People often talk about SL in terms of it being an escape from the drudgery of the real world, and I suppose there’s a very strong argument in favour of that contention. There are many ways in which the real world can struggle to compete with the richness and diversity of its virtual equivalent – creativity, whimsy, indulgence, freedom, colour, space and potential – and, whilst by no means absent from RL, these are things that can frequently be much harder to find, require far more effort to achieve and may well be in far more short supply in RL than they are inworld.
Then there are the various ‘escapes’ that SL offers: escape from commitments of so many kinds; escape from physical and material limitations, and escape from societal and personal restraints. The virtual world is full of allure that the real world can struggle to match.
In the main, there’s probably very little wrong with fulfilling a need to escape from reality – it’s not a new thing, people have achieved much the same result through various mediums ever since attaining conscious thought. Music, drama, art, literature and cinema have all played their part, but they can only ever be transient diversions from the real world – at some point we have to put down our novel, take off the costumes, or leave the cinema, blinking in surprise that it’s still daylight outside. To some extent that might be considered beneficial – you can have too much of a good thing, and even the most stimulating pursuits can become dull and lacklustre, even monotonous, when there’s nothing else in life to draw our attention. However, that’s not to say that the return to reality is a happy one; we’ve all experienced that post-holiday dissonance, the drop after the sensory high, and those depressing, energy-sapping feelings that the treadmill awaits us and the fun is over.
Many of us face that same sinking feeling when we log out from SL. The transition from SL to RL – from colour and vibrancy to grey dull routine; from fun and games to work and responsibilities can be acute. There’s a feeling of finality when we logout; a feeling we’ve made that conscious decision to opt out of the good times to face the reality of life, work and responsibilities, and that’s a feeling that may be wholly contrived – life in the real world may not necessarily be all that bad, but in comparison with the gaudiness of SL, it can feel very dowdy, grey and lacklustre indeed – grim, even. Way back at the beginning of 2011, I mentioned how cinema-goers were documented to have felt a palpable ‘low’ when leaving showings of Avatar – after the colour, vibrancy and escapism of Cameron’s Pandora, planet Earth felt a dull and deeply unsatisfying place to be. The same might easily be said to hold true for SL.
If we think about it objectively, the real world can compete with SL, and beat it hands-down. There are experiences I’ve been granted by RL that SL could never replicate or even come close to, however where SL does hold all the cards is in its immediacy and accessibility. In RL, all the truly momentous moments in my life have come about either as a result of planning, effort and endeavour, or as a result of extraordinary sequences of events or plain good luck – they have been mostly fleeting and, in the main, unique. That’s certainly not the case in SL, where the vast majority of noteworthy moments can be replicated as often as we wish and usually when we want – it’s instant gratification and it hits the spot with an immediacy that the real world simply cannot. In what other circumstances could I flop on the sofa after a long hard day in work, and within minutes be sat in a flower garden, surrounded by birdsong; or flying through the clouds, high above the ground; or hammering down the road on a Harley? In SL, I can do that whenever I wish, time and time again… I can’t do that in the real world.
Is it any wonder that SL is like a virtual narcotic for the wistful mind? And, is it any wonder that logging out from our virtual world is like coming down from from a emotional high? As we slump back into our seats, the colours, sights and sounds begin to fade, the world around us resolves into tones of grey, and all that remains is a memory and a vague disquiet that there must be more than this?
But, it’s not so bad – we’ll log in again tomorrow!
Sent la pluie comme un été Anglais
Entends les notes d’une chanson lointaine
Sortant de derriere d’un poster
Espérant que la vie ne fut aussi longue
Visage – Fade To Grey