some people just aren't ready for the metaverse yet. They can't handle a virtual reality that pretends to be actual reality. And I don't blame them. Although I do think that it's the way of the future. Someday, the simulation will become reality itself. I find that idea exciting. Others may find it scary.

Don't fight the future. Embrace it.


  1. I agree, drugs are indeed a great thing, and the problems come from the users.

    I can't wait for the simulation to become reality itself. It will be so much better than real life, what is there for people to hate about that? I liken the people who are against it to those who are against suicide, personally. I think they feel betrayed and insulted by the simple fact that someone's idea of existence is downright opposed to their own pursuit. I mean, who knows what's really in these peoples hearts, but I feel like their derision comes from an attitude of "Why the fuck are these guys allowed to be happy with just a computer program (or sitting at home on a Saturday, drugs, or death) when *I* am out here in my 'real world.' It's a direct affront to their worldview, people are insulted when the bigness of their social world is demeaned. Playing WoW is a fantasy. Even the sims has a goal. Society allows fantasy only so far as it does not demean the "real world." I'm getting into conspiracy territory obviously, but we are all being pushed and pulled. "Real life" is a big and powerful, we are expected to be moved by our coworkers and neighbors and the neccessity of sustenence. Preffering second life over the first life eliminates so many of the basic tennents of first life: you are no longer chained to your physical appearence, relatives, possessions, history, even gender. It's really beyond Zen, in a way, but supplementing original possessions with ones that exist mainly in the mind. You're supposed to be stuck in your lot and you're supposed to have to tough it out just like everyone else. Transcending beyond this point into a different and simpler happiness without the harshness of original reality pisses people off who are left behind.

    In a perhaps small or subliminal way, it makes them question their own path in life, since it's hard to ignore happiness even though what's right for one is not right for another. I'm not saying we're superior, they do it to us, too. Or me, at least. But that's, in my humble opinion, what drives the majority of people who have a knee-jerk hatred or a notable derision towards Second Life or the other alternative worldviews I've mentioned. It is my humble belief that our worldviews are fragile against the vast diversity of the true objective world, and therefore it can be VERY affronting to someone to have theirs questioned. They (we) have everything to lose.

    Though what I said might not comfort you at all... And I wrote too much. Sorry.

    It also can't be compared to 4chan. That's silly. Though I have immense respect for the message board culture.

  2. Are you familiar with "transhumanism"? I actually found out about it from a freebie t-shirt I picked up in Second Life. Sounds pretty cool, though.


    "Better Than Human"