Way back in February 2011 I sent myself an email – just a short email, with a couple of jottings, the odd quote and various miscellanea that I intended, at some point in the future, to use as the basis for blog posts. Unfortunately, being the expert procrastinator that I am, that particular email has been re-opened a number of times in the intervening years, but other than that, I’ve done nothing with its contents.
The trouble is, that the particular quote I want to use has clearly been copied from somewhere, possibly another blog or book review – it’s certainly not my original work – but despite all my efforts to track down the source, I’ve failed. So, I’ll use it here in full, and if you recognise it or know where it came from, please let me know so that I can give it proper attribution!
“Ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? According to Robert Pirsig, the real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things. And so it is with SL.
There’s a bit more to SL than sticking cartoon blocks together. You can script them and make them work together and even build a motorcycle. Making a computer program or script do what you wanted it to do always seemed Zen-like to me. When I finished a program, it was always like I had put a piece of myself in the code. But then again, the only Zen you find on tops of mountains or in a machine is the Zen you bring there.”
That analysis resonates incredibly strongly with me, on every level. As I look back over the years I’ve spent inworld and the time I’ve spent blogging about it, I can clearly see that the efforts I’ve expended exploring, creating, problem-solving, building relationships and pushing my boundaries and abilities within the virtual world have equally been a formative influence upon myself in real life. The challenges I’ve faced, along with the strategies I’ve developed to rise to them; the things I’ve learned and the awareness I’ve developed as a direct result of being part of SL have also changed me as a person. Whilst I’ve been working on the virtual ‘motorcycle’ that is SL; maintaining, cleaning, improving and repairing it, the same process has been going on in my real life. Some of the qualities so essential for making headway in SL, (or even motorcycle maintenance) – tenacity, adaptability, innovation, patience, willingness to learn – these are all areas that over the last eight years I’ve seen develop and mature in both RL and SL.
You may argue that’s part of the natural process of growing older. Perhaps it is, but I know for a fact that tackling some of the things that the virtual world has thrown at me – technically, emotionally, logistically and practically – has exposed me to situations and thinking that it’s unlikely I’d have had to face otherwise, and it’s been a learning curve that, at times, has been unexpectedly steep. That learning has paid dividends outside the virtual world and has changed the way I tackle real life situations and challenges; it’s also changed my real world philosophy when it comes to dealing with problems and upsets.
Then there’s the second part of the quote above to be considered. There is indeed something zen-like and magical about taking an element of the virtual world and moulding it to meet a specific purpose, but it really is far more than just sticking virtual building blocks together – you can do it that way, but the end result is always lacking, much like an Airfix kit that you’ve thrown together in a couple of hours; the resulting model may look OK, but you feel little sense of achievment in completing it. Whenever I’ve faced a challenge in SL, be it building, scripting, writing or socialising (yes, that last one has always been a massive challenge for me), the process of working to achieve a result has always required an investment of some kind, whether time, effort, learning, or something else of myself, and that investment is forever captured in the end result – there’s always a piece of me that remains encapsulated in that build, that script or endeavour. Imagine our Airfix model again, only this time you’ve invested hours in its construction, researching the real thing, working long into the night to ensure the painting is authentic – it’s a labour of love and, when finished, you’ve put as much of yourself into its construction as any other more tangible material contribution.
However, it is very true that the only zen you find on mountain tops, or in any machine over which you’ve laboured, and any virtual world into which you’ve invested, is the zen that you bring yourself.
The zen that you seek is the zen that is already within yourself.
Here then is the real crux of the matter: That learning, enlightenment, maturity, growth – whatever you want to call it – which you seek, is already contained within you. What SL, your motorcycle, Airfix kit does is provide a tool to unlock that potential by providing a focus and a mechanism by which you can work on yourself, by working on something that seems entirely unrelated, but ultimately becomes part of you – and you, part of the outcome.
And I guess, that’s why SL will never be just a game to me.
Orthodox dreams and symbolic myths
From feudal serf to spender
This wonderful world of purchase power
Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness