Recently on the Secondlife.com General Forum page there was a discussion starting whether the world of SecondLife is real or not real. Also, when explaining to friends, what SL is about they usually come up with the remark that they don’t want a game but they want a real life.
So I thought about it, posted a reply and now I am rephrasing it in my blog. So read on…
So what does “real” mean?
There are many fields in which “real” can be defined. Let’s start first with the field of perception.
So how can you define what actually is real by just depending on your senses? Can there be an absolute reality anyway? It is quite easy for human beings to miss things going on around them or at least unintentionally interpret these the way they are socialized. Thus even with our normal senses we all have a different view on the surrounding reality. In other words: There is no such thing as absolute reality and even if there would be (defined by the laws of nature) it wouldn’t really matter to us (as we don’t get it).
You can also imagine in the future to be able to connect all your nerves connected to your senses to be connected to some computer instead and playing back a complete virtual world (e.g. a future version of SecondLife ;-). You actually wouldn’t notice the difference and even if the simulation is different in terms of resolution or whatever (and you might have never seen the “real” world) then you cannot tell if it’s the “real” world or not. Actually you cannot tell right now. Maybe we’re just into such a system. Examples of that are many in the movie industry, e.g. the story-wise not so good “Matrix” or the story-wise better ones “13th floor” or “World on Wires” (both based on novels by Daniel F. Galouye). In the latter you at least have the idea that the protagonists have not yet reached the end-world when escaping that computer but instead this is still another simulation (and it has the great name Simulacron :-).
So what matters is perception and the result is that you never can be sure of what you perceive and if it’s “real” as the term seems not to make sense in that respect (at least not when thinking about SL).
“real” in terms of interaction
There’s another field in which one can define the word “real” as people might use it when talking about their Real Life (RL). It is about interaction with other people or things. Now if you look into SecondLife it is interesting to see how much it looks like our real world except some minor areas. You have suburbs which do look exactly the same like looking out of a train in RL or you have clubs where people dance like they dance in real clubs, you have shopping malls and people addicted to shopping. You even have architecture, fashion etc. looking like in RL although it would be easily possible to create stuff which does not resemble the real world. So you still have doors on ground level (although people can fly in and this would even be easier), you still have roofs (although entering the house by approaching from top seems more appropriate and besides it never rains in SL anyway) and so on. So what this means is that most people are still very much rooted in their real world and resemble that. The results are houses which do look like the house where they live in or maybe a little better as it’s easier to fulfill wishes. And you might be surprised yourself how much you are rooted in RL as seeing people dancing in a club directly gives you that clubby feeling..
The other thing you interact with is of course people. And while things around might still be seen as virtual existence in bits and bytes it is not true for people. Every avatar has a representation of a living human being in the real world and this means that you get all the pros and cons of this. It also means that these people will bring the real world into the game (if you want to call SL a game). They do so not necessarily by talking about their first life but instead they bring their emotions, thoughts etc. into play. What is interesting though is that most people do really hold their first and second lives very separate. This seems to be one thing which I never experienced that much in other communities like normal forums, blogs or whatever. On the other hand this might be a sad thing in certain circumstances e.g. if somebody just disappears and you have no means to check what the hell happened to him/her.
But that’s another topic 😉
Fitting into it is though how people try to “leave trouble behind” as it’s many times stated in bios. So they don’t want to have all the problems they have in RL. But this of course is more like running away from it as you never can avoid misunderstandings etc. if you interact with other human beings. Why should this be any different just because it’s a non face-2-face interaction? (but is it really no f2f interaction?!? You have avatars resembling human beings, you have gestures, sounds and all that…. )
“real” in terms of business
This is an easy question. Just read the forums. The ability to make money in SL certainly adds a lot of “realness” to it as people as result are very interested in a healthy economy. This also leads to many discussions very known from real life and certainly to politics. So if that’s not real…. 😉
So how “real” is SecondLife now?
Of course it is as real as you make it. But on the other hand I noticed that it’s very hard to keep yourself at distance. While I still cannot imagine to have a wedding in SL I now got land and it was interesting to see how much you feel like in RL when checking out neighbours or discussing with them where to get a house etc.
But maybe the question is even wrong. You might simply see it as extension to your RL and not really see it as something different. The same is now true for chats and blogs and I wonder if people discussed the same when TV was introduced to the public.