The other night, I went over to Social Island 1 to greet newbies and hand them information. The place was a worse zoo than usual, with one particularly obnoxious person using a graphics crasher to crash everyone who looked in his direction. And as usual, a gang of "regulars" was talking and arguing in Voice. Ninjas with swords were leaping about, ugly trolls were harrassing people. All in all, it was a scene that would disorient and discourage any newcomer.
After a bit, I too started suffering from sensory overload, and went next door to Social Island 2. These are identical copies. There are several Discovery Islands and Social Islands, to handle the flow of incoming newbies. Newcomers to SL go to a Discovery Island on their first login, and then to a Social Island. From there, they have the opportunity to go anywhere in Second Life. Most of the islands are restricted to newbies only, but as an experiment, Linden Lab opened Social Islands 1 and 2 to ordinary residents. See my post, "A Visit to Social Island."
It was much quieter on SI2, and I calmly began handing out help notes to various newbies. Another helper, Tak Naglo, was there too, and we struck up a conversation. I noted that the crazies seemed to hang out at SI1, and Tak said, "No Voice, no regulars."
I checked, and sure enough, Voice was not enabled at SI2! While I've encountered jerks and showoffs in places without Voice (even SI2) Tak's observation is a good one. There tend to be fewer of these annoying people in places where the only way to communicate is by text. It's much harder to shoot off your mouth when you have to do it with a keyboard.
Our discussion continued. I was interested to find out just what constituted a "regular" in Tak's opinion. After all, I myself have spent several hours almost every day for almost seven years in SL. Doesn't that make me a "regular"? And if so, must I be lumped in with that mob of foul-mouthed crazy people who hang out at places like SI1 and Ahern and Waterhead?
No, according to Tak. A "regular", she said, is someone who spends eight or twelve hours a day, or even more, in Second Life (and often, other virtual worlds and MMORPGs as well.) They are completely addicted, and because they spend more time in SL than in real life, the people and events of the virtual world have come to seem more real to them than "reality." Second Life has become the place where they live their lives, and where the things that matter to them take place.
On the one hand, the thought of this is very sad. One might be tempted to shake such a person and shout in their face, "Get a life!" People are wasting away in front of computer screens, living their lives out in the world inside the monitor.
But, on the other hand, perhaps a lot of these people are not ABLE to "get a life." Maybe they have some financial, social, physical or mental disability that prevents it, and so a virtual world is their only alternative. One might wish that they could find a more productive way to spend their Second Life than hanging around newcomer areas and showing off, but if a virtual reality is their only escape from an otherwise intolerable situation, shouldn't we be glad that they HAVE this escape?
There's no hard and fast line here, either. I don't spend twelve hours a day in SL, but I have often spent four hours at a time in world. And although my Real Life hasn't fallen apart, I am all too aware that the hours I spend in world are hours that I could have spent doing chores or craft projects, writing, reading, or interacting with my family and others.
There has to be a balance, and if there is any conflict, the decision has to be made in favor of Real Life. As immersive and fascinating as the virtual world can be, and as much as we love the friends we meet there, Real Life is still the place that matters most, and we must be careful not to forget that.
Stop reading this and go take your dog for a romp, or spade the garden! It's Spring, f'gosh sakes!