Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Using and Abusing the Internet

An interesting discussion on the Second Life VR platform:
Let me tell you of the sad reality of Second Life. In case your not familiar with Second Life its a virtual world where ├╝ber good looking people in tank tops and fishnet stockings run around having virtual sex, virtual lives and virtual Buddhism. In this virtual world there exists a few Buddhist Sanghas.

The author, someone I consider a good e-friend, goes on to tell how he broke into someone's "home" and got ejected for trespassing, here:

http://buddhisttorrents.blogspot.com/2009/11/second-life-how-about-first-one.html

and elicited some responses, here:

http://www.openbuddha.com/2009/11/16/how-to-miss-the-point-of-sl-and-the-dharma/

Personally, I agree with some of Leaf Dharma's criticism, but not really the methodology used in expressing it - it sounds like Leaf did the equivalent to barging in on someone else's IRC chat or phone conversation... to me that's the key - if you're going to talk about reality, we have to see that this is only a platform, not a world; thus, barging into someone's "private home" is no different from interrupting any other conversation medium. Not cool.

But the argument stands in my mind; I've mostly left Second Life because of the intensity of the illusion... it's one thing to use the platform as a teaching tool; it's another to turn it into a life where you have fantasy relationships and alternate personalities and can somehow pretend that you are practicing the Buddhadhamma because you watch a bunch of pixels sitting in the lotus position. I'm still confident that our private OpenSim project will avoid this sort of thing by remaining more of a platform than a world in this sense... we will not be renting out houses in Buddhaverse.

In the end, if it helps people access Buddhism from places where it may not be readily accessible otherwise, then that is a good thing, I think. But more to the point, if the platform is used properly and limited in scope to the task at hand, it can also serve to help teachers help their students; virtual reality can be a great tool to make student-teacher interactions much more meaningful than, say, email or even voice chat, as the environment sufficiently simulates a genuine personal interaction enough to keep the prolonged interest of the student, thus making the job of the teacher that much easier.

Simply put, virtual reality is close enough to reality to serve as a substitute for face-to-face communication when the latter is not available. After all, what is the difference between the beams of light reflecting off someone's physical face and those reflecting off of their virtual face? Pixel quality, I suppose. While I agree that Second Life is a silly game, I would still argue that the platform used to create Second Life has great potential.

Or such is the theory we are testing :)