It started yesterday, since when i’ve been trying to fool myself that it’s just a cold – it isn’t though, it’s full-blown flu. Several years ago i had flu over the most miserable Christmas i’ve ever experienced – day, after day in bed or moping in a chair, swathed in blankets; unable to eat, think or care. In a week, i lost half a stone, although the D&V diet isn’t one that i’d recommend!
Please excuse this post being slow to read – it was written rather slowly… the screen is wobbling in front of my eyes, which themselves are about a size and a half too big for their sockets, and i’m torturing the words out, in between bouts of shivering, whilst trying to ignore the the pain from my joints, which feel… well, i can’t really explain it, but they hurt! As a rule, you could sever a couple of limbs, or infect me with bubonic plague, and i’d just shrug, take a couple of painkillers and get on with life – very little stops me from functioning – however this has completely floored me.
Normally, i wouldn’t bother you with these details, but on this occasion it’s justified: a) because i’m feeling sorry for myself, and b) because there’s a connection between the way i’m feeling, and my subject matter today.
i’m a firm believer in clobbering these things before they clobber me, so the moment the first threats of anything nasty heave themselves over the horizon will find me running to the medicine cabinet and drugging myself up to the eyeballs in a kind of shock and awe blitzkrieg upon any germ that tries to attack. My first port of call for any sort of coldy-flu-sniffle-snuffle-coughy-sneeziness tends to be the hot lemon – i swear by it, always have, and i’m completely convinced that a timely hot lemon, followed by copious doses of follow-up lemonyness can stop a cold in its tracks and then send it running for the hills, crying for its mother.
This, apparently is all a load of cobblers. Some time ago i used to have heated debates with a nurse, who constantly berated me for wasting my time and money on hot lemon… “Read the active ingredients”, she’d say: paracetamol, sweetener and maybe a little caffeine – a sweet cup of tea and a couple of cheap painkillers would be equally effective. Well, i have to beg to differ – i can drink all the sweet tea and knock back the painkillers all day long with little or no effect, but dose me up with hot lemon and i can kick the butt of a cold in around 3 days!
Of course, i realise that it’s years of thinking that hot lemon is the cure-all rather than the active ingredients that makes all the difference – it’s my belief that hot lemon will work – some sort of placebo effect – that’s doing the trick.
We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the placebo – many studies have shown that they actually do work; more bizarrely, they can still have a positive effect when the recipient knows full-well that they are receiving a placebo, as opposed to the real thing; recipients have even demonstrated ‘side-effects’ when taking them! It’s thought that placebos produce an expectation of recovery that can be every bit as strong as drugs – it’s even been demonstrated that placebo injections can be more effective than pills, because people expect injections to be more potent. Whatever the reason – both my brain and my body respond to hot lemon in a way that is far more positive than with any other treatment.
What does any of this have to do with sl? Let’s consider that old chestnut, which regularly makes the rounds: the contention that sl is not a game. Rather than reel out the old arguments that games have rules, objectives and progression, let’s consider instead what sl is, if it is not a game… Some would say it’s an ‘experience’ – which i find a bit wishy-washy; Rodvik says it’s a ‘shared creative space’ – an accurate, although pretty boring definition; whilst many of us would plump for ‘virtual world’, and it is this last designation that i’d like to consider.
‘Virtual world’ is an expression that most of us are pretty comfortable with – it’s an apt description for sl; a place where we have a whole ‘life’ that is often completely removed from our real life; a place where we interact, shop socialise, build, create, have fun, work, play, explore, drive vehicles and a myriad of other things that – in the main – are all perfectly possible in the real world, but we can pursue, almost without constraints, in the virtual world.
The huge majority of sl residents would perceive the virtual world as an idealised version of rl – whether in our inworld pursuits, the people and places within which we immerse ourselves or how we choose to be seen and perceived by others. Yet, none of these things are ‘real’ in any tangible sense of the world – despite which, we gain immense pleasure and derive a great deal of value from the time and effort we invest in the virtual world. Let’s take a simple example – an analogy that we can probably all relate to, although it may cause some discomfort for some: We may spend hours trawling through stores in sl to find that special outfit, then invest even more time to get the fit exactly right, accessorising and primping and preening until it’s perfect – it’s a process that is really little different to ‘dressing up dolly’, yet the sense of satisfaction, achievement and enjoyment we derive from it goes way beyond what it should merit. Yet all of this is just pixels – even so, achieving the perfect look inworld produces a feeling of satisfaction and wellbeing in rl that is disproportionate to the activity we have undertaken.
Many of us will have experienced this same feeling both during and after spending time inworld – it’s a feeling that pervades our real lives and can make us feel better about the real world. Spending time in an idealised, virtual environment generates a positivity and an expectation about our real environment that can help us to actually think the world is a better place. Seeing our potential unlocked, the possibilities open to us and feeling good about the virtual world acts as a placebo… we start to expect that the real world can be a better place too. Just as, since time immemorial, chicken soup has been considered the universal cure-all – although it is, only, chicken soup – there is something about a warming, nourishing and tasty bowl of the stuff that simply makes us feel better and on the road to recovery. SL is no different: it can be the chicken soup for our lives – a placebo that makes us feel better about the real world, even though the link itself may be tenuous.
I was alone, staring over the ledge,
Trying my best not to forget,
all manner of joy, all manner of glee,
and our one heroic pledge.
Placebo – Meds