When you’re in a virtual world, it’s not just your avatar, it’s not just the storyline. It’s the furniture in the room, it’s the building around you, it’s the trees you see. That’s what makes immersion possible; that’s what i create, an environmental space.
These are the words of Isla Gealach, known throughout Second Life for her in-world brand of Cheeky Pea, which open the 34th segment of The Drax Files World Makers. But this is not simply an examination of another’s creator’s on-line life and activities in Second Life; anyone who is familiar with this outstanding series of video shorts by Draxtor Despres will know there is far more of a story to tell here.
While Isla’s creative is a focus of the segment, it shares the time very much with her physical world life, because the two share an inseparable intertwining which demonstrates that – contrary to idea that our on-line lifestyles are increasingly isolating us from the “real” (whatever that is) – there are situations and circumstances which occur every single day where people who know one another on-line are drawn closer together, and that that for some, it evolves into a relationship which spans both the virtual and the physical.
For Isla, this is clearly demonstrated in her relationship with Ewan Mureaux. Starting out as colleagues collaborating together on Second Life products, Isla designing and creating them with Ewan scripting them whilst also working on SL land deals, the two of them struck up a friendship which eventually led to a real-life meeting which evolved into a relationship spanning both the physical world and the virtual.
In some ways, their story almost sounds like an office romance, with both Isla and Ewan noting that the time they spent working together was as natural as being colleagues working together in the same environment, even if they were actually miles apart and (at that time) only seeing one another through their digital personas. Like work colleagues, they came to know one another working together and that naturally lead to spending time in-world together at social events, and so things grew between them, just as relationships naturally grow between people in any aspect of the physical world.
Given this background, both Isla and Ewan are keenly aware of how digital relationships inform us differently when compared to those occurring purely in the physical world; a fact which can lead to people reaching a greater depth with one another than might otherwise be the case. “Second Life can cut through societal constraints,” Ewan notes, “And it gets more to the heart of who you are.” Isla then adds, “You get a feel for the personality first.”
It is this ability to make emotional connections which can be as genuine as anything we experience through any other medium, which Isla sees as the real power behind Second Life. It’s a view I agree with fully, because above everything else – the democratising of content, the freedom of creative expression, the myriad of things we can find to do in-world – ultimately, Second Life brings people together. It doesn’t matter if this is as friends, companions, or lovers, as couples or in groups; the platform allows us to form relationships and connections with other which are quite unique and with the power to outlast anything which might be experience through less immersive on-line social environments.
Within this broader story, we do also gain insight into what it means to be an effective successful creator in Second Life. And contrary to the hype which spread about the platform being a place of instant riches which grew up around Second Life back in 2006/7 and which did much to fuel its rapid growth, the reality is far different – as every content creator knows, and Isla encapsulates perfectly:
The illusion that I sit around in my pyjamas all day and eat cake and look at the sky and get inspiration is … not true. My job requires a lot of self-discipline, which I never thought I was capable of. I’m working from the time my daughter goes to school to the time she gets home, when i have to spend the time with her, doing her homework. Sometimes, when I’m on a deadline, I’m working until she wakes up! I don’t have that luxury of not completing things.
However, it is in the way in which Second Life has the power and ability to hugely enrich both our virtual and physical lives where this segment retains its power. Isla and Ewan’s relationship is almost a personification of the ideal that Second Life is a “shared experience” – although not at all in the manner the Lab might have imagined when applying the term to the platform.
Between them, and with Isla’s daughter, who gets to participate in the creative process as well, Isla and Ewan demonstrate very clearly home the platform can bring people together, presenting new opportunities for them to grow on both sides of the digital divide. In this, they are not unique among Second Life users, and there will be others watching this segment and identifying fully with it.
Such is the power of Second Life, that it really shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for the physical world as some who fail to understand the platform and those like it would all to quickly opt to dismiss it. The truth is that Second Life actually does more to eradicate the digital divide for many of us, allowing us free motion, from the physical to the virtual and back again, enhancing our lives in both. This is something Isla clearly understands and appreciates, as she notes in closing out the segment::
I think that in a world where virtual goods and services are becoming more and more important, we shouldn’t neglect excitement for the physical world in our kids. There are so many things you can do in your community; simple family walks, explore your town [and] its history.
At the same time, it’s not helpful to frame virtual reality as an escape. Because look, i live near Edinburgh, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I still love to go into Second Life, have fun and express my creativity. You can have a balance of both, right?
Given the subject matter of the segment, The Drax Files World Makers #34 takes a slight departure from previous segments. In part, it reverts to the approach to the early shows in the series in which he appears in his digital self, asking questions and providing an initial thrust to the video. However, with this segment, we also see a very subtle shift, as digital Drax is also joined by physical Drax.
By doing this, he adds a gently underlining of the central theme to the piece, again indicating how, for many of us, our identities – physical and virtual – are one in the same, with each informing and enriching the other.
Note: apologies to subscribers who may have received multiple notices about this post, some of which may have had invalid links when clicked. WordPress SNAFU’d on me when first published, and caused additional issues when trying to correct.