Over at the Institute For Ethics & Emerging Technologies Giulio Prisco has a thought provoking post : Virtually Sacred, by Robert Geraci – religion in World of Warcraft and Second Life. The post is inspired by a forthcoming book by Robert Geraci : Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life. The book is pencilled in for an August 2014 release according to Amazon UK.
The book has a few chapters on Second Life and includes the virtual age old debate of Immersionists v Augmentationists. The basic difference is considered to be that immersionists see a virtual world such as Second Life as a place where they completely immerse a new self, one that is separate from their real life, a sort of parallel existence. Augmentationists are generally considered to be people who see Second Life as an extension of their real life, they will talk of their real life experiences, partners, job etc but will also embrace Second Life.
This used to be quite a hot topic in Second Life. Back in February 2008 New World Notes highlighted a brief discussion between the two camps with representations from Sophrosyne Stevenaag and Cyfish Traveler. Sophrosyne used to host some really interesting discussions on a Saturday evening back in the day too. Another name in these circles whom I haven’t seen or heard anything from for quite a while is Extropia DaSilva. I’d long forgotten about these sort of discussions until I read Giulio’s post today, they used to get quite heated to say the least.
Another subject at hand is that of Transhumanism, whereby people upload their brains to the machine. There are still plenty of discussions surrounding this today but not so much in Second Life as they once were. Giulio suggests a reason for this :
Transhumanists – techno-spiritual seekers who think that science and technology can and should carry humankind through its next phase of evolution – made a home in Second Life between 2006 and 2009, after which the pace of transhumanist events in Second Life slowed down due to the general Fall from media grace of Second Life.
I don’t quite agree with that theory, Second Life is still going well. I’d suggest that it may well have been that discussion groups have a hard time raising tier money, which is an age old problem for many communities in Second Life. The barriers are more financial.
Anyway back to the book, at its heart seems to be the theory that virtual spaces provide the means to build religious spaces in a fashion that 2D web pages simply can’t replicate. Furthermore they provide the means to provide spaces for new religions, as well as established ones. In his blog post Giulio explains this as :
One of Geraci’s central points is that shared virtual spaces provide a sense of place, direction, and orientation, which has profound implications for religious practice. Contrary to flat web pages, in virtual reality we can build holy places, cathedrals, and sacred objects, which act as a “physical” scaffolding to hold virtual religious communities together. While vision and hearing are powerfully engaged in consumer 3D virtual realities, the possibility to touch objects in virtual spaces “in which the brain regions associated with grasping can potentially respond as though to conventional reality,” isn’t available yet to most consumers, but this will change with new haptic interface devices. I am persuaded that next generation VR platforms, with support for haptics and full-immersion display devices like the Oculus Rift, will soon take virtually sacred spaces above critical mass.