So, you may ask, why do I believe so strongly in virtual worlds?
Ironically, I was first introduced to the virtual world of Second Life through work. A little over ten-and-a-half years ago, I was sitting on a bibliographic instruction planning committee, and we were all brainstorming various ways to teach the undergraduate student population how to properly navigate all the information resources offered by our university library system. Talk turned to gaming and gamifying education, someone mentioned Second Life, and I said I would look into it. Of course, that particular idea went nowhere, but I stayed in SL.
My visits became longer and longer. Some people like to build, others like to design clothes or furniture or vehicles, still others like to DJ or perform in SL’s many live music venues. For me, my favourite pastime by far was to create virtual characters—Second Life avatars. I would create more and different avatars, and then spend hours shopping for them to outfit them properly. I would take part in different kinds of historical and fantasy role-playing (no, not pixelsex; I always found that somewhat ludicrous).
Some avatars lasted only a couple of days before I deleted them; others have been with me since the very beginning of my adventures in Second Life. Witches and wizards and wolves, pirates and painters, sergeants and satyrs, barbarians and ballerinas, harlequins and hippies, gladiators and geishas… my hobby has given me endless hours of pleasure and escape. Some were exclusively for role-play purposes; others were just a means to live inside somebody else’s skin for an hour while strolling the grid. Others were created specifically to evoke reactions from passers-by. I could be whatever I wanted, and I was: an angel, a fairy, a goth girl, Elvis, Queen Elizabeth the First, Lady Gaga, Santa Claus, a supermodel, a hobo, a spaceman, a Na’vi from the movie Avatar, a medieval minstrel.
I became obsessed! At my very worst, I would spend 6-8 hours online every evening, and 12-16 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. I would wake up and log on to Second Life; I would log off SL and go to bed and not fall asleep for hours, my mind all awake and abuzz with creative possibilities and plans. Near the end of my third year in Second Life, I began to spend less time there, but I had begun to explore other virtual worlds such as Blue Mars, and then Cloud Party, and then…well, you get the idea. I have gotten my Ph.D. in Virtual Worlds by now, mainly from the University of Second Life! I’m sure many of you could easily claim the same.
I’ve been on Second Life over a decade now, and during that time the virtual world has been an unparalleled creative sandbox for me.
I have had some truly wonderful experiences in Second Life. Hell, once I even dive-bombed an S&M orgy in my Mary Poppins avatar, complete with levitating umbrella and carpetbag (see picture)!
And I’ve been thinking lately about why I was initially so taken with virtual worlds, and why I still believe in their potential today.
I think that the power of virtual worlds lies in your ability to reinvent yourself, and how you present yourself to the world. You can literally be anyone—or anything—you want to be. You can do just about anything (as long as you don’t fall afoul of the Terms of Service, that is).
In real life, I’m an overweight, divorced, gay librarian with diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and a long history of mental health issues. I’m not particularly close to the rest of my family, and I have few real-life friends. I’ve been on extended sick leaves for the treatment of serious clinical depression. I am getting old (I’m now 53), and I move one hell of a lot slower than I used to when I was young. It bothers me. A lot bothers me.
To be honest, I kinda suck at this whole reality business.
But in virtual worlds, I can get away from all that, at least for a while. I can start over from scratch. I can be anybody. I don’t have to be myself, plain old failure-prone Ryan Schultz. And that’s the draw, that’s the pull for me: the potential to transform yourself and your world. It’s just that a whole hell of a lot of people in this world haven’t yet discovered that power, that potential, of the metaverse yet. But I bet they will, and sooner than they expect. We are just the first wave, the pioneers.
Thank you, my faithful blogreaders, for sharing this journey with me, as we embark on a new adventure in a new world, Sansar. I think we’re all going to have a lot of fun!