BY STAFF WRITER FERAL MOSSRIDER
It seems I’m frequently drawing parallels between Second Life and real life, or talking about how the two interconnect and share similarities but, as time passes, I realise that in some respects Second Life and real life do not always share the same path.
Whilst real life may be the ‘real thing’, Second Life clearly is not, however therein lies a problem; every one of us who has ever made a friendship inworld, rented a home, built a business or invested our time, energy and money in the virtual world of Second Life will have forged an emotional connection with it. The trouble is, those emotional connections are built on real life experience and knowledge – unconsciously our minds translate them into the Second Life context but, when it comes down to the line, our minds only really understand these emotional ties in terms of the real world and expect real world terms of reference. Within Second Life, that is a need that is often denied.
Second Life can be brutal.
Take a simple example – someone in real life dies – painful though it may be, to some extent the pain is ‘sugar-coated’… we’ll usually know the circumstances; perhaps it was an accident or old-age, perhaps we knew it was coming and, even after the event, there may be ways in which we can still capture the spirit, the essence of the person who has gone. In real life, we have a focus for our grief and, even in the most senseless and awful circumstances when ‘why?’ is the only question we can utter, we still have something or someone to which that question can be directed.
Compare that with someone who disappears from Second Life. It’s happened to me three times in just the past year – people who vanish overnight. Sometimes they’ll leave a notecard… the Second Life equivalent of a suicide note, usually leaving more questions than answers. Sometimes, they just go. Rarely do we know why, or how, or what has occurred; rarely do we receive warning or time to prepare; rarely are we told their fate. In Second Life, we have no target for our grief, nothing to lash out at or rant about, nothing we can cling to in order to compensate for the loss – just the brutal reality that someone who was once there, is there no more.
Then there’s the other little tricks that Second Life plays on us – things that, if they happened in real life, we’d take them pretty much in our stride, but in Second Life we’re just not equipped to deal with them. Once again, our real life terms of reference let us down badly. Take the friend who never makes the effort to say hello and ignores us when we log in, (maybe they’re just AFK a lot); people who always seem to need to log out, just as we turn up, (yes, there is such a thing as real life intruding and, perhaps, it’s just bad timing); those times we know the person we’re having a conversation with is having a ‘secret’ conversation with someone else at the same time, (is it such a big deal and how often do we do the self-same thing?); that friend we suspect of having an alt so they can log on without us knowing, (so what!)… the list goes on. This is the well-worn route to Second Life paranoia – the one that we’ve all travelled at some time or other. Sure we can get paranoid in real life too but Second Life leaves so much room for doubt, we can find it infinitely more difficult to listen the voice of reason and so, we succumb to our doubts and fears.
The simple fact is that we need to grow a thick skin and learn to accept that there will be times that Second Life is going to wrongfoot us, and cause us to fall without the benefit of a safety net. We need to grasp that the reasons, explanations and justifications that real life gives us for behaviours and actions will very often be confused or entirely missing in Second Life and therefore cannot be relied upon to be there when we most need them. It will often feel that Second Life or people inworld are giving us a kick in the teeth when the reality is that we simply do not have the information our emotions need in order to fully understand the situation or to properly cope. Perhaps, getting to grips with this simple tenet, accepting that sometimes Second Life sucks, and then getting on with the busines of virtual living regardless, is the first step towards virtual enlightenment and a happy Second Life.