Second Life is, for me, another one of those intriguingly ambiguous online communities–a cool concept without a clearly defined purpose. Without any first-hand experience, I can assume based on what I’ve heard that Second Life is basically a MMORPG without the gameplay–infinitely customizable players, a lot of items, and nothing to do. This concept, though maddening for people like myself who have trouble getting into a game for any purpose other than beating it, has proven to be phenomenally successful, and has managed to show some crossover potential when it comes to other unfocused networking programs like Twitter.
Of course, the appeal for Second Life is eerily close to the appeal for, well, Life in general–a ton of space to explore, no clearly delineated goals (and especially no one telling you what you need to do), and an incredible potential to spend a lifetime participating in anything from meaningless distractions to focused entrepeneurship. Perhaps most frightening, however, is the incredible customization power afforded in Second Life–you don’t have to play with the cards you were dealt; you can always change your hand. In some respects, Second Life is (gulp) superior to the real world.
This fact, for me at least, makes Second Life, more than just a curious phenomenon, a legitimately questionable pursuit from the start. Looking at the case of the Arizona man in the article, the existential pitfalls of Second Life addiction seem more than just a theoretical danger. Post-modernism in general has brought with it an underlying philosophy of questioning–and often questioning simply for its own sake. Truth, purpose and meaning are, in our own world, if potentially closer thanks to advances in information, certainly less “known”, at least in the fact that we have placed a premium on uncertainty. And while this approach has merits, it still has the startling ability to dissuade many from seeing a point to anything in life. The worst part is that, thanks to programs like Second Life, there seem to be alternatives.
For a person who has struggled in the Real World, a completely human-controlled universe devoid of cosmic chance and natural uncertainty seems vastly appealing. In fact, you could make the argument that the majority of human history has been spent attempting to create a Second Life–a world completely understandable and governable by logical human means. If Life itself is difficult and has no clear purpose, why not spend it in a better, albeit manufactured Second Life? Of course, this logic is flawed–our world has so much more to offer right now.
But the “What If?” leaves me a little nervous. What if we do reach that point, where we can fully, convincingly recreate the entirety of our known universe (and perhaps more) within this virtual realm? Will we have beaten nature, bested G-d? And what will the repercussions be, should this world eventually exist? Might we actually be headed for a science fiction meta-verse, and a Matrix-like fate? Of course, I’m probably overthinking this whole mess anyways. For now, all we know is that Second Life is popular, and that allows us to understand a good amount about our present society. Perhaps I should just stop there.