Are Virtual Worlds Sabotaging Interpersonal Relationships?

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Somewhere in the past few years, perhaps with the success of the Nintendo Wii, a paradigm shifted in how the general public viewed online game enthusiasts.

No longer are they the love handled basement dwellers of Dungeons and Dragon lore.

No, the pendulum now decrees that gamers are a heterogeneous group of men and women, married and single, productive members of society and deadbeats. Pixels and Policy looks at how perceptions of gamers are changing.

Evolving Perceptions, Changing Interactions

The real-world relationships once-reclusive gamers fought so hard to create are all in danger of collapsing, a British scientist declared yesterday, all because of Second Life. Baroness Susan Greenfield of the Royal Institution, a British research body, worried openly that online games like Second Life are actively weakening our real-world interpersonal skills and relationships while simultaneously saying her ideas weren't terribly thought through.

"People who dismiss it as a game will be in for a rude awakening," she said. "This will have a huge impact on society.

"Offering people the chance to have a permanent soap opera going on,
in which they can participate, will be even more pervasive than reality
TV such as Big Brother.

"This is the ultimate in that you can be involved, you can interact, but still you are hiding behind an avatar."

While I agree with Baroness Greenfield's view that Second Life is rapidly becoming "more than a game," I don't think "more than a game" necessarily equates with "consumer of souls." That's more what Soul Calibur 4 does. Of course, all is forgiven until The Telegraph goes into classic techno-ignorance panic mode.


Recent advances in technology have had a trend of alienating people.
Years ago a recluse would have to go out the house to get mail (for
bills), shop for food, pick up porn, et cetera.

Now all of that can be
delivered right to your computer screen (or front door). People who
already have problems with social interaction (or have a tough time
distinguishing fantasy from reality) have very little reason to come
out of their shells.

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     The disabled interact with ease in Second Life

This view shows a shocking lack of mental adaptability. The author equates a decline in real-world contact as a result of Second Life to be symptomatic of the user becoming a "recluse."

This is simple-minded. A recluse removes herself from all contact with others; in this case, the user is simply substituting equally real virtual relationships for physical relationships.

Would the author call one of the thousands of homebound disabled Second Life users "recluses" because they interact solely in the virtual world?

Would the author begrudge those who have found legitimate social acceptance and relief in the virtual world?

Those who consider users who prefer to socialize in the virtual world as "recluses" fail to understand that virtual worlds are not removing users from social interaction, but changing the venue of their social interaction.

We'll be looking into this issue more as the week progresses.

6 thoughts on “Are Virtual Worlds Sabotaging Interpersonal Relationships?”

  1. How typical that someone with noble distinction takes a condescending and stereotypical view of the rest of us sheep.
    I love this quote you posted:
    “Recent advances in technology have had a trend of alienating people.”
    Really? It would seem that recent trends in technology have served to bring people together by connecting them in more ways than ever in history. If fact, we are now connected so much so, that many of us are “connected” 24/7.
    The Baroness seems to be of the generation where people would hang out on their porches and wave to passers by. How can we expect her to adapt to carrying around cellular phones and laptops that are always alienating us from the rest of the world?

  2. This is, of course, ridiculous, when considering the fact that the “killer apps” of today are social media web apps. However, while I feel we are more socially connected now than before, I do foresee a PHYSICAL removal of oneself from the crowd. During times of influenza outbreak, a good thing. But I’m reminded of something I read a long time ago, by Asimov I believe. Human beings spent so much time physically, but not socially, alone that they become physically ill when in the presence of someone who is not immediate family. Anybody recognize that? It’s been so long, now.

  3. I think that the idea that relationships that exist in meatspace are more important than those that exist online has to be challenged directly.
    I know happily married couples that met online and earlier than that I knew one couple that met as school pen pals and corresponded for decades before finding a way to meet.
    You don’t have to be disabled to have a need to connect online. It is often difficult for us to find people who share our interests and with whom we find connections. Some of us are more at ease in text than speech. Why is a love letter on paper more important than the creation of a lovely romantic simulation in Second Life?
    I’m sorry but if RL relationships are destroyed by Second Life relationships, I am quite sure that the RL relationship was in deep trouble to begin with.

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