Thursday, May 10, 2012

Transworld Promiscuity and the Death of Virtual World Immersion

Categories of Virtual World Use

I posted this sketch exactly four years ago, just a couple months after extending my Second Life identity beyond its walled garden. I was that Immersionist character at the top of the virtual world, celebrating our victorious extension into social networks, blogs and multi-media sharing. It seemed like there were no limits for our growing family of Emergent avatars, living rich and creative lives within and between worlds.

Four years later, most of the very active avatar-identified people I knew at the time have either left Second Life or have dramatically reduced their level of participation. Even for those who've stayed, the magic sense of wonder is just a glimmer of what it had been in our prime. How did we fall from grace? Did we move into an inevitable "honeymoon's over" stage where we take for granted (or even disdain) the very life with which we were once besotted? I think that's certainly one factor. But ironically, I also believe that our emergence into transworld identity also played a part.

Our virtual lives began immersed in the walled garden of Second Life. As we moved outside, the 3D virtual world transformed from being the life-giving environment in which we lived, to just another vehicle in which we travel. We have moved from immersion with the virtual world to immersion within our transworld identity. For better and for worse.


Vanessa Blaylock said...

Yes! I think you're exactly right. I came along a year or more after you, so I'm the "junior class," but I think my trajectory has been similar.

Funny thing is... I have a lesbian friend who was married to a guy for many years, has a now teenage daughter, finally left her not very good marriage, came out to herself and the world, is now living with a woman she loves... she seems in every way to be more happy and more her "real" self...

Yet she will still occasionally say of her ex-husband, "maybe if he had been a little nicer we could have made it work..."

I think SL is kind of that way. I'm not tech enough to know if LL's doing a great or lousy job, but I'll just say if you care enough you often do gripe... and so you get sent to Blue Mars or OS Grid or WoW or making identity thru blogs and Facebook, etc...

And like my friend, we look back nostalgically and say "Maybe if SL had been a little nicer we could have made it work"... but even though we feel the bittersweetness of that sentiment, like my friend, maybe that isn't who we really were.

There was an innocence about those early days. Now we're wiser but also more jaded.

As a non-developer I, unfortunately, will not be the one who creates the new platforms. I'm realistically stuck in the indentured servitude of the user-class. But whatever platforms do emerge, their nature and affordances will dramatically shape the quality of our virtual lives.

My guess is that AR and Augmentation have a bigger, perhaps much bigger, future than VR and Immersion. I can't imagine VR will ever go away, but I suspect we'll always be the niche market against the coming juggernaut of AR.

Deoridhe said...

It's funny how different my experience has been, but I think that's because the Deoridhe in Second Life is just another Deoridhe out of many. I suppose I was transworld long before I came to Second Life, starting on MUDs and MOOs, moving to BBSes, Journals, and Forums, and finally into 3D MUDs and MOOs (aka, WoW and Second Life).