I love Dr. Seuss. If he were alive today, I could imagine him being very taken with the creativity of Second Life. Not to create children’s books, but to build some fantastic places. Of his books, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is my favorite. It is wonderfully random and, as one friend in my first life wondered, if he may have, um, chemically expanded his reality when he wrote it. But there is a page in it with the lines: “We see them come. We see them go. Some are fast. And some are slow. Some are high. And some are low. Not one of them is like another. Don’t ask us why. Go ask your mother.” I’m not entirely sure what my mother would have said if I asked her, but she probably would have said something along the lines of: “It means that people come in all shapes and sizes, do things differently, and you never really know how long anyone is going to be part of your life.”
Of course, the same holds true for people in our second lives as well. One important part of Second Life culture that few actually talk about is that we never know how long anyone is going to be in-world. The brutal fact is that very active Residents leave the virtual world behind pretty frequently. If you’ve been in-world for any length of time, chances are good that someone you’ve grown close to has left Second Life. (Or left that particular second life behind to start a third or forth instead, but I’m not going to talk about that phenomenon.) But what do we do when people leave?
I can hear it now, you migh be muttering: “Just great Lanna, I hope you don’t plan to talk about taxes, too!” Nope, but if you have curiosity about my thoughts on virtual death, read on after the jump…
Some significant differences exist between virtual death and real death. Of course there are always the cases where death in the atomic world is the cause of death in the virtual; when this happens, the finality is clear. But what of other virtual deaths? In many ways, it depends a great deal on how the person left the world. In some instances, people simply log off never to be seen or heard from again. Sometimes there is a rapid departure, but contact through other means than SL. Then come two types of slower virtual death. The first is when people seem to have a growing dissatisfaction with their digital life and log in less and less until they more or less fade away. The second is the long goodbye; these are people who set a departure date and have tearful goodbyes with friends and loved ones. But no matter how they left, the reality is that they are virtually dead.
What happens after they’ve gone? There is an impact on people still in Second Life and on the person who has left. Reactions in either instance depend upon the person, of course. Since they’re gone and we’re left behind, it is easy to forget that many of the people leaving feel a loss as well. I’ve had a few close friends who I’ve stayed in touch with after they’ve left Second Life. The interesting thing for them is that they all have mentioned that it has taken considerable work on their part to let go of their SL, often with few support structures to help them move on. Granted, their need to stay out of SL has outweighed feelings of loss, but there is loss just the same.
Then there is coping with virtual death by those of us still in Second Life. Just like loss in our first lives, people cope in ways that make sense for them, but no two ways are the same. I can’t say that there is a right or wrong way, but I am surprised how many people seem to have a difficult time moving on. A close friend’s lover left Second Life quite some time ago, and she will still talk about wanting him to come back. The part that seems unique about it, however, is the doubt that I’ve seen among many people. Of course, part of it depends upon what you know about the circumstances of their departure. With no word, there is obvious worry and concern. But for those who do know what happened, how much is the concern twinged with question? Are they really gone and not just an alt? Could they come back someday?
Others have addressed virtual death, of course. In her blog, Botgirl suggested creating some sort of virtual ritual to help find some closure. CronoCloud wrote about the holes in her heart by those who have left. People have created the Remembering Our Friends Memorial in-world. I know there have been other who have shared their feelings of virtual loss. For me, I’ve certainly missed love ones who have left, but am happy that my time with them has embiggened me in many ways. For those I’ve had the good fortune to know love but have left, I always envision them moving forward to continue growing in their first life. But I also keep in mind one of the two things I vividly remember learning in second grade. (I’m certain that I learned more than these two things, but for some reason these define my time in Mrs. Grace’s classroom.) The first is the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer and the second is very short song about friendship. It starts with “make new friends, but keep the old/one are silver, and the other gold.” For me, every new person I meet builds and enriches the foundation laid by every other friend I’ve ever had in Second Life.
Have you been touched by the virtual death of a close Second Life friend? How did you deal with it? Should we think about ways to help people as they leave or those left behind?