In case you found your way here more or less by accident: This is a story about Second Life addiction. Second Life (TM) is a virtual world created by Linden Lab in which people from all over the world interact as avatars. (I won’t link to it here, but you will have no difficulty finding it if you want to.) If you’re still interested, please bear with me for a moment while I share some choice bits from my Second Life chat log (“RL” in these quotes refers to “real life”):
DS: I need to get some rl back.
DS: just bored…thinking about doing RL today!
LE gasps in horror
DS: how about you?
RW1: Miss D, RL is severely over rated 😉
RW1: And you run the Risk of a Blue Screen if you try to do to much in RL 🙂
CP: I’ve taken to pointing at doors in RL… nothing happens, though.
DR: so … you’ll be first in line when they finally find a way to upload yourself?
DP: yep……waiting to delete my RL…..lol
DR: keep a backup
EG: I already have D lol
RG: entering a building in rl ..takes off sunglasses and says ..’ Give me a minute to let things rez” …sighs.. I might be a addict
ER: RL? What’s that? 😉
DR: some game I used to play.
RW2: I still think we’ll meet a TRON like person here
MH: what is TRON?
DR: great movie
RW2: 80s classic
RW2: the RL user gets sucked into the computer
MH: oooh…..pick me pick me!
AN: RL is a nice game, still got some bugs and isn’t fair sometimes but the graphics are cool xD
CN: I quit RL I stay here
And lastly, one of my favourites:
DR: RL isn’t running anymore on my machine… I must have borked the installation somehow.
Incidentally, to find these quotes, I imported my first chat log file, which ran for about 9 months, into Word. The resulting Word doc has more than 7500 pages, single-spaced. These quotes are collected from about the first 250 of those.
The point? Well, evidently jokes about RL and how we as SLers tend to lose touch with it are very much part of our conversational currency. I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of jokes before. SL is addictive, much more so than RL, it appears. Contrary to other kinds of addictions, though, SL addicts don’t live in denial. We freely admit that we’re addicts. We even joke about it. Or could it be that the joking itself is some strange form of denial? You be the judge.
Some of us at least know that behind all this banter, being addicted to SL is anything but a joke. Take the guy whose name I have abbreviated as “RW1” in one of the above dialogues, for example. He has long since left SL after basically living in it for a year or so. He spent lots of time here, got deeply involved with a woman who was as addicted as he was and had lots of other problems of her own, suffered more than his fair share of drama and was, by the time he left, within a hair’s breadth of leaving RL too while he was at it. Thank God he decided to renew his RL subscription after all.
I don’t know a lot about his personal life outside of SL, so I have no idea how everything he experienced here affected him there. I do know, though, that in my own life, those moments when I was closer to being suicidal than at any other time in my life were connected with my SL addiction; so I can’t blame him.
It’s time to tell the story. I’ve procrastinated on this long enough. So here’s how I became a SLunkie.
We had some friends over on a Sunday in the fall of 2006, and one of them happened to mention a magazine article about Second Life he’d been reading. He said only a few words about it, but I knew instantly that I would have to check it out. What he said sounded like something I’d been waiting for since I didn’t know when.
I’m working from home as a freelancer. Many of my friends envy me that, and it sure has its perks; but there are some drawbacks, too. One of the major perks is that there is no boss around and you can work whenever you like. One of the major drawbacks is that there is no boss around and you can work whenever you like. It’s nice to be able to pace yourself, but it’s not always easy to do. Sometimes, when you don’t feel like working or when some other fancy strikes you, it’s dangerously easy to tell yourself, heck, one day off can’t hurt you, right?
I was tempted to do exactly that on that Monday after my friends’ visit. First thing in the morning, I found the SL web site and created an account. I was prevented from squandering the whole day though by a downtime. In those days, whenever there was a server update or anything to be fixed by the grid monkeys, all of SL was taken offline. They used to announce a six hour downtime, but usually they had to extend it a couple of times until things were running smoothly again (which of course they never did). For SL to be offline for eight hours or so was not uncommon.
That’s what happened on that Monday. I created my account in the morning, but SL gave me plenty of time to do my day’s work before I finally was able to log on for the first time in the late afternoon. That was the last day I did any work for quite a while.
Not that very much happened on that first evening. I found out how to move, how to dress, how to change my appearance, all the basic stuff that you need to master in the beginning. Still, it took me a few hours until I stopped bumping into walls and falling off cliffs and until my avatar looked sufficiently individualized to my untrained eye. It was way past midnight when I tiptoed into the dark bedroom.
The next morning, as soon as my wife and the kids were out of the house, I was back in SL. This new virtual world was far too fascinating to give it a rest yet. And I couldn’t wait to get back in, because there was some little detail about how to make a shirt look right or whatever that had been puzzling me while I was falling asleep, and I just had to figure it out before I did anything else. Why not dabble with it a bit while I sipped my last hot mug of tea? So I did that. Before I had finished my tea, however, I found a tutorial display on Help Island that walked you through the different kinds of prims there are and some of the stuff you could do with them. I didn’t even think about whether I wanted to take the day off or not. I just started reading those displays and fiddling with prims, and before I knew it, the rest of my tea was cold and the morning was gone.
Now I know from experience that when I don’t manage to do the bulk of my day’s work in the morning, it’s too late to try and save the day; so my conscience gave barely a twitch when I went back to SL right after lunch. Heck, it’s only a day, right? What’s a day in the great scheme of things? I made my first couple of friends during that afternoon on Help Island, one of them a very resourceful fellow who had already figured out how to make himself a huge pair of wings. I learned a thing or two about building and attachments from him. Again, the light in my room was the last to go out that night.
The next day I wasn’t even pretending to myself anymore that I was going to do any work. So many things to see, to learn, to explore! That was the day I crossed over from Help Island to the main grid. I couldn’t wait to finally see those cities, those landscapes I’d seen on the pictures. I landed at the Isabel Info Hub, made some friends there and went exploring with them. I discovered the Shelter, which quickly became my favourite haunt in SL. And I discovered that SL is a very sexy place. Something deeply biological was going on inside me when I looked at all those beautiful lady avatars in their low-cut tops and short skirts; something that kept me on a permanent high while I was in SL and made the prospect of taking the deep plunge back into RL increasingly unsavoury for me.
And indeed that plunge became deeper and deeper with every day that went by. I think I went for two weeks straight without doing any work at all. Now one day may not be much in the great scheme of things, but two weeks do make a notch. By now the end of October was near, and with it the deadline for the project I was supposed to be working on. I was in trouble, and I didn’t like the feeling. So I called my publishers and explained I couldn’t meet the deadline. They were very nice about it. Sweet relief! It was a Thursday evening.
Right! Friday morning! Now back to work. Two months to go until the end of the year; if you keep at it and discipline yourself, there’s still a good chance you’ll get all the projects done that have to be finished before the Christmas break. Just a quick look who’s around in the Shelter while I sip my last tea… well, unfortunately I’m in Germany, PST+9, and when I come downstairs to my office in the morning, the Shelter is brimming with cool people from California partying the night away. Ah well, I won’t turn the ship around on the last day of the week anyway, so let’s get a fresh start on Monday. One more day won’t make a difference after all, right?
Well, if you know anything about procrastination, you know that Mondays are the best days for it. Monday is the day to start on a diet, says Garfield. There’s this glorious feeling that you have the entire week ahead of you, so it won’t matter that much if you cut yourself some slack today, will it?
I’m staring at the truth of what I did during those weeks and months and feel like abandoning this whole blog thing, both because it’s so damn hard to face it myself and because it’s even harder to imagine what you all will be thinking of me when you read it. I did do some work in November and December, but not nearly enough to get myself out of the mess I was in. I would start working, but after half an hour or so I would start fidgeting and fighting the temptation to log on. A couple of times I fought it off by reading a few forum posts instead or taking a look at someone’s Flickr stream. But inevitably sooner or later I would log on, and once I did that, it would be hours before I even made an attempt to get back to work.
During those weeks, when I met half of my usual daily quota of pages, it was an exceptionally good day. Most days I managed less. Some days – at least once a week I think – I got no work done at all.
By December, things had gotten desperate. I had long since been obliged to ask for an extension of the extension of the extended deadline, and for extensions on the deadlines for the next projects which should have been finished by now and I couldn’t even tell when I would be starting on them. Of course, hardly any money was coming in. My wife was understandably alarmed when she noticed the strange depletion of our bank account, which was all the more inexplicable as I spent endless hours each day locked away in my office.
What made me despair was the knowledge that I didn’t have any control over what was happening. So many mornings, I had gotten out of bed with a firm resolution to turn things around that day; so many nights, I’d crawled back in, much too late, beating myself up inwardly for having failed again. With every one of those days, my belief that it was in my power to get this habit under control crumbled a little more.
Shortly before Christmas, the last remnant of that belief died. I had enough. I was ready to quit.
(Continuing in Part II: Staying Hooked)