273: Second Real Life

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Second Real Life

We meet hundreds of people online in forums, MMOs or late night fragfests, but these interactions are usually quick and meaningless. Catie Osborn discovers how some online relationships are more complex than you might expect in a place like Second Life.

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...Wow.

o_O

I'm not sure who I feel more sorry for in that situation. This kind of drama is exactly why I stayed the hell away from Second Life. Kind of lame that he told you - for all he knew you could've been an EDiot, and after that it'd be game over, man.

Ok...

Intense stuff to think about right there. I'm going to have to excuse myself and go distract my mind for a while. Good article.

This article made me think of .hack/sign, specifically of Subaru. Really, we all do not do enough for the people around us.

Brilliant article, similar things happen with Habbo and games like that, weird to think about the person on the other side of the computer. It detaches us far too much. Strange, very strange.

This article really made me think.

Very good article, and strangely similar my experience with second life, I was originally drawn into the game when I first left home, was very alone and thought whats the harm in trying something like that to get some social interaction. I'd always dismissed this sort of thing in the past, "MSN with avatars" I'd say cynically. Since then... well my account has been active for about 3 years now, 3 years of meeting fascinating people from all over the world that I wouldnt have had a chance to before, heck about a year ago I even had someone from tennessee fly over to the UK to spend a week with me, now how often does that sort of thing come about from a game of Starcraft or TF2... in short its been 3 years that have drastically changed my view of the online community, any online community.

Think the most fundimental thing I brought away from it all is that everything online, be it forum posts, avatars etc. are all people, before then I was very cynical, with my outlook I was essentially treating them like some AI, the same way I would a bot or an NPC in a video game, not real people with real feelings and emotions.

While I rarely frequent the world of SL these days, through a combination of RL commitments (work, family and so on) and slightly offput by the drama inherent in an online community, spent a lot of time on SL playing agony aunt or shoulder to cry on to people, not necessarily unwillingly to my "close friends" on there but there are times I just dont feel up to it. I do know the people I've met on thier and the time we shared, I wouldnt change it for the world.

My wife logs in to SL 2-3 times a week to play dress up, make a few items for her store and then quits. I consider it much cheaper than actual clothes shopping....

FTA (emphasis added):
'While I still occasionally unleash my wrath on the unsuspecting n00b who's just blown my kill streak or mucked up a quest, ever since that strange interaction in Second Life, I've done my best to be kind to the gamers I encounter. I have realized that I will never really know the full story of that rogue who just ganked me, and so I try to make sure every impact I have is a positive one, because sometimes the smallest gestures are the ones that make the biggest impact, especially to people like K.

Beyond that, I learned that worlds like Second Life may be a den of scum and villainy upon first glance, but some very real people have a need for the interaction, companionship, comfort, and friendship that can be found within that select group who "actually play this."'

Just like real life.

Once again proving my theory that who you are online is who you are in real life; being an asshole doesn't get a free pass and being kind matters especially to those who do not experience enough kindness.

I hope more people take that idea to heart.

I don't play Second Life, but I am a MMORPG junkie. While my situation isn't even remotely as dire as K's, I'm mostly house-bound. The majority of my social interaction is online, and all I can be is grateful that this wonderful thing called The Internet came into being in my lifetime. It means I don't spend the majority of my time stuck in this house completely alone. Sure, the people I'm interacting with aren't here physically, but I'm still *interacting* with them. It's far better than being a passive bump on a log staring at the television!

wow...that was one of the scariest f*cking stories I have ever read ever...I hope that dude finds a way to get out of this situation without having a suicide on his hands.

I would say "lolz" but that would make me a terrible person.
:(

ZelosRaine:
This article made me think of .hack/sign, specifically of Subaru. Really, we all do not do enough for the people around us.

As a fellow, .Hack fan, I think you for this comparison. Anyways, nice article.

Yeah... I know this only too well.

For me, it was IMVU, which is different, but the same general ideas apply.

You'd be surprised what can happen. I somehow fell in love with someone I'd never met except online, and that immediately turned into an outright disaster.

And that's despite being a fairly cynical and careful person, knowing full well how silly this kind of thing can seem.

That doesn't change what happened, so all I can say is, be careful. it may not be a 'real' world, but the pain it can cause the unwary is real enough.

That youtube video of that kid having a massive tantrum over his mum deleting his WoW account? Yeah now I feel bad about laughing at it :(

Second Life, WOW and many others clearly offer a real life raft to people otherwise trapped in their lives. Even though I don't participate in them myself I appreciate the articles I read that offer stories like this, I think it is a fantastic unintended benefit of the online universe.

A great recommendation, Catie. Let's be honest, kindness is forever in short supply in the world and is always welcome and beneficial, no matter the setting. Life can be hard, cruel and brutish and we all should strive to be more considerate than we feel like being.

It's never wasted effort and we never know what life shaking ramifications the smallest kindness we offer might create.

It's always worth doing.

This is a very good post and an interesting cautionary tale. Avatar people are vessels for real emotions.

I've been in SL for three very happy years and romance hasn't been on my agenda at all. I am thrilled though at all the friends I have made - really interesting people from around the globe - and how I have been changed by the experience.

I guess I never thought about it like that before. I used to think that people in games like this don't really have much in the way of "Kindness" but I do understand that maybe they're in situations like this.

That was quite the thought provoking article. Im actually quite glad I read these week to week.

It would seem a lot of people do take advantage of the "anonymity" when playing or interacting online. It really doesn't have to be that way though.

I wonder if more people were made aware of these kind of interactions, that they might change the ways they interact with people online for the better? o.O

Wow, what an interesting and nifty read. I too used to think only of the silliness of pouring time and money into something like Second Life. This has certainly opened up my perspective on the human side of gaming in that environment.

To give a bit of the flip side of this situation, I remember meeting a young woman on SL years ago while playing hockey (yes there are organized sports in SL, look up GOHA) who a friend introduced me to. She was going through a messy divorce and just needed some support since she didn't really have friends our her and her husband was a control freak.

So we became friends and along with others got her through that tough time in her life. After she finally got the bum out of the house, we started to talk more and decided to meet at least once in RL before she decided whether she was going to move back home to Europe.

Three years later she became my wife :)

We both still play Second Life (finally dragged her onto the ice), and enjoy having fun with our friends both online and off. We also consider ourselves lucky to not end up in the drama that can take place there, or really any online game if you think about it. Only advice I can offer is don't go looking for romance online. If its something that's likely to last it'll come and find you when you least expect it

I've seen this kind of thing happen before. Much as I like the opportunity to be someone else and see all kinds of wild things, SL can be emotionally draining. The people are real and so are the feelings. I've avoided LTR of a romantic nature. But I do have friends that I think I know pretty well there.

I am a bit peeved that SL is being considered a good resource for the agoraphobic, the infirm or the emotionally damaged. For one thing, it's very democratic; for a few dollars you can look as good as any supermodel. And consider this; it is one of the only places where being witty and clever trump beauty and brawn. People like me because I'm glib and have vocabulary. In SL those virtues aren't restraind by my entirely average stature and unimpressive physique.

I have a family and can go out on a whim. But the chance to be highly visually attractive as well as charming is alluring, even if you're relatively capable of normal social interaction.

I am a resident in Second Life, and proud to take part in the communities there. On 11 August 2010, I celebrated by 4th RezDay (4 year anniversary (or birthday) in Second Life.

Like many, finding Second Life was a random event...I simply heard a news article about it, which was dismissed until heard it again about 2 months later. That night I logged into SL and began a voyage like no other.

Yes, in the first few days a noob will find more of the unwanted in Second Life because you start exploring the places you just happen across. But after learning to use the search options in the game, you begin to create your positive SL experience. I can proudly say that I have 2 friends that I communicate regularly with outside of the game that I met on day one. While we have never met, I still consider them extremely close friends. SL allows you meet people and get to know them that would not be easy because of geographic differences. I know count people from the US, Canada, Germany, Australia, UK, Taiwan, The Netherlands and several other countries among my friends.

Also like many in SL, I have a partner, or someone equivalent to a spouse in RL. While he and I have never met, We talk, communicate out of game via email facebook and skype. He would be the person I can talk to about anything in game or even about real life events. Its like a best friend relationship. While some choose to make it about the virtual sex, ours is not the case. I think we are better friends because of it.

Second Life might not be a place for everyone to spend time off and on for 4 plus years, but I think it can provide a good escape from reality at times...as long as it is done safely and in a healthy way.

This just goes to show that love can be formed purely on personality alone, which is a brilliant thing. But that guys situation is not an easy one, it's a shame that we may never know how it turned out.

Very engrossing and deep article. I will now need to read something more cheery to keep my mind from racing as well, but it was worth the read nevertheless. Thank you for the article.

In games people behave diffrently. I think the biggest diffrence is the anonymity, no one knows who you are. That's why there exists trolls on the internet, they can say whatever the fuck they want and they can usually get away with it! Some people however go the other way and show generosity that they would never have in real life.

I used to do sl, after I got a virus from something else and had to reformat Ive been to lazy to reinstall it, I had some good times, made some friends but really the main thing I miss about sl was the mst3k theater

Picking up on what JavaJoeCoffee commented above,

"I am a bit peeved that SL is being considered a good resource for the agoraphobic, the infirm or the emotionally damaged. For one thing, it's very democratic; for a few dollars you can look as good as any supermodel. And consider this; it is one of the only places where being witty and clever trump beauty and brawn. People like me because I'm glib and have vocabulary. In SL those virtues aren't restraind by my entirely average stature and unimpressive physique."

I find the fact that SL is being touted here as a platform for the social disfunctional alarming to say the least, to the point where I actually countered this with a post on my own blog. http://pixelscoop.net/2010/09/second-life-article/

It was a condescencing way to end an article that actually raised some really good issues about real life feelings in virtual worlds.

What your article does not do, is to discuss the people who have balanced lives, who are perfectly sociable offline, who are intelligent and creative and who go in Second Life either for business, to learn, to teach, to create, to collaborate, to raise money for charity.

Yes, some people use the platform to fill a real life gap. But for many others it's an immersive and intellectually stimulating alternative hobby to mind numbing trashy television.

While edge cases are the stories that make the news, the reality of Second Life is that people there do pretty much what they do on any other social environment: have fun, either by themselves (engaging in creative activities can be done on your own), or, more likely, with friends. Either friends they have met in real life or new friends they made on the Internet.

The problem is that stories about regular, normal residents of Second Life are just plain boring. Let me take myself as an example. I logged in on my first day, spent 90 minutes tweaking my avatar, 20 hours exploring and meeting people, becoming fascinated, slept 4 hours, logged back in for another 16-hour-session, became addicted, bought a Premium account. A few months later I was participating into a political experiment to let a group of people democratically suggest how their own virtual space should be managed and organised: in the 2D world, this means setting up a group/forum/website, and enjoy the chat. In 3D, you have to deal with urban planning - which includes commercial, residential, and leisure areas. On a website, you might one day organise a video session for everybody to enjoy participating (it's hard, but thanks to things like USTREAM, it's possible). In Second Life, you have to plan events, hire performers or DJs, do advertising and promotion for your event, and handle security.

Two years after that, a group of friends established a business to develop professional content (including software programming) for Second Life, and, with offices in Lisbon and New York, we started getting dozens and dozens real customers - corporations and institutions - which wanted a virtual presence in Second Life. A few years after that, I continued my academic studies - first a mastership, now a PhD - solely done through Second Life. These days, be it for fun, meeting friends, work, or study, Second Life is my primary environment of choice.

Boring :) So it doesn't make the news. But this is pretty much what happened to most of the twenty million registered residents of Second Life; I'm neither an exception, nor an "edge case". A few - perhaps a few millions! - added to leisure, business, and academic studies a further issue: romance, cybersex, love, marriage. 1 in 4 American couples have met online; a lot of them used virtual worlds like Second Life. Now this starts to interest the media, because it falls outside the "norm". Not everybody is interested in dating services and cybersex, so, because it's something different and special, it attracts the attention of journalists. An estimated 20% of all Second Life users are engaged in adult activity, create or buy adult-related content, and have forged relationships in SL that go beyond clicking on the "Add Friend" box. Those 1 in 5 have stories to tell, and those are the ones that get interviewed.

Among those 20%, a few have very heart-breaking personal stories. They might have some disability, either physical or mental. They might be unemployed and have found Second Life's economy - little affected by the overall economic downturn, although there was a decline in the overall rate of growth (i.e. the economy still grows, but not as fast as in 2006/7; still, it's worth US$ 0.6 billions annually, and has grown perhaps ten times since 2006...). They might live in countries with oppressive regimes, or have had their parents/kids/partners killed in wars or by horribly disfiguring diseases. They might be agoraphobic or terminally depressed and found Second Life an "escape" to their terrible reality.

All these are so-called "human interest" stories, and they are immensely appealing to the media. However, they are edge cases. Very, very few people have actually such rich and extraordinary (in the sense of "not normal") stories to tell; but the ones that tell these kind of stories are always picked up by journalists, eager to write something that will move their audience.

That isn't to say that these cases do _not_ exist. They certainly do; after meeting thousands and thousands of fellow residents of Second Life, lots of them had rather heart-moving stories to tell me, which made me shear some tears. Perhaps one of the most lovely stories I heard was from a former Dane actress, long retired, who, decades ago, met an Italian aristocrat in her youth, but, for many reasons, they never proceeded with their relationship. 40 or so years later, they happen to find each other in Second Life, and relive the love they never managed to sustain in real life. I believe both might have died by now, but they still spent a couple of years very happily together in Second Life. Like that lovely story, I've heard uncountable others - most remain untold, but a few hit the news.

After all, isn't that the kind of thing we expect the media to report? We don't like to hear about boring experiences like ours. It's so far more exciting - or romantic! - if we get told stories that move us, that engage our deeper feelings (even if they're feelings of rejection!). Journalists know that, and so that's what they pick as examples to grab an audience.

I think that this article correctly picked one of those lovely tales from Second Life and turned it into an article that made us think about our human condition. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Second Life with similar stories. No, the vast majority has nothing interesting to tell. They just enjoy being there.

ZelosRaine:
This article made me think of .hack/sign, specifically of Subaru. Really, we all do not do enough for the people around us.

That's actually a rather good analogy. I think, what I like best about being online too is that people can only judge you really on your personality.

Typecast:
That youtube video of that kid having a massive tantrum over his mum deleting his WoW account? Yeah now I feel bad about laughing at it :(

You know that was a hoax, right?

OT: I've actually experienced something similar a few years ago, on a MUD I play. I became friends with a guy whose name I won't reveal. We chatted a fair amount, used to go hunting together, and so on. He was in his mid-20's, gay, with a dead-end job he hated and some mental problems that made him very uneasy around people. I knew that he was unhappy about his life, because when we chatted about it he'd get very upset sometimes, but while I sympathised there wasn't much I could do for him.

One day, he revealed he'd never actually had a boyfriend. Again, I sympathised, but it wasn't really my business. Eventually problems with stress led him to lose his job and he became much more mopey, often moaning about how he got so little human contact. He started asking me to come and visit him, with the not-so-subtle intention of being "more than friends". I kept declining, as nicely as I could under the circumstances (he was about a decade older than me, lived on the other side of the country, etc), and we gradually drifted apart. After a while he stopped logging on, and I lost my phone and with it his number. Ever since, I've always had a nagging worry at the back of my mind about what happened to the poor guy.

SonicWaffle:

snip

That story reminds me of Robin (not her real name), who I met when I went through my fanfic writing phase. We both had accounts on fanfic.net, and I don't know why, but I just decided to message her one day, asking if she wanted to talk. And talk we did, on everything depressing and abstract that we couldn't seem to talk about with our RL friends and family; this went on for more than a year. Then I recall getting upset with her over some glib reply to something I found very important, and I decided to stop talking to her. This decision was validated by the fact that I'd started making more RL friends and gotten closer to the one's I already had. I, like the author before her SL experience, felt like "online friends" were... somehow unhealthy, or at least not as "real" as the ones I could actually see. But after a while she messaged me telling me how much she missed me...

Before our spat, I'd incorporated her name into... well, I'd say, but that'd be telling her name. Suffice to say that now I'm reminded of her on a regular basis. I regret what I did sometimes, but I don't know how I'd reconnect, or that I'd really want to. I'm a very different person than I was back then.

I did experience something like this in WoW. I started WoW on an RP server after beta, and got into an RP guild for about a year. Over the course of the year a chick playing a NE priest "got involved" with my human rogue. Way too involved. I had to let her down as easily as I could "ooc" because she got our avatars confused with our real persons. She thought we were really together despite being 1000 miles apart and never having met offline.
Last time I ever do online RPing.
Then again I did get into a fight (that I didn't even want to fight about) with a buddy of mine because my D&D character banged his girlfriend's D&D character (it was more of a boot scene than actual "banging", you know dude makes out with chick, scene cuts to something else going on, scene cuts back to dude putting on his boots) and he actually broke up with her over that. Some are stupid people that don't understand the difference between fantasy and reality, but I feel bad for the ones who really don't have much in the way of a real life especially one like in this story.

I've heard quite a few stories like these. Especially from Japan. They are very painful tales most of the time :-/

Jfswift:

ZelosRaine:
This article made me think of .hack/sign, specifically of Subaru. Really, we all do not do enough for the people around us.

That's actually a rather good analogy. I think, what I like best about being online too is that people can only judge you really on your personality.

The 1 annoying thing with that is that there's nothing preventing them from behaving worse online, due to the anonymity. Thank God it doesn't happen all that much, depending on the site.

It's because of articles like this that I love The Escapist. Fantastic, and remarkably moving. I also am guilty of prejudging the people who play Second Life, and I expect so are most people. Not going to do that again. Wow.

I just feel so sorry for K. For W as well, but to a lesser extent. At least he has the option to have a real life and a real family; that doesn't seem to be the case with K. It just amazes me that people like her are abandoned by others and left to look after themselves. I mean, she's even been deserted by her family, the people you'd expect to be there for her. It just makes me feel so depressed; I'm misanthropic anyway, and it's stuff like this that makes me lose faith in people. How can they justify it to themselves?

So like, what happens if K just happens to stumble by this article online and read it...

Uh oh...

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