What if… in Second Life

What if?
Imagining the impossible

When we both lived at home, I’d sometimes sneak into my brother’s room, and specifically his comic book collection, to sample the treasures he hoarded there. He was a fastidious collector, keeping every precious comic book in a mylar bag with alkali-buffered backing boards, placed in vertically stacked, acid-free boxes, archived by title and date.

One of my favourite titles was the “What if” series, published by Marvel, exploring how the history of the Marvel Universe would have unfolded if key moments in its history did not occur as they did in mainstream continuity. Alternative realities the series explored included questions like: What if Captain America became President? – an invitation to run that he declined; What if [Spider-Man’s] Uncle Ben had lived?; and, What if Tony Stark and Victor von Doom had been involved in a body switching incident at an early age?

I imagine these titles would have served as fun challenges for the writers, who would have necessarily needed to immerse themselves in the mental gymnastics required to consider the consequences of alternate history, forcing them to break with assumptions that had come to form the universe in which they were immersed.

In virtual worlds like Second Life, we similarly have long become accustomed to rarely questioned conditions (decided at some point in history by Linden Lab to be features of the platform), that those of us with Second Life experience now take for granted.

I was reminded of this when reading Loki Elliot’s post asking what we’d be willing to sacrifice for the next VR platform. In it, he suggests: with an opportunity to re-invent a virtual world, Linden Lab might be in semi-blue-sky mode whilst dreaming-up their next virtual world, reconsidering all sorts of features that we have come to know and consider “laws”:

If you go back to the beginning of Second Life, the whole thing was simply an experiment at first. A big massive ‘WHAT IF WE DID THIS?’.

So, for a bit of fun and inspiration, I’ve devised some questions that I’ll be exploring as thought experiments in virtual worlds – via this blog, comments, and through chat salons at the Basilique. Here are some of my questions, some possible, others fantastical:

What if avatars aged and died?
What if we could experience all our senses in virtual worlds?
What if there was no teleporting or flying?
What if the landscape of virtual worlds was connected like it is in the real world?
What if sims where set to the owner’s local day cycle, season and weather in the real world?
What if alts where impossible?
What if our real life and virtual life identities were transparent between worlds?
What if we all looked just as we do in real life?
What if the virtual economy was as practical and relevant as the real world economy?
What if our avatars had physiological needs?
What if our avatars could mate with other avatars to produce new avatars?
What if the virtual world mirrored the real world in terms of geography and topography?
What if we had to abide by real world laws, and were subjected to real world sanctions for breaking them?
What if we could freely share, rent, gift and will our virtual possessions after we payed for them?
What if the virtual worlds and the real worlds were switched in terms of importance to our lives?

As I consider these questions, I’ll be looking at them from an objective perspective. I’ll aim to avoid judging whether the alternate reality is a “good” or “bad” thing – and instead try to imagine (ideally collectively), what the consequences of such alternate conditions might be.

I may, as time passes, change, add or drop some of these questions from the discourse. If you have any similar questions that you’d like to me/us to consider, please add them in the comments below! I hope this series inspires a few reply posts too!

10 thoughts on “What if… in Second Life

  1. What if my SL avatar had AI, became sentient, and lived her life independent of me? What if my mind could be uploaded to SL to inhabit my avatar after I die? I have a fascination with the possibility of everlasting life in VR. The question is, would I want that? Also, how would I feel about my avatar having a mind of its own? Would I force my values and beliefs on her as “my creation?” Basically, would I go all Dr. Frankenstein on her if she tried to resist me? Questions of ethics abound. Good topics for consideration.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The roleplayers usually have a set of ‘rules’ or preferences/hard limits shown in their profiles for their game of ‘what if’s. Even if it is just for fun, many gamers cannot go through the trauma of seeing their characters dying. Whenever they bring their character to life with a story, it can be heartbreaking to part with them. A story of origin and some kind of realism helps to identify with the character.

        Other senses are emoted, because it becomes a richer experience to involve the illusion of scents, temperature, touches. I think it is a good thing to add these nuisances in writing though, because it is more flexible this way. If SL was closer to the experience of RL, I believe there would not be too much of a difference worth ‘escaping’ into it. You would depend more on circumstances than your own brain. I think why SL works the way it does can be explained by the imperfections. Our brain works around it. Completes the picture. The same way as most people prefer a book to a film… I recently posted on Facebook that most photoshopped SL art freaks me out. Because when done badly it leads you into uncanny valley. Not a comfortable place to stay at.

        Going back to more words on ‘writing’ your emotes. It can lengthen and deepen the experience even in rl. For instance biting into a fruit…. feeling how the juices trickle down your throat, the scent of it filling your head. How you swallow and bite again, unable to stop. Maybe next time you bite into a peach in RL… you will take a bit more time to appreciate the reality of it… Or it is a way of remembering a good moment that already happened, recalling that nice moment and trying to share it with a phrase. You say I could do that with just daydreaming, which is also true. However the mind does need a bit of help to focus. And SL acts like some sort of guiding platform. But most importantly it brings more minds together, and lets you to collaborate on such moments. Which is an awesome experience when likeminded people meet.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I can see how roleplaying might bring some of these questions to bear. I’m not sure, however, if making SL more similar to RL would reduce its escapist quality. For example, a movie or book about a completely different real life than mine (whether set in the present or the distant past) yet still set in the real world, is no less escapist than a science fiction story that bears little resemblance to real life at all. In fact, at this moment, I’m struggling to imagine a story that has no resemblance to real life – and am coming up short. For that same reason, I don’t think that the things we can do in SL (like teleport, or fly, or have ageless avatars) make it any more escapist, or that it would necessarily be any less escapist if we didn’t have those things.

          What enables us to escape anything – whether it be a physical or mental condition – is our minds. Our minds don’t change as a result of being able to do things we can’t in RL, our minds (and everything we bring with them – all the creativity, imagination and the limitations) remain with us until we choose to change it – which we can do regardless of the circumstances and laws governing our bodies – be they virtual or physical.

          This is why role play works at all. Your character isn’t really dying, apart from the sense that it is dying in the minds of the players (including yours), just the same way it never really lived, apart from living in your imaginations. There’s nothing less meaningful in that – it’s just different. Similarly, one’s creativity needn’t be bound by the limits imposed on what you can do – in fact, having more limits increases the challenge to be creative, in order to circumvent those limits and still achieve one’s desired outcome.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this!!! I read your statements and asked myself the same “What If” questions… I then found myself looking at The Sims computer game. I have been a long long player of this game and it is a nice break from Second Life when I feel the need to get away. You age and die their and can create and do things on a more realistic basis. The Sims 4 came out and everyone complained that it lacked everything we found to be the normal in The Sims 3. They didn’t give time for expansion packs or updates they just expected it to be amazing right from the start. I think we put way more into our Second Life self than we would The Sims; however, I think all of us would feel the exact same lack of luster if Second Life changed their new platform not to include some of our favorite luxuries that we have come to know. My main question is though… What if I never started playing Second Life and never experience or learned what I have… what kind of person would I be now without it? ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must admit, despite having never played The Sims, I did have some of its game mechanics in mind when I was imagining these questions. Tell me, did they drop some of these lifelike mechanics with the move The Sims 4?

      On the subject of LL’s next gen virtual world – I have no doubt things will be very different – as different as apples are to oranges! If they weren’t planning something very different, then why create a whole new world for it? Why not solely continue to upgrade Second Life as they’ve done for the past 11 years?

      Another reason I think it’s going to be an orange to Second Life’s apple, is due to their assurance that they will aim to keep Second Life around and continue to develop it as long as it is viable. That’s the equivalent to polishing the apple. Why would they also invent another shinier apple whilst they polish the current apple, when they can invent an orange?


    2. On your last question, I wanted to reply separately to that. I think that’s an excellent question – and worth writing a whole post about! If you take a stab at it, I’ll reply with my own 🙂


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