by Stone Semyorka
Many residents of virtual worlds say the emotions they feel while in-world are strong. So strong,in fact, that almost a quarter of all women and nearly 10 percent of men have had an online wedding.
Ah, the bliss, the joy, the happiness. Bluebirds soaring across azure skies. Tweet, tweet.
A lovely May wedding in Second Life.
I was cruising the Web the other day when I stumbled across Scott Jennings, a designer in the computer gaming industry, specializing in the genre known as massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). Scott’s Broken Toys blog entry described his random observations on “Utopia Hidden Underground: Another Look At SL.”
It got me to thinking and jotting some random observations of my own on bliss in Utopia.
I don’t mean Todd Rundgren’s progressive rock band in the ’70s and ’80s. My Utopia is the place where perfect harmony exists socially, legally and politically.
Sir Thomas More wrote a book, Utopia, back in 1516 describing a perfect society on an imaginary island. Nearly 500 years later, we finally have our own utopian island.
In its Greek roots, utopia comes from the word outopia, meaning “no place,” and eutopia, meaning ” a place where everything is right.” More’s Utopia was a place that never quite existed, yet was a place where everything seemed perfect.
Siren’s Grotto at Dragon Castle.
Second Life is just such an illusion of splendid impossibilities. And we are in the privileged position of producing it because we can imagine what it must be, however illusory and unattainable in reality it may be.
More’s island was perfect in its social and moral aspects. Similarly, many residents will tell you that SL provides an ideal way of life on an imaginary and indefinitely remote place of perfection in social conditions as well as in government and laws. Unless you’ve been griefed, you probably think of SL as a perfect place, where everyone lives in harmony and everything is for the best.
Wikipedia tells us MMORPGs are very popular with 15-20 million people engaged. There must be something to that since some 8 million are residents of Second Life. World of Warcraft is said to have similar numbers. And there are numerous other brand names.
Scott Jennings contends that Second Life is buckling under the load of its own success. Okay. I will agree that SL is growing residents at the rate of nearly a million a month. But, buckling? Not hardly.
A newbie couple chats at the lovely and sensual Second Life park, Dyna’s Cottage, which no longer exists.
According to Wagner James Au (Hamlet Au in SL) in his New World Notes blog, Jennings previously has disdained SL. I think that must be so for, sure enough, Scott’s blog entry sounds like it was written by a newbie. He gripes about being “booted” in mid conversation and items missing from his inventory. How many newbies have misused the SL Viewer and made those same complaints?
Jennings suggests an SL resident will be infuriated by his claim that Second Life has levels of social acceptance and classes of social groups. Well, not hardly. Heck, that’s what we’re here for.
His distinction of two classes — newbies and everybody else — falls short. The reality is it’s very much an American-style class struggle. There are newbies in the lower class, and a vast middle class, and a rich, elite, upper class.
Jennings is right that newbies generally are seen as lower class people. However, many become aware of a need to improve their condition and work to climb the ladder into the vast middle class. A few succeed beyond dreams and become tghe upper-class crust. It’s capitalism through and through.
Wheelchair family sculpture in the Morris region newbie welcome area, commemorating the American Cancer Society Relay for Life on Aug. 27-28, 2005.
It’s also an American-style melting pot. Europeans, Asians, Africans, South Americans are fungible. They fall into the cauldron of American dreams and flow into one capitalistic miasma. Take note: the number of furries is dropping.
What about Jennings’ conjecture that “Everyone is pretty, has perfect skin, big tits or washboard abs, and perfectly coiffed hair.” Social leveling is one of the supreme benefits of SL. Crippled? Mulatto? Transgendered? Who knows what you are in RL?
In SL, you truly can be what you want to be, capture your fantasies, live out your dreams. For most, those aspirations are for better situations. But, if you want to be crippled, mulatto or transgendered, you can be in SL.
Today, virtual reality is a popular tool for physical or psychological rehabilitation. People with various challenges are able to do things in Second Life that they can’t do in the real world.
The entrance to the Isle of Lesbos flashes a warning, “Notice: only women allowed on these premises.”
BDSM, slavery and lesbianism are flourishing in SL. Take away social restrictions and who doesn’t stop to taste what they crave?
I’m not into those, but most SL residents seem to believe it’s okay to do stuff if no one gets hurt.
This brings to mind Robin Burger, writing on Rick Norwood’s SF Site about the idea of having sex with holograms, holding that “as long as no one gets hurt and it doesn’t frighten the horses, it’s OK.”
Women congregate to meet and get to know each other at Mysteria, another prominent lesbian region in SL.
There are two kinds of sex in SL. Pixel sex and storytelling.
In the television era, we are drawn visually. Thus, newbies are sucked in by the bright blue and pink pose balls in free sex playrooms like moths to porch lights. But, just as they find the economic rungs and climb the class ladder, they discover that seeing penises puncturing thighs and brains can dampen ardor and destroy intimacy. Those with even a smidgen of creativity soon evolve into IM sex where words stimulate the imagination.
Storytelling, sometimes called cyber, is a virtual sexual encounter in which two or more SL residents send one another sexually explicit messages describing a fictional sexual experience.
It is fantasy role-playing through chat or IM in which the people pretend they are actually necking, petting and having intercourse by describing their imaginary actions and responding to their conversation partners in words designed to arouse each other sexually.
A wide variety of pose balls sets are sold in Second Life by retail stores such as Bits and Bobs.
Back in 1982, 20 years before SL existed, UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield experimentally compared the effects of radio and TV on imagination. She found radio stimulated imagination more than television.
The interactions among SL residents are real, even if the environments are not. Active imagining is a richer experience than passive viewing. Translated into SL, that means storytelling is better than pixel sex. Residents frequently admit that the frequency and quality of orgasms is enhanced through storytelling.
Psychologists and sociologists are able to use MMORPGs as tools for academic research. When clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle interviewed computer gamers, she found that many had expanded their emotional range by exploring the many different roles — including gender identities — that MMORPGs allowed people to explore.
Dr. Pose Grut, a marital therapist at Cape Point, offers marriage and relationship counseling, and therapy for stress, sexual matters, infidelity, depression and anxiety. Her fee of L$500 for 15 minutes professional services time is the equivalent of US$2.
Nick Yee surveyed more than 35,000 MMORPG players about psychological and sociological aspects of virtual worlds.
Many reported the emotions they feel while playing an MMORPG are very strong. Some 23.2% of female and 8.7% of male players in a statistical study reportedly had an online wedding.
However, as in RL, where there’s good news, there’s also bad. Along with the rise in marriages and age-play child rearing in SL has come an increase in marriage counseling and divorce.
As I like to say, SL mimics RL.
This sky platform is the spartan waiting room for Chic Defiant who offers a couples counseling service called Listen Up! It includes therapy and advice on confidential problems, addiction, sexual matters, death and abuse. Defiant meets clients in a serene, private underwater office. Rates are L$100 for 30 minutes on the first office visit and then $L200 for 30 minutes for follow-up sessions. Currently, lindens can be purchased on various exchanges for about US$4 per L$1,000.