The Depth and Breadth of a Virtual Life

When you meet someone in a virtual world, you really, really meet them.

It’s rare that a news article brings tears to my eyes, but My disabled son – ‘the nobleman, the philanderer, the detective’ did just that. It’s about a young man named Mats Steen, who spent most of his life bound to a wheelchair, until his death, all too soon, at age 25.

His family expected a quiet, uneventful funeral, but an amazing thing happened. Friends started coming out of the woodwork, expressing their condolences. Some flew from other countries to attend his funeral. But how did the homebound Mats have so many loyal and loving friends?

The answer to that is World of Warcraft. He had been spending much of the last decade of his life in that virtual world, not just playing games, but forming relationships. And these people, to this very day, remember Mats, and speak of him often. There is even a memorial to him in there, where candles remain forever lit. Mats touched many lives from that wheelchair of his.

People who don’t spend time in virtual worlds don’t understand them at all. As a long-time resident of the virtual world of Second Life, I do. All too well.

These places aren’t games, where you fight with cartoons, all alone. There are people behind these avatars. Living, breathing people, whose personalities shine through. In Second Life in particular, the gaming aspect is practically nonexistent. It’s a social place, where you can attend live concerts, go dancing, explore wonderful alternate worlds, build outlandish and beautiful houses, go to church, meet people, make friends, fall in love… you name it, it’s possible.

For another interesting insight about what virtual worlds feel like, check out season 3, episode 4 of the series Black Mirror. It’s called San Junipero. You can find it on Netflix. It’s well worth the watch.

When you meet someone in a virtual world, you really, really meet them. Because avatars are the great equalizers. All of them are good looking and young and strong and healthy. What sets you apart is how you communicate and how you treat people. And that truth about you rises to the surface immediately. Liars don’t last long in virtual worlds, even though they are capable of doing a great deal of emotional damage during their short stays.

What I love about these places is that they expand your horizons. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can run and dance. If you’re agoraphobic, you can explore the world. If you’re unhappy with the way you look, you can look different. No one is poor or rich or tall or short. You aren’t judged by the external stuff. All of those things are stripped away.

I have made many friends in Second Life. There has been a lot of love in there for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and others. I’ve learned the value of trust. Being there has given me the confidence to be an artist.

I’ve also had people I care about very much in cyberspace simply disappear. It’s heartbreaking, not knowing if someone is alive or dead. It’s cruel, depriving someone of closure, if that’s intentional. But there’s no way to know for sure.

I’m really glad that Mats was able to make lemonade out of the lemons of his life. He created his virtual life from scratch, as one does, and it sounds like he surrounded himself with lots of wonderful, amazing people, just as I have in Second Life. That, to me, is a life well-lived. May he rest in peace, knowing he still lives on in the hearts of so many.

(Thanks Jen, for introducing me to that amazing article!)

Virtual Me
The virtual me, standing in front of one of my fractals, with one of my fractals around my neck as well.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

What Games Do You Play?

With new experience comes new perspective. Maybe I’m a little raw, maybe my nerves are closer to the surface of my skin these days, but I’ve been noticing a great deal of idolizing of death lately, and it bothers me at a time when I think life is particularly precious.

Do you play video games where you shoot your opponents? World of Warcraft? Do you enjoy watching horror movies that involve chainsaws? Do you like to point your finger and go, “Pow”? Do you idolize gangsters, vampires, zombies, criminals or vigilantes? Do you enjoy seeing things get blown up?

If so, consider the negative energy you’re putting out in the world. When you take that stuff in, it becomes at least a small part of your reality. When you send a message that violence and death are acceptable, that becomes part of the wider world.

It’s getting so that even the military recruitment videos look like video games. They want you to think that being deployed to Afghanistan is fun. If you honestly think that, I can point you toward thousands of soldiers who have come back from wars who will tell you otherwise.

Death isn’t a game. At some point in your life it will become all too real. In the meantime, don’t waste your valuable life in celebrating it. There will be time enough for that in the next place. But I suspect the desire to focus on death will not even cross your mind at that point.

With new experience comes new perspective.


It’s a Sign

A sign that your neighbor has gone completely ‘round the bend: You overhear him saying, “Look what I just got out of the garbage!”

A sign that your government is taking itself waaaaaay too seriously: It spends taxpayer money to have National Security Agents hang out in virtual worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft in the hopes that they might stumble upon an Al Qaeda cell sitting around amongst the virtual poppies, plotting an overthrow of the virtual free world as we know it.

A sign that you’re bored: You go to Youtube and type “kittens” in the search field.

A sign that you’re seriously sleep deprived: You’re typing your blog, and it’s a deep and profound subject for a change, and you nod off, and when you wake back up, you discover that the last half of the sentence you just typed says, “for the whales hailing a cab.”

A sign that you’re coming down with something: You’re sitting at work and you sneeze so hard you accidentally slam your forehead into the wall.

A sign that your friend has a different concept of personal hygiene: He walks out of the bathroom and you say, “Did you wash your hands? I didn’t hear the sink.” And he says, “I wash my hands in other ways.”

A sign that you might need a vacation: You find yourself experiencing road rage in the grocery store.

A sign that your arms have fallen asleep: You are awakened by the sound of the phone ringing. You lift your head off your arms and try to answer it, only to find that neither arm is functioning. You have to knock the phone off the cradle and onto the floor, kneel down beside it and answer it with your nose.

A sign that your boyfriend is rather odd, but in a good way: A friend complains of nightcrawlers in her basement and he says, “Get a robin.”

A sign that you’ve become just a tad jaded: You are standing in an art gallery in a virtual world and a naked avatar approaches you. He starts dancing around and shouting, “It’s art! It’s art!” and you reply, “Well, it’s not very GOOD art. Your penis doesn’t match the skin tone of the rest of your body.” He says, “You’re mean,” and disappears.

A sign that you’re starved for affection: Your dog rests his head on your knee and you get all misty.

A sign that your local firemen are the victims of a crank caller: A fire engine comes roaring up to the bridge where you work and the men shout, “Where’s the jumper?” You reply, “Uh, there is no jumper. This bridge is only 9 feet above the water.” They look at you sheepishly and drive away.


[Image credit:]

Calling on Greenland

Okay, indulge me. I’m one of those people who firmly believes in the whole concept of six degrees of separation, so I have an assignment for you: someone out there must know someone who knows someone from Greenland, and I want them to check out my blog.

You see, whenever someone from another country visits, it colors in their country in my statistics map, and so far, Greenland has remained as white as its snowy landscape. That bugs me. I’m losing sleep over it. Seriously. I mean, I realize the population of the entire country is only about 56,000, and 89 percent of them are Greenlandic Inuits who speak Kalaallisut, and the rest mostly speak Danish, but they do teach English in school, and surely someone on the world’s largest island is a computer geek. I mean, what else is there to do at night? Fishing is the primary industry, but there are scientific expedition stations scattered across the ice sheet, one is called Summit Camp, and according to Wikipedia, their radio station Jørgen Brønlund Fjord was, until 1950, the northernmost permanent outpost in the world. Those scientists can’t play World of Warcraft all the time. They must check out other stuff once in a while, so why not my blog? Some Greenlanders could even be my distant cousins, because I’m Danish on my mother’s side. So if extra motivation is required, do it for family.

If you are from Greenland and are sitting there in your home, trying to stay warm in the perpetual light of your icy country, I send you my greetings. I’d love to know more about you. I think your flag (below) is cool. I love rubies, and didn’t even know that you had ruby deposits until I started researching for this blog entry. Not that I’m hinting that you send me one. But I wouldn’t turn it down.

Thank you for visiting. Please come again!

Tak for dit besøg. Venligst komme igen!      (Wish I could also say that in Greenlandic, not just Danish, but there doesn’t seem to be a free translator on line.)