Is Second Life really just a game?

The fine art of ragequit

So, the interviewees saw the true side of the people they chose to get involved with in SL. Having lived (presumably) in fishbowls where the wickedness of the world could not reach them, they saw (and still do!) RL through thick, rose-tinted glasses, believing that people around them are all nice, with no nastiness in them – this “gifted” them with the sort of naivety that would get one in extremely serious trouble in RL, had they found themselves trying to survive on their own. And when they thrusted themselves headlong into SL, they found themselves in a world where societal conventions and demands are irrelevant and people express their emotions and urges far more freely than they do in RL.

And what did they do? They went in full-on denial mode. They said “no, these people here in SL are not real, they’re only pretending.” Pretending what exactly? Were they pretending when they mistreated others? Of course not! They were merely showing their true colours and hanging them proudly and visibly on the mast for all to see. Yet, our naive friends chose to close their eyes to this (admittedly very ugly) reality. This led to the following: instead of coming to terms with the fact that, when cut free from societal constraints and the fear of consequences and accountability, those who are inclined to wrong and mistreat others will do so with far fewer hesitations than they normally would, instead of ditching those partners and creating a new circle of friends, they deluded themselves into thinking that “this is not real” and that “it’s just a game”, even while they were still deeply involved. This ineffective defence mechanism, of course, didn’t really do much to protect them. Instead, it prolonged abusive relationships that should have ended long ago and, of course, it prolonged their suffering within a relationship that was characterised by codependency, a situation all too common in RL – and hey, if it happens a lot in RL, why wouldn’t it happen in SL too?

And, really, SL is not “just a game” as so many people (including yours truly) have pointed out. Behind the avatars are real people, with real desires, feelings, insecurities, personality flaws etc. And the feelings and reactions observed in SL are often very genuine and very real. Yes, people in SL are very likely to be showing their true colours – much more so than they would (and should) be expected in RL, where they often have to suppress their urges, desires and feelings.

So, what was the next step? Ragequit. They went out of SL and placed the blame on SL itself, not on the people they were involved with and on themselves for choosing to stick around with them. And, of course, they went on Facebook, where “people are real”.

To be honest, I’ve seen this kind of attitude before. Several people I’ve either known personally in SL or have known through their content creation work also ragequit, because (a) they sought relationships that would extend into RL and their partners didn’t want that, (b) they started affairs that lasted until one day the other person ditched her account and either quit SL altogether or started over with a new account (perhaps to avoid someone’s clinginess, methinks). And they went public with it, accusing their former lovers of pretty much everything but JFK’s murder – on any platform they could: SL forums, their personal profiles, their blogs, etc. Uh… And exactly how is this not vindictive and malicious? But I digress…

The nature of SL relationships

One could say (Aria certainly did – in a comment to Gwyn) that in RL, relationships are largely activity-based and we spend a lot of time with each other, without really communicating and so, we may end up spending significant amounts of time with people that are not compatible with us, because this lack of proper communication prevents us from seeing what they really are all about. On the other hand, in SL our relationships depend entirely on communication; so, we end up disillusioned by people that are incompatible with us much quicker, because their true colours become evident sooner.

This is an interesting perspective and it hits a very important point. In RL, we often don’t really communicate – instead, we just do things (activities) and experience feelings that are awakened by the sharing of these activities. SL, on the other hand really does depend a lot more on communication, because we can’t reach out to touch the other person, to hold them. We see avatars in various poses and animations; we see – let’s be blunt about it for a bit – pixels on a screen. For any relationship to develop in SL, communication is beyond vital. Sure, you can click on pose balls all you want. You won’t evoke feelings that way. You won’t inspire affection, desire, love, lust, tenderness,  want, yearning.

It’s no surprise that the most successful sex workers in SL are the ones that are more eloquent, more descriptive, more skilled in the art of creating a scene, a mood and an emotionally and sexually charged atmosphere than others and not just the ones that look “hotter” – everyone can look sexy in RL. So, in sex and romance in SL, it’s not all about how you look, but mostly about how you write or, if you use voice chat, how you talk. It is because of this requirement that is placed on SL sex workers that the most successful ones are also prolific writers, have well-written blogs and, whenever they host “serious” discussion events, they’re quite interesting.

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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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