For some people, it’s an evil and sexually deviant world, with nothing positive to recommend it whatsoever, filled with people who only want to take from you and have nothing to offer of their own. A world rife with seductive delights and temptations as though coded by Satan himself. For others, it’s the very Fountain of Youth, an amazing world of limitless potential and power, a step toward a Gene Roddenberry-esque utopian future.
To me, Second Life was neither of these things. It was a Thing I Did. It was the place where I’d log on for eight and sometimes more hours a day. I’d be part of (and sometimes leader of) a community of people. I talked to my friends. I made things, and made some modest amount of money. I was Mistletoe.
And really, why wouldn’t I want to be Mistletoe? Mistletoe was brilliant, creative, talented, ultra-popular, even a little famous in some circles. I mean sure, I’m smart and creative away from the keys too, but what have I got to show for it here? Not as much as in Second Life, that’s for damn sure. In Second Life I’ve organized festivals, owned shops, owned successful pubs, run for office, played music (both as a performer and as a DJ), prepared virtual food that people adore, officiated two weddings, traveled, explored, had whirlwind romances, explored fantasies, raised a hefty donation for a RL charity, written how-to articles respected by many, danced like a pro, made costumes… hell what haven’t I done? I’ll tell you: I haven’t been sick, needed car repairs, been short on bills, wondered what to have for dinner tonight, watched dishes pile up, run out of prescription meds, or been at a loss for what I should do now. Who wouldn’t rather be the former than the latter?
And when my real life got harder, Second Life became more appealing. And when I got more entrenched in my Second Life, my real life became a garden more overgrown from neglect. I couldn’t get together with friends at this date at this time, sorry, I have a commitment. I’m not available to come in for work for this extra shift, I promised my Second Life people I’d be there for a thing then. I didn’t tell my boss that of course. And what was my solution to seeing less and less of my friends? Inviting them to meet me inworld, of course. I’ll get your avatar to look just like you want. I’ll even set you up to make a few lindens selling content that you (actually I) make. It’ll be great! I couldn’t understand why my friends weren’t finding the same joy that I did in Second Life. They didn’t find it as easy to get around, had a harder time with the learning curve, just weren’t feeling it. They left SL and don’t miss it. How could that be?
Finally my RL came to a point that I had to pull away. It was July, and I was having my annual wane in interest anyway. But besides that, we were 3500 miles away from our friends and family, in San Diego. Himself had lost his job. I didn’t have a job at all. We had a hard decision to make, and ultimately that decision was to move back across the country, just three months after packing up our lives and moving to California. That meant a forced period of withdrawal while on the road: detox time. I had real problems to face and had to face them with my undivided attention: watch the road. Stay in my lane. Get the cat into the hotel. Set the alarm to get up early tomorrow.
Fortunately none of my SL people were concerned about my absence; they knew I was moving and looked forward to having me back when the time came. Well and good.
Of course, once I got to my destination back East, I had things to do. We have to find work. We have to sort out commuting. We have to find a place to live. We’re going to have to get furniture. I have to get a new doctor, and a new prescription for the medicine I need in order to keep my bipolar managed. We have bills to pay, a cat to feed, a car to maintain. I want to look into going to school. So my period away from SL got longer, and really, I didn’t mind.
But my SL people started to worry. One e-mailed to tell me so. So I’m here to tell all of you now, this is NOT the time to worry about me. Yes, I’m having RL stress and struggles. So are all of you, I’m certain. What I’m not doing anymore, is anesthetizing myself with Second Life. When I was logging on 8 hours a day? THAT was the time to worry.
Now I’m not saying that everyone in SL is addicted and in denial. No. I’m not saying that at all. Some people can have a cigarette when they go to the bar on Friday and not need another. Some people can have a beer and be done. Some people can go to a casino with five bucks and leave when it’s spent.
I AM NOT THAT PERSON.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are nine criteria for the proposed diagnosis of video game addiction.
- Preoccupation. When I wasn’t logged on, I was thinking about SL all the time. I was talking about doings in SL with my husband the way most people talk about their day of work. When I had a job, I was thinking about when I could get home and log on.
- Withdrawal. For the most part I’m not dealing much with this. I’m not angry, or irritable without SL. However I do find myself with a LOT of free time and no idea what to do with it.
- Tolerance. Meaning, did I need to log on for increasing amounts of time, get better equipment, have more excitement in order to enjoy SL as much as I used to? I can’t say that. I do know that I’d taken on more and more responsibilities and projects and that I must have gotten some payoff from it. Enjoyment just wasn’t it.
- Inability to reduce/stop. Do I feel like I should log on less, but find myself unable to do so? Before my so-called “forced detox”, yes. Absolutely. And then I would feel guilty for pissing my day away on SL instead of sending that email, making that phone call, doing those chores. And then I’d log on for the same amount of time the next day.
- Giving up other activities. I mentioned that already.
- Continuing despite problems. It mentions continuing on even though I’m aware of it causing problems. Thing is, I’m not sure I was aware it was causing the problems of decreased sleep, decreased hygiene, withdrawal from my friends in RL.
- Deceiving/Covering up how much time spent logged on. I don’t think I’ve done that. I’ve been pretty honest about it I think.
- Escaping adverse moods by logging on. Abso-fucking-lutely. The more out of control my RL got, the more I wanted to be in control of something. That “something” wasn’t filling out the paperwork or going to the bank; it was logging onto the world I could control.
- Risking/losing relationships/opportunities. I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I mean sure my relationship with himself is strong, I think he’s just come to accept SL as part of my day-to-day life. But as for opportunities: probably. But is that addiction, or is that part of the depression with my bipolar? I can’t say.
I do know that the YouTube video “IRL/In Real Life” really spoke to me. Each time Anthony says “…and then a new expansion came out” I gave a knowing nod.
So… am I an addict, or am I just looking for an easy epiphany to explain the hole? I don’t know. I can’t answer that now. But I do know that I have LOTS of hours in the day to fill, and that I’m almost 40, no college education, not much of anything that can go on a resume, and not satisfied with that. I’ve GOT to do something different about that, and I’ve held myself back from that for six years now.