People get more happiness from being in Second Life than they do from good news in their real life. That's the extraordinary finding of a new academic study from leading virtual world academic Edward Castronova, co-authored with Gert G. Wagner and published in the economics journal Kyklos.
In other words, Ed says on Terra Nova:
For an unemployed person, the happiness boost for going to Second Life is bigger than that for getting a job. An East German gets more of a life satisfaction increase by being in Second Life than by moving to West Germany... Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the "biggies," like health, employment, and family relationships.
Since logging into SL is relatively easy, Castronova theorizes that "choosing Second Life over major life change would be 'rational' because virtual reality provides more of a happiness boost at less cost." I imagine that many people already in SL are making this very analysis right now, especially with the real world economy at such a low point. In fact, last year Ed speculated that the virtual economy is contributing to our real world recession.
A fascinating, if fairly unnerving conclusion. However, I'm skeptical that the conclusion is generally true, beyond SL's existing userbase. While Second Life has about 1 million active users, that represents roughly 5% of everyone who's created an SL account. For various reasons, some 15-20 million people who have considered making Second Life part of their experience over the last 8 years have ultimately chosen otherwise. Ed says the study's results have "relevant factors such as age, sex, and income accounted for", but I'd say the strongest factor is "interest in virtual reality strong enough to overcome SL's enormous learning curve and barriers to entry". Alas the report is paywalled, so I'll be contacting Professor Castronova for a follow-up soon.
Image Credit: SL style blog Mademoiselle