Whether following the fantasies of Walter Mitty as he imagined heroic deeds or walking through a wardrobe to the entrance to Narnia, we have all followed prescribed journeys to other places, other situations. Now Second Life, one of the most recent and unusual of the MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role-playing games) allows the participant who assumes an “avatar,” or alternate, virtual personality to plan and construct “from scratch” with the electronic “primitives,” small atom-like building blocks available a virtual reality of scale, form and purpose of the avatar’s fancy.
All about Second Life is well-explained in the September 30-October 6 issue of “The Economist.” Second Life invites a transcendence not found elsewhere, and its nearly one million participants can thereby out -Walter Walter Mitty or experiment with electronic possibilities capable of realization in one’s “First” or "Real" Life.
One of the master minds behind the project envisions the day when the sound of mind will spend half of the day in such a virtual reality as Second Life. The social benefits, it is averred, are obvious. “[T]he act of creation is the act of being social” comments one.
Whatever their potential and compelling power to encourage participation, MMORGs such as Second Life offer a challenging alternative to uninspiring television, whether the now time-weary sit-coms or reality shows. What lies beyond the opening in the back of the wardrobe can be, and excitingly so, a Narnia of individual creation.
The creation is, of course, visual, not literary, of images, not words. And so, as some critics have already declared, we enter, but by electronic means, a new age of visual dominance when the old expression “I see what you mean” is no longer metaphor but an obvious reference to screened, virtual reality.