That was a comment made by a friend recently when a few of us were gathered together discussing whether or not we’d be inworld on New Year’s Eve. It turned out that an inordinate number of us would indeed be online, and as a result the decision was made to have an inworld party to celebrate the the new year. It seems that few of us had any plans to see in 2016 in similar fashion in the real world, or were for that matter, at all put out by the thought of staying in and partying in pixel form when others would enjoying the real thing. Hence the ‘antisocial lot’ comment.
The same thought had occurred to me, just a couple of days earlier on Christmas Day, when I logged in and headed off the to my local
den of scum and iniquity club, only to find it busier than usual. “Haven’t all these people got families and other more important festive things to be getting up to?”, I mused – apparently not!
With hindsight, however, I’m not so sure that we are an antisocial lot at all. True, we may eschew the company of real world companions in favour of pixel partying, but it’s the same things that draw us in that direction as do for real world activities. To a certain extent, I’m sure the ‘surroundings’ have a part to play, and here SL has far more to offer than the real world – whether it’s the conviviality of a pub setting, the brashness of a club, or something more esoteric and unusual, SL can produce the goods without breaking the bank or requiring us to make any sort of real effort to plan, prepare and arrange a means of conveyance to and from our intended venue. If it’s music we’re looking for, again SL spoils us for choice and, in the more intimate, interactive setting of the virtual world, we are far more in control of what we’re subjected too… even to the extent that we can turn the sound off and listen to something more to our taste from elsewhere.
The real attraction of the virtual places we choose over and above their real world equivalents however is much the same as that which we would favour in a real setting – it’s being able to enjoy time in the company of our friends – and far from being anti-social, it is quite the opposite – the very essence of socialising.
When inworld with friends, we enjoy much the same in the way of social interaction: We converse, share jokes and experiences, we laugh and have fun, we mock each other in play and we we share our thoughts and feelings. In many ways, we have to work harder at these elements of socialising in a virtual setting than we do in the real world, since we lack much of the non-verbal communication and the tactile elements that we rely so much upon when we gather together for real. Even so, it works, and it works incredibly well – many of us can enjoy a virtual get-together equally, if not more so, than we would in person and, because of the peculiar limitations of SL, I’d go so far as to say that the extra effort we have to make in order to socialise effortlessly inworld may well improve our social skills generally.
In real world settings, particularly when in large groups, it’s extremely easy to exclude those outside our immediate sphere – we’ve all been to parties or meals where the table has naturally split into two or three separate groups, each pursuing their own conversations and tending to stick together throughout; unless we make the effort to physically ‘transplant’ ourselves into a different group, then it’s all to easy to either feel excluded, or to exclude others. Similarly, in RL our focus and attention span is limited – there are only so many conversations in which we can actively participate and contribute to; the environment itself can intrude – making oneself heard over thumping music, or hearing what somebody across the table is saying can become a challenge in itself – this is all part of the fun of RL socialising!
In SL, such difficulties are rarely encountered. Most of us are more than capable at taking part in multiple conversations at once, neither is anyone likely to be drowned out by the music, and physical location or proximity has little effect on socialising – thirty people in a room can comfortably feel part of a single coherent group without any practical need to split into smaller gatherings. That’s not to say that virtual socialising is not without its challenges, but I don’t consider it to be any less or more than its RL equivalent.
So yes, New Year Party inworld, and I won’t feel I’m missing out – quite the opposite, in fact.
It’s taking us some journeys
While we wipe away frowns in the most crowded place
Kings Of Leon – My Party