When Facebook launched in February of 2004, it was not the first attempt at social networking. It did however, give social media a healthy pulse rather than a fleeting heartbeat that most referred to as a “trend.” It would appear that social media is alive and well and the outlook is good that it will see us into the future. Now that most of us have accepted this, another movement is trying to bust through the the trend barriers and take up residence in the land of the norm.
When social media meets gaming, or rather, meets a specific, interactive element of gaming – we call this virtual reality. When I was younger I always thought virtual reality was putting a boxy contraption over your head with a screen over your eyes and your physical movements controlled your movements within the virtual world. Turns out, now that the future is here, virtual reality is not physical at all, but rather, psychological and emotional. (Image Two Credit)
I recently heard about the game Second Life, well I had heard of it before but just figured it was The Sims online or something, I had no idea that for some people, it truly was a ‘second life’. The game is being used not only for social purposes but for business and even education. Jay Vasse, a recent graduate from Bradley University in Illinois and a writer for NowSourcing, actually had a class through Second Life. “I had to meet my partner in a virtual classroom, that was really just a beach shack,” says Vasse, “we would critique each other’s papers and we had to take snapshots of ourselves to prove we were really there.”
After doing some research on the game I found that as a “resident” of Second Life, you can buy land, go shopping, go on dates, orb to other parts of town if you don’t feel like flying, and the areas are marked with a maturity rating: G (general), M (moderate), and A (adult). Now, let’s be honest, you are probably most interested in what falls under the adult rating – of course you are, this is the 21st century after all. It is pretty simple, it works just like it would in your “first life” except you don’t need a rating to know it’s a strip club. The general and moderate ratings are pretty much light fun, for instance: coffee shop would fall under G and dance club would fall under M. Another fascinating characteristic is that Second Life actually has it’s own currency, the Linden dollar (L$). You can buy L$ with your real money or you can start your own business and make a linden profit and go out and buy your avatar clothes, furniture, weapons, instruments, and anything else you can think of.
So what would life as an avatar be like? Truly, meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend’s avatar before ever seeing their “first life” face, is that ok? Personally, I don’t think I have quite formed an opinion yet due to my state shock, but though I feel I would never want to meet someone that way, how is it different from Facebook? I have met a few friends through Facebook, and there are some whom I know only through Facebook. My job’s main form of communication is through Skype chat. So I don’t have an avatar chatting for me, and I am not going to meetings in a virtual conference room, but the virtual part is the only difference. The social interaction is pretty much the same.
According to Arnold Brown, writer for The Furturist, “Once humans begin to perceive virtual social interactions as actually having occurred, it will greatly impact individuals, relationships, communities, and society as a whole.” Brown believes that people may actually form an attachment to their avatar identity, and when one feels such a connection, brain research shows that our multisensory perception could cause even sexual interaction to be obtained through this form of media.
Many questions arise when new waves of technology threaten social interaction to the point of almost never making physical contact: Should there be restrictions on sites like these? Will people become bored with it before it becomes a serious issue? Is it a threat at all? Or is it simply a new way of meeting people and socializing? Virtual reality may be throwing the social networking generation off of it’s balance and into a whole new world of possibility and conflict.