How do you explain where you are going to someone when you enter a virtual world? Is it a secret adventure, another world or just a game? Or is it a curiosity into the new. For those Gamers and Second Lifers, it’s a question we really never ask. In world – our world – the world we enter, is a way of life. To question it is the same as questioning the concrete world that we inhabit. Why do we exist? What is our purpose here? What is this existence for.
Sitting in front of a computer screen, we click buttons and move the mouse and then emerge as a character in an inexplicable world that sends the adrenalin flowing. It’s a new world, one devoid of many of real life constricts. It’s a creative, challenging, secret world. It’s a world that we can either shed all inhibitions or play out a life we wish we had. It’s an addictive form of escapism.
I’ve criticised the way that the controllers of such environments have manipulated such environments for commercial reasons. Second Life is run on real money with a real economy and creates real problems. Like any addiction, Second Life or many MMORPGs, the inhabitants find it hard to leave behind their concrete world and create a mirror image of it in world. But the potential of these environments is vast on many scales – the potential to breakdown barriers, to allow everyone to cohabit in harmony (albeit often at war with each other). We hide behind masks. We drag our alter egos into virtuality. We sit in front of screens en masse across every continent. Going there is just another inexplicable concept that we accept.
In Bridges and Tangent’s blog today about the hostility witnessed in internet forums , “Alan Jacobs has a different answer to why so much hostility is projected through this media. He thinks it is because we have an over-developed sense of justice, that is not balanced or tempered by the virtues of humility and charity”.
In cyberspace, we are like guinea pigs, testing out a new system before it goes live. Only it already went live and the testing was not complete. Acclaimed as empowering, the users are free to explore and behave in whatever way they want. The speed of our communication continues to accelerate – in the last five minutes, I know from tweets that someone was too busy to drink coffee (and then the poster sends out five tweets in a row); what someone else just ate for breakfast (I love marmite); that someone’s relationship is breaking down (probably before the other partner does); and that the Frieze Art Show this weekend is more than about buying and selling it is about Grayson Perry in hot pink tights! By the end of today, we will have read and clicked on several million tweets and links. The world has reached a level of information – it overwhelmes and bewilders us and at the same time excites, intrigues and seduces us.
Across the internet we can be or do what we want be. Or can we? The story of Tyler Clementi shocked the world into the true implications of this. We can be who we want to be, but we cannot drag other’s in. Our actions, words, attacks, hostilities and rages projected outwards can cause all levels of harm to those who we interact with. The biggest problem we have encountered so far is that cyberspace does not exist – it is abstract and indefinable. When we cannot physically interact with something we face the biggest challenge to accepting that it is real.
The screen has been acclaimed as a 20th century revolution. But as we move further into the 21st century, the effects of the screen are becoming more and more apparent. Spending too much time in front of a screen can cause a number of side effects including headaches, eye strain, tension, hyperactivity and even depression to name only a few. It can affect sleep, relationships and self-esteem. There have been several reports of children committing suicide after playing for too long where reality and virtuality have blurred into one.
In the New Scientist today, Nic Fleming reports on the negative aspects of too much screen time for kids. .
Are we nurturing a generation who will have the worst psychological problems in adulthood that Western Society has ever seen?
Spacexcape Bridges in Second Life
Does virtual reality allow us to look at the concrete world in in a different way?
– when we enter virtuality do we behave and act in a different way?
– do we see the world from a different perspective?
– does it help us to deal with constraints in our daily lives that hold us back?
Spacexcape was an avatar created in Second Life in 2003 after six years of actively participating in virtual discussion boards. Now she continues with the same name and different avatars but always as the punk rebel who refuses to accept authority. Travelling across virtuality she is constantly seeking new ground to tread.
In this blog, Spacexcape will be writing about her journey in order to investigate the enquiry outlined above. She welcomes all feedback and help!