Second Chance at Second Life
In my online life I've never felt a need to lay everything out on the table as did poor Stewart in Turkle's "Aspects of the Self" (pp. 193-209). I remember reading a book of correspondence of Flannery O'Connor, and she recounted how a fan wrote to ask her how much she weighed and what she looked like. Her answer was "300 pounds, and I have one good tooth!" I always thought that was about all the information I was willing to provide the online community. I've never had advanced enough technology to be part of an on-line interactive game--so I can't say that in the context of a fictional situation that I would assign myself attributes that were painstakingly accurate to my personality. I could see creating an avatar that is younger, hipper, stronger than me--but it would depend upon the game and what the goal is--or at a deeper level what my goal is in playing the game.
I think the idea of working out problems with games is fascinating and Turkle's commentary about who is helped (Gordon, Matthew) and who isn't (Stewart) is interesting. I do think that Stewart's illness may have had something to do with his glass-half empty outlook on his real life. These were all college students kind of working things out, though. I wonder if Turkle had any case studies on older subjects, Mr. Bungle the dirty clown of indeterminate age notwithstanding (Turkle, p. 251-252).
My computer at work did not allow me to download any of the SL software, but I was able to see the contest winning trailer/ad and some of the photo galleries of characters created by members. As the CNN/Fortune article (Kirkpatrick) mentioned there are "lascivious fantasies" being indulged as well as, apparently, real estate fantasies being realized in real dollars. While the concept is initially compelling, and there are no doubt pockets of brilliance, I had to wonder how much time it takes to set up and control a parcel of the cyber-American dream. Also, I did attempt to create a (free) avatar, and noticed that my choices were almost exclusively young ("many avatars appear buff, invitingly dressed and about 20-years old." Kirkpatrick) and white--so much for diversity. I guess that is only available if you subscribe. But making diversity desirable is a step forward.
The mix of commerce and entertainment in SL did have a mall quality about it. Turkle was wise to compare malls (new versions of main street) and virtual main streets. I worked for a time at the Mall of America. When I interviewed for the job, the manager asked me why I was attracted to that location. I told them that I thought the Mall was kind of like its own community-- a town even-- and I wanted to see how the store would fit into that community. I love the mall for a lot of reasons, but I was dead wrong about that one. There may be mall groups and sub-groups, both those who frequent the mall and those who work there, but there is no community per se.
If I were to enter the SL world, I think what would most hold my interest would be building things ($$) and interacting with other participants. I enjoy games where I'm building communities, growing crops, or solving problems. Don't enjoy killing people or foiling the progress of other players. All in all the allure of a second chance with a new personae is compelling, but I think I would always wonder whose problems I was helping to solve under false pretenses on the other end. Perhaps it doesn't matter--that there is such a thing as virtual truth. I enjoyed Gordon's revelation in his trip to India that he was not forever doomed to be friendless. That was a real life-second life.