There are many levels to how we can interact with the virtual world of Second Life. We can completely immerse ourselves in the virtual space, and as some people say ‘live Second Life’. I understand this to mean that we integrate the virtual life into our real/physical lives, moving smoothly between the two environments almost as we move between work and living spaces. (Others may interpret this quite differently, feel free to send in your own definitions!) Our minds see, and remember images and activities, and save them to the same filing cabinets in our brains; and our brains do this whether what we see or experience is virtual or ‘real’. Does this mean that we cannot tell the difference between the virtual and the real? Are we on the brink of madness?
I suspect we have a slew of safety valves protecting us from becoming unhinged! After all, if venturing into virtual worlds really knocked us off our ‘reality’ pedestals so easily, we would have similar trouble with books, plays, movies and video games. Humans would achieve little as a race if we were so susceptible to becoming lost in imagination, ultimately imagination itself would suffer and so would we. The secret of creativity must lie largely within the ability we have to walk in and out of imagined scenarios and ideas, and make sense of the experience. For instance, Albert Einstein imagined how the universe might look if he was traveling through space and time sitting upon a beam of light, Einstein’s imagination actually altered how we perceive reality.
One safety valve is the fact that we step into virtual spaces carrying with us all the knowledge and conditioning of our physical world. What is more, if we are open to the experience, wandering through virtual spaces gives many insights into our first life and our self perception. I recently came across a video posted on NPR’s Bryant Project blog back in 2007, this shows NPR’s reporter Win Rosenfeld meeting with the psychologist Nick Yee when he was at Stanford University. Nick Yee was examining how human nature remains the same when we enter virtual worlds. As Yee says in the video, he is interested in studying ‘how much our virtual lives, and virtual interactions are bound to a certain extent by our real life stereotypes, and how we are not as free in virtual worlds as we think we are’.
He demonstrates this through a simple exploration of how much space we like to maintain around our avatars in Second Life, and how we feel about too much eye contact in our virtual worlds. What Yee has found is that we follow the same rules in both worlds, and he suggests the reason is because we have a ‘hard wired innate component as well as a social component, and we are so used to these norms as we are growing up that when someone violates them we find it uncomfortable‘.
Above: Win Rosenfeld and Nick Yee explore ‘The Elevator Effect’ in Second Life
This theory known as ‘The Elevator Effect’ illustrates how little difference there is between real and virtual worlds. In turn, we bring much more of the ‘real’ world to our virtual world than we think we do, and much less of the virtual world influences us in the real world. The really fun part of virtual worlds lies in consciously transcending the confines of our programming, the pre-ordained ‘preferences’ we carry over from our ‘real’ world. Groups like Bettina Tizzy’s NPIRL artists are doing exactly this with their Not Possible in Real Life creations. The challenge lies in developing the virtual skills necessary to experiment with imagination itself.
Locations in Second Life:
Hotel Dare Go and visit Hotel dare soon, it is closing on January 15th, 2009