One of the themes emerging from our research in Second Life is the importance of virtual objects. The way in which these objects are used is complicated. Some seem to reflect ‘real-life’ objects – the objects we see everyday in the offline world, or remember from our childhood. Others are more based in fantasy. Large houses, flashy cars, or items which are impossible to obtain offline: unicorns, magical items, or the like.
I have viewed myself as, to some extent, an outsider in Second Life for most of the time I have spent conducting my research. I was a resident for some time as a teenager, but I was outside the virtual world for years before returning as a researcher. Recently, however, I have begun to notice how important my own virtual objects are to me. It is, for me, a sign that I am becoming an ‘insider’ again – a person whose Second Life is real, even outside of the research purpose.
I put up my ‘real life’ Christmas tree the other day. It is one of my favourite holiday rituals – something that signals the ending of one year, the promise of the next. It was only once I had put this tree up that I realised how I had brought this ritual into the virtual world. When I made a Second Life home for Margaret and I to use as a space for interviews, one of the first pieces of furniture I positioned was a Christmas tree.
When I was showing the space to Margaret I noted that it would feel more comfortable, more ‘homey’, with an animal. My immediate instinct was to get an orange cat. It’s visible in the featured image for this post. Its name, Scruff, is derived from the name of one of my beloved childhood pets.
These are not intentional acts of replication. They seem to occur almost without my thinking. Even in respect to my digital embodiment, I seem to have felt a need to point toward my physical self – my default avatar has blue eyes and short dark hair.
But there are also more fantastical objects that play a role in my Second Life. I have period-appropriate costumes for a range of historical sims. I have built a wooden cabin of a type rarely seen in the part of the country in which I live. The objects that shape my Second Life are a combination of the real and the fantastical. I hope to uncover more of the role objects play in the Second Lives of other residents.