There can’t be many of us who, at some time or other, haven’t found ourselves marvelling at one of the attractions of sl. Whether it’s a magnificent build or a stunning sim, or even an avatar with more than the usual complement of wow factor. At its very heart, sl permits us to explore our dreams, live out our fantasies and visualise things that in the real world would range somewhere between ‘remarkable’ and ‘utterly impossible’.
The nature of sl encourages the suspension of disbelief, and that in turn enables us to interact with our virtual environment, enabling us to become part and parcel of the overall effect, rather than simply observers. Poseballs, animations,gestures and sharing activities with others all help us to put reality on hold and become part of the virtual world in a way that dispels any thought that it is just pixels.
When we log in to sl, we are making a conscious choice – a choice to leave behind the humdrum everyday world that defines how we should act, who we should be and what we are, in favour of experiencing an alternative, and very different sort of world. A world where the unexpected is the norm and the unusual and remarkable hides around every corner. It’s like walking through the gates of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, clutching our golden tickets tightly in our hand, and never knowing quite what wonders await us inside.
Alternatively, we can choose to reduce sl to the mundanity and blandness of the real world, in which case it becomes something very different. Once we lose that sense of escapism and the capacity to be surprised and captivated by the virtual world there’s a real chance that we’ll begin to see it as something else entirely – although some might say it’s a much clearer and more accurate picture. When this is the case, sl becomes simply a game, a business venture, a social network or just a practical tool for a specific purpose. Whilst it may not altogether lose its whimsy and fundamentally quirky nature, it becomes less of an escapist diversion and more of a means to an end. That shift in purpose has consequences for the person behind the avatar.
To give you a comparison – it is, for example, the difference between being involved recreationally in amateur theatre or pursuing it in a professional capacity. The amateur hobbyist and enthusiast pursues their interest because it gives them a thrill, they enjoy the experience and it takes them away from the everyday world. In the case of the professional, it is their everyday world: it is something that they have to do, a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table. That’s not to say some of the magic and enjoyment doesn’t still form at least a part of what the professional may be called upon to do, but it certainly won’t be the driving force or motivation behind it – that will be far more prosaic and everyday.
There is, however, nothing wrong with taking that sort of approach to sl – it’s perfectly valid, and is no doubt the best way to employ sl as a means of money-making or other ‘professional’ vocation. If that’s what we want from the platform, it’s fine, but friction and discontent can occur when the two virtual realities – the frivolous and the serious – become enmeshed, as inevitably happens inworld and on the periphery of sl. The serious user is likely to be inflexible, demanding and vocal when it comes to matters of performance, functionality and capability and they may struggle to appreciate the irreverent and ‘unhelpful’ attitudes and behaviours of those for whom sl is more about having a laugh, than it is about making a profit.
Likewise, the escapist and less serious user may fail to comprehend why other – business owners in particular are so uptight about issues that to casual observer are really not that important within the fun and crazy world of sl. Indeed, they may be prone to over-dramatising and becoming far too embroiled in fantasy and roleplay than might be strictly healthy.
Second Life is both flexible enough and big enough to accommodate both extremes, along with all points in between… but, are we?
When doting Mr Salt, father of Veruca, enters the portal of sl he thinks that everything has a price and can be bought… the virtual world is simply another commodity to be exploited and traded. At the other end of the spectrum, the Augustus Gloops of the virtual chocolate factory think only of indulging themselves, cramming every goody they can find into their virtual lives, and ultimately coming to a sticky end. Yet sl has space for each of these monstrous virtual inhabitants, and we can see numerous examples throughout the Grid.
As for me, i’ll be Charlie Bucket – well aware of the trials and tribulations of the real world that lie outside the gates of the chocolate factory, yet willing to suspend my disbelief and embrace the magic of the what lies within those virtual walls.
That’s what i choose.
After all, i don’t want to waste a golden ticket!
A heart that’s full up like a landfill
A job that slowly kills you
Bruises that won’t heal
Radiohead – No Surprises