Get a (second) life

November 20, 2008

Imagine this scenario: You enter a room to find your partner engrossed in the computer. Nothing strange about that.

But suppose your partner was preoccupied with placating a furious online boyfriend, or heavy petting their cyber girlfriend…

Or even enjoying fellatio after paying virtual money for a two-dimensional hooker?

You may or may not think this is a big deal. But Amy Pollard divorced her husband over it.

Amy and David Pollard met five years ago in a chat room, and their legal marriage, although short, nonetheless survived their online marriage.

Both have an avatar, a Second Life character through which the ex-couple exist in cyberspace. These tend to look like the Brad Pitts or Angelina Jolies of this world, however acne ridden their creator may be.

Ironically Second Life offers people what they are trying to escape from in their first lives. Homes, families, finances, pets, albeit more glamorous ones.

But mostly it’s about trying to hook up with a cyberspace hottie.second-life_1

Stephen Lunn in his article Don’t be a virtual ass, rush out this second and get a life in The Australian, takes the view that sometimes people should just stand up, walk to the closest door, proceed through it and get themselves the hell outside.

But according to Philip Linden of Second Life, it enables people to ” Re-define what personal identity means, when expressed in a world where anybody can be anything, can do anything, and can create virtually anything.”

Second Life has generated huge interest in terms of its capacity to offer a low-budget platform where conferences or meetings can be run on limited funds. And Reuters even have their own Second Life reporter, Eric Reuters. In real life he is Eric Krangel, a technology journalist based in New York City.

But Communities Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Shane Richmond, said in an Online Lecture at Cardiff University: “Personally I can’t see it replacing the Internet, which gives a lot of information in a short space of time. If I have to walk or fly to read my email, it doesn’t really grab me.”

Despite scepticism from people like Mr. Richmond, we have left the era where the media industry can force ideas (however good) down the metaphorical throats of their audience.

Alex Davies explores a valid point in her blog about how the future of Online Journalism will be dictated by people, not technology – so if people want to interact on Second Life rather than traditional news sites, they will. Particularly since Second Life prides itself on being driven by user generated content.

But whether or not Second Life is destined to become bigger than say, Google, it brings to the forefront some interesting and relevant issues. And cases like the Pollards’ divorce enter into unchartered territory.

So how does the ordinary person navigate around already slippery relationship rules on the Internet? How would they react if their partner too were having an online “virtual” relationship? Would they see it as a pardonable offence, banishable behaviour, or just a bit of fun? And has the Internet changed our definition of infidelity?

Sex sells in Second Life, as it does in real life, and it’s no secret that cybersex is among the entertainments on offer in the programme. Entrepreneurial users even make real money as cyber hookers. (Link to interview with Evangeline, an online prostitute. Be warned; it’s fairly x-rated!)amster-dames02

But as the definition of reality becomes horribly blurred, we find ourselves in the midst of a whole host of moral dilemmas.

Unfortunately, rape in programmes like Second Life is not unheard of. Not only the “consensual” rape built into some games (although if you’re interested in that debate, Jess McCabe has an interesting blog about it). But a case last year in Belgium about a girl who claimed she was raped on Second Life raised frantic debates about what constitutes rape. (Mark Methenitis gives an overview of the legalities involved and advises police to use their time to catch real rapists).

While trawling through various sites on this subject, a comment by Brad Drac really stood out. He said:

“Second Life’s biggest appeal is that it’s content is entirely user created and governed. Unfortunately, this turns out to be more of a weakness, as the majority of the people playing it are incompetent, moronic, sexual deviants. Shit there’s even “adoption agencies” where people can rent kids. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine why.”

Amy Pollard knew her randy ex-husband was looking for something we can only guess was missing from their relationship. There was certainly another person interacting with her significant other, if not physically, than emotionally, so doesn’t that constitute cheating?

And this is what it comes down to. Web 2.0 is all about individuals and communities interacting directly with each other. And it is growing increasingly sophisticated to the extent that people are living out lives, perpetrating ‘crimes’, and making money, all of which are beginning to have consequences in their real lives.

Still, Second Life is still in its elementary form. I will watch with interest to see where its users take it.

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2 Responses to “Get a (second) life”

  1. Moggs Oceanlane said

    Your blog post is interesting and shows thought, unlike Stephen Lunn’s article – which drove me crazy (my response http://moggsoceanlane.blogspot.com/2008/11/in-response-to-dont-be-virtual-ass-rush.html).

    I find the development of the virtual enviroment an interesting one. Someone commented that it is moving away from being immersive to being augmented – that is, if you believe the two are separate, I don’t see them as being mutually exclusive. The point of the blog (and I think it may have been from Gwyneth Llewellyn) was that Second Life is becoming more of an extension of the real world, rather than an escape from it, or a place of fantasy and escapism.

    While technology brings new ways to commit crimes, it also brings enhanced communication and collaboration with people and on projects that you may otherwise not get (people from different walks of life or geographical locations). I do find it sad that there is so much focus on the sex and potential for crime in Second Life – there are amazing art/music projects, educational endeavors, a museum of ocean science and so much more. Yes, there is sex – but no… it’s not all there is – it’s so much more.

    I think the self governace is fantastic and has far more strengths than weaknesses. Second Life and other virtual environments also give those that may be discriminated against in the real world an opportunity to participate without people judging them based on their disabilities, gender, etc.

    I returned to Second Life in 2007 after a short foray in 2005 that didn’t last due to my technology not being up to running the environment and I had some skeptism as to whether I’d stay. I have met so many amazing, creative and talented people from around the world, I can’t imagine leaving. The people I mix with range in age from their early teens through to their 70s and come from low socio-economical backgrounds and privileged backgrounds… some are athiests, some are devoutly religious… and they are all there in that one space.

    One of the most amazing things about Second Life is that everything in Second Life is created by the residents, not by the creators of the software that runs the environment. My entire immediate family has accounts (we sometimes paly old fashioned board/dice/card games in world) and my sister who had never touched programs like Photoshop and GIMP is now quite proficient in using these graphics programs simply because she had a desire to create things in Second Life and so learned how. She can also now use animation programs and has been playing with art.

    For all the negative press about Second Life it’s interesting to note that the hair fair, (an annual event in Second Life) raised over 9,000 USD for an American cancer charity. Pretty amazing when you consider that ~260-275 in game dollars are only worth $1 USD. I also have heard of people happily giving money to another resident for a headstone for a family member and members of the community donating real and virtual money to help a popular in-world artist upgrade her computer after it’d been fried by lightening a few times in a row – just because they appreciated the art. There are so many examples of fundraising, charity and kindness in Second Life but such things seldom reach the ears of the masses… the media prefers to talk about the darker side of life… in both the real and virtual worlds.

  2. amyandrew said

    Thank you so much for your response. It is true, the media do seem to concentrate on the doom-and-gloom factors, not only online but worldwide! But it is facinating for me to see how people have transferring their problems to online programmes, and how we deal with/respond to that as a society.

    But those issues aside, a friend took me around IBM where they are incredibly excited about the prospects of Second Life. They have been working on sports projects, and matches have been reproduced on Second Life where people can replay each shot and analyse the technique of the players – this certainly brings more to the table than traditional television.

    You are right – there are numerous examples of Second Life as a revolutionary programme, and for me, one of the most positive aspects of Second Life is it is user generated, and the opportunities it offers, such as art, are available to anyone who has an avatar.

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