Friday, November 2, 2007

It's not just the economy, stupid

Here's a bit of first life and Second Life combined.

On Halloween night, SO and I had just finished watching the local news and were waiting for more trick-or-treaters to arrive. As is our wont, we changed the channel to CBC Newsworld, which often has good documentaries at 7 o'clock. And what did we find there? "You Only Live Twice," a documentary about Second Life from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

It seems to have been done last spring, shortly before voice went live on the main grid, and it was actually pretty good. The reporter was not flippant or dismissive. I think she enjoyed her time in world. She interviewed Philip Rosedale, of course. Man, is he adorable! Still looks about 20 years old. And he's wicked charming. She also interviewed other proponents of SL as well as a few prominent SL residents, notably real estate mogul Anche Chung, virtual sex merchant Stroker Serpentine, and clothing designer Simone Stern, both in world and in first life. She also interviewed some critics of SL, so the presentation was pretty balanced.

One major beef, though. Why is it that media examinations of SL pretty much always focus on money and business? This doc did touch on the social aspects of SL, and not just in the context of virtual sex (although it spent plenty of time there), but it was only a touch. I am so much more interested in SL as social experiment than I am in how much money Anche Chung made last year or how safe Simone's designs are as intellectual property.

For instance, was the reporter unaware that massive numbers of men, and not just transgendered men, play women in SL? Or did she ignore this phenomenon? From my counselling practice and from the comments on my PixelPulse article on voice in SL, I've seen a range of reasons for men doing this. Transgendered people living virtual opposite-sex lives is interesting enough, but what about the men who are completely cis-gendered, not even cross-dressers in real life, but who choose to be women in SL? And what about how they express, again and again, how this has changed their view of the world and of other people, especially women?

And what about virtual love and virtual relationships as opposed to virtual sex? What do relationships between avatars mean? Just where is that area between a cyber-relationship and playing a game? There is so much more to SL than currency exchange, really!

SL says to anyone who enters, OK, here you can be anything you want to be. What would you like to be? If someone's answer to that is "wealthy," well, it's their second life. But I prefer to let my imagination fly freely. I can make money in first life. But in SL, I can be and do so many things that simply aren't possible for me in first life. And that's what I find fascinating about SL. I wish someone would make a documentary entirely on that subject.


Peter Stindberg said...

We had a very well balanced documentary on Second Life and relationships within on German televison too. Seems the media starts to understand slowly what it is about...

Ashley said...

I think they like to focus on the economy because it's the surface item that really sets SL apart from other programs.

But like all things in life the structure you build is only as good as the people who are in it.

Shockwave Plasma said...

The Australian ABC can be quite well balanced in it's reporting, but then they have their own sims, so it's not surprising.

I've not seen it in the UK, but I can probably download it from somewhere.

The national newspaper "The Australian" has had some seriously bad coverage of SL.

Veronique Lalonde said...

Peter -- I guess we'll need a version with subtitles. :)

Ashley -- There are all kinds of things in SL that fascinate me, but I do find that it's human interaction that I am most interested in. This doc scratched the surface, but there's much more that I think people would find interesting.

Shocky -- The link I posted in the entry goes to an online broadcast of the documentary. It kept doing the "buffering" thing for me because my connection isn't fast enough, but I think the whole doc is there.

Anonymous said...

Veronique, I have met some transgendered people in SL. They tend to play their target genders quite authentically, from what I have seen. But what, as you said, about the cis-gendered (that's a rare term, gf! Not many people know it!) I know some people I am sure are males in RL and they are not transgendered in any sense, but play women as non-stereotpical, individual people.

And then there are the hordes of SL bimbos in ass skirts, bare navels with studs, big shoes, big hair, big boobs, big butts and oiled skins, blinging and over the top with their come-hither AOs and hooker groups tags. Some are for sure women, but when I see them at Gurl6 or Hairspray, I say Dude. Dude. Dude. That's a dude. Dude. And they never talk, ya notice?

I am totally in sympathy with men to play women as individuals, but the the bimbette clone things leaves me cold. I don't want to know women like that, much less men pretending to be women like that.

Anyway, nice article!