Monday, April 21, 2008

This is what its come down to?

Going into the computer lab to start my exploration of Second Life I was nervous. Not because of what I was about to encounter but because I would be playing second life for the first time outside of class in a public place filled with my peers. I logged on while looking over my shoulder to see who was behind me. I never thought I would be logging onto something like this. The first time I ever heard about Second Life was on a show that dealt with people who found relationships on Second Life that transferred over to real life girlfriends. I always thought this was a big joke and then I found myself sitting in the library computer lab at my school logging on to play for at least two hours. That’s exactly how I saw it, as playing. I saw nothing real in this experience for myself but within the next two hours I was to find out that other do not share the same feelings as myself.
I had been on Second Life for literally no longer then one minute when I was invited to a place called “Cupidus.” I was not sure what to do. I had no idea who the person was who had invited me to “join” them at this place, Cupidus. But I thought to myself “the instruction were to explore, so what could it hurt to accept the invitation?” I looked around for how to join this other person at their location and I found the button you use to transport yourself to the location you desire. The first thing I saw after I had arrived at the location was a naked woman on all fours. I was taken back for a second. There was the “woman” right at the doorway down on the ground on all fours with two options by her mouth and by her rear end. Both options offered sexual gratification. My first reaction after the initial shock had worn off was, “what the hell is this?” I looked around and surprisingly enough she was not the only one running around in their birthday suit. As I ventured further into this plaza I passed a half dressed women on a poll and no sooner had I walked past her then a naked man with his sails at full mast came crashing into me. Seeing naked women was one thing but now there was a completely nude man running around me for only God knows what reason! I turn around to try and find my way out and I almost walk directly into a man and women having sex in a position, I think only possible for an avatar, no matter how much yoga you do! Even more shocking was the amount of people standing there watching these two people in this virtual world engage in something I am not even comfortable calling sex but will at least acknowledge as some form of sexual activity. Upon exiting the plaza I found out that it was not only inside that they were peddling virtual sex but also outside! Outside you could buy a range of genitalia in all types of shapes, sizes and colors! The booth right next to that one was selling some sort of crazy fetish wear.
By this point I had been on Second Life for no more then ten minutes exploring it with out an instructor's guidance and had been exposed to an array of sexual content that surpassed anything I had experienced in my twenty-one years on this earth! I quickly searched around my options on my menu bar and transported myself out of there in a hurry. Upon leaving I was somewhat amused and disturbed by what I had just seen. On one hand it was amusing because it was funny to see these people running around butt-naked. But the amusement quickly turned to bewilderment. It made me question what this place really is. When I heard you could do anything here it didn’t think you could actually do anything! These people were engaging online in what was once seen as an intimate act between two people who deeply cared for one another. But now it is just another command you give on your keyboard for a figment of you imagination to act out with another, complete stranger’s imagined character. I found myself having a problem with this. The act of sex has already been degraded enough in today’s westernized world. STD rates are extremely high. With half the people in the US having diseases such as herpes and fifteen percent of births in the US being to teen mothers, which creates a hosts of problems for mother and child both in the physical and socio-economic realm. Do we really need another outlet portraying sex to the world in this matter-of-fact manner?
Upon leaving the world of sex called “Cupidus” I found myself on Welfare Island. Another place that I could get on a soap box about the negative stereotypes that this teaches to the advantaged player of Second Life in the US and around the world. This place associated welfare with the most dilapidated ghetto you could imagine. Most players, who live in the US and those who do not, probably do not know anyone who is on welfare and so now their only experience with this system is through a game, which I am slowly realizing people see as very real. It is bad enough that many places around the world see the US as a bastion of violence but now they see our welfare system as a joke. Welfare island was filled with people running around trying to get something for nothing, painting a picture that those who are on welfare do just that, get something for nothing. It was here that I saw an avatar running around with an automatic assault rifle. This made me recall what we had read about terrorism in the second life and set me out on a journey that would take up the majority of the hour I had left to explore second life. I was set out to obtain a weapon.
It was easy enough to find a weapons retailer. All I did was go to the search engine and search for a “guns” it brought up a list of places that sold weapons. I clicked on the first option given in the list and found myself standing in a mall of killing instruments. The shopping center was decorated with World War 2 era anti-aircraft guns. Surprisingly they made it relatively easy to find the specific firearm or weapon you were searching for. Right where you transport in they have a help desk. Everyone who obtains help from the help desk gets their own little floating head to take them around as they shop for their weapons of choice. You can have this little floating head help you locate weapons by intended use, dealer, and make. But I ran into one major problem when I tried to obtain an M16 A2 service rifle fully equipped with a scope and sling, just like those carried by my Marines in Iraq. Money, it costs money but I had none. I remember learning that you could put money on your account to buy items but I can hardly afford enough money on my access card to print out the readings for this class let alone to buy intangible objects in a fake world. So I decided to make contact with the natives for the first time. I enlisted the help of a gun toting man a few feet away. I asked him were I could locate an M16 A2. Much to my surprise he started spouting off a list of retailers that sold that exact rifle. But then I threw him a curve ball and gave him the stipulation that it must be free. He was unable to help me but suggested I go to another shopping center and I might be able to find one there.
It was back to the search bar where I located the second shop and the list and transported myself there. I arrived to an even more disturbing shop. Here you could not only buy an array of high-tech weaponry but here you could also buy uniforms that came with the appropriate arms. But I ran into the same problem. Money, I had none and all of these weapons were expensive. I saw another gun-toting avatar and asked him where I could locate free firearms. He said the only way I could get a free gun is by joining an army. An army, on Second Life? Apparently they do exist because he then sent me an application to a join and army on Second Life before he ran off to do only God knows what. I found this whole experience rather disturbing. Second Life allows those who do not want to participate in the real world a chance to withdraw further into their own world by creating avatars that act out their every desire as they attempt to exist in a world that does not. Not only are they retreating into their computer to live their lives while the world around them is slowly crumbling with the over fishing of the oceans, the destruction of many natural resources and global warming, but they are also learning about weapons and guerilla tactics in a world that holds no real consequences. Should we be afraid of what they are learning online? I think we should. We should also be worried about the amount of time put into this game instead of real life. I once heard an interview with a four-year-old who said, “I ONLY likes to play inside because that’s were the outlets are.”

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