Is Second Life really just a game?

An inconvenient reality

So, what is it really that shocked the two interviewees? Was it, as they claim, that “nobody is real, everybody is fake, everybody is pretending, SL is just a game”? Or rather that they saw what people are really like when their RL masks of conventions, smiles, politeness, pleasantries and good manners are removed, when social norms are discarded because they’re pointless in SL? We often say that SL is a fantasy world – it is, but it goes far beyond than that: it’s a way to unleash our deepest, hidden, innermost feelings, urges and desires, the ones that we try to keep in check in RL. In SL, we can be pretty much like MC Hammer described the Addams Family: do what we want to do, say what we want to say, live how we want to live, play how we want to play, dance how we want to dance. Indeed, in SL we can act and behave in ways we’d love to be able to act and behave in RL. We can say things we’d love to be able to say in RL. SL, with the level of privacy it affords its users, is truly a liberating force, but this is actually a double-edged sword: certain people often (and openly) abuse this freedom in order to mistreat others and be deliberately unfair to them. And they mistreat others in SL (and make no excuses about it, instead they brag about it), because pulling such stunts in RL could get them in serious trouble with those around them, or even with the authorities. But that’s another story, that doesn’t really belong here.

So, I believe that Aria’s interviewees were shocked by seeing the true side of the people they interacted with. I think these people were actually naive, believing that they lived in an RL where everybody was nice, polite, compassionate and caring, and that they’d find the same thing in SL. For them and many others, to even think that people are not nice, polite etc. is devastating and can ruin everything they believed in, their entire worldview, and also the whole system they use to classify people – literally, it can run them aground, tossing them on sharp sea rocks and, if they survive, they’ll be castaways in a veritable terra incognita where they’d have to redefine everything in order to get their heads around things. Because they can’t find it in themselves to understand the fact that, in SL, peopleexpress what they really are like, they say that everything in SL is a pretense, that it’s all a fantasy and that everything in SL revolves around sex. Well, from that perspective, it does look that way.

Only in Second Life?

However, as I have explained before and also reiterated, to some extent, here, sex is everywhere: on the internet and out of it. Facebook, MySpace, the old Yahoo! chatrooms and groups, IRC channels, dating sites (duh!), they’re full of sexual imagery, sexual narrative, sexual promise and sexual hope – and this also reflects part of the human psyche. To say that only Second Life is “all about sex” is, to say the least, delusional and hypocritical. Just as delusional and hypocritical as the old claim that “the internet is all about sex” (does anyone remember it?), in fact. And even the real world is full of sexual imagery, narrative, promise and hope. As a matter of fact, the internet (and, with it, Second Life) is full of sex, because the real world is full of it and because, well, we humans dedicate so much of our time, thought and energy to it, even though we pretend we don’t.

You see, we pretend to not care so much about sex and be “above it” in RL. But, if we were really “above it”, then why is it that men try to make more and more money? Is it merely because they want to be able to afford more luxurious accommodations and more refined food? No, it’s also (if not mainly) because they want to attract more women (and more beautiful). If men didn’t want to be more attractive as sexual options, they wouldn’t try to gain more power and authority over others. They wouldn’t be hankering after (and preferring) cars from companies like the Quandt family-owned BMW (which some people translate as “Brings Me Women” – and the Quandt family is guilty as fuck of using slave labour in WW2 and has gone practically unpunished for this atrocity and still tries to keep its nazi past under wraps), or Mercedes-Benz, or Porsche, or… If sex was not so ingrained and so deeply rooted in people’s thinking (especially men’s thinking), it wouldn’t be so heavily exploited in advertising.

So, really, it’s the “real world” that’s all about sex. In SL, we’re just not forced by societal conventions and requirements to pretend otherwise.

This, of course, paints a rather unflattering picture of SL and its users, right? Not really. It’s just facing the facts about the world in general. We all have sex drives, we all have sexual desires, we all want sexual and romantic partners. Of course, not all of us look for sexual gratification online; not all of us think that the internet is only for finding a romantic or sexual partner. Some don’t bother with it at all (the interviewees thought they fell in this category, but they were obviously fooling themselves – and still do). Some are like “eh, if it comes along, fine. If it doesn’t, never mind.” Some use SL – perhaps extensively – for sexual gratification, but also have other interests to keep them satisfied.

Animal lust and our drive to procreate with partners that have better genes or are more likely to provide for us and our offspring may be a major factor in the hunt for obscene wealth, but it’s not all there is to life – and that’s what makes humans capable of creating cultures and civilisations. Yes, there are people out there who think with their loins. You’ll find them in RL, you’ll find them on various chatrooms and forums, you’ll find them in SL. Their thought span ends at the next hot date, the next shag, or even the next person to play malicious mind games on. But these are not the only people you’ll find in SL.

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7 thoughts on “Is Second Life really just a game?

  1. Another post that shows most of Sl users thoughs, at least mine, in a way i would never be able to do, bravo!

  2. Most excellent post, which I just managed to read to the end today (sorry!). Needless to say, I totally agree with you, and perhaps I was a bit too nice by not being very assertive with my own suggestions — saying “maybe” or “perhaps” instead of “no, it’s really like that!”

    I didn’t mean that objectification as part of denial actually “works”. Like you, I agree that it most definitely doesn’t — except, perhaps, very temporarily. But, like so many common strategies that don’t work out in the end, there is a social conditioning (which you also allude to) that makes people think it works: basically, it’s “expected” from people who have trouble dealing with relationships in SL to tell all their friends, family, and so on, like you said, that “SL is just a game, one cannot have meaningful relationships there, everybody is a freak there, and I was deluded in thinking otherwise”, etc. and get everybody agreeing — because that’s what we expect.

    The whole issue about why SL is demonized — while Facebook isn’t — still confuses me. Recently, a RL cousin of mine, who is mostly computer-illiterate, created a Facebook account, kept it for a while until she met a guy she liked, married him, and closed her account. This pragmatic usage of Facebook shows so clearly that Facebook is, indeed, the ultimately dating site (not, of course, the only one), and that some people — specially those who aren’t tech journalists, marketeers, or SEO ‘experts’ — definitely look at Facebook and the other tools as novel ways to get a date (or even grab a husband).

    The difference is that people simply don’t talk about that.

    On a company I worked for, our financial director was a rather elderly — but sprightly! — guy. He was always bragging about his sexcapades in the 1960s, under a very repressive dictatorial government which was highly moralist. So we youngsters asked him how it was possible that he was involved with so many girls. He just answered, “well, people would have as much sex as today, of course. The difference is that we wouldn’t brag about it. If we opened our mouths about the last sexual partner we had, we wouldn’t have any other. So we kept the silence and enjoyed the sex — as much as people do today”

    I guess the same applies to Facebook… 🙂

    1. Hey Gwyn. Sorry for taking so long to reply – I wasn’t ignoring you, but gathering information regarding what may have caused SL to have such a crappy reputation. In fact, Jo Yardley’s transcript of Rod Humble’s interviewdiscussion with Draxtor Despres makes me want to ask a few questions – not that I expect answers…

      But I do have to wonder whether LL’s stance regarding interviews has played a part in making the Press hostile towards LL and SL.

  3. Meh. For sure many have less inhibitions than in RL, so in that regard they are more real / more themselves in SL, than in RL, and that’s a good point. But this doesn’t mean that they are all true and not fake. If they true nature is manipulative, they are still fake and liars. So they will pretend to love you, for example, in order to use you, to have gifts from you or to have sex, etc. It happens in RL too, but in SL they have even less inhibitions, as we said, so I see it happening even more in SL. Sex is OK, but what about the feelings? There are many who take SL as a playground and take other avatars and the typers as their toys, if not their sex toys, playing with their feelings, to use and abuse them.

    It is not always codependency: this kind of abusers don’t show they true colors so easily, else they can’t manipulate you. They hide all, so the abused person finds out the truth only later, getting a big shock and quitting the relationship or even SL. She or he can be a naive person indeed, or a shy person who hasn’t a big success in RL as well, somebody who thought he or she finally found a true love and someone to trust, so the heart break can be quite serious, when the truth comes out.

    And since in SL there is less inhibition and, as you said, there are those”not so RL gorgeous” guys and gals getting addicted by their manipulative skills in SL, so they can compensate their RL frustrations by abusing of other people’s feeling – thus they are quite ugly even inside – it is likely that the romantic abused person meets another ill minded “button presser” in SL and then another one and so on… getting more and more disgusted… because so many are playing that in SL. No wonder that eventually he or she concludes that SL is only a game or it is better to take SL just as a game, not seriously. Yes, (in part) it is a defensive thought, but not entirely wrong. It is wrong to think everyone does that, but in general it is not so wrong to take SL lovers slowly, cautiously and in a lighter way. This is true in RL too, but in SL they are more free in doing so, because they don’t expose themselves, hiding behind their avatars, and they can always create a new account just to play their manipulation games. It is true with bullism too, and here I agree with one of the interviews (No. 5): “It is easier to bully people in SL because you don’t have to ever face them or face the consequences of community for your actions.”
    So, besides real life, this is harder to do in Facebook too, as most accounts aren’t pseudonymous, and usually you know already who is already married and so on, so maybe there is less cheating in general. Also I don’t think that Facebook is used mainly to flirt, it depends on the group of people taken in exam. It happens on Facebook too, but most of the addition there looks like people searching for attention and reactions from friends.

    I don’t think SL is only sex and SL addiction is only because of sex and relationships, but I guess that many people can’t find anything interesting in SL beside that, although there are instead a few of people in SL who look at SL relationships or sex as something of secondary importance, or don’t seek for them, unless it happens by chance, or explicitly avoid them at all.

    I know you wrote this months ago, but I found it only today and it was an interesting read and point of view

    1. On Facebook, it’s much easier to bully someone. The abuser can very well use a realistic, but absolutely fake name, and have an army of alts/sockpuppets as well. It’s naïve to believe people on FB are more “real” than in SL; FB is a meat market and it’s rife with fake accounts, trolls and bullies.

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