The Best of Both: Bridges from Virtual to Real
by Eleanor Medier
(Please see the in-world release or download Sim Street Journal #3 for more photographs, articles, and functionality. Also available on MARKETPLACE).
Having a cyber life is an enhancement, more than just an addition, to the real one. Part of the journey is defining the balance between them. It is a learning process filled with experiments, both successful and not.
The majority of residents in virtual worlds are here for three reasons:
1. Entertainment—these are the vacationers. They spend money, create audiences, and propel the economy—rather like those who attend Disneyland and far outnumber those who create the environments or run the businesses. This must be about 50% of the residents.
2. Culture—art galleries and music clubs flourish, the social media nature allows great communities of interest, to the point of creating a subcultural renaissance that is truly international. I feel this is SL at its best. Some of the artists are vacationers and some are workers. So giving a percentage here make up those who fit neither: 40%.
3. Business—another thriving subculture, it supports the others with tools, services, and products. A minority make a real living in this world, and many will be interviewed for these pages. The workers in SL are probably around 10%.
4. Education—though this may have the largest potential to change people’s lives via the internet, it is the smallest percentage of residents. Although the population does take classes, hence the predominance of a few large in-world educators, the real world educators have not tapped this potential. Any attempts that have been made have not fit with the culture of SL residents. So the adaptation is not something anyone other than a mere handful have bridged.
What all these groups have in common is a need to balance a second life with a first one. Those in-world for entertainment have to be sure not to become addicted to the fun and the adventure, to the detriment of their real life jobs and relationships. The psychological issues of this balance is a lesson to everyone involved in SL—the other groups as well.
There is not one way to integrate cyber and real lives. Each of the achievers interviewed on this topic has a unique and individual approach. They were all asked the same question: how do you integrate your in-world lifestyle with your real one? Independent of the sector, there are patterns to approaches.
The balance between real life and a second life is necessary for any avatar, but particularly challenging for those passionate about a purpose. Having both an avocation and a social life within SL is demanding—one can often take a second seat to the other. Most enterprises in SL, ironically, support the environment of entertainment. So the allure of fun activities always pulls. Not doing so would be like being locked out of the candy shop; looking through the glass there are endless concerts, cool sims to explore, role play adventures, animals to breed, boats to sail, games to play, friendships to grow.
Because the resident can control more variables than in real life, it has the fantasy-side. An avatar can choose how to look or have relationships not paralleled in the real world. It can compensate for what may be missing in real life.
Because this integration is such a pervasive part of the in-world culture, different approaches are revealed. Consider the pros and cons of each in how it will create the most supportive blend. It is particularly important as a way to define creative and business parameters. Learn from the experiences of those who share their wisdom:
SL can enhance a real world career, and it can become a part-time or full-time career in itself. Sometimes it is a training-ground for real life professional pursuits. The music sector is a great example of many who successfully blend online careers with real ones. By performing on cyber stages, tying into websites and YouTube presentations—their real identities are transparent. They even meet up in different cities—jamming together in both worlds. The advantages for musicians and venues in SL are extensive—from testing new material, to enjoying pure performance away from RL contracts, to finding part-time income streams. It is a particularly ideal place for new musicians to gain skills and confidence. Similarly, education, art, and even products can cross the cyber to real divide, allowing them to more than mirror each other. SL becomes the central stage for professional development, augmenting, and sometimes dominating.
“As a real world educator, I adapt that experience to serve around 2200 students. The lack of using SL as a teaching tool in real life is a failing of the education system. Most administrators do not see that a virtual world can make a difference in student knowledge, development, and retention. Key are roleplay and simulation.”—Phelan Corrimal, Rockliffe University
“A workaholic, I mostly run my business in Skype and email, to be available for staff or valued clients. I sleep when normal people work—active when Europe has time to be on SL, here when the US wakes up until almost their midnight—the most important SL business hours. I love to work from home and not need any RL job. I am never far away from a PC or notebook, in case I have to login to deal with something urgent. Guess I’m a control freak!”—Katya Dirval, WRE
“In real life, I’m an IT and media consultant. I mainly focus on software development, but back when I first learned about SL, it was video production. My business here, CasperTech Ltd., is a real company formed in the UK. I’m the director of that company, which encompasses both my in-world products and real world IT contracts. Currently, SL comprises about 20% of my income.”—Casper Warden, CasperTech Ltd.
“Having lugged equipment, set up stages, driven hundreds of miles, and played in places where you wanted to take a shower between songs, in so many ways I enjoy Second Life. Here the focus is 100% the music. We said: ‘In real life, you get paid as a roadie. You play for free.’ In SL you actually get paid more! And performing in SL is more personal. Anyone can talk to you and you can personally thank people. For a musician in real life and SL, as I am, there isn’t a line. It’s all one life. The sweet spot for the SL audience is to be exposed to original voices from all over the world.” — Rock Doghouse, musician
“I come here because I love to play and to help other people. Now I have interweaving business concerns. It is hard for many professionals to succeed here. It depends on lifestyle. In real life, I live on an island and travel. I do a lot of music through the Net. In between real life projects, I record, build, play, or produce shows. It is very creative. I do many fun things here, but it stays professional. I can come in, turn on my studio. and play!”—Bones Writer, musician and owner of Trax
“Most musicians just want to play music for ears who love it. Accomplishing that means wearing many hats: mastering delivery options and forming into a personal style career. When performers stream into all online media, the number of listeners can be a reachable count for most independent artists. The audience sizes in-world are limited, so SL is usually an add-on to real life musical careers. SL is an extension of my real life, and real life is an extension of my SL. It can be hard to distinguish the two.”—Edward Lowell, musician and Stream Team partner
“Recognized as the leader of 3D virtual projects at real world UWA, I give presentations on how perceptions in the virtual world impact on the real. Generally, I am ‘allowed’ to do what I want during work hours as long as I do everything with my other job, too. This became accepted as part of the things I do, but if I didn’t do anything all for SL, they wouldn’t complain either. It is like having 1.5 jobs!”—Jayjay Zifanwe, University of Western Australia
Most nurturing avatars are in SL for creative goals—both their own and to inspire others. Many residents wish to learn. Yet this group wants to do more than build upon personal experiences or expand skills. They have pursuits that build upon relationships, and augment real life careers. They bring real experience into SL, using the cyber world as a mirror. For example, in the creation of this publication, several contributors have complimentary professions in real life. SL offers an extension, and a place to exercise greater ambitions, without the restraints of physical demands or resources.
“In real life I work in video and graphic arts—not related to my SL activity. However, my public relations experience totally translates. Communication tools here are cool, but still operate on the same principles. The metaverse offers a new creative balance, international scope, and opportunities. Without counting the real value of the lindens, virtual work is easier. Here, make a product only once, and then have it forever—there is no restocking, no manufacturing, no shipping. The physical side is so much better!”—Arkad Baxton, Arkad Products
“My financial experience in real life affects my SL business—I am an economist. The charts at the MRG website reflect my interest in the general investment business. But while this may help with bookkeeping, it’s pretty useless for design. Completely away from anything I do in real life, SL is for fun. If I didn’t enjoy running MRG and designing/building then I’d be foolish to pursue it at all! Business in SL is every bit as tough as in real life, except less risky.”—Marishka Ixito. Marix Properties
“When we first started Hostcrate, we worked very hard to get real world clients—with sleepless nights to make sales, earn enough to cover expenses, and some profit. We were doing ok, for just getting into it. That was in May, 2008. Then in September, when we joined Second Life®, we were more prepared for what seemed like an overnight success, once we hit the grid with the quality of streams and support for the price. Today, 95% of our clients are in SL—DJ’s, musicians, and clubs that use our streams to broadcast in-world to entertain others. Our focus is now kept on SL, and our growth is steady. We have just gone through our IPO and have listed with Capital Exchange to help us with our next growth level.”—LustyLexxi Larimore, Hostcrate
“As a self-employed programmer, my work in SL and real life blend, but the focus is very different in each. SL deals with a lot of media: sounds, animations, 3D design, writing texts and sequences, in addition to programming/scripting work. On top of that, SL is very social allowing direct contact with customers. In my real life work, I do not create media by myself: I put all together for applications. Here in SL, I have a strong team to help—a staff of six in four countries.”—Jan Maroon, Bletaverse
“In real life, I am married to a full time musician. I am the bread-winner so that my husband can pursue writing and performing music. We say, ‘we do it for a living,’ but we don’t make a living at it.’ It’s a struggle for musicians to get noticed; they just want to play and have people listen. They give up their time, prepare, practice and, sit for hours to perform. They need support and a fan base. Although I am limited to what I can do for musicians in real life, in SL, I have more opportunity and resources.”—Allegra Genira
For those who use SL to directly complement real life careers, skills are transferrable back and forth. Most professionals have had to make fork-in-the-road choices of what to pursue in real life along the way. SL offers the opportunity to explore related activities or talents that can enhance real world applications, but are riskier, or take more resources. Some residents even change real world careers because of what they learned in SL. Some even give up the real world career for the second world one, if the business can scale to the SL environment. A few even make a real living full time if they can transition the real life pursuits. The opportunity to try a road not travelled is new dimension in creative experience.
“Real life prepared me for the SL business world. I owned a printing firm, followed by web and design work. It does not matter what the business is, good business is good business. SL offers the opportunity to experience things we have dreamed of doing in real life and perhaps could never accomplish. I was never good with the stock market and I failed that course in college! So I learn by owning a publicly-traded company in SL. I do not yet get into the real stock market, but one of these days I will.”—Stevie Cooperstone, Galaxy
“SL is an escape from my real life profession as an arts manager where it seems everyone is motivated by money, prestige, or ego. Engaging in the arts for art’s sake, with the audience, and for having fun, seems gone. Many artists perform in SL anonymously, so that they do not jeopardize real life recording contracts. And I can assist an Italian pianist I met in SL, with real life contacts for his North American debut. Many opportunities come from the Music Island project.”—Kate Miranda, Music island
“A full time Instructional Designer, I teach faculty how to present material. To introduce and demonstrate SL as a business teaching tool, I started my own virtual enterprise that fits the scope. Although I did not plan to, I’ve kept my business going since that presentation day in 2009. It challenges me, I like it, and it is a very good complement to the class. It is not a big money turner, as many other businesses in-world, but The Happy Hat can hold its own! The hats themselves are another story!”—Rehula Rah, Yavapai College
“In real life, I am a social worker who views it as a service business. SL provides a contrast to my regular activities, gives me a creative outlet, and is a learning platform. In SL I get clear insights into aspects like marketing or management or design. I can wheel and deal and take risks I would never take in real life.”—Kaddan Yue, OMG! Inc.
“SL is my real life income —before I worked as a middle manager for a telcom company. My two worlds are so intermixed now, the virtual extends the real. I’ve learned more about me in SL during these few years, than I have in real life for the rest of my years! And, I can be me—100% me—and not have to worry about making everyone happy. I’m a much more positive person when I’m not trying to meet expectations. Me finding me has been a huge revelation!”—Jennifer Brennon, Luna Animations
Anyone who has ever had intellectual property stolen is wise to be cautious in the virtual world. Unfortunately, every original creative entrepreneur has had this happen, if in business more than five years and if achieving some success. In SL, there are less consequences for stealing. Smart creators learn techniques to make work hard to copy, employ any safeguards available, and report abuse when it happens. Knowledge of copyright laws is imperative. Though SL is international, it is American-based, and therefore, American copyright laws prevail.
But beyond legalities, many residents insist that keeping the worlds separate is also personally best—to keep a barrier of protection so that no one can reach them in the real world. Protecting vulnerability on any level becomes a concern. And, some residents even hide true identities behind a mask of comfort or games playing. It pays to be streetwise, even if the street is made of pixels!
“Although I am a freelance artist in both worlds, my real life job is strategic planning in a big steel company. I prefer to keep my worlds separate, even though creative work consumes almost all of the time I have to spare; I sleep only 5 hours a night! I have thought about placing my gallery on my website. But I fear being recognized, that my work will be copied, or that my real life will connect with SL. People will then know something about me, without me knowing anything about them, and can harm me.”—Ramirez Torrance, artist
“Working in SL is my real life job. My early years were academic, as I have two degrees—one in engineering and the other in management. For five years, I worked as a consultant for an engineering company. However, my real passion was always, and continues to be, for creativity and entrepreneurship. In SL, a business can start on a smaller scale, with minimum risk, and little or no initial capital. But like real life, you must develop real skills, educate yourself daily, and grow as a person.”—Amy Nevilly, Second Ads
“I’m fortunate to work from home as a technical writer, so I don’t have a manager leaning over my shoulder. I work a lot with Photoshop and graphics programs, which makes a lot of builds easier. And, my wife designed the the club, making it easier to explain what I do online all day. For those outside SL, I don’t even bother trying to explain what it is like here. My original SL friends know, but they now they have real life babies, and no time for anything else.” —Grizzly Mountain, Bukkake Bliss
“SL does not integrate with my real life. I’m exceedingly private and the two don’t mix in social engagement. I came to SL after seeing a TV program ‘Wonderland—Virtual Adultery’ and thought that looked like fun! (The environment, not the adultery part. A shortened version of the program is on Youtube). I’ve always had an interest in graphics and that’s what attracted me. I came to play. The business was an unplanned offshoot.” —Sassy Romano, “Sassy’s”
Some residents come to SL for a totally new direction that represents the ‘Road Not Travelled.’ Many discover new talents, learn new skills, and try pursuits that are completely different between the two worlds. SL can provide a creative platform not possible otherwise. It is an experimental place to try ideas that may or may not be applicable outside.
Here, there is not a desire to keep separate, or to find a new identity. It is simply a place to try new things that can often bleeds over into reality. A few entrepreneurs even discover relevant new dimensions to their professions—that ends up changing real life as a result of second life’s influence. This usually comes as a surprise, for the virtual world is still young with untapped potential. The Discoverers are blazing new paths for influential reach—adapting to the international scope.
“Surprisingly, SL business influenced my real life direction. I came in-world to build one large, temporary, project for a competition. Though it was new to me, as a professional programmer, I knew it was the right platform for my concept. I had to learn some new programs for this big project which expanded my marketable skills. Although I did not win the competition I entered, the project has become a sustainable business. Now I develop real life Android applications that I began in SL.”—Kurz Socke, Mobile Grid Client
“Participation in virtual stocks is training for handling real world stocks. Though investing can be intimidating at first, investors can quickly gain confidence within the virtual world. Resources and handson practice help make learning fun. Many tell me how they start trading real life stocks because they feel comfortable learning here first. By trading Lindens, they see the market works, learn the difference is between Market and Limit Orders, and build their skills.” —Skip Oceanlane, Capital Exchange
“Since I was a teenager, I have made furniture in real life—detailed wood carving. However, my real life profession was graphic design. When I started in SL, it was natural for me to make furnishings. I have just about replicated everything in here that I’ve made in real life, but now virtual furniture design and sales has evolved into my full time business. To bridge with real life, I don’t mind people knowing who I am, but I choose who and how much I tell.”—Twirlin Merlin, furniture designer
“SL gives me is a global audience. it still amazes me that I can stream live to Australia, Europe, and all over the United States and reach a broad spectrum of people. It’s wonderful to have so many devoted fans. Performing in SL has also helped me do a better job of talking in between songs–those precious moments before each song used to paralyze me. I credit SL for the breaking of a twelve year songwriting drought. The songs, The Test, Emotional Vampire, 40 Years On and Lost in Montreal would not exist were it not for SL.”—Shannon Oherlihy, musician
“SL is, for me, a place to do what I cannot realize in my real life. It is amazing to test something new or crazy here, get feedback, and then translate the idea into real life. The people here are real, their feelings and answers are real. By learning how to entertain in SL, I can now do it in real life.”—Chriscloud Loon, Crossing Culture
“After college I hoped to work for a record label. Instead, I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization. I joined SL to learn more about how charities use virtual reality to support their programs. Then I discovered that you can dance, chat with people from around the world, while listening to great music. I combine my interest in business with being creative, while pursuing the ultimate goal of providing an environment that many will enjoy.”—Caylene Linette, Cay’s Blues at Woodland Lake
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Sim Street Journal explores the relevance of virtual to real commerce and culture.
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© 2014 by Eleanor Medier, Sim Street Journal. Articles cannot be reprinted without permission.