Today, during some downtime that I managed to find, I watched a documentary produced by the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) called Life 2.0. It explored the physical and virtual lives of several users of Second Life, and as a new user myself, it really helped to give me some background knowledge of the program.
It is an unbiased look at both the good and the bad sides of Second Life, focusing not only on users living happy and successful real lives, but also delving into the stories of users who are heavily addicted and the terrible impact that can have on their real life.
The documentary also interviewed several employees of Linden Lab in San Francisco, in particular Philip Rosedale, CEO. He began the documentary by quoting what Clare said in the first lecture “Second Life’s different than a game, because there isn’t any goal.”
He then went on to speak about the humble beginnings of the program, and how the Second Life world started out as a simple island with just a few trees on it. According to Philip, Linden Lab didn’t actually create any other content on the game but that one single island.
“Things [in Second Life] are real, because they’re there with us and we believe in them. If they’re simulated on a digital computer versus simulated by atoms and molecules, it doesn’t make any difference to us.”
The first user the documentary profiles is Asri Falcone, who runs a housing company within Second Life specialising in extremely luxurious, fully-furnished homes.
Asri, whose real home is a 1-bedroom bungalow in downtown Detroit, has dedicated years to perfecting her high-end virtual property and clothing business, and at one time made a 6-figure income from the online merchandise she sells. But she started to notice that many of her products were being ‘stolen’ and being redistributed at virtual yard sales for free by a user named ‘Rase Kenzo’.
Asri and 6 other affected designers contacted a lawyer in order to place a lawsuit on the person behind the ‘Rase Kenso’ avatar, which resulted in a settlement of $525 USD awarded to each designer (145,657 Linden dollars). This lawsuit was the first time that an incident in a virtual world had been tried under the laws of the physical world.
Fortified by her success in the lawsuit, Asri completely re-branded her Second Life business and continues to build virtual homes and clothing for users.
“My life was pretty good. 2-3 vacations per year, and the house, the kid, the dog, the husband, but I was certainly feeling unfulfilled, looking for something more…”
The second user profiled is New Yorker Amie Goode, who, after some time on Second Life, met the man of her dreams (a user from Canada) and left her husband and child to be with him.
“My husband has never liked the internet…he thinks the reason it’s called ‘the web’ is because you can get stuck in it.”
The documentary profiles their first real-life meeting and the subsequent difficulties she has introducing her daughter to the man she met online. The couple both deleted their Second Life accounts and concentrated on making a real life for themselves.
Unfortunately, the transition from Second Life to real life proved rather more difficult than either of them had anticipated, and the relationship was unsuccessful due to Amie’s belief, upon meeting her partner, that he was not the person he had made himself out to be online.
“It was like taking the Red Pill [from the Matrix]. Everything in my life up the point [that I joined Second Life] I can forget”
Even though the avatar Ayya is an 11 year old girl, the user who created her is a male web developer in his mid-20’s from Walnut Creek, CA. The way this user speaks in the documentary makes it sound as if his avatar has a mind of her own and sometimes conveys messages to him of her own accord.
He talks about his avatar sinking into an ‘increasingly dangerous state of mind’, resulting in her one day putting on a suicide bomber outfit and attempting to cause ‘damage’ to many other residents of Second Life, targeting people in places such as the beach or at dance clubs, or anywhere that users seemed to be enjoying themselves. ‘
The user’s own personal reasoning for his avatar’s irrational behaviour is that his avatar knew that he was spending too much time on Second Life, and engaged in this rule-breaking activity in the hopes that he would have his account suspended, thus preventing him from having his life taken over by the program. He seems to have, in his mind, completely suppressed the fact that he himself controls the avatar.
The user’s account was subsequently suspended for 24 hours.
Several weeks later, the avatar supposedly ‘chose’ the date of her own deletion, a date which coincided with her 6-month birthday. The avatar’s last day consisted of a 20 hour straight run on Second Life in which she said goodbye to the people who meant the most to her.
The user’s extreme addiction to the program (15-20 hours a day) caused his fiance to leave him and his story ended with him moving back in with his parents. Within one week of deleting his avatar, the user was back on Second Life, this time as a teenage boy.
This film really gave me a huge amount of insight into the types of lives people can lead both in-game and in real life. I think the most important concept I could take away from it is moderation, as illustrated by my favourite quote from the documentary:
“I think it becomes a problem when you ignore your first life”
If you would like to view the documentary for yourself, you can do so at the following link: www.watchdocumentary.tv/life-2-0/