Alternate Lives: Second and Dream

By Deane Barker on October 30, 2005

Two things I found in the last few days have got me thinking about online personas.

  • Second Life
    The New York Times did a big article this week about the MMORPG Second Life and how many people are using that game as alternate versions of their own lives.

    From the article:

    One California woman […] spends many of her after-work and weekend hours socializing with friends in Second Life. […] In cyberspace, she said, she can spend time with them no matter their differences in location or time zone. “We can dance, hug and kiss, all across the U.S.,” she said.

    Edward Castronova, associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University, uses a game world in a similar way. He is often away from home at conferences, and from time to time will keep in touch with his wife by meeting up with her in the online game World of Warcraft.

  • Dream Life
    While watching TV with my 10-year-old, I saw an ad for a girl-oriented video game called Dream Life.

    From the ad, it appears that the entire game is intended to simply let girls create a “dream you” (their words) that looks like they want to look, then go shopping, buy clothes, go to parties, etc. in this video game.

    It’s your life and what you do is up to you! (Well, at least in DreamLife, the endlessly engaging new plug-and-play game for your TV.) Go to school, make new friends, try a new hairstyle, pick new fashions, explore new hobbies and more — anything’s possible in your new DreamLife!

    Is that healthy? I squirm a little with the wording there — we’re encouraging impressionable kids to willfully create a version of their lives that they view as “better” than their actual life, then escape to that world.

    Consider all the things they claim you can do in copy above: “Go to school, make new friends, try a new hairstyle, pick new fashions, explore new hobbies.” I’d much rather my daughter do these in real life. We’re encouraging girls to do things virtually that could usually do in reality just as easily.

    I can’t fight a dragon in real life (and if I could, I wouldn’t want to risk injury or death), so that might be why I play World of Warcraft. But “explore new hobbies”? That’s not something for which you need a game. Get some potting soil, some seeds, and — voila — you’re “exploring a new hobby.” In real life.

I’ve never played a MMORPG, so maybe I don’t understand. I will admit to a sense of alternate reality when I play SimCity — I often wish my city could exist somewhere so I could visit it. But I’ve never taken the role of some other supposed human form online.

I guess it’s all in how far you push it. Is it just a game, or isn’t it? And which reality — actual or virtual — do you prefer?

Gadgetopia

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