Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is second life a game?

For some people Second Life is definitely a game, they play at being dragons, Harry Potter, criminals, prostitutes, slaves, men, women, and furry animals, and then drop these roles as easily as the world of a film or a book is once finished. However I have not met many people like this.

A game is characterised by many things: by a specific goal; by a delimited range of actions; is somewhat separated from the rest of life; but most of all that one can not lose anything much more serious than the game itself. If what happens in the "game" has serious consequences in the rest of life then it ceases to be a game for the participants and becomes serious.

Many people start by intending to play SL but then get sucked in and it stops being a game. I came to SL initially to study it, I quickly got draw in to playing it, and now simply live part of my life here. If I stopped using SL I would lose close friends, intimate lovers, support and aspects of myself that get no expression in RL. I have no specific goal, but many goals and none (at different times). The joy of interacting in SL is there are an almost unlimited range of actions - one creates ones own possibilities and paths. The only aspect (for me) in which SL is a game is that it is allows for a separation from RL. However even then there are overlaps in terms of time, money, knowledge and our emotions.

SL is an electronic medium in the shape of a shared virtual world. Many things about SL are illusions, not real in any sense. However many things in SL are real. The interaction we have with other avatars is real if more indirect than in RL, causing real sensations and real emotions. We make real friends and sometimes we really fall in love. We pass on real information in the form of text, pictures and sounds. We can really provide some support and care for our friends. There are the begginnings of a real society in SL.

When I touch someone I love in RL, I have the intention to touch, electrical signals pass to my muscles which move and bring my hand into contact with them, their nerve cells detect this, send messages to their brain which constructs the sensation of being touched in their brain. When I touch someone I love in SL, I have the intention to touch, I feel how the movement would be in my imagination, I describe this in words which are transmitted to them, who read the words, imagine the touch, reconstruct how that would be in their brain and hence feel it. Yes the SL process is less direct that that in RL and requires more thought, but it is not less real, at least to me. Both allow the person I love to feel what I intended them to feel. Both processes can be disrupted - in RL by drubs that effect the nervous system or a simple barrier - in SL by a failure of communication or imagination (for example if our brain is telling us it can't be real).

Second Life is no more a game than the internet or the telephone. Sure it can be used by a game and may resemble some games in terms of its surface appearence and the technology it uses. Of course if one refuses to take what happens in SL seriously then you can make it into more of a game by not taking any relationships seriously, not emotionally engaging, not trying to communicate anything of RL value etc. Typically we all have some resistance to thinking of SL as real and of giving it the status of the real - and in some senses this is right. So far the value of what happens in SL is generally much less than the value of what happens in RL (not talking only of monetary value here), but that will change a bit over time.

This does not mean that SL is essentially the same as SL - it has different rules, physics, social norms, social structures, relationships etc. It is a different reality to RL allowing different possibilities and affordances - having different limitations.

Sofian (in the piece below) may be more hesitant, citing fringe benefits of being in SL in terms of the other skills and systems it has lead her into. I am more definite - I have people I really love here, real responsibilities, real decisions to make with real impacts on others - SL is now just part of my life - this is where I live some of what is my life, for better or worse. Leaving SL would now be like a little death for me, some part of me that has grown up and is connected with others around the world would be lost. I would be a lesser person.


Skusting Dagger said...

Your commentary on the real vs game aspect of SL is quite astute. I do run into people who claim to be there purely for the game and plainly state that they do not mix RL and SL. Yet true friendships are forged, and real emotions are set into play. To often, some people forget that no matter how outrageous an avatar is, nor how impossible any situation is, there are still very REAL people behind everything.
I came to your page by way of Zoe Connolly's blog.
What she has just been put through has been as emotionally touching to me as anything else that effects my life. I am still choked up about it and I do not even know her all that well!

Sofian said...

Thank you Skusting for your kind comment, but be informed that the astute article is from my friend San Mauvaise:)
Rendons à César ce qui appartient à César.