Friday, 24 August 2007

When Life is More Real in Virtual Worlds

We are familiar with the idea that people role-play in virtual worlds - in effect, real people living unreal virtual lives. Indeed, it is this role-playing aspect that underpins much of the SL-phobia (thinks: "What is the greek for Second Life?") that has afflicted large swathes of the media. However, what goes unreported is the use of virtual worlds as a means of escape from an unreal life.

Now, I think I'm pretty much a regular kind of chap in Second Life. My avatar is a pixel-based extension of my RL self (if somewhat slimmer!), he has my views and outlook on Life, The Universe and Everything - "he" is "me." I believe the same is true for many, many people in Second Life.

Others, particularly those with phyical disabilities, find that virtual worlds provide an exhilirating and liberating experience, allowing them to travel, meet people, make friends, work and network without the need for physical mobility. They can be themselves, free from the constraints imposed by Real Life physiology.

However, I was chatting with a friend recently who revealed another aspect of living in virtual worlds: that some people actually live a more "real" life in SL than in their day-to-day existence. The anonymity of virtual worlds may indeed allow normal folks to go bananas... but it also allow folks whose Real Life is constrained by various social pressures to be themselves. For example, if you live in a community where your worth is judged by the frequency and intensity of your church visits and related activities (like much of the USA), it can be very difficult to "come out" as an atheist who thinks the whole thing is built on a falsehood. The pain inflicted on family, friends and community - and the ostracism that can then follow - may be too much to contemplate. However, your Second Life persona can embody the person you really are on the inside, expressing your true/real thoughts and beliefs. The example given is not hypothetical, and I am sure there are many similar examples across the Second Life community.

To stretch the comparison with the liberating effects for the physically disabled, Second Life can be equally liberating for the societally disabled.

I don't know if I've expressed this very well, but I find it an interesting counter to the negativity discussed at the start of this post, about real people living unreal lives in virtual worlds. The balance is those people living their unreal lives in the Real World, while their real life, at least regarding the things that matter, is lived in virtual worlds.


Team Mascot said...

I'm with you on this one. At a very simple level, I tned to be quiet and retiring in RL, but am happy to go up to anyone and start chatting in SL.... so I suppose in SL I have many inhibitions taken away.... but is this because I am "escaping from RL"? Perhaps not.

Anonymous said...

Good article. It is soothing to come into SecondLife, anonymous and being yourself. It is also like being on a holiday from work - you have no boss to present a persona to, no certain way of dressing. This does not mean real life is bad, but it is a refreshing change to come into SecondLife without the same worries and fears. Where else can I fall from a building and laugh when I hit ground?