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The Ontology of Digital Life: Art and Healing in Second Life

Rob Harle, Independent Artist and Writer, Australia

Abstract

This paper is an introduction to the virtual 3D computer simulation world known as Second Life. It discusses specifically two important aspects of interaction and participation in this world – Art and the Therapeutic Benefits of spending time in SL. The brief introduction is enough to orientate and get started those not familiar with SL. Suggestions for further research and SL project developments are discussed throughout.


Keywords: Second Life, virtual reality, avatar, digital art, computer simulation, linden, Freedom Project, social interaction.

 

I walked through an enchanting garden, cobble stone path beneath my feet, the strange birds chirping and flying through the flowering plants led me towards a building of stone and light. Bindu Gallery bid me, Enter.

I stood in amazement as sculptures revolved and pulsated, I noticed a 3D spherical mandala near the stairs, I approached, stepped inside and sat on a red velvet cushion. I was looking out through the iridescent, geometric light patterns of the mandala. An indescribable mystical experience followed as the mandala energy flowed through me.

No, I had not died! No, I was not under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs! I had logged on to Second Life and visited a friend’s Virtual Gallery Exhibition.

 

Bindu Gallery is the virtual personal gallery of Second Life artist Sheba Blitz. Her original hand painted mandalas are uploaded from real life, manipulated in Second Life then displayed in this gallery.
Bindu Gallery is the virtual personal gallery of Second Life artist Sheba Blitz. Her original hand painted mandalas are uploaded from real life, manipulated in Second Life then displayed in this gallery.

Second Life (SL) [1] is a virtual (digital) 3D computer based world – it is not a game, not a social media app, but a digital version of real life (RL). Like the fragrance of coffee brewing it is a difficult thing to describe, immersion and participation is the best way to understand SL. As with most things the press and television media have also distorted and misrepresented SL, with claims of ruined lives, sexual abduction, huge costs, death and so on. Untrue!

Any individual adult, anywhere in the world may join the SL community for free, create their own avatar – the entity which allows you to live, work and play in SL – then create art, build astonishing architecture, create bizarre fashion or fly on a magic carpet. Flying or teleportation is the standard way to move around the various regions (sims) of SL. If you wish to buy your own land you must become a premium member which costs approximately $70 USD per year, this returns a stipend paid to you of 300 Linden dollars a week. If you do not like flying you may use some of your Lindens to buy a car to drive around in, or perhaps catch a train!

Why Lindens? Philip Linden (Rosedale) was the creator and brainchild of SL. He attended the Burning Man event in the desert of Nevada, USA many years ago, this enormously influenced the already nascent digital, virtual version of SL. Linden Labs own SL, but the actual community is created by the residents with very few rules or regulations. So the basic currency of trading is called a Linden. SL is not the only virtual 3D community some others are; Blue Mars; InWorldz; OS Grid (presently with problems); Twinity; and Onverse.

Screen shot of part of an art exhibition at the virtual SL version of Burning Man Festival.
Screen shot of part of an art exhibition at the virtual SL version of Burning Man Festival.

This is probably enough basic information to orientate those not familiar with SL. As with most digital software and applications, things evolve and become more sophisticated and ‘mostly’ user friendly. Remember Unix/Dos command line communication via AARNet prior to the WWW? Perhaps not, but for those who do, how could we ever have imagined such a sophisticated and virtually real ‘thing’ as SL would develop?

This paper is mainly concerned with a general discussion of two important areas of SL – Art, and the possible Therapeutic benefits of spending time in SL. For those interested in a highly detailed investigation of all aspects of SL, one of the best studies I have found is Coming Of Age In Second Life. This book is a scholarly, anthropologically based study which dispels most “urban” myths and sensationalised nonsense concerning SL.[2]

Before looking at art and healing in detail, I should refute the notion that some techno-luddites hold; they argue that a virtual world such as SL is simply specks of light (pixels) on a computer monitor – nothing more, not “real” reality! This ignorance apart from ignoring the very real psychological impact, for good or ill, of interaction with others in a virtual world is that at a deep ontological level it can be argued that all “realities”, including humans, are simply complex conglomerates of light specks (photons). Detailed discussion of this concept/theory, which includes, but goes beyond quantum mechanics, is clearly beyond the scope of this paper. However, there is ample evidence to support this ontology, just one example is my paper published in Ylem Journal, 2007. [3]…Access Full Text of the Article

[1] Read about the Second Life community and download the required Viewer which installs on your computer from www.secondlife.com

[2] Boellstorff, T. Coming Of Age In Second Life. 2008 Princeton University Press. NJ. Also my review of this book: http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=4435&cn=396

[3] The Dichotomy of Reality YLEM Journal. Harle, R.F. (Guest Editor) vol.27 Nos. 10 & 12 Sept/Dec 2007. Journal of YLEM Society, Artists Using Science & Technology. San Francisco, CA.

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