Wednesday, 26 March 2008

How should we imagine Second Life, the pursuit of theory

How should be we imagine Second Life in theory?

What frameworks should we deploy in trying to understand the very strange experience of social interactions on Second Life? The question of an intense one for political purposes, and for trying to understand how the metaverse will evolve.

The Unconscious in Second Life

We do things, think things, and act in ways in Second Life that are beyond our rational control. It is a way of interacting with the Internet that engages what we must consider to be the Unconscious. Even if we don't fall in love or have cyber sex of build dream homes in a virtual reality we must admit that other people do. That their behaviour in the metaverse can not be understood as a rational goal directed behaviour.

But the question is where does that unconscious come from, and how will if form Second Life.


We may take our lead from Freud and follow the psychoanalytic approach seeing the unconscious as a legacy from our infancy, a thing formed by the contact and conflict of culture and biology.

This unconscious as defined my theorists like Freud, Jung, and Klein is a place of anxiety, of evolved instinct, biological urges, and depressions which we try to gain some control of by playing with objects.

In this way the best way to view Second Life is a form of play with objects, and avatars are child identifications. That the play aims to resolve anxiety we may have.

If this approach is true Second Life will form as a kind of collective support system, a place to hide or even act out aggression. Second Life will be dominated by virtual sexuality and violence and business will have to account to this.


The other major theory of the Unconscious arises from Marx. A Marxist view of Second Life would stress that it is a structure form by the predominate economic interests of our time. I think the failure of bid business to make much of Second Life would count against a Marxist framework but over time we may see the space being more and more structured by key economic interests of the post-modern information world.

Over time Google and Microsft may form Second Life in to their image, and the area would express the laws and norms of Late Capitalism. Sexuality would be translated in to teasing for selling purposes, with companies presenting ever better and ever more expensive sexual gadgets for consumption and violence becoming like video games. Disney and Google will produce content in line with global popular media.

Foucault's framework would fit here, with Second Life being formed by the structures of knowledge and power of our time.

My own approach to understanding Second Life follows Lacan, Second Life is about the effort to assume an identity. Humans faced with the chaos of being seek identity in an image to establish mastery over their own bodies and selves, bur this image is always a failure.

What I see driving Second Life is the need to assume an image, and the failure of that image to fully provide the security and finality we seek.

I think business would best follow Lacan and invest in the stages of identity formation, providing structures that will server as selves and animations and locations where these selves can find others that support the selves.

And if anyone in Linden Labs is reading this, my email is I would love to talk to people in Linden labs and I live near Brighton in the UK. But maybe I am just being vain.
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