Nightflower Reports on the Reality of Virtual Love & Relationships for NWN
“Hi. I’m Nightflower. And I’m a Second Life addict.”
No, I’ve never participated in a 12-step group for metaverse addiction. But just two years ago, I desperately needed to. My obsessive use of Second Life was tipping my real life frighteningly out of balance, and my marriage was stressed to the breaking point. I felt totally out of control. Granted, several well-known SL personalities have eloquently argued that there is no such thing as SL addiction (notably metaverse artist soror Nishi here and here). But I firmly believe that, for certain people, virtual worlds can be as all-consuming as any behavioral addiction -- and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Whether its MMO platforms like World of Warcraft, simple social games like FarmVille, or the wildly creative Second Life, mental health experts are beginning to recognize their appeal as potentially addicting -- even developing inpatient programs for their treatment.
So straight from the mouth of a recovering SL junkie, here are five signs that might indicate you’ve become addicted to Second Life:
1. You Fit The Clinical Signs Of Addiction
It was early 2008, at the height of my addiction, and I was doing research for a grant I was working on for a rehab center when I came across a list of signs of drug addiction. As I read, I substituted "Second Life" for "drugs"...and the result was terrifying:
- Use of [SL] as a way to forget problems or to relax (Yep)
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be important (um, check)
- Problems with work, poor performance or absences (check again)
- Changes in friendships, hanging out only w/friends who use [SL] (CHECK!)
- Failed attempts to stop using [SL] (tried twice)
- Mood swings (oh GO TO HELL! weeps)
- Changes in sleeping habits (sleep?)
- Feeling shaky or sick when trying to stop (I had panic attacks)
- Needing more and more [SL] to get the same effect (guilty)
- Changes in eating habits, including weight loss or gain (gained 15lbs!)
Admittedly, there are some substantial differences between a substance addiction and a behavioral addiction...but in the grip of my fixation, I found the many similarities absolutely horrifying.
2. You’re Questioning Your SL Use
While denial is unquestioningly a part of any addictive behavior, there’s always a part of the brain that just doesn't buy it. The mind is funny that way. If we're paying attention, it tells us what we need to know even if we’re reluctant to listen. If you’re haunted by a quiet, persistent voice that asks "What am I doing," "Why do I keep logging in," and "Why can't I keep SL in balance," its a pretty damning indictment. To put it simply, people who don't have an unhealthy relationship with Second Life don't sit around wondering if they have a addiction.
3. Your Time And Money Reveal Your Priorities
Even at the worst of my addiction, I still knew how to give all the right answers. If you had asked me what was most important to me, of course I would have said, “My kids, my husband, and my job.” But there’s a saying that is painfully true in this situation: “Don’t tell me what matters to you... Show me your calendar and your checkbook, and I’ll tell you what you really care about.” No matter what I thought was important, my spending and my schedule revealed that all I really cared about was Second Life.
4. You’re Struggling To Maintain The Secrets And Lies
For me, the effort to hide my SL use was what finally broke me. Of course, my experience may have been exceptional, because I didn’t just try to hide how much time and money I was spending in-world... I hid Second Life altogether! My deceptions included, but were not limited to:
- Bowing out of family activities, citing the need to “do some writing for work”, but actually logging in to SL.
- Designating "mom’s chair" at home...a spot which best hid my laptop screen
- Calling in sick at work to be at home alone, in SL
- Making up appointments, then going to a coffeeshop to log in
- Feigning insomnia to log in at all hours of the night
Some of those may seem extreme, but let me challenge you... If you’ve been weaving your own web of deception, don’t take comfort in the fact that your lies aren’t as big as mine. No matter how much or how little you’re hiding, just the simple fact that you’re feeling compelled to deceive those around you is a huge, red, neon sign flashing WARNING!
5. You Feel Like You’re Alone
In hindsight, I recognize now that most of my unhealthy fixation with Second Life was because of dissatisfaction with my real life relationships. I felt ignored at work, unappreciated by my kids, and had long felt very distant from my husband. As a result, I felt very insecure and alone. So when I stumbled into love, acceptance, and popularity in Second Life, it's little wonder that I became desperately attached to the virtual world. The irony is that the very place where I thought I found a balm to my loneliness ultimately threatened to make me truly alone in the real world.
If you’re feeling deeply convicted by any of these signs, I desperately hope you’ll do some serious soul-searching. But at the same time that I paint a serious picture, I also want to color it with some hope. Over the past two years, I’ve experienced a 180-degree turnaround... and in an upcoming post I’ll be teaming up with fellow recovering SL junkie Dylan Rickenbacker to share how each of us found the road to recovery.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts on Second Life addiction in the comments below!
Nightflower is currently dividing her time between writing, raising virtual reptiles, and enjoying the new expansion just released for Lord of the Rings Online. You can read more at her blog, NightLight. Contact her on Twitter @nightflowerSL, and via e-mail at email@example.com.