When you're at home and hungry for pizza, do you order online? Do you feel an intimate attachment to your Second Life avatar? Do you find yourself seeking inspiration in the real-world for your next virtual product? A group of British psychologists hopes to understand why virtual worlds are such a large part of our lives at a recently-announced conference.
The Online Therapy Institute (click to enlarge)
Anyone spending any amount of time in Second Life takes notice of its fantasy elements. Perfectly staid and buttoned-down people turn into sexual deviants in oversized animal outfits in the relative freedom and anonymity of the Metaverse.
Now Garry Young of Nottingham University asks why we act how we do in the virtual world.
From the article:
Young will question whether it is possible for people to consider computer games and online virtual worlds as taboo free zones where human morals need not be adhered to.
They will also propose that there could be a psychological cost for people who choose to play computer and online games where they can behave in potentially morally and legally unacceptable ways, while having to act within normal moral boundaries offline.
Ten years ago virtual worlds were a niche industry undeserving of serious scientific study. Now psychologists and researchers from around the world will assemble to discern what it is that draws millions of people to devote hours every week to virtual life.
The British psychologists are late to the game. The Online Therapy Institute has been active in Second Life for some time, providing consulting and other Metaverse services through a list of well-credentialed health care professionals.
Virtual Prostitution (click to enlarge)
They do, however, raise a good series of questions. Why do we act the way we do in Second Life, where the dominance of sex shops and sexuality in general appears generally accepted?
As we mentioned in an article earlier today, one of the wealthiest players in Second Life is a virtual content pornographer who translated virtual success into real-world millionairedom.
If we feel liberated to be ourselves behind the anonymity of avatars, how will psychologists explain the evolving cultural norms of Second Life society? There certainly are plenty: Try using a push gun on someone who isn't in on the joke.
The conference is ongoing through tomorrow, and attendance requires a membership in The British Psychological Society. No dice on whether joining their Second Life group counts. We'll be sure to report on whatever findings these sagely scholars uncover.