The Cages of our Guilt – Our relationship with money in Second Life – Part 2

This post follows the first post sharing the highlights of Wednesday’s Basilique chat salon about our relationship with money in Second Life. Every Wednesday I choose a topic, about a dozen people gather to discuss it over 2 hours. These are highlights of the end of that conversation.

Exerting control

What’s all this judgement about? Are we seeking to project our values on to others?

It’s not only projection, Becky.” Mona replied: “It’s also a desire within certain people to run other people’s lives.”

Gavin agreed: “it’s all about control to some.”

“I spend 100 Euro on knitting wool per winter, that’s normal, but my 100 Euro on SL isn’t in some people’s view? But is it the same?” asked Caitlin.

“Most would think it’s crazy,” I replied, “but then, they’d say the same about the time you spend no doubt.”

“I guess…” I wondered: “People have the same reaction to things like cigarettes or booze or other hobbies that they don’t understand the appeal of.”

“Or car tuning. Or football club attire.” added Mona.

“Knitting!!!” said Caitlin.

Personally, I don’t think this kind of judgement is specific to Second Life. It’s what we do when we don’t value the same things.

Caitlin agreed, somewhat: “No but the ‘virtual’ thing makes it scary for lots of people.”

Virtual value

The Original Sazerac

Caitlin’s comment made me consider other things that had ‘virtual’ value – or value that is purely imagined or created out of the act of consumption – and I remembered a recent experience I had at London’s Savoy Hotel.

“We’ve talked about guilt,” I said, “and if we should feel it or not when we spend money on things that others might not value. A couple of weeks ago. I went to the Savoy in London – very ritzy.”

Anton interjected: “That in itself should make you feel guilty.”

I’m wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. It doesn’t make me feel guilty, so I continued.

“On the menu, in the American Bar, was a cocktail for £5000. So my question is: should the buyer of that drink feel guilty? In other words, does it depend on the amount?”

“If you can afford it, pff why not?” asked Caitlin.

Don agreed: “The thing is… if you have the money to have it.. why not? 5K sterling pounds may be a lot of money for us… for a person making 100M a year… is not.”

“Ok, well let me tell you how I felt…” I continued, “My honest gut reaction: I thought it was obscene. But the main reason I thought that, was because I instantly thought of how many starving people who that might feed.”

Don echoed my sentiments: “the gut reaction is… one of those cocktails can feed several families for a month”

I asked: “So the question is it about what ELSE could be bought for that money?”

Mona answered: It could get a cancer patient a life-saving surgery.

“Or might fund a patient’s living expenses who has lost their income due to their illness.” I added.

“It’s the choice I guess,” I added, “it says something about someone I believe. About what they value.”

Ella answered: “It’s a great question, because it really gets down to the judgement issue – do we really feel that people can do what they wish – or is there a ‘right way’ to spend money.”

Breaking free from the cage

“I think it’s fascinating” said Ella about the topic as the night reached it’s conclusion, “and I think it boils down to a root cause I think it all at its core is about “playing it small” in our lives.

“We don’t allow ourselves, give ourselves permission to spend, to enjoy, to do what we want because of a fear of judgement. It’s an epidemic. I find it interesting that Mona was talking about micro transactions and I started out thinking that way too – it’s only $1, and another, and another, and I was purchasing freely, until… I reached a point that it got real and then… I had to ask myself what is this for? Why am I here?

“And like Caity, I came down to the ‘to feel how I want to feel’, and like Don, I equated things to my RL and thought – I spend about $100 a month on other hobbies. And that’s what I’ve ended up spending in SL so far.

“But it’s funny – because Becky – you’ll have to fess up – you started to tease me that I have a problem – couldn’t stop purchasing, etc and there is this buyers guilt.

“I get it in RL too – I have given myself permission to make myself feel good, by any means possible, but still… when it’s indulgence, and not functional – I hesitate.

“It’s not how society raises us. We’re meant to outwardly do things for the greater good. So I find this whole conversation surprisingly tinged with guilt.”

“I didn’t expect it – but most people are justifying their expenses ‘it’s not that bad compared to RL’ etc and we don’t have to do that! I challenge us to not do that, because in a way it’s saying we’re not worth it that our time is not valuable that we can’ spend to make ourselves happy. I’m guilty myself, but I have noticed this is an alarming trend in both worlds – justifying to others and they too are playing it small because that gets them out of the way of judgement.”

I noticed that as Ella was speaking, the room sat listening, considering her words, perhaps agreeing inside.

Don broke the silence: “Ella, sometimes justification comes when you share the money with someone else… when the money is not just yours, you need to explain how it was (spent).”

“That’s true,” accepted Ella, “but then you need to be able to support your cause of what makes you happy with whoever you share with. undoubtedly they too want you to be happy (or that relationship needs looking at). And I’m not talking about spending outside your means. I just mean – we have a bazillion things we could buy – and why not SL stuff. So yes – that’s my take – we’re playing it small in our lives when we don’t step up to purchase the things we want (inside our budget). I am learning this one daily!”

Our developing relationship with money in Second Life

As I write this, considering everyone’s views, and reflect upon the comments I’ve received on the earlier posts on this subject, I’ve arrived at a view of how our relationship with money in Second Life develops over time.

It seems that many of us enter Second Life unaware of an economy. When we realise it exists, we may be staunchly unwilling to take part in it – some of us can avoid it for years. We might even judge others as irrational for participating. Over time, many of us come around. As we spend, we manage to justify that paying real money for something we enjoy is ok, even if it’s virtual. Some of us experience guilt, self-doubt, and even possibly some shame, regardless of our ability to justify it. Many of us cross the threshold of spending more than we might have expected. As we do, we see others in Second Life spending more and more, and realise that Lindens do, for many of us, make the world go ’round. The penny finally drops, and we realise that others have paid for many of the things we enjoy and take for granted. We realise that many people are spending much more money than we are, which provides further social proof that it is ok to increase our spending. Those of us that feel guilt, fear the judgement of other people for the same reasons we might have previously judged others. We try to overcome this sense of guilt and shame by comparing what we spend in Second Life to what we or others might spend in Real Life. If we share our Second Life with others outside of it, the challenge becomes justifying it to them. If we fail, or would rather not, justify it – we hide it, we keep it private. If we accept it, through either rationalisation, or as a result of truly valuing ourselves and standing behind our own decisions, we become comfortable with spending real money on virtual things, and enjoy the many fruits that real freedom brings.

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3 thoughts on “The Cages of our Guilt – Our relationship with money in Second Life – Part 2

  1. So it all boils down to priorities!! If purchasing in SL brings satisfaction then yes, don’t try to justify it. “I didn’t expect it – but most people are justifying their expenses ‘it’s not that bad compared to RL’ etc and we don’t have to do that!”

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  2. Regarding that “Original Sazerac”, I have a story to relate. Actually, it’s how my mother-in-law trolled one of their family friends. Some time many years ago, back in the ’80s, they had this friend, who was quite the snob. He visited their home once and they were out of “brand” whiskeys like J&B, Ballantine’s etc. They only had something cheap from the supermarket. So, she went to serve it to him, but he snubbed it, saying this is not a real whiskey and that he only drank J&B. So, she went back to the kitchen. She took an empty bottle of J&B they still had, but hadn’t thrown to the garbage, and filled it with the cheap stuff; I must note here that, back then, whiskey bottles didn’t have that plastic thing to prevent people from tampering with them. So, with the J&B bottle filled with the “nasty” stuff, she went to him and told him she found a bottle and so on. He drank it with joy, extolling its virtues, its flavour and its rich colour, attributes that the previous “el cheapo” whiskey didn’t have. It was then that she broke the news to him, making him look and feel like a complete idiot.

    So, while the description in the menu would have one believe that this particular cocktail would give your palate and each one of your taste buds a thousand orgasms per nanosecond, its intended clientele is so stupid that they could easily think a blend of battery acid, kerosene, cheap rum, red dye #2, rat poison, axle grease and juice from rotten potatoes is a top-flight vintage Châteauneuf-du-Pape, if you put it in the right bottle and gave it an obscene price tag.

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