The Real World: Do Virtual Lives 'Count' ?

Illustration for article titled The Real World: Do Virtual Lives 'Count' ?

By now everyone's probably heard about the couple who divorced after the husband's virtual infidelity in the computer game "Second Life." Obviously, getting involved in these games can have real-life consequences. But for some people, the fantasy becomes reality in a good way: some virtual designers and entrepreneurs are moving into the real world — a bizarre reversal that has some people questioning what "success" really means.Take virtual fashion: lines like Simone!, Insolence and Shiny Things have given their designers significant exposure without the expense or labor of real startup. And lest you think it's just shut-ins and pretend people admiring their labors, think again: real designers are well aware of the virtual fashion, and Armani and Gaultier have both set up shop in Second Life. American Apparel, unsurprisingly, has long been supplying virtual shiny leggings to virtual shoppers. As designer Peter Lokke told last year, "when I found out how expressive I could be in Second Life and that I retain copyrights for the things I make, I knew I was in Second Life to stay." He even found his business partner - whom he's never met - online. There are numerous sites telling people how to get started as a virtual designer, begin a line, open a "boutique." Of course, plenty of the designers restrict their creative impulses to Second Life, and even if they make money within the program, it's probably more of a sideline. This is cool, and if it's an easy way for people to share creativity in a way they otherwise couldn't, it seems great. The question, of course, is always whether virtual design - like virtual instruments and sports - takes up energy that could go into the real thing, and isn't really a substitute for it. For, say, an adult with a day job it seems like a wonderful pastime. But might a teen with design aspirations not get a better apprenticeship - or better grounding for a real-life career - some other way? Does becoming a celebrated virtual "designer", and seeing the rare success stories that arise from these programs, diminish the real difficulties and challenges of making a career? Or, to the contrary, is it merely expanding the horizons and possibilities for young people? It's probably too early to say, and more to the point, probably a little of "all of the above" given the booming popularity of the game. What was striking about the Second Life divorce is that, while, yes, the people involved had physically beautiful avatars with more glamorous lives than their own, in essence this had nothing to do with the split. It was a vehicle to act out their estrangement, yes, but the couple's very real alienation and marital problems came first. At the end of the day, it was still real people acting in very human ways. Probably the same is true of virtual entrepreneurs and designers - if you can make it there, you'd make it in the real world. Maybe not as big or as easily, but work, imagination and initiative can't be manufactured. Become a Fashion Designer in Your Second Life [Fashionista] Oh Dave, sex with you in cyberland is unreal [Times of London] Starting a Second Life Business []


Real conversation with my dad the other day:

Pantsless, did you know, there's these *other world* video games, and you create an *avatar* and people can make a real living selling stuff in the *virtual world*?

He said everything in such wide-eyed disbelief. I like it when baby boomers discover what goes on in teh intertubes. :)