Monday, 3 June 2013

Sick and Tired

If you have to be sick and tired, being sick and tired with Norah is the BEST.
There is a sickness in SL, a kind of malaise that affects avatars right to the core of their invisible mesh bones. There's no telling when it will hit, nor how long it will linger, making the virtual world seem grim(mer) and dark(er than it already is). Sometimes, it begins as a restlessness, and it's only after you've spent a week sat in your skybox avoiding IMs and fiddling with outfits you don't even care about that you realise you've got it.

What is this sickness, Doctor Wytchwood? Well, I will tell you. It's a lack of meaning. A lack of purpose. A kind of mini-existential crisis of the virtual kind. It can effect different avatars in different ways, leading some to question only why they logged in, there and then,  and others to question why they don't just delete themselves altogether. The cures for it vary, too, and whilst some might respond to the discovery of a new sim or a new shop, or a new role-play writer, others are beyond help, and vanish from the virtual world altogether.

I think it would be fair to say that this malaise is most fatal amongst the newbies. Full of excitement at the possibilities Second Life promises, they log in and quickly realise that it isn't as easy as it seemed. New avatars have a natural magnetism to walls, and fiddling with prims and mesh and alphas and clothing layers can be a nightmare. Trawling the Marketplace for nice free items is hideously time-consuming, and with all the demos floating around, it's difficult to work out what is what. Then, when you do find something, it arrives in a box that you can't, for some alien reason no one has explained to you, just open. Very very quickly you arrive at the crucial question, the undeniable symptom of the strongest form of this existential sickness - WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!

And nobody can answer that for you. There's no virtual Linden Labs God holding all of the answers. Lacking the pre-written rules and structure of a game, there is no point to Second Life any more than one could palpably reach out and told hold of the point of the First Life. There is a wonderful scene in Queen of the Damned in which Akasha turns to Lestat and says 'we must make the meaning'. I think that's the truest damn thing I have ever read. For some, that's daunting. For others, well...the possibilities are endless.

Personally, I think I fall somewhere between the two, in both worlds. I have not, however, suffered this malaise too deeply. Occasionally I have found myself logged into SL, sitting in my skybox when none of my friends are online, wondering why I even signed in - but that was remedied quickly by simply logging out, and logging in again later and finding somewhere to explore or somebody to talk to. Several of my virtual friends, however, have been suffering deeply, and I'm wondering if maybe I just haven't been around long enough yet to be really, really vulnerable. I'm wondering, too, if it's infectious. And some of the people I knew when I first started 'visiting' SL don't sign in any more, and I find myself hoping that it was this sickness that took them and not something more tangible.

I think that it must have something to do with the reasons we signed up to SL in the first place. I came as an ethnographer-of-sorts, simply trying to see and investigate the virtual world and whatever it had to offer. I enjoy exploring and building nice things and taking screenshots and making little photo shoots and talking to people and just sitting around and chatting with friends. When I'm not in the mood to do those things, I simply don't sign in. But if your reason for logging in is less whimsical, more based on a need or a desire, what happens when the object of that need or desire vanishes? What happens when you realise you don't need SL to be your training ground for the real world any more? What happens when you realise you no longer need somewhere to escape to? I suppose that if you can adapt, you can survive, and if not, you don't - and that isn't always a bad thing.

For better or for worse, I have no intentions of quitting SL in the near future. I've just joined two really great communities, and made a new friend who doesn't find it remotely weird when I ask her to pose with me looking sick and tired and with a rain-cloud in a cage suspended above our heads. I have some good friends who are always up for a laugh or a hug, and I think that's gotta be worth gold.

You'll be sick and tired of my rambling before long, mind.

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