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The Second Life Trap


Is my avatar really free?

I first logged into Second Life in April 2006, and in truth I wasn’t too impressed.  Since then my knowledge of Second Life has been determinedly second-hand, mostly from enthusiastic weekend broadsheets, anxious to impress, or the notorious Pop Bitch, a filthy e-rag that occasionally vomits diamonds into my inbox on a Thursday.

Last week my partner decided to try out Second Life (as a cultural experiment, you understand) and this has led to an avatar-as-time-share for the two of us. It quickly became clear to me that not much has changed.  Consumerism abounds, gambling, strip clubs, and all the aesthetics of bloated engenderment continue, whilst interesting enclaves appear increasingly off-limits.  This is barely worth reporting, save some insights afforded by Adam Curtis’ acerbic series of short films ‘The Trap: What happened to our dream of freedom’ on BBC 2.


Curtis examines the nature of modern liberty, and states that in an attempt to liberate us, Western governments have simply narrowed our choices and created a system where class and money mean everything.  In the final, most recent installment "We Will Force You To Be Free", Curtis focused particularly on the inheritance of Isiah Berlin‘s 1958 Two Concepts of Liberty.

I was particularly struck by the notion of Second Life as a form of actualised, and somewhat dehumanised Negative Liberty, in Curtis’ terms.  Democracy is not automatically rising through the individual cells inhabiting Second Life, and the ‘invisible hand’ of the Market is not driving the quality of my experience either.  In short, Second Life lacks meaning, and, I would argue, and the capacity for meaningful self expression.  Is my avatar really free?  Viva La Revolucion!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 28/03/2007 4:10 pm

    I can only comment on Second Life as an observer, not a participant, but it seems to me that your analysis touches on something quintessential about it, and a lot of similar virtual experiences. There is plenty of evidence that real, flesh and blood human beings seeking an escape from the inescapable reality of their lives (for whatever reasons)often find alternatives through substance abuse of various kinds. Is that perhaps what fuels a lot of Second Lives? Real, flesh and blood life seems to me so incredibly complex, surprising, beautiful and rich, I simply can’t imagine feeling a need to seek an alternative. Is it perhaps one of the greatest failings of our education system that so many people’s experience of what it means to be alive and adult, has left them so unappreciative, they feel a need to look elsewhere?

  2. 16/09/2007 12:55 am

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