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.