by Alphaville Herald on 24/11/11 at 9:58 pm
by Tenshi Vielle - founder & former publisher of Shopping Cart Disco
I joined Second Life in 2006, and it wasn't long before I was meeting folks on the grid and making a digital name for myself, something I never had when I was growing up. As a child, I was far too smart and far too shy to be bothered with any social aspects of life. Second Life, strangely, was my foray into a niche-type fame (or infamy as many of you may be apt to categorize me) from running a 2,000 to 3,000 and sometimes 5,000 hit-a-day website that operated solely on the gossip on the grid and attempting to fight the good fight -- and making enemies in the process.
My time spent on the Second Life grid was an entire escape from reality. In late 2005, I was pregnant, going to school, and working 3 part time jobs. By 2006, I had my baby and had joined Second Life after seeing an article in Wired magazine - and joining simply to laugh at the ridiculous hype this virtual world was getting.
I began making friends in-world, and logging in was a daily thing after my morning cup of coffee. When I wasn't out with my family, my newborn slept on my lap or in a seat near my feet. The burdens of my real life built up, so I threw myself into building something I could actually manage in Second Life - a small, stong website, a reputation, a cause to log in. I spent a lot of time supporting the artists of SL, large and small. They became my close friends.
When I found myself with one part time job and the baby, I found employment in the virtual world with a real-life company on a short term basis. It became more of an excuse to log in, because they were sending me actual checks with official pay stubs. My newborn was growing, I couldn't shake the baby weight between caring for him, my so-called depression, and attempting to care for my injured baby-daddy who had also moved in with myself and my family.
The burdens grew. Folks who didn't like me in the virtual world stalked me, called me all kinds of names, harassed me, blamed me for ruining their birthdays, even their anniversaries. It got ridiculous.
Shortly afterwards I was also moving in real life to find a job. The economy in my home state was tanking hard, and I was sorely affected. I worked a job as a janitor - yes, any port in a storm - and not only caught scabies that year, but pinkeye, two cases of the flu, and god knows what else. It was not a job I wanted to continue.
Logging in became more and more of a chore, and I had lost my desktop computer in favor of a laptop. In desperation, I elected co-administrators on my website and began dealing with social issues and helping with stories for the site via text message while at my new job. It was just too much.
I never realized I was so deep into Second Life until a tiff over administrative rights on the website caused me to dump my virtual best friend, which pulled a domino affect into other online friendships and caused me a lot of personal pain. I'd never cried over anything in the virtual world before - not the digital riff raff, griefers, nothing - but this was different and I realized I was far too invested with people I didn't even really know anything about.
My virtual life fed my ego in a way my real life couldn't - my word was important to other SL users. I could assist making a virtual artist, or help bring them down - something I attempted to avoid doing until I felt just cause for it. The group I fell in was small, cliquish and petty, sniping at each other and then being the world's greatest frenemies scripted by a bad episode of Desperate Housewives. Ostracization was a favorite technique of theirs.
I had more virtual shoes and clothing than I did in my real life - and I had, at one time, owned a lot of shoes and clothing in my real life. I had more hair styles in my virtual life.
After being homeless in real life for about a month, after getting kicked out of my "midway" place after moving (but thankfully keeping my newly aquired job) I attempted to continue work on the site as I had before, but couldn't.
My life was still a mess. In the course of three years, we rented an apartment; we bought a house; then my relationship went so far south that I thought I was at the cusp of hell. I sold my web site for $200 and used some of the money to pay for an apartment for a month so that I could escape my dissolved relationship and move on.
I kept my virtual friends up on what was going on in my real life and why I was absent, but my own life narration began to sound absolutely ridiculous even to me, despite the fact that I was living it. How could anyone go through so many horrible things and be able to talk about it online and believe it? There are so many sociopaths in Second Life who make up horrible stories (including medical diseases and traumas) for attention, but I wasn't one of them. I was simply logging what was actually happening to me, which was as hard for me to believe as the one living it as anyone reading it.
My virtual life is in shambles now. I rarely ever log in - I think I was last online about two weeks ago, for a half an hour. I couldn't find anything I wanted to do, and everyone who was online on my friends list seemed completely foreign to me.
Those friends I had in Second Life that I truly loved, I took with me to my first life. They are on my personal Plurk account, they are on my Facebook. I stayed at one SL friend's for a week after I left my relationship and my home. She allowed my son and I to shack up over there until other arrangements could be made, and even drove with me a good 100 miles to make sure everything was going to be alright.
Although my virtual life no longer exists, I prefer my real life. Second Life has become secondary, although I am not completely sure whether it's due to my real life becoming so busy (work and a small child) or if it's because Second Life, in general, seems vacant save for my old friends that still hang around. I now have a low profile and the virtual stalkers have moved on to other prey. I have no idea what is going on with the artists I used to help protect - I believe many of them have moved on from Second Life as well.
I firmly believe the worst and best thing about Second Life was how heavily it was propelled by its users - and how often it was held back by its developers.
As for Second Life in my real life, I spoke about it often while I was still involved heavily. Now it's like a dirty secret. My friend asked me how I knew one of my Second Life friends last night, and I hemmed and hawwed and avoided answering all I could until I could avoid no longer, and gave a very vague answer. It's not the friends in Second Life I'm trying to keep hidden; it's the fact that I was once so deeply involved in something that revolved so heavily around basic social psychology, and that I so easily handled it, that becomes embarrassing.
Those of you still hanging around Second Life more than 2 hours a day, I would advise you to please consider logging out for a while and doing something else. Go out, talk to a stranger, ask them about the weather. Keep your virtual life, but learn how to keep it proportionate. Video games only temporarily assist in making a person feel better. The secondary benefit is that Second Life, as a platform, appears to be tanking. Unless there's a sudden resurgence of popularity due to the open development available (with no support from the developers themselves) you are, so to speak, putting your money in a hole.