Sunday, March 13, 2011

Virtually Six


In the normal chronology of life six years can be a significant amount of time. If a person lives to be 60, six years is 1/10th of their life span. If an average adult marriage lasts 30 years, six years is 1/5th of that time. To a teenager six years is longer than one spends in high school or for many even college. But in terms of virtual chronology six years is more than a lifetime, to many it may seem like an eternity. In an age and environment where technology is outdated nearly as fast as it is developed and changes are measured in terms of gigabytes per second, a year marks an extreme passing of time.

It also marks the virtual age of Sierra Sugar. Six years ago today Sierra was “born” if you will into the virtual world of Second Life. Seeking an escape from the grind and drama of the average raid oriented guild in MMORPGs, a friend of mind recommended this “new” game. Knowing my affinity towards The Sims, he thought SL would be a nice change of pace from the XP grind of WoW. Little did I know what I was stepping into.

In a world where any person can be and create anything their heart desires, Sierra was created as and has remained a virtual extension of her real life user. The only deviation from that real representation was the addition of kitty ears and tail, call it a personality trait expressed visually. Many use Second Life as a way to be something they are not or could never be. I have used it as a means to express who I really am. The person who was always a bit too quiet, or too shy for her own good could finally have a voice and be seen. It allowed me to step out of myself and take a good look. It showed me many things I did not like, and quite a few I realized I did. It has afforded me opportunities for amazing friendships, incredible love, unending creativity, and yes even unbelievable heartache. Through the laughter, the tears, the good times and the bad, after six years Sierra still remains.

Six years is definitely an eternity in Second Life time. And in those six years I’ve seen this virtual world change exponentially. It was a much smaller world back then. The grid could easily be traversed by foot, vehicle or hot air balloon in the course of a couple hours at best. There were no private islands and mainland was being bought up in large quantities by a budding virtual real estate entrepreneur, Anshe Chung. The only known custom skin maker was Munchflower Zaius of Nomine fame. There was no flexi nor sculptie. And any average Second Life citizen could enter into chat with a Linden simply by asking for help in world.

In 2005 if you logged in and there were 8,000 people online you know the world was going to crash. I remember the first time I saw there were 12,000 people online. And again when there were 20,000 online I sat back and went “Wow!”. Now on any given day there will be on average 65,000-75,000 online. Again, just “Wow!”.

In my six years in Second Life I've seen people meet from half way around the world, fall in love, meet in real life, and make it work. I’ve witnessed the growth of virtual support groups and learning centers. I’ve both witnessed and personally experienced extreme acts of kindness and generosity given to “friends” in a virtual world shared so closely, where yet the real world separates them by hundreds and even thousands of miles.

Residents of Second Life span the globe and their charitable interests are expressed accordingly. Funds have been donated in large quantities not just for RFL, but also for the relief efforts of Katrina, Haiti, Japan, Abused Women, education, Mobility, and various other charitable organizations. Our first year in working with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life, citizens of Second Life barely raised $100,000 USD. Yet that amount was considered a significant achievement brought about by merely a bunch of virtual gamer geeks. The past two years Second Life RFL teams raised over $2.5 MILLION USD each year. Again, just “Wow!”.

In six years here in this Second Life I’ve also witness heartbreaking sadness and acts so inhumane rage and disgust can’t even begin to express accurately. Negativity and evil exists in the real world just as surely as it does in a virtual world. It doesn’t make it right or any less wrong. Human nature being what it is can we really expect others to behave differently simply because it is virtual? Not really. We are who we are no matter what platform or environment we choose to represent ourselves and interact with others. Evil, in what ever context you wish it to be, simply is. We acknowledge it, avoid it if we can, and move on.

Being the perpetual optimist I try to not dwell on the negative. To quote another strong woman from a different era, yet just as equally virtual in its own sense for the time she was created, Ms. Scarlett O’hara once said “Tomorrow is another day!”

And yes it is. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

~sierra

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