Only a Minority of Second Life Users Are Arguably "Addicted" - But They're Probably a Large Part of SL User Activity
Last weekend came horrible allegations that a real life couple became so obsessed with playing Second Life that they reportedly let their child starve (watch above), and it's the kind of story I generally don't blog on New World Notes for many, complicated reasons. For one thing, there's the sad, underlying tragedy which makes a casual blog post seem sordid; but beyond that, online addiction is a story as old as the Internet itself -- if we define "addiction" as obsessive behavior which negatively impacts a person and their loved ones -- and that particular story has been repeating itself with nominal variations for decades. That said, I didn't want to let this story pass without making a larger point:
Only a very small minority of Second Life users are arguably "addicted" to being in-world -- but in all likelihood, they are also a very large part of the Second Life experience, and that's something we should not ignore.
Here's what I mean:
Based on the most recent available Second Life user behavior numbers from Linden Lab, about 6% of the total userbase is in-world for 200 hours or more a month -- 3% are in-world 201 to 300 hours (making up 19% of total user hours), another 3% are in-world 300 hours or more (making up 34% of total user hours) --chart above. That translates to about 22,000 people who are logged into Second Life for an average of nearly 7 hours a day -- and about 22,000 people who are logged in for over 10 hours a day. Not all or even most of this 6% are necessarily "addicted" in the negative sense, it's important to say. Some of these users create and sell content in SL for a real life living, and are basically in-world to work. (And most white collar workers are online in their offices 7-10 hours a day, too.) Some of these hardcore users have serious physical and mental disabilities, and for them, Second Life is one of the few connections they have to an outside social life. (That's among Second Life's greatest values.) However, it's also fair to say that many if not most of the users in this 6% bracket have some level of addiction.
And here is an even more crucial point: This 6% of users make up 53% of Second Life's total user hours. (See chart above.) In other words, most SL user activity comes from this small sliver of users. Without them, the SL economy would collapse.
It's an uncomfortable fact to consider, but for that very reason, it's one we shouldn't ignore. But when a Linden Lab executive cited these figures of heavy Second Life usage at an SL user convention, he casually noted, "For these folks, Second Life really is their second life." As if there was nothing potentially wrong with that; as if there was nothing he as a company executive could do about it; as if the Second Life community members listening to him should consider that state of things a positive or neutral thing. However, as last weekend's dark news reminds us, the reality which underlies virtual reality is far more complicated.
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