by Alphaville Herald on 07/08/07 at 8:11 am
How easily is the fabric of the virtual world is torn?
by Inigo Chamerberlin
Reading some of the comments to the latest episode of the Ginko saga I saw some comments that made me think about virtuality, reality and our Second Life. It suddenly dawned on me that Ginko was, is if you are an incurable optimist, a virtual investment bank in a virtual world.
It was perfectly fine, all the time enough people believed in it, but when enough people stopped believing in it – poof!
Philip K Dick said it rather well I think: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away” and of course, it follows that something that ceases to be when you stop believing in it is… unreal?
And just what was it before you stopped believing in it? A dream? An illusion? Spooky, isn’t it? Like the Elf who partnered with his lady love and found out later, much later, that she was not exactly his lady love.
But consider, had she not made it so very obvious to him, wouldn’t she still be his lady love? Changing his perception of her utterly destroyed his belief in the world in which she was – she. And once he ceased to believe in her, she really did cease to exist, for him.
I’ve been pondering just how much of our Second Lives are in any sense real, and how durable they are
Most of us have, I think, agreed, informally, to take things in Second Life at face value. You have to really. It just doesn’t work if you wander around picking holes in the fabric of a virtual reality. So you don’t. Well, not if you are here to enjoy it.
Sure, there are those who enjoy kicking holes in people’s reality, but not many, and they generally aren’t well thought of. No, we have all agreed to live in an illusion.
Linden Lab in fact foster the illusion by maintaining that the local currency is in fact worthless, something they bolster up by setting an exchange rate that not only makes L$ ridiculously cheap, but further heightens the fantasy by maintaining artificially high virtual prices. We may be not that well off in reality, but in Second Life we can all afford thousand dollar designer clothes in Second Life.
Still, there remains the unpalatable fact that this illusion we have all agreed to inhabit for a greater or lesser part of our lives depends utterly on the continued interest of a group of people (and their investors to be sure) in keeping the world running.
Not for nothing do some of us refer to the Lindens as the Game Gods
Philip is very keen on the Metaverse tag, so much so that in the early days there was a feeling that Snow Crash was practically required reading.
However my feeling is that, while Snow Crash may have laid out some of the basic concepts that were incorporated in Second Life, the philosophy that sums Second Life up rather more accurately is somewhat older, dating from a time when something like Second Life was not technically feasible, but manages to lay down one of the foundations without which Second Life could not, cannot exist – and which may yet engulf us as virtual worlds proliferate: Gibson’s ‘unthinkably complex consensual hallucination’…
Granted, Second Life is hardly unthinkably complex – yet, with a nod to Gibson, the Second Life network is generally referred to as The Grid. Our mutually taking Second Life at face value isn’t quite what I’d describe as a consensual hallucination either – possibly something more like a willing suspension of disbelief?
We’ve had two demonstrations recently of how fragile things can be in our shared virtual world. Are we entering a new era in Second Life? A period during which the very fabric of this virtual reality is threatened, not so much by external influences as by our own inability to suspend disbelief?
I doubt it myself. I’m really just playing with ideas here. Trying to understand how and why things can switch so easily from being what they seem to be, to what they are.
So, where does this leave us? In a world where, if we aren’t very careful we begin doubting everyone and everything. It’s enough to make you wonder what you’d actually find if you logged on to Second Life in the wrong frame of mind. Would it all suddenly seem terribly unreal? Would you start wondering who, or what, was behind every avatar you saw?
Hopefully not. I for one will continue to take things at face value. Ceasing to believe in Second Life doesn’t seem a very smart idea. I’ll just carry on being me and enjoying the virtual world.
I don’t go around believing in Second Life, it would be a bit like believing in gravity. But likewise, I see no point in disbelieving Second Life either. Ah well, enough of these musings. I’ll just leave you with some advice someone who taught me quite a lot about virtual life gave me:
“Before you ask the question, be very sure you want the answer”