We often talk about the complexity of SL – whether in terms of the vast array of viewer settings the user has to master, the steep learning curve required to progress, the remarkable variety and confusion of the inworld populace and topography, the often counter-intuitive processes that accompany so much of the virtual experience, or the surprisingly strong hold that virtual living can exert over our emotions, relationships and feelings. Even when broken down into its constituent parts, SL exhibits a bewildering array of challenges that residents have to deal with, right from day one.
From a technical standpoint, I’ve often thought that pinning the blame for any of SL’s perceived failure to secure and retain users upon the software or the complex nature of the interface and user environment is a bit of a cop out. Yes, it certainly is challenging and can, at times, be utterly confusing, contradictory and less than straightforward to get to grips with, but I’d argue that it’s no more difficult to master than much of the technology that we struggle with on a daily basis. For example, to become proficient at using Photoshop, Blender, Audacity, After Effects or even MSOffice requires more than a modicum of effort if we ever intend to progress beyond the most basic functionality. Even the technology most of us now take for granted can require a steep learning curve, with little in the way of help and assistance for us to fall back on – my current mobile ‘phone, for example, came in a box with no manual, no start-up guide and an assumption that I could learn all I needed to know to become proficient in its use simply by working things out for myself.
Certainly, SL can be confusing and difficult to master, but I’d say it was very much on a par with an awful lot of applications and technology that we manage to live with, and with about the same level of support. And, if we are struggling with SL, then rather than complain about the lack of support, I can’t understand why we simply don’t do what we do with all those other tricky applications… Google, ask around, and scour the forums.
In my opinion, by far the most complicated aspect of SL is the non-technical side – essentially those areas that mimic RL so well that we find ourselves juggling with the complexities of relationships, emotional attachments and conflicts, and even moral dilemmas. It’s not something that everyone can manage to do successfully and I reckon more people leave SL as a result of problems in this area than ever do as a result of being unable to conquer the viewer’s controls.
However, real life quite definitely has the upper hand when it comes to complexity in this regard. Even the most convoluted inworld emotional roller-coasters are as nothing compared to what RL can throw at us, and whilst there are some who may thoroughly enjoy making a drama out of a crisis inworld, I doubt very much they’d feel quite up to making the same sort of fuss in a similar real world situation.
If anything, SL allows us to cope with such things far more easily than their non-virtual equivalents. In many ways, for example, it can be easier to avoid somebody inworld; secrets and subterfuge are much easier to maintain, and the protective, secure and anonymous environment provided by SL can shield us from the worst emotional storms. That’s not to say that they can’t be painful, difficult and extremely challenging, but I’d take a virtual personal crisis over a real one any day.
SL can be pretty predictable too – we often call the shots and we’re often very much in control. RL, unfortunately, doesn’t always behave in quite the same fashion. We often don’t know what’s coming in the real world, and when it does come, it can be like an express train. Even the most propitious and welcome scenarios and situations can have a sting in the tail – and unlike SL, we can’t avoid the issues by creating an alt, hiding away or hitting the mute button – we have to deal with it.
The trouble is, dealing with it – even the good stuff – isn’t always that simple.
You think SL is complicated… It’s small potatoes compared to the real thing!
Uh huh, life’s like this
Uh huh, uh huh, that’s the way it is
‘Cause life’s like this
Uh huh, uh huh that’s the way it is
Avril Lavigne – Complicated