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A July of Hammocks

As days off go, yesterday wasn't bad at all. If not for this problem with my wretched feet, which has made me somewhat miserable of late, it was a good day. I read. I napped. I read some more. I escaped into Second Life. I came back and watched an episode of Firefly ("Heart of Gold"). I actually rested, which, I suppose, is why we have days off. I drew an "O" on Sunday, June 30th. And now it is July, and it's time to get back to the novella and Mars.

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A few days ago, I had it in my head that today — the one-month anniversary of my introduction to Second Life — I would sit down and write some sort of comprehensive statement on the pros and cons of the experiment. But this afternoon, well, there are other things that need writing, and I admit I'm not feeling in a very comprehensive frame of mind. But there are some things I will say.

For one, my ups and downs with Second Life are right here for everyone to read, the highs and lows of the past 31 days. I have had moments when it amazed and dazzled me. I have had moments when it disappointed me, and made me wonder why I was investing so much time in such an enterprise. The truth of the matter, of course, lies somewhere in between those extremes. I'll get to that in a moment.

Yes, there are serious flaws with the fundamental concept. The obsession with currency, with Lindens, that's one of the worst. I have traveled far and wide inworld over the past 31 days, and I am very sad to say that too much — probably most — of Second Life amounts to a sort of strip mall/exurb sprawl purgatory. Because that is what the members of the experiment (there are presently almost 8 million worldwide, I think), shaped by the commercialism and sprawl of their First Lives, have made it. Instead of exploring the possibilities afforded by the simulation, too many residents go looking only to buy and sell, to amass virtual wealth and virtual belongings, to open businesses and rake in the Lindens, etc. And I think this is something the Linden Labs people are at fault for encouraging. It is a pity, because it has rendered much of Second Life hideous and wasted. But, again, I think this problem ultimately stems from the simple fact that few people who enter SL make any effort to be anything more — in any truly significant way — than what this First-Life world has made of them. And that is the truth, I think. At least, that is the truth as I have witnessed it.

Second Life is not a game (though it makes possible fabulous, and not so fabulous, gaming). It is not an MMORPG. It's not another take on The Sims. But if that's what you bring to it, you'll likely take nothing else away. In SL, one has a great say in creating the reality one experiences. As is often the case in First Life, perception plays a great role in determining what is being observed.

For me, Second Life is possibility. And here we enter into the specific positives, which are, sadly, only a tiny fraction of SL. Same as this First Life. Either way, unfortunately, Sturgeon's Law applies. If you come to SL expecting something delightful to be handed to you, ready made, ready for easy consumption, then you've missed the point and you'll probably miss the wonders. But the wonders are there, if you take the time to look. And in a month I know I have only begun to scratch the surface. But already I have seen the possibility SL presents as a teaching tool and as entertainment and as an international forum. I have found a niche for myself in the steampunk worlds of Babbage and Caledon. I have walked through Van Gogh paintings. I've visited Mars. I have begun the construction of a museum that was never built here, in this world. And for these things I am glad, and because of these things — despite the common ugliness and consumerism that clutters and defines so much of Second Life — I know now, a month in, that I'm going to stick with this thing awhile. It requires time and patience and imagination. I have very little of the first and only a smattering of the second, but quite a lot of the third, so I figure I'll do okay.

All that said, there were some questions asked a few days back by tactileson that I promised I would answer when my first inworld month had passed. He writes:

I wanted to raise this question for a while now, but do so in a respectful manner, so please do take it with that intent. I've tried out SL in the past, and while it never did much for me personally I can understand the appeal of it for others, I myself have, in the past, spent good amounts of my youth playing some other popular massive multiplayer online games. I've stopped in recent years, but I do have fond memories of them.

That said, there is a particular criticism I have with Second Life, and massive online games in particular, that I've always wanted to ask someone who has similar views to my own on other issues. As someone who has on many occasions come out as an avid protector of the environment, and someone who seems to believe in the conservation of materials that can be easily depleted, and are generally against much of the ridiculous capitalism that America and much else of the world falls prey to, causing them to buy needless and wasteful items; I am slightly baffled by your appreciation of something like SL which, for all the fun and enthralling entertainment it might bring, is basically getting you to pay to suck up your own electricity (and subsequently oil used along the way to create that electricity and get it to the general populace), but also getting you to pay to suck up the electricity needed to power SL's multitude of servers (usually housed in nice air conditioned rooms as servers are).

All in all, I myself have grown to see how such MMORPG's and other such games have just as big an impact on the environment as people driving oversized SUV's, using air conditioning 24/7, etc. etc. I can only imagine the amount of energy that could be saved from removing the servers for and usage of the 8 million World of Warcraft players alone.


First, as I've said already, I do not consider SL to be an MMORPG, though it certainly contains a great potential for role-players. Beyond that, my response would be that these comments are mostly true. But I see no reason why Second Life (or, for that matter, World of Warcraft) should be singled out here, as this problem will present itself if we examine any sort of mass media, whether we're talking about the recording industry, book and magazine publishing, film and television, electronic gaming (online and console), sports, and the internet in general. Indeed, compared to many of these things, the carbon footprint left by SL is negligible. Those things that humans do are damaging to the world around us, and it is almost impossible to conceive of genuinely "green" technologies.

But if I condemn and abandon SL as an unnecessary use of energy, then, in all fairness, I must also say the same of LiveJournal and my Gmail account, my website and MySpace and those Wikipedia entries I've written. I must say the same of all personal computers (Macs included). I must stop buying CDs and books and DVDs. It's not so much that you don't have a point. You do. It's just that picking on SL, in this regard, is like standing in the midst of the Great Chicago Fire and complaining that someone has struck a match. In the end, I have no reply beyond that. I do what I can to limit my personal and household energy consumption, and I would guess I do a fair sight more than most. But I am guilty when it comes to art, and to popular arts, and to the internet. Art is only another technology, and we express ourselves, almost without exception, at the expense of Nature. I have not yet stopped writing, though I know full well that my writing is the cause of pollution and energy depletion. It is a conundrum I have not yet solved, and fear I never shall.

Other than that, I can only say that Mother and I are still collating.

Okay. This has gone on too long. It's almost 1 p.m., and I'm wondering how much energy was depleted that I could write and then propagate this entry...

Comments

( 6 comments — Have your say! )
tjcrowley
Jul. 1st, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)
Second Life hates my video card, but if you ever see a "Derwood Merlin" skulking around, you'll know I got the problem fixed.
tactileson
Jul. 1st, 2007 06:52 pm (UTC)
I generally agree with your sentiments. It is unfair to single out SL or another "game" for environmental reasons. I was only bringing it up because I had been reading about such things, as well as the rampant consumerism in it. I think it's more than a fair assessment that you get out of it what you put into it.

I think my only cause for disliking SL is more that, to me anyway, it reminds me of what a failed thing such ideas as "virtual reality" have become as I get older. The interweb is a wonderful thing (and a horrid one all at once), and yet I can't help but feel saddened that the ability to visit Mars or walk through a Van Gogh painting are only a reality while sitting on one's arse at our computers. I remember cheesy virtual games as a kid with giant goggles and gloves and such, and I think I have not yet recovered from the heartbreaking reality that the world I became an adult in is happier to wage war and kick out immigrants than to help create virtual museums and other such 3D wonders that could involve the people by letting us actually, physically walk around the kinds of places you see in SL, in some kind of Star Trek Holodeck kind of way. Which I believe would be a much better use of time and energy.

But sadly it seems we imaginative ones will have to settle for experiencing it all sitting on our butts for now; as if most people don't do that enough already.

Anyway, very good post.
greygirlbeast
Jul. 1st, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)

I think my only cause for disliking SL is more that, to me anyway, it reminds me of what a failed thing such ideas as "virtual reality" have become as I get older. The interweb is a wonderful thing (and a horrid one all at once), and yet I can't help but feel saddened that the ability to visit Mars or walk through a Van Gogh painting are only a reality while sitting on one's arse at our computers. I remember cheesy virtual games as a kid with giant goggles and gloves and such, and I think I have not yet recovered from the heartbreaking reality that the world I became an adult in is happier to wage war and kick out immigrants than to help create virtual museums and other such 3D wonders that could involve the people by letting us actually, physically walk around the kinds of places you see in SL, in some kind of Star Trek Holodeck kind of way. Which I believe would be a much better use of time and energy.

Generally, I agree.

I continue to wait for a holodeck. But I also fear that, when it arrives, it will be prohibitively expensive, cause motion sickness, and won't work for those of us with only one functional eye.

Anyway, very good post.

Thank you.
blakesrealm
Jul. 2nd, 2007 01:05 am (UTC)
The iPhone is here, so why do we need anything else? Sorry my sarcasm voice took over. And no, I'm not a Mac hating geek I love them actually, typing on my baby G5 right now, but talk about expensive technology!

I think that my thought on the energy situation is one that stems from me realizing that the world is what it is. By that I mean the technology we use will continue to evolve and grow, and thus draw more and more power and which causes more harm to the environment.

To me, nothing is going to change going forward, humans are naught but viruses, moving into a new area, dominating it, eating everything there and moving on. I, like you, await the apocalypse with baited breath. But given what we are it's time that we really, really focused on the least impacting forms of energy to fuel our inter-tubes and other avenues of electronic gluttony.

Nuclear technology, again to me, is where I see the focus needing to go. Coal plants and oil consumption are spiraling out of control, and need to be culled. As we know that is where the top .01% get their money and power from so fighting against that will be nigh impossible, but if we can refocus on bringing cleaner and more efficient plants online we can start cutting more ties to those aforementioned environmental toxins.

There is no clean solution now, sans reverting us back to the cave man days, so instead of rallying against everything there is in the world to fight against I think we need to focus our lasers more precisely and target individual targets to effect some means of change.

Given our virus-like nature, however, I feel that'll never happen -- at least not in any signifigant way. We, as a species, will continue to explode outward in varying directions never really focusing as one.

Oh well, back to playing some of the MMORPGs I hide in.
brokensymmetry
Jul. 1st, 2007 10:24 pm (UTC)
Much of what you say about SL strikes me as similar to the accounts of Burning Man from friends who have attended. Have you ever been to one, or considered going?
greygirlbeast
Jul. 1st, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC)

Have you ever been to one, or considered going?

I would love to go. I know lots of people who have, but it's far from here and expensive, etc. And I have become such a recluse. Etc. But yes, I think there are valid points of comparison.
( 6 comments — Have your say! )