So, sl is all about having fun, getting jiggy on the beach and shopping till you virtually drop is it? Apparently so, if most residents are to be believed, and that’s not such a bad thing really – we all need a bit of down time and there’s nothing wrong with indulging our playful, escapist and fun sides. After all, enjoying online games and roleplay no longer seems to hold the stigma it once had. Gone are the days when the archetypal enthusiast of such frivolity was the spotty, teenage geek, sitting in his basement in jogging bottoms and Superman t-shirt, whilst peering at his screen through milk-bottle glasses and gorging himself on cheesy snacks and Pot Noodle. Today’s typical online enthusiast is just as likely to be a 30-something professional, silver surfer, student or pretty much anyone, of either sex, from any walk of life.
The manner in which grown-ups ‘play’ is changing – whereas in the past we may have met with friends for a hand of cards, enjoy dinner parties or a few beers and a video, today we’re just as likely to socialise online as we are in rl and enjoy it just as much as if we were meeting up in person.
One of the weird spinoffs from meeting up in sl is that enjoying oneself can be – due to the nature of the virtual world – quite an intellectually stimulating experience; indeed, a great deal of what happens inworld can give the old grey matter a workout, often without us even noticing it. Personally, i’ve always been an advocate of lifelong learning – an open, enquiring mind is a wonderful thing and i’m convinced it’s one of the keys to staying young in heart and mind.
There are so many ways in which sl exposes us to learning experiences that in rl, we’d either miss entirely, or choose to avoid – thereby depriving us of the possible benefits that such opportunities provide. Even the simplest things – being exposed to music that we’d never otherwise listen to; finding ways to communicate with others whose language may not be ours; juggling multiple IM boxes and conversations at once; developing spatial awareness as we attempt to master the peculiarities of sl physics… all these little challenges help to keep our brains active, they force us to think – often completely outside the box – and they challenge our perceptions, understanding and cognitive skills.
On another level entirely, many things about sl are counter-intuitive, difficult and obscure: every time we log in, there’s a chance that we may have to deal with a novel problem just to get by in the virtual world. Anyone who has ever struggled with perfecting graphics settings, attempted to build the most prim-efficient structure, sought to organise an inventory in a logical order, or wrestled with the complexities of seamlessly texturing an irregular object will have experienced that special feeling that comes with knowing they’ve learned something about the world around them, and about themselves.
And it’s an addictive and heady drug: once experienced, it pushes you onwards – you wonder what other treats you can find if you can learn how to push the right buttons; and so you experiment, create, fiddle and meddle – all the time learning new and surprising things, and yet – most of the time, anyway – it’s all good fun!
It’s no wonder that sl has always generated a strong inworld learning presence, whether that’s purely geared towards sl-focussed skills, like Caledon Oxbridge, or one of the myriad schools, colleges, universities and other learning faculties that have a virtual presence inworld – you’d be surprised just how many there are… try doing a Google search if you don’t believe me! The virtual environment seems to be particularly conducive to all types of learning, not forgetting its accessibility – a premise reflected in a great many articles, both academic and anecdotal.
Speaking for myself, i’ve learned a great deal from sl. My perceptions and understanding have broadened and have been challenged, i’ve learned new skills and i’ve learned a huge amount about myself – everything from a previously undiscovered talent for being able to identify films from quotes, through to putting into practice long-forgotten principles of geometry, (even though, when younger, i never understood any of them!). It would be lovely to think that all of this inworld activity is keeping my mind young, but even if it isn’t, the best bit is that i’m still having a whole lot of fun anyway, whether i’m learning or not!
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your
life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they
wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year
olds I know still don’t.
Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)