Thoughts on the increasing popularity of online worlds

Online worlds continue to be an emerging space. Second Life gets the most press lately, but there are several others that enjoy even larger followings. This post is about just one (of many) reasons somebody might spend time in one of these worlds: escape from their reality.

I came up with three primary escape motives — 1. To be someone else (to try on a different hat, if you will), 2. To be who you actually are, and 3. escape, or work out, some kind of fear.

I think there are some predictions that can spill out of these different motives.

The motive to be someone else is more likely to result in trying on many different hats…inconsistency and variety in the persona you assume online. The pleasure is in getting to pretend. But, since we ultimately tire of pretending when it becomes repetitive, interest tends to wane. There’s no sustaining meaning.

The motive to be who you really are might sound a little odd, but I think we’re being innocent if we assume there aren’t lots of people who need an escape from their ‘real’ world to be who they really think they are. This motive would lead to persistent or evolutionary behavior with the assumed persona. This is because with this motive, you’re aiming to become someone specific. While there might be a process for getting to be that person, there is a steady aim. If someone gets to achieve this type of escape, interest could become intense. Imagine if the only place you could be yourself was in a virtual world. The virtual world then becomes home. The alternative path is a sharp decline in interest, as a result of either the experiment failing (not turning out to be the expected alter ego) or it succeeding too well and being too scary to handle.

The escape from a fear is different from the others and more practical. I mainly mention it to distinguish from the other two. In the first two, the motive is to assume a different persona. Here, the motive is to maintain the same basic persona, but benefit from escape from a fear. A basic example might be a shy person just working on some social skills. Learning, experimentation, and experience are the primary goals.

The most sticky would seem to be the second. If an online world becomes home for somebody, they stay…intriguing and scary at the same time.


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