Sunday, September 9, 2007

Art Caged by Life

This fascinating article, “Even in a Virtual World, ‘Stuff’ Matters”, is a discussion of ways in which people who have become residents of “Second Life” have slavishly imitated the consumerism and personal vanities of real life (“RL” to the initiated) rather than creating a truly brave new world. The emphasis of the article is on the mass craving for conspicuous consumption, and for spending money on things which are necessary in RL but completely unnecessary in Second Life (“SL”). It's a good study in human nature.

In short, most people are as depressing and unimaginative in SL as in RL because they’ve ignored an opportunity to break the bonds of social customs and pressures, not to mention gravity. It’s like what a spiritualist said to me about people’s spirits in the afterlife: “If they’ve been nasty here, they’re not suddenly going to become nice on the Other Side.” I hope that if we do design our own Heavens I don't keep running into other people's malls and wig shops as I do in SL.

The first thing that struck me along that line, when I’d been in SL only a few days, was the fact that much SL architecture imitates RL architecture even though the laws of SL physics provide much more freedom than those of RL.


Things will stay where they are placed, whether above, on, or under the surface of the SL earth. SL structures, therefore, do not need the supporting, load-bearing elements used in the real world. . . and yet most SL structures are redundantly burdened with all the foundations, pilings, columns, and braces which have challenged RL architects for centuries.


Likewise, a door or other object in SL can be made “phantom”, meaning that one can simply walk through it like a ghost, and yet all the paraphernalia of house doors that have to be opened and closed are encountered throughout SL. True, a phantom door can’t be locked, but most people don’t lock doors in SL anyway. Stairs are generally unnecessary in SL because one can simply float up, and yet stairways abound in SL even though they are often difficult to negotiate.


Everyone can fly, soar, and hover in SL, and yet helicopters and other aircraft are not uncommon. The climate is (as far as I know) pleasant short-sleeve weather all the time, with never a drop of rain and no insects, and yet windows are covered with “glass”, and some of the clothing would make an Eskimo keel over onto the Arctic ice from heat prostration.

It’s hard to say whether people who enter SL and want things done in exactly the same way they are done in RL are simply victims of habit, and inability to think outside the box, or whether the socially conditioned worry about seeming “different” keeps them in bondage in both worlds.

When I told my neighbor in SL – who has created a lush, lavish South Seas paradise on the slopes leading up from the sea, complete with lava-bubbling volcano – my criticisms of obeying RL physics when designing SL buildings, he disagreed with me. I said I felt the way Frank Lloyd Wright had felt about the use of Greco-Roman columns which held nothing up. My neighbor said he didn’t feel comfortable unless a structure looked as it would look in RL. The hotel he built could be a Florida Ramada Inn. A residence which mostly hovered beyond the edge of a cliff would drive him crazy, even though the view would be superb and the design would be free of unsightly pilings and struts. He has an imaginative tropical bar built around the steep peak of a mountain, but all the braces are there “to hold it up”.

The bird, freed from its cage, refuses to fly.


  1. Are the laws of SL physics defined? I would imagine that most players would not wish to enter a science fiction world with different laws, but act out in a world like the one they know already.

    We have no experience of a world without gravity & I imagine it's more fun to break some rules rather than not have any in this situation. In dreams of flying, I've always had to overcome gravity.

    I read Life in the World Unseen by Anthony Borgia as a child, and remember that the disembodied spirits used to create buildings from thought, as a kind of team effort. The point was made that they didn't need houses at all but that was what they were used to. In fact their bodies were just woven from thought, as well.

  2. Vincent, it's always a pleasure to receive a comment from you.

    You mention fiction. From Wikipedia: "Second Life was inspired by Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash. The stated goal of Linden Lab (2d Life's creator) is to create a world like the Metaverse described by Stephenson, a user-defined world of general use. . ." I haven't read the book.

    As for physics in SL, my post was very superficial, and I don't know the inner workings.. Gravity acts on people in SL as on earth, unless one chooses to fly, and even then a too-precipitous cancellation of flying can end in an embarrassing bump on the ground.

    All objects in SL are created by residents of that world, and they are not influenced by gravity unless the creator designates them to be "physical", in which case (as I understand it) they obey the earthly laws of physics. If I create a ball, for example, I can place it in the air. If I designate it "physical" it will fall to earth, bounce, roll, etc.

  3. Fleming, Could the neighbor be Red Smith from your old schoolyard? Ahhaaha! Found him. How funny would that be? I like the pictures. I might jump over there myself.

  4. Zoey and Me, don't jump over there or you may never come back!