Who’s playing who?

Let me apologise in advance to those purists of you who look disdainfully down upon any lesser mortal who dares to describe sl as a mere game. Regular readers will know that it’s a  turn of phrase that i normally frown upon myself, however there are odd occasions when it can be helpful to consider sl within the context of the gaming genre, even if it’s only as an aid to understanding. Like so many of you, i’m far more comfortable with using the term ‘virtual world’, however that presents some difficulties when it comes to discussing how we engage with sl.

To ‘live’ sl sounds downright wrong and really isn’t particularly helpful when trying to describe our relationship with it to outsiders. To ‘play’ sl frankly doesn’t sound much better, but it’s a more readily understandable descriptor for how we connect with the virtual world, even if it’s a term we don’t particularly like. Before i completely upset those of a more delicate constitution, i should say that when i use the word ‘game’ i do so in its widest sense – in the same way that sporting pursuits, intellectual challenges and activities undertaken for pleasure might also be referred to as games. i grant you that ‘play’ is an awkward word, so please feel free to substitute another of your choice… indulge, pursue, participate – whatever you want, really. Although – coming to think of it – perhaps things are a little more complex than that.

The difficulty arises because of what sl purports to be – a second ‘life’. Life, despite all appearances to the contrary, is a difficult thing to define. In a strictly biological sense, it’s a fairly straightforward matter, although the very wide variety of biological life means that a strictly biological definition runs into trouble when we start to consider the issues of sentience and consciousness – there’s a world of difference between being alive in the sense that human beings are and being alive in the sense that a patch of lichen is. It truly is a case of ‘life, Jim, but not as we know it’.

Once we start to consider the defining characteristics of being ‘alive’, it becomes even more convoluted – where does intelligence, (‘real’ or artificial), fit? What about behaviour – is autonomous activity any more a sign of life than reflex action or swarm behaviour? And what about the level of complexity that goes into making life – if we are made up of living cells, then is it us, or our cells that are the life form?

At this point i should go and make a cup of tea, otherwise i’ll drift so far off my point that you’ll have to send a search party to drag me back home. [/me makes tea, clears mind, gains perspective and, finally, sees sense!]

Let’s return to sl: if it really is some form of living – an extension of ourselves and a further way in which we connect with the multiverse around us – then it must necessarily be endowed with many of the characteristics of that other side of us that we arbitrarily and – wrongly in my opinion* – call ‘real life’. Principally, it will mirror many of the characteristics of real life that make our everyday world so unpredictable, as well as the behaviours, factors and processes that to a greater or lesser extent determine the multitude of pathways that our real lives take, not only in the long term, but also in the minutiae of the thousands of decisions and interactions that we face with every passing breath.

We may have moved on from the cavemen in many ways but our modern lives, now more so than ever, are still constantly beset with pitched battles and trials of strength that test our resilience and our capacity to live our lives on our own terms – that is, to survive as a unique, (and still living), individual. We may not have to fight with sabre-toothed tigers but we are faced with a constant barrage of opposition that would seek to manipulate, ensnare and distract us into other people’s ways of thinking. Modern life is all about bending the will of others for personal or corporate gain – whether through advertising, peer pressure, societal trends or blatant oppression – and, like it or not, our second lives are equally open to manipulation and a great number of us willingly participate in it, or utilise it for ourselves.

We don’t notice it going on, most of the time – far more importantly, we attach little importance to it because, by virtue of being in sl, it’s not ‘real’.

Anyone who’s ever fallen to the allure of the lucky chair, hunt, midnight mania or gatcha machine has, quite effectively, been manipulated to the will of the store owner. As we sit, captivated by the scrolling display of goodies on the Marketplace, then we’re looking at what somebody else thinks we should see, rather than following our own direction. Every invitation to a club, every unasked for TP and random friendship request is an invitation to give away something of ourselves and our freedom in order to please somebody else. Step back for just a moment, and above it all, we see the Lindens holding our very SLives to ransom as we wander and build all over their Grid, spending our money to swell their coffers and living in mortal fear of the day when someone at Lab HQ decides it’s not worth the hassle and flicks the big red ‘off’ switch.

Don’t misunderstand me – i’m not saying that sl is a bad thing; far from it – but the very nature of the beast means that the more embedded in our lives that sl becomes and the less we treat it as a game to be played and more as a life to be lived, the more it’s actually going to be playing us!

Don’t know about you… but i’m game!

s. x

You can go your own way; Go your own way 
You can call it … Another lonely day 
You can go your own way; Go your own way
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way 

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