Thursday, 3 November 2011

Virtual Philosophers

So, my internet problem seems to be fixed - yay! The past few weeks have aged me (literally), but now I'm back and can hopefully fall back into some vaguely regular pattern of posting. 

A few posts ago, I raised the issue of the necessity of shared time to a virtual world such as Second Life - you cannot interact "live" with other citizens of the virtual world if you are not together at the same time, and how time works seems to be one of the ways of defining whether or not something is a game, or a world, or...a glorified version of the Sims. There seems to be a lot of discourse out there on the subject (and a lot of it is written really neatly in Tom Boellstorff's "Coming of Age in Second Life"). 

That is not to suggest, however, that there are not ways to interact with Second Life "residents", as Linden Labs calls them, when they are offline. The IM function allows messages to be stored until the user comes back online, and there is nothing stopping me making a new notecard (a notecard being like a WordPad file) and sending it to some of my offline friends, to be received and read when they come online. But that is much like sending emails, or using Windows Live Messenger, and I'm not sure that anybody would really consider either of those to be virtual worlds. Plains, maybe, but not worlds. 

That aside: the biggest enemy of any theory about shared time is lag. Lag is pretty much an accepted evil these days, it would seem, with it infecting almost everything that engages with the Internet. I seem to experience particularly high lag, since my laptop is not really up to running the Second Life Viewer, and my network connection is often under a lot of duress from my university housemates watching videos and probably using utorrent to download a whole bunch of stuff that they shouldn't. If I venture into a highly populated or intricately detailed area, it's highly unlikely that my laptop will be able to rez (load) the sim as it actually should be.  But that's pretty much "c'est la vie".

What does that mean for the concept of shared time? Can a virtual world be "declassified", so to speak, because it suffers with lag? Just within SL, it starts to raise a whole bunch of existential questions: if I change my hair from brown to red, but, because of lag, everyone around me can still see it as brown, is my hair really, in fact, brown? What colour does the Higher Being of the Linden Labs server really think my hair colour is? If, for example, Salix tries to take human form after being a dragon, but, on my screen I still see her as a dragon...which is she?! It is often things such as changing your hair, or your clothes, or your shape that offer the most obvious examples of lag. So is it how we see ourselves that matters, or how we are seen? How can we trust anything that we see? We are creating a generation of virtual philosophers over here!

We are also creating a generation of people who really, really cannot afford to take their (virtual) selves seriously - not when you are aware that, at times, you look like this:

I entered a new sim, and it couldn't load my clothes properly. How attractive.
Ah! My inner-clown is showing
Space seems to have leaked through the walls, and I got tango-d

You know I've got a whole folder of images like these. You just know it.

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