Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The difference between virtual and reality

I was trying to explain Second Life to my mom. This is hard to do because:
  1. I've never played it
  2. She can barely use a computer (sorry Mom)
She just couldn't understand. I used the example of a beautiful virtual dress. "But, why would someone spend real money on something that isn't real?" she questioned.

At first, I had no response. The conversation moved on to another subject. But after thinking about it more, I knew the reason.

She was focused on goods as being necessities. These clothes are necessary: I need something to wear. My car is necessary: I need it to get places. But the thing is, even in the real world, almost none of the purchases you make are based on utility alone. "But I need a new sweater?", you reply. Do you though? What will happen if you don't get one?

Think about it.

You hardly need any of the things you have. They are almost all luxuries. You have way more clothes than you actually "need". Plus, you could have picked up the ones you did need secondhand, and not really needed to buy them anyway. You don't need a car. You could walk, or take the bus, or a plane, or a train. The food you buy at the grocery store? Unless you're buying only the most basic and cheapest foods, again, you're spending extra as a luxury.

You see, there really is very little difference between the real sweater and the virtual one. It's just that you can't feel the sweater.

We rarely if every buy things because we really "need" them. We buy things we want. We like the way they look, or the way they make us feel, and often, the effects they will have on what other people think of us.

If our company starts holding corporate meetings in Second Life, it might make sense to buy a nice looking suit. Just as in the real world, technically we could show up in a tshirt and shorts, but that might not be acceptable to the company culture.

If you still aren't convinced, think about a video game. In the real world, I pay $50 for a piece of software that I take home so that I can immerse myself in a virtual world. I don't really "have" the game...I have a disc that contains the game. And the disc itself is worth less than a penny, it's the code on the disc that has value. I might pay the same amount to download the game to my computer, in which case, I don't even take possession of any physical object.

Is that any different that stepping into Second Life and buying a computer game?

Does the purchase of the virtual sweater make us happy? It should, presumably that's why we bought it. If virtual worlds don't make sense to you, don't worry, it just means you aren't a nerd. Yet.

Hopefully, most of what we do in our spare time is done because it makes us happy. If buying stuff you don't actually need in the real world makes us happy, why should it be any different in a virtual world?

5 comments:

Matt said...

It SEEMS like we should be doing things in our spare time that make us happy, but a lot of research seems to suggest that the things we end up doing in our spare time don't make us as happy as we think they will. (E.g. plopping down on the couch to watch tv and relax - which is often irresistible after a long day of work - isn't, according to self-reports, nearly as satisfying as going out and doing something that involves some active participation.)

Tillie said...

You hardly need any of the things you have. They are almost all luxuries. You have way more clothes than you actually "need". Plus, you could have picked up the ones you did need secondhand, and not really needed to buy them anyway. You don't need a car. You could walk, or take the bus, or a plane, or a train. The food you buy at the grocery store? Unless you're buying only the most basic and cheapest foods, again, you're spending extra as a luxury.

Your writing reminded me of an article I read earlier this week:
http://cbs5.com/local/local_story_003162333.html

Ryan said...

Matt: You make a good point. There are lots of things that we think will make us happy that actually don't. Going on a shopping spree. Sitting down on the couch and watching TV. It's interesting (and probably important) to analyze how you've been spending your time, and whether what you are doing actually makes you happy. I personally, never really feel good after getting up from watching TV, even if it's one of my two shows that I make a point to watch.

Tillie: fantastic article. Do you ever think you could do something like that? I'd be willing to give it a try, I bet it would be incredibly eye opening. Along those lines, there are other things I'd like to try giving up for a set period of time, just to see if I could. Meat is one. TV/Movies are another (although I'm pretty close on that one already). Eating out (restaurants, food to go, etc) would probably be much healthier and save money. And the list could go on...

Ryan said...

Just found this link: http://www.hungryforamonth.blogspot.com/
A daily blog from a guy who resolved to spend $30 on food for the month of November.

Matt said...

Also, I guess I should have responded to what you say about video games (I was sort of on a different train of thought). My wife LOVES Zelda games, and finally broke down to get the new game for GameCube (we're waiting until tax refund season to buy the Wii). I used to give her a hard time about gaming (although I, to a lesser degree like to play some video games - I tend to prefer racing games like Mario Kart that don't require a long-term investment of my dedication). But gaming is quite different from watching TV, precisely because a good game IS difficult and requires attention and skill - the sorts of things that make a "flow" experience possible.

I suppose my poking fun at her had more to do with memories of friends of friends who basically spent 16 hours a day gaming (the other 8 spent working: I'm pretty sure these people didn't sleep).

But I recognize better now that there's nothing inherently odd or wasteful about a good while of gaming, but that there's a difference between what my wife does and what those "addicts" do: as I try to point out to her, it's like the difference between my one or two glasses of wine each day and the bottle of whiskey that the alcoholic consumes.

As for why anyone would want to play a game, ask your mother, why would anyone want to read a novel, or do a crossword, or a jigsaw puzzle, etc.