May 25, 2011

Second Life Is A Second Chance, Which Is Why It Fails

the-rachel.jpgmy avatar

A man makes a documentary about Second Life, the online immersive experience, as a way of commenting on the larger issues of internet addiction and escaping from reality.  Is the movie good?  No idea.  Are you about to be lied to?  Oh yes, bring a sandwich.

This is what The New Yorker wrote:

Ingenious... suggests the porous boundaries between the fictive and the concrete, the power of role-playing in defining real identities, and the risky self-discoveries that may result.

Which, like everything else in The New Yorker, means Bush invaded Iraq under false pretenses.  And Variety:

A peerless study... every thread here raises a provocative question about the ethics of online interactivity, and serves to demonstrate the Web's ability to both facilitate and destroy human relationships... a chilling window into the psychology of the internet-obsessed.

There is something presumptuous, not to mention deluded, about a print magazine that no one reads claiming that a movie no one will see is a peerless window into something anyone can access anytime they want.


Ponder that flippant run-on sentence for its hidden truth.  Who judges whom?  What are the criteria for becoming a judge?  It's not popularity; nor the sophistication of the staff and writers; or the insight of a director.  In the hierarchy of authenticity and truth, which one is at the top?  Why can Variety call someone "internet obsessed" but no one can call Variety a "comic book" which, as I am about to show, it is?

There's plenty to be said about the people obsessed with the internet.  But Variety cannot-- not will not, but is physically unable-- to discuss it, because-- well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

This movie doesn't represent a "window into internet addiction." It represents the narrative, the way other people who are not internet addicted are going to think about those who are addicted.

So here's the obvious one, the typical narrative of the "normals": on Second Life she's a Fahrenheit 500, in Real Life she's a fat chick.

second life woman.jpg

Dramatic music, and scene.

The script, the editing, the music, all indicate that this is the message, to "normals": "hey you guys, be careful when you log on to the World Wide Web, people aren't honest."  Catfish, another documentary style movie about facebook, was also presented in this way.  By normals, for normals. 

If you saw Catfish, you cannot help but be struck by the obvious: that normal guy is complete douchebag.  But he can define himself as normal in comparison to someone else; and the bigger the scale of this comparison (e.g. a movie) the more true it is.  So, phew, he's not a loser for falling in love with a facebook profile, let alone driving to Canada or wherever she lived without telling her first, no, she's a loser for lying to him about her appearance.  Oh, that makes sense. 


catfish stalker pics.jpg

he photoshopped her into his naked pic to show how real he is

But since he made the movie, it's his version that is the default. Yes, you can disagree with him, but the burden's on you.  Suck it.  So, too, this movie: the message throughout is: "normal people are not like these people."

I accept it's not their responsibility to be fair and objective to Second Lifers.  But don't for a second think you're understanding anything about SL users.  All you're seeing is the filmmaker's bias in HD: there's real life, and fake life, and these people are pretending to be something they're not.  On the internet, no one knows you're a dog.

The thing is, no one on the internet cares if you're a dog, unless they are interested in bringing that world into this one, which they are not.  I run a quasi-anonymous blog, and for the most part no one cares who I am because it isn't relevant to their reading of this blog; and my ego isn't wrapped up in having people know it, so we're all cool.   This movie, much less Variety, cannot comprehend this state of affairs at all.


The film shows a man and a woman finally meeting in real life after a long time together on SL.  They are almost normal because they want to bring the relationship into the real world.    So the man says to the camera, "it's a relief that when we finally meet, she is who she says she is."  What could he mean by that? Of course, duh: she generally resembles her avatar, i.e. she's hot.   

I think we've all been on the receiving end of a westbound Aeroflot flight praying Katya looks like her profile pic, so I don't necessarily begrudge this guy his relief that she weighs less than he does. That's not what makes him insane.  This is: Second Life is completely fake, yet what attracted him to her in the first place was her sexy avatar.  If her avatar was of a fat chick, he never would have connected with her on Second Life.

That's the thinking of someone who isn't "addicted to the internet" who still thinks it somehow reflects reality.  Those SL clothes are fake; that SL hair is fake.  The way she SL kisses is pure game programming, not some derivative of her emotional experiences.  Yet somehow he thinks it's telling him something about the real her.  Does he think that's air he's breathing?

People who escape from reality into SL have a set of problems, obvious problems.  But the people who want it to mirror this one because this one hasn't given them what they "want" are truly nuts.  Why are you reproducing this reality in that one?  The black woman above says her in-game job is to create houses.  Why?  There's no point. Your avatar doesn't sleep, doesn't shower, doesn't anything.  I may think it's a waste of time, but the only reasonable thing to do on SL is to walk around and meet other people, create fantastical spaces, experiment.  Using Second Life to shop at an American Apparel is like dropping acid in order to defecate.


Everything wrong with Second Life and other online diversions can be summarized by this picture:

second life man looking.jpg

On Second Life, you spend a lot of time looking at yourself.


But give the director his platform, let the subtext become raw text: What the hell is wrong with these people?  What could possibly make them want to give up their real lives in favor of nothing?

I wish they had just asked that explicitly, but then the movie would have to be redone with the cameras pointing in the opposite direction.

When your wife withdraws into 8 hr/d of Second Life, are you completely blameless? Is there no human marriage she could have been in that wouldn't have resulted in her making the jump to cyberspace?   Louis CK: "When someone says, 'I'm getting divorced,' don't 'awwwww' them, because it's a good thing.  No good marriage in the history of the world has ended in divorce."  Or in immersion in Second Life.  Or constant facebook.  Or porn.   Or etc.

Don't confuse longevity with good.  A marriage can last forever as long as the two fleshbots   don't have to interact long enough to hate each other.

"Our real life partners don't know what we're up to," some man says as his avatar makes out with some other avatar by a pretty lake.  "As far as they're concerned, it's just some kind of game that we play."

I don't need 3D glasses to see what's going on in this guy's life.  He may be a tool, but that's not why his wife doesn't take the game seriously.  His real life wife doesn't take it seriously because she doesn't take her marriage seriously.   She doesn't notice he's on the computer all night and distant all day?  Or doesn't she mind, because she's too busy with her own self-absorbed lifestyle, her void filled with [insert junk food here]? 

Look, if you're going to make a movie about something you should at least make sure someone hasn't already written the book, twice.   The conceit of this movie is straight out of Baudrillard, but the director apparently doesn't know it.  Second Life is fake, but it's fakeness is overt.  While we shoot spitballs at the users of SL like jocks at a 9th grader in a 14ft scarf, the true purpose of SL, for us, for those who don't use it, is to make us think that the real world is, indeed, real.  That we're cool.  It disguises the fact that the world outside of Second Life is equally fake and manipulated, but in 3D.  The real world marriage is fake, the words they say to each other are  fake, the politeness is fake, the ideology is fake, and don't get me started on the shoes.  Nothing about it is real.

I know, I know, when "Gallifrey84" kisses "ChasteForJondalar", it's just SL's software simulating a real kiss; but back in the 3D world when that guy kisses his wife, that's even more simulated.  It isn't even acting, which would at least arouse someone watching it.  This "real" kiss is an instinctive, rehearsed simulation of what they saw on TV or used to do in the past.  And no one would get turned on watching it.  "But at least the lips are touching in real life."  So what?  Your lips are real, you aren't.  So?


Second Life, as an immersive experience, fails because it isn't immersive, it's only two out of the seven senses (penis and vagina).  So it is certainly a poor representation of real life.  But FF three or four generations, maybe we get some holodecks or a fully functional Matrix.  Now what?  Are they running towards something cool or running away from something that's not? You can't get the answer without evaluating the thing behind them.

The reality of it all is simple, which makes it very difficult to fix.  These aren't sick individuals, it's a sick society.  People are being squeezed like silly putty by the fist of branding.  We see the "losers" oozing out of "reality" through the fingers-- some of these losers go to Second life, some to porn; but there's the others who are squeezed more into "reality," into branded clonocity, their existence depends on no one looking at them from the outside and noticing that they aren't actually individuals.  "Huh? What does that mean?  What? Speak English!"

i.e. for example: most hot chicks, in order to be hot, copy something a celebrity wears; remember the Rachel-do?  No problem, they look hot in it; but their delusion is that they are referencing Jennifer Aniston and not the millions of other women with the exact same haircut, i.e. that they draw their identity only from the celebrity's identity-- "This look really says me!"  Yet sit along the wall of the bar and the conclusion is inevitable: yes, you're hot, but you don't look like Rachel, you look like the other hot chick right next to you.  And, bafflingly, you did it on purpose.

If she looks at you with sudden realization; or if she says, "I know, but I still like it," she is free.  If she looks at you like you don't get it, like you're insane, get out, you're in the wrong bar, neither of you will ever be happy.


I know, I know, when "Ga... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 2:20 PM | Posted by Elfangor91: | Reply

I know, I know, when "Gallifrey84" kisses "ChasteForJondalar", it's just SL's software simulating a real kiss...

Wow, truly awe-inspiring references. I see and raise.

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Making movies also lets you... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 2:23 PM | Posted by Dan Dravot: | Reply

Making movies also lets you present yourself to the world as something you are not. In fact, it's less like real communication than Second Life, because the speaker can't hear anybody answering.

All we know about the person who made this SL movie is the SL movie itself. That is to say, all we know about him is that he made a movie all about how these Second Life weirdos are very definitely not him. "Look at these idiots talking to people hiding behind bitmaps all day -- I'll show them who's really plugged into the rest of humanity, I'll make a damn movie!" Oookaaayyy...

Anything creative is, in large part, presentation of something you hope will be mistaken for yourself. Somebody once said that all literature is just one man yelling down a telephone line at another "Damn it, I'm alive!"


But I'm not too worried about people not being individuals these days. Were they ever? The Pieter's Brueghel's peasants, are they more or less individual than the girls with the Rachel haircuts? Probably less; people had other priorities in those days than personal expression. Trying not to starve, for example, was very popular.

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"The thing is, no one on th... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 2:32 PM | Posted by girl: | Reply

"The thing is, no one on the internet cares if you're a dog, unless they are interested in bringing that world into this one, which they are not."

Thanks for articulating here and throughout this post the antipathy I towards people who adamantly refuse to understand this about the internet.

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"but back in the 3D worl... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 2:39 PM | Posted by izrik: | Reply

"but back in the 3D world when that guy kisses his wife, that's even more simulated"


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No, your ego is wrapped up ... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 5:12 PM | Posted by GUI : | Reply

No, your ego is wrapped up in being the guy who doesn't care if people know who he is. Different side, same coin.

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"When someone says, 'I'm... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 6:51 PM | Posted by Reader: | Reply

"When someone says, 'I'm getting divorced,' don't 'awwwww' them, because it's a good thing. No good marriage in the history of the world has ended in divorce."
So very very true.

People immerse themselves in SL (et al) to avoid ripping off the comfort bandaid. Yeah, I hate my husband, but he's always been there and it would be weird to not throw a microwave meal on his desk while he's pretending to not jerk off to pr0n. I think I'll skip calling the lawyer and go play SL all night instead.

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Anecdotally, I've discovere... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 7:33 PM | Posted by stucky: | Reply

Anecdotally, I've discovered people who actually believe the phrase, "no one on the internet knows if you're a dog" are people who either a) have been using something like SL for roughly two months or b) really, really bad at getting to know people, and would be just as at a loss if they met them in a bar or cafe.

Pal around with someone for ten to fifteen years on SL (or better yet, a MUD or MOO), and believe you me, you'll know them inside and out. Coincidentally, this holds true for all interaction, no matter the interface.

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"the receiving end of a wes... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 7:43 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"the receiving end of a westbound Aeroflot flight"

Goddamn it, I just came.

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Point worth noting: There'... (Below threshold)

May 25, 2011 8:42 PM | Posted by HP: | Reply

Point worth noting: There's an actual exchange rate for SL currency and USD. The lady isn't playing at having an online job which is worthless and pointless; that's her JOB. That's where her real-life dollars come from, too.

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like dropping acid in or... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 12:16 AM | Posted by ThomasR: | Reply

like dropping acid in order to defecate.

Greatest simile of all time.

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I've pondered these topics ... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 2:25 AM | Posted by Mike: | Reply

I've pondered these topics a lot over the past few years. And I've concluded that I don't know who I am. I sit in my room, alone day after day and bombard my senses with external stimuli so that I won't feel lonely. I don't want to interact with phony people, but I think I'm just as phony as the people I despise. So where does that leave me? Sitting in my well worn chair, commenting on the thoughts of someone I'll never know and waiting for death.


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"what the hell is wrong wit... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 2:50 AM | Posted by Aikou: | Reply

"what the hell is wrong with these people? What could possibly make them want to give up their real lives in favor of nothing?"

The answer is, of course, that their real lives are worse than nothing. But you already went there.

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best article evah... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 3:11 AM | Posted by marcus: | Reply

best article evah

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"the true purpose of SL, fo... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 3:15 AM | Posted by Dirk Anger: | Reply

"the true purpose of SL, for us, for those who don't use it, is to make us think that the real world is, indeed, real. That we're cool."

Maybe that would explain why there seem to be more articles about SL any given months than there are SL users

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jezuzchrist how u manage th... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 3:18 AM | Posted by marcus: | Reply

jezuzchrist how u manage this i have no clue...

i think you mean this but i'll say it anyway: it's the observation of the delusion that is significant. the default reaction is value judgement (or assumption of value judgement) on the contents of the delusion, but the contents themselves are just mimicry, which is what we do, we are humans, that is pretty much all we do.

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I sort of agree, and I have... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 3:19 AM | Posted, in reply to stucky's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I sort of agree, and I have several long-term friends around the internet (games, forums, societies), BUT... You can know these people as fully as it is possible with the methods of communication that you have, perhaps better than anyone IRL does, but I would consider myself pretentious if I said I know someone through and through when I've only ever interacted with them on the internet. (Then again, I'm not on Facebook or other online societies where people [allegedly] air every little detail about their lives with wanton glee.) On second thought, maybe I don't agree with you. I think you only get to see facets of people you know on the internet. You might know that facet completely but you are never likely to know everything about the person, not even everything important that makes them who they are. You will know them as a facet, or two or even three, but something will always be unknown to you, out of your reach. But then again, isn't the same true about most if not all human relationships? Somehow, it makes it all the sweeter, for me.

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Best post yet. I mean, real... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 3:47 AM | Posted by Zo: | Reply

Best post yet. I mean, really fine—chock full of those brilliant little TLP twists. Bring a sandwich, the New Yorker, westbound Aeroflot (westbound Aeroflot!) defecate, shoes, silly putty ,,, and that killer last line.

Oh he's good.

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The fact that Hollywood kee... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 10:57 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The fact that Hollywood keeps making movies about Second Life indicates that, in Hollywood and other hyper-media conscious communities, Second Life is the MMORPUGGER of choice. Therefore attracting Hollywoodians and those who idolize and profit from them. The smart celebrity who wants to avoid drama should play uncool popular things like WoW or Maple Story.

On the Internet, the dogs find their packs much more easily.

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Mike, you used 15 first-per... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 11:30 AM | Posted, in reply to Mike's comment, by Guy Fox: | Reply

Mike, you used 15 first-person pronouns in 89 words (17%). You talk about how lonely you are, but you only mentioned other people to call them phony. You say you don't know who you are, as if there is some essence to be divined beyond a guy who sits in his room, alone, bombarding himself with something or other. At the risk of giving a cack-handed summary of TLP advice, let me explain something:

1. You are what you do. You're a lonely and isolated wretch by your own description. If you want to engage meaningfully with other people, leave your basement and meet some. Engage.
2. The problem is you. It is always you. Don't expect the world to change to adapt to your preferences. It's busy. A Mahayana novice on KP with only ice-cold water from a mountain spring once asked the master how he was supposed to wash the dishes with only ice cold water. The master answered "The way to wash the dishes is to wash the dishes." There isn't any formula to make the world see you the way you want to be seen and make you feel comfortable and recognized outside the basement. Do different = be different. Stop waiting for someone to make you feel special. Make others feel special, and they might just notice when you're not around.
3. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I'm no expert and no authority, so you're under no obligation to take this advice, but it might be worth a try while waiting for death. You got time, right? Good luck.

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Might want to check out Pet... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 11:50 AM | Posted by Pops: | Reply

Might want to check out Peter Bagge's Other Lives.

Still fiction, but better than the flick

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The Real Life black lady ma... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 2:28 PM | Posted by Whatever: | Reply

The Real Life black lady may be a fat chick but she looks cute, clean, the jammies match and I have a hunch she's funny too.

Her avatar, on the other hand, doesn't tell me anything.

if she says, "I know, but I still like it," she is free.

She says that line made perfect sense.

Oh, and thanks for calling "the others" on their behavior. You know, the so-called "non Internet obsessed".

Nobody else ever has. It's always "the bad Internet junkie".

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Yep; you've made a cack-han... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2011 4:06 PM | Posted, in reply to Guy Fox's comment, by DensityDuck: | Reply

Yep; you've made a cack-handed summary, all right.

At no point in this essay did TLP declare that relationships formed in SL are inherently less "real", less valid, than those formed in real life.

Indeed, the thing you said? About "leave your basement and meet some [other people]"? You're the guy who the movie was made for. The one who needs affirmation and validation, who thinks that hey, my dreams might be unfulfilled and my self unactualized, but dammit at least my friends are totally real friends who are in the real world and everything.

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To call on them to give up ... (Below threshold)

May 27, 2011 1:30 AM | Posted by Jake: | Reply

To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.

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No, actually all the advice... (Below threshold)

May 27, 2011 3:59 AM | Posted, in reply to DensityDuck's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

No, actually all the advice given is true and helpful. The basement guy sounds like an angsty teen and is obviously unhappy with his situation. If he actually got out of the house and explored the world he'd see that not everybody is a phony and that some people are fun to hang out with.

He has to keep an open mind though: if he goes out and expects to see phonies (which he will, of course) it won't work. 'Aha! I knew it! I was right all along. No need to hang out with these liars. I'll just go back to my lair and wait for that Real Doll I ordered.'

He has these unrealistic expectations of people because he watches them from afar and doesn't interact with them. Of course they have flaws, they're people. You take the good with the bad. Some people have more bad than good, so those you avoid. Some people have more good than bad, so those you hang out with. Simple.

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amazing... (Below threshold)

May 29, 2011 5:17 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply


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"If she looks at you like y... (Below threshold)

May 30, 2011 4:22 AM | Posted by kai: | Reply

"If she looks at you like you don't get it, like you're insane, get out, you're in the wrong bar, neither of you will ever be h