Basically, if I were Second Life's girlfriend, I'd be saying to her right now about Mitch, "Look, he's just not that into you".
There often isn't an explanation for why somebody like Mitch -- a bit of a nebbish who used to write for mainstream computer websites, took up SL very enthusiastically and yet critically, then got laid off in the recession, then went on a diet and a self-transformation exercise and landed new jobs -- then goes and dumps SL. SL was useful for a time when he was trying to make a career and find interesting tech stuff that was hot to write about -- then it wasn't. (Like Eric ne Reuters Krangel who is now no longer visible at all in the entire Metaverse and may have gone to an ashram to meditate in India or is ice-fishing in Yakutia -- seriously, there isn't a tweet, a blog, a Facebook like -- nothing).
Mitch Wagner isn't somebody I could say I was much into myself. That is, at first I appreciated his enthusiasm and his critical and informed writing (he was never a fanboy like Hamlet), but I was definitely creeped when he called me directly at home once to pursue an interview (inworld just "wasn't enough" with those anonymous avatars), and then drilled me to explain why I changed my gender in Second Life. The question just felt...prurient. I answered very simply: "Because I can." Apparently that wasn't titillating enough for the little nerd, and he sort of wrote me off.
Where I really parted ways with him was when I saw once on a Facebook wall that he was reacting with hysterical fury at what he said were mean-spirited and unacceptable comments on one of his articles online. I went and looked at the comments, expecting to find goatse links and outrageous obscene and nasty comments of the sort that I got on my blog. Instead, I found just normal and mild disagreement from some geeks who saw some software issue differently. I told him off on Facebook -- he was being too thin-skinned. It just wasn't right. Journalists serving the public interest like this shouldn't be this way. He got into even more of a road rage, and de-Facebooked me, which means that my comments ceased to exist. I find such behaviour stupid and infantile. He then started in with the net-nannying, wagging his finger and telling me that "in his living room" I had to "behave". Well, fuck that shit, I'm not in your goddamn livingroom you nerd. I'm on your fucking Facebook wall with tens of thousands of people. You are a public figure. Act like one. Have some accountability here. You've been called out as too thin-skinned. So grow a pair. There was nothing wrong with those comments -- and if you don't like comments, well, work for bosses that don't allow comments, I guess, or else ignore them.
There was another thing that used to annoy me about Mitch Wagner -- he would always insist on teleporting to me in person, and talking in voice, whenever I dealt with him inworld, just for a chat. That was awfully cumbersome and sometimes felt intrusive. It was a pain in the ass to have to fire up voice; it was annoying to have to try to teleport or be stuck on a parcel trying to talk.
Like most people with a land business to attend to, I have to flit around from place to place doing chores and trouble tickets and maintenance, but even when I am "idling," I prefer to sit on my lovely porch in Mongolia and chat on IM, not in person much of the time. I find a lot of people I regularly converse with in SL, sometimes even with long philosophical conversations, are like that too. They are in their house, and we are talking on the phone, as it were. They may have other people they are visiting with in their house; they may have 10 other IMs open as I do; they may be flying around and shopping and might suddenly urge me to come on a TP to see something -- but it's just how it is "played". I have no idea if most people "play" SL in "telephone" mode like that. I find that I NEVER use voice. I thought I would have to because I thought my customers would demand it - but they never do. The only time I use voice is with some people who are disabled or with some people for whom English is a second language or Russians. It is a chore to try to type Cyrrilic on the Latin keyboard (the letters are all in the wrong places) and the way SL renders the Cyrrilic is spaced out and annoying unless you get special viewers and fiddle with them -- so talking is just a lot faster. I don't like voice because the voice doesn't come out of my chest, it comes out of my RL head into a set of headphones lol. I've written extensively about that -- it means that I am yanked out of SL as if I am a headless zombie, instead of being inworld.
So I go into all this detail because I think some of this may have to do with Mitch's "just not being into you" Second Life. He's thin-skinned, and finds it hard to socialize with people who might criticize him and just wants his loyal friends who never disagree. In the rough and tumble of SL, that's going to make for a very narrow social life. He's also constantly insisting on personal visits and voice -- and that's a chore and a pain and also reduces your interface, in my view.
But he also has nothing to do because a) he has no job to do in SL, and that's what makes SL interesting and fun b) he doesn't apparently have any regular community he enjoys being with, i.e. a live music set or a club group or a regular event of some kind c) he doesn't seem to like exploring, which is half the fun of SL, i.e. travelling to the Egypt sims to see what's up there; checking out the brand-new Finnish sim which is cool; seeing what the Lindens think is cool on Destination and groaning, etc. SL is never boring. I never log off SL because "I'm bored". I log off because I have to do my RL work or chores or because it's a nice day outside.
The game-within-a-game of breedable pets is also something that I find fun and draws numerous people, but it wouldn't likely be fun for Mitch. I like breeding for the colours, seeing if I can sell them, watching the rares market, and just hanging around the farms and chatting with people about the different statistics and such -- it's like baseball. My top-selling item now is the set of fairy thimbles -- I get a huge kick out of making some little thing and marketing it and selling it. That holds people in SL very hard -- but Mitch doesn't make stuff and isn't interested even in decorating a garden. I have all my rentals to endlessly fiddle with as to their "look" but I also have my own little spaces I decorate with winter or spring or cooking or whatever. Again, the *solo* part of SL is just as much fun for me as the socializing. If I log on and don't see a single friend, it's a little bit of a letdown because there are things I'd like to discuss with them -- RL or SL issues -- but it's not as if I am crushed and have to log off or scour the world looking for new friends -- my solo activities keep me occupied and happy as well. I think this is just a set-up that comes from having properties, a business, people to serve, ideas for improving things, products, etc. It's a whole little ecology that I can't imagine living without in SL. If I had to log on and only consume and never create, or only patronize other people's businesses and not run my own, I might indeed grow bored.
I don't expect the world to become a nation of shopkeepers, although that's a good start for a nation, and a backbone of a nation, and the Lindens could have done a lot more to nurture this nation of shopkeepers than they ever have.
I do expect most people will not want to create or even shop or decorate but want a *relationship*. Trust me, if Mitch Wagner wasn't marrried in RL and saw SL as a place for dating, he'd be on there every night. Even if he just needed a male or female Platonic friend to talk work related issues with or other issues that his RL circle doesn't care about, he'd be there. But -- "he's just not into you".
I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that you can port Facebook and Twitter with you on the phone. Even those days I carry an i-phone around to various jobs or meetings, I don't spend much time trying to wrestle with tiny print on fiddly aps on a dinky keyboard to do all that -- it can wait. I might check email or send a pic to FB or if at an event, even tweet something, but I don't feel some urgent need to be trying to access the Metaverse of all the social media aps from my dinky Android. That Mitch does seems odd to me. That other people do seems odd. What is it these people are DOING if they are not at a desk in front of their computer, and not, say, at a work meeting where you have to focus on the people and documents in the meeting? What are they DOING if they are not in a restaurant with a friend or relative or co-worker talking live to that person? What STATE or PLACE is it that you would be poking at a dinky iphone screen? A bus-stop? To be sure, I see plenty of scenes in my neighbourhood -- the father on that "quality-time" play date with his kids thumbing his blackberry and tugging along whining toddlers; the parents both sitting and i-phoning in a restaurant while their little children pull each other's hair and break the restaurant crayons. Whatever happened to taking a crayon in your hand and drawing along with your kid in a restaurant, eh?
Now I will come to Pathfinder's goofy answer -- which is just Metaversal woo-woo. Basically, his answer is to say, just you wait, better tech is coming that will make it constantly immersive. Augmented reality! And not in the form of staring at your dinky phone (your larger i-pad?). But in special glasses! (I can't believe he's bringing back the VW goggles again lol -- priceless). Even if these glasses will be so special that I'd never trip over anything that wasn't there because they will be rendered in some..transparent or tiny or...something way -- they will still be a nuisance and probably many people will simply get nauseous from them.
You do realize that even these game manufacturers have said about their new 3-D games that young children shouldn't watch them or their eyes won't develop. Do you think anybody is really listening to that warning?
Mitch talked about how the "metaphor of the avatar in the landscape" just isn't workable. Well, if you've pulled your avatar out of the world by forcing voice, and you don't really have anything in the world in which you are invested -- a job, a relationship, an exploration -- well, sure, SL will seem like a postcard dotted with prims and a buzz-kill. It never feels that way to me -- I feel very inspired and awed when I see great things like the icebergs in Ice Bay off the coast of Refugio. When I come to that sim, I literally feel chilled. I literally feel like snow is crunching. I fly around and I feel exactly as I did when I saw a real glacier in Manitoba, and I don't feel fooled, inside some deep illusion, faked out, or crazy. I just feel like I'm in a simulation, and it works. It's not quite as good as walking out doors to the real snow in my neighbourhood and seeing kids having fun and feeling real snow. But it's good enough.
Indeed, one could go on a side trip about the brain, and perceptions, and how all reality is mediated and virtual anyway -- but that isn't really the point.
The point is that just like TV engages you in a story, so does SL. More so, because you can write the story yourself and put out the props.
People who don't like being an avatar in a landscape have a problem that I call "reluctance to avatarize". This is not a changeable condition. You either avatarize, or you don't. It's like being able to curl your tongue or taste that chemical -- you can or you can't. It's a complex set of factors, but it might only be some little thing, some lack of smoothness that fails for you.
What I think it's mainly about is performance fear. Some people fear being on stage, and SL brings that out in them. They hate dressing up and hate public speaking -- and SL makes you do that. It shouldn't hurt, as you are not yourself and not even with your name, but the old reflexes kick in.
Pathfinder tries to enthuse about this condition that in fact makes people not like SL and push it on them. "Lightweight social media platforms are like magazines. Virtual Worlds are like participatory theater," he gushes -- and a certain number of people in the audience are going to go "YUCK".
Who wants to be in participatory theater?! Not me. When I went to this Harold Pinter play a few weeks ago staged by the Belarus Free Theater, and my friend the actor and director greeted me at the door and stamped my wrist as if we were in an old-fashioned circus or rock club as "part of the play", and the actors seemed to come dangerously close to the audience at first spraying water around and so on -- I wondered apprehensively if this was going to be one of those performances where suddenly, an actor sits in your lap or comes up to you and asks for a line, or throws something at you -- you know the kind. And you're supposed to join in.
Nobody likes having that experience against their will. And saying SL is like that is a huge turnoff for most people who don't want to participate in a theater -- they want to watch.
Unfortunately, SL throws you into stage fright from the first step. I see two kinds of people in SL at the newbie stations. Some come in already dressed -- they've just opted to take a pre-made avatar or they've managed to pull on some clothes and they are very hastily and quickly scampering around looking at everything. I never understand why newbies move so fast that way -- why don't they linger? But these kinds of people are usually young males, and they burn through content like Sherman through Georgia. You cannot stop their fast movements and it's hard to keep them to stay. Some of them scour whatever is available in the first hour, can't get attached, and drop out never to return. Others burn out after a month.
Then I see women, and some men, struggling in appearance mode. These are avatars terribly worried about "how they look". They struggle needlessly -- because nobody is really looking. You wish they'd get over themselves and enter the world. But they can't. They are having trouble avatarizing.
Some of my new customers who are very new newbies but have somehow gotten themselves into a rental -- no mean feat, given all the forces arrayed against them of poor search, griefers, the wonky currency buying system -- are TERRIFIED of what someone will think or doing something wrong.
They ask me lots of questions that all amount to this: How do I look? How does my house look? Have I done anything stupid?
SL brings out the WORST fears in that regard for some people and you have to work hard at reassuring them.
SL is not fun when people have stagefright. It's not fun when they've been dragged into participatory theater. They hate it. They hate it so much, they leave. Or they live for awhile in this unhappy state, then log in less. With his Copper Robot program, Mitch likely didn't have a "stage fright" problem per se, but I think he just didn't really avatarize and participate in the theater.
After all, even though I personally don't feel I'm at all in some "role play" or in some "theater," if I weren't willing to just keep rolling with all the other stuff I see there -- people dressed up in all kinds of furry, elf, fairie, ghetto, mafia, etc. outfits and assuming those lifestyles -- I wouldn't enjoy SL. SL requires a very high water mark of tolerance for other people's thing. It's not even things like having to babysit somebody's vampire babies or tell a dragon to stop breathing fire on the other customers, because most people aren't that exotic. Most people are "norms" even if younger and sexier "norms".
But because they come from all over the world, literally, and from every walk of life, literally, they are definitely not going to be in my comfort zone. Their political views, cultural tastes, levels of education are going to be wildly different. Indeed, if we didn't have chicken eggs to talk about, we might be at war.
Mitch is bored and jaded with the SL round that didn't give him the sort of career injection that it gave Beyers Sellers or others who have used the virtual life as a kind of resume-builder. But Pathfinder's prescription is -- again -- goofy if not sinister (I didn't get into the brain pathways stuff he'd love to be hooking up to virtuality with nanobots and stuff). Says this former Linden, "The trick, of course, is for someone to make participatory theater a lot easier to jump into."
Well, no. Not at all. No, no, no, in fact. Because many people don't avatarize well. They don't like being in participatory theater. They do not want a faster jump; they don't want any jump at all.
So what to do? Stop trying to cater to those who don't want to be in a large participatory theater experiment?
Or make more peep holes? It's been noted that machinimas on Youtube get more views and traffic than SL parcels do and SL itself. The Treet TV and other TV programs have a very enthusiastic audience, and I see my customers watch this stuff for hours as they hang out at a welcome area or at home. You would think it would be highly nerdy to be enthralled by what two avatars are saying on an avatar talk show or watching avatar hockey or avatar live music, but they have their fans. Perhaps not quite enough to make it financially viable really, but engrossing enough.
Avatar-in-a-landscape doesn't work as a metaphor for some people like for me the scene of me-at-the-Grand-Canyon doesn't work for long. Yes, it's fun to go once or twice to the Grand Canyon and look at it. Or hike around it. But every day? Forever? It's big, and it gets boring. Unless I had something to DO there -- even just keeping my campsite and meals going or reading a book or something -- it could be unbearably dull.
I continue to think that the solutions to making SL more open have to do with celebrating more the creativity of the entire user base, not just the official creative geeks and designers feted by the Lindens. So that means people who have prim pregnancies and have prim babies and make families. There's a terrible resistance to this by the sophisticated metrosexual bunch, but I don't care. I see that babies and pets are what people want more than anything, after they are set up for playing house with a loved one and playing store with some friends, too.
I suddenly realized the other day that these things aren't fantasies. They aren't "unreal". They are simulations. They are simulations that people are carrying out quite conscious that they aren't the real thing, and that they aren't a substitute for the real thing. They are literature. But of the Novotar sort, i.e. the avatar-as-novel. To be sure, they are cheap pulp fiction, but fiction that is not fantasy in some ill sense all them more. In fact, literature isn't really the way to describe it, either. Maybe it's something new (although I'm loathe to posit anything new for human nature).
The simulated families online are ideal forms of the broken families that don't exist any more and can't exist anymore in real life. They are the kinds of families that people in prisons and institutions for the mentally ill make, and people in ghettos and oppressive countries make in the form of mafias. These families are generated perhaps from dysfunctional states of lack of real relational ties that sustain, but that doesn't mean that they are necessarily "sick". In fact, there is an enormous amount of exhuberance and joy in these families. Just read the stories on people's avatar life pages. People go to great lengths to tell you who their mother, father, sister, brother, and babies are in SL. Breedable pets are just an even better way to express all this because it gives you something to do with your family.
What do people talk about when they have simulated families online? Well, they might talk about their RL day, but they also just talk about what knits them together in the avatar landscape, and they seem perfectly happy. If you can't see what could keep people happily logged on to a sim for an hour at a farm talking eggs, I guess you never heard men talking football. It's inane -- unless you're into it.
It reminds me of Elwood Dowd (in the Sims Online, the Sim Arts gentleman who took the name of the famous character from the play "Harvey"). In Second Life, he had a different image and name, Oliphant. I remember companionably sitting for Elwood for an hour many evenings. We wouldn't even really talk much. We would play the job objects like chess or pool, we'd make the dinners and clean up, we'd chat perhaps about something Maxis was doing or some other player gossip, and it was very enjoyable. I don't conceive of those times as "avatars in a landscape" in boredom; I conceive of them as rich, companionable moments of felicity. The moment when I could invite Elwood to my simulated Cafe Americain where I was finally able to afford the piano, and he was able to sit down and play at a high level because he'd skilled up -- well, it was one of the highlights of my online avatar life that ranks up there with seeing my RL son play the piano in a recital or seeing one of the really talented kids play at the parish concert every year.
Whether it is the game gods or ourselves who supply the props for those moments, there is some other ingredient that explains why people want virtual worlds. I don't know the name of that ingredient, although perhaps it is "the world of all possibilies".