Wednesday, August 15, 2012

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Virtual World Stimuli Affects the Mind Like Physical Stimuli (Kindle Book Excerpt)

SL book love like dim sum

Love, Like Dim Sum is a new Kindle e-book by Lea Tesoro (Opal Lei in SL), about the lessons she learned in-world on love, friendship, and relationships. (Book website here.) Below is an excerpt, in which Lea discusses how virtual world experiences are experienced as real one:

Kev owns an engineering company. A highly intelligent man. When I met him, he was very new to Second Life and, as we talked about the possibilities of the platform, I decided to take him to Svarga to show him one of the more interesting ways that people use virtual worlds...

The unique thing about Svarga, besides the fact that it was beautifully textured and built, was the fact that it had artificial life experiments there, where plants “grew” and “reproduced” on their own according to a set of rules. By the landing area, there was a tour-guide system, where you sat on a pod which would then take you to the interesting areas of the region and tell you about the significance of those specific areas -- pretty much like a tour guide in real life. And at the end of the tour, the pod would drop you off where you started and then disappear.

Kev and I took one of the pods. He thought the experiments were interesting, but he didn’t seem impressed at all. However, something happened to him at the end of the tour. After the pod literally dropped us almost unceremoniously at the landing area, my avatar happened to be facing him. Because the eyes of the avatars shifted randomly to make them look more real, he saw my avatar look directly at him, even though I didn’t do anything in particular. That simple coincidence had a very strong effect on him, and he suddenly said, “It takes a lot to freak me out and this is pretty close.” That comment seemed out of context with the conversation we were having, so I asked why he was freaked out. His reply confused me even more: “Don’t play coy. You and I know you’re way smarter than that.” It was much later when he explained.

Kev: I have a fantastic imagination.... This went beyond my imagination. That’s a good set of words... It was an experience that went beyond my imagination.

Opal Lei: :) You know, in the end, the experience IS real, even if it's set inside virtual reality. The emotions are real. The connections with other people are real.

Kev: Right. I had an emotional reaction which surprised me.

Opal Lei: :) Welcome to your Second Life. ;)

Kev: Hmmm... .Can't I just do heroin instead to be safe?

Opal Lei: rofl.... But this is more fun. More mentally stimulating.

Kev: That’s the problem!!!

Even before that, I’d had my own personal experience. When I purchased my parcel on the hillside in the region called Aglia in the mainland, I built a small glass house with a pond in the yard, a deck and a gazebo. I noticed that I would feel so much at peace when I was in that parcel. An object in my neighbor’s land made certain nature sounds, in addition to a wind chime sound. The sounds completed the scene. Then, one day, I woke up in real life and heard that same wind chime sound from my real-life neighbor’s deck. And suddenly, my mind went into that zone, that peaceful and quiet mode, as though I was sitting in my parcel in Aglia, and I realized the effect of Second Life in my real life. Maybe it was just the emotion, the peacefulness created and triggered by those sounds, but there it was. This is how virtual stimuli can affect the mind. When I was also new, I was reluctant to go into other people’s parcels. It felt as though I was trespassing in someone else’s property, like in real life.

Of course, in Second Life, it’s more open than that. What people tended to do, if they wanted privacy, was to set up a “skyloft” or “skybox” floating high up in the air, so the ground level became a more public area. But, of course, different people do it differently, and it also varies between the mainland and private regions, because there is less privacy in the mainland. Eventually, I learned how to move my camera view without moving my avatar, so I could view other parcels and homes near my own. And I learned how to find out who owned which home or structure.

But, after a while, I became disillusioned. After the first flush of excitement of creating and building and scripting and learning how to do all that, I began to see everything as nothing more than a combination of pixels and software, or of prims and textures and scripts. The magic was gone. It was similar to seeing everything in the real world as nothing more than a combination of different materials, like wood and metal and sand, without appreciating the beauty of the thing as a whole. To use a common phrase, I was losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Reprinted by permission of Lea Tesoro -- website here.



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