There is no wall

I am not an academic. Neither have I been in Second Life for very long (two years, on 5 December), nor been a public nuisance commentator about virtuality in general, or SL in particular, for more than a few months. So, when I began to see such ‘academese’ terms as Immersionist and Augmentationist come up in the blogs and forums, I needed explanation. No, wait a minute… I thought I grokked immersion, because that’s what happens to me while I’m in-world. Just like when I’m reading, or watching a film or a play, I (at least) partially disconnect from my physical/biological surroundings. I’m not “playing” Second Life, I’m in it.

When I began the research for this post, Wikipedia backed me up

Immersive digital environments could be thought of as synonymous with Virtual reality, but without the implication that actual “reality” is being simulated. An immersive digital environment could be a model of reality, but it could also be a complete fantasy user interface or abstraction, as long as the user of the environment is immersed within it. The definition of immersion is wide and variable, but here it is assumed to mean simply that the user feels like they are part of the simulated “universe”.

Exactly my thoughts on the subject! But there’s no mention in that article of Augmentation as an opposing philosophy — nor in any of the linked articles, all of which point to game design theory (here’s a good example). There’s no mention of Second Life, or other virtual worlds of its type, either — which are unequivocally not games.

In short, this kitty was climbing up the wrong tree.

As I said: I’m not an academic. Not by profession, anyway, but I’ve written enough university-level papers, and read countless others, to know that an interpretive argument in any field must be based on primary sources. When I switched my research source to Google and used both keywords as search terms (immersionist + augmentationist), I hit pay-dirt on page 1: an article by Akela Talamasca in Second Life Insider (predecessor to Massively) titled “Immersionist or Augmentationist?” While it contains useful, though dated (Sep 2006), interpretation by way of summary, that article’s main feature is its link to what I feel safe in judging is the primary source: “Augmentation vs Immersion” (Aug 2006), a paper presented in wiki format by Lys Ware as an adjunct to his/her blog, “Second Life Creativity”.

Now I’m confronted with the fact that “Immersionist” was coined with an entirely different meaning than my understanding of it.

The immersion view is that SL is its own thing and should not be contaminated by anything from the outside. […] Overall there is a sense that “What happens in SL stays in SL” as someone put it the SLCC 06 recently. Your SL and RL identity are two different sides of you that should not mix

I’ve seen this attitude expressed in the “1st Life” tabs of hundreds of profiles (I’m an inveterate profile reader – it’s what they’re for, after all). “SL is SL, RL is RL; never the twain shall meet, and don’t you dare ask.” Ware also makes a penchant for roleplay part of the criteria for the immersionist tag — by which he/she and others mean “strict” (or canonical) roleplay, which I’ve discussed previously.

Ware is much less quotable about the philosophical stand represented by Augmentationism, so I fall back to the Insider article:

The Augmentationists view SL as an extension of their RL, more as a tool to be used to interact with others. These residents see nothing wrong (in general) with more interaction and connectivity with RL

Examples given tend to include what was then an increase in real-world corporate and institutional interest in SL (before the Hype of ’07, mind you), and the smattering of professional musicians who simulcast live performances into SL.

By the way, everyone I’ve read on this topic emphasizes that these are the opposite extremities of a continuum, and individuals will appear somewhere in the gradient between. If one were red and the other blue (to borrow a cliché from politics), almost all of us would be a shade of purple.

Here’s another take on the I/A dichtomy. Desmond Shang posed a curious topic on SL Universe, “Grid liberal or conservative ~ which?” I’ll leave you to look at his suggestions for categories of what people think about the meta-state of Second Life (given that those who do are a minority of the concurrent logins at any one moment). Instead, I’ll quote (with permission) most of a post on page 2, by Khamudy Mannonen:

I tend to think of people in Second Life as being principally divided along a number of axes. The oldest one is probably the division between immersionists, who want SL to be a kind of self-contained experience within itself, a place where people can have an actual ‘second life’ that has little to no bearing on their RL situation or who want an ‘organic’ culture to emerge within Second Life that is not overly dependent on influences outside SL. Opposite these people are the augmentists [sic], who want Second Life to be an extension of things they are doing elsewhere, either online or in real life, and want SL to be a platform for communicating these activities – through business, virtual office spaces, inworld environments for real world charities, etc.

I’d say another axis would be the division between the philosophies regarding Second Life and the wider environment of the internet; the difference between isolationists and expansionists. Isolationists want Linden Lab to focus on the core Second Life experience, on those improvements that are directly related to the day-to-day functioning of SL and maintaining Second Life as a distinct, closed environment. Perhaps the extreme of this ideology is people who want LL to close the client and end all open source participation, closing the grid off from non-official viewers. Opposing those would be individuals who regard SL as being the gateway to a “3D internet” and that SL will be a kind of common, open platform for this structure to emerge from.

Perhaps closely related to this axis would be a third one that determines [what] an individual believes Second Life’s ‘core demographic’ is. Is it towards hobbyists, the existing residents and Second Life as a social platform, or is it the education, corporation and institutional users and Second Life as being a platform for business, training and education?

I think Khamudy’s latter two axes are a lot more political and SL-centric than they are over-archingly philosophical, though I’m certain they will have application in other VWs as those leave their infancy. Even so, they’re insightful, valid, and worthy of further discussion. (Feel free to pursue them with Comments!)

The deeper I delve into this, the more I’m convinced that the original terms were misleadingly named. We all undergo immersion to some degree when entering Second Life (or other virtual worlds, or games, or what-have-you). Separationist is a better term for the attitude described in Ware’s paper. In one respect, it strikes me as resembling a gamer’s orientation to the experience in that, when we log off, it goes away — like closing a book, or leaving the theater. More important, however is the idea that there is an impermeable wall between two distinct lives.

It seems logical that the polar opposite of separation is integration, but the vague definitions of “Augmentationist” are only half-done. Before we can fully describe an Integrationist, refer back to Khamudy’s first paragraph. There is an implied directionality in it (as there is in the simpler description provided by the Insider); i.e., what we bring into SL from outside, without addressing what we take out of it. That’s the missing half: SL is not a tool, but a source.

The immediate obvious example of Integrationist thought and behavior is this blog, and the dozens (hundreds?) like it, as well as: the forums (particularly SLU); the photography-sharing sites like Koinup, Flickr and Picasa; the social networking apps like Twitter and Plurk; even, gods-help-us, Facebook. Yet, possibly the most amazing thing about all of that is not the volume of information being shared about Second Life outside of SL, nor the number of people sharing, but that almost all of them do so as their avatars. If that’s not immersion, then I don’t know what is. Integrationists have one life. There is no wall.

I’ll leave this with one final curiosity: Integration shares its Latin root with integrity: integer (“untouched, unhurt, unchanged, sound, fresh, whole, entire, pure, honest”) < in + tangere (“to touch”)

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
— Oscar Wilde

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PS: There’s an Integrationist movement afoot.
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10 responses to “There is no wall

  1. I've not heard Henrik called Lys for a while; I had to do a double take. :D

    In the 2006-2007 time frame, these were terms that help frame discussions in terms of values and perspectives about the future of the SL platform. They weren't intended to be misleading, but were well suited for the issues and concerns at the time.

    Henrik joined an informal discussion in world in 2008 and Prokofy has a nice post about it here: http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2008/03/immersion-vs-au.html

    Henrik discussed his Archetypes model in that dicussion http://slcreativity.org/wiki/index.php?title=Archetypes and like any framework, if taken out of context as a static literalism will also cause some dismay but I prefer it as a framework because it speaks to motivations and activity over beliefs or philosophies.

    At any rate, welcome to the ever evolving conversation. My own first blog post http://phasinggrace.blogspot.com/2006/10/immerse-rinse-repeat-augment_28.html was motivated by this type of thinking. :D

  2. Botgirl: As has often been the case, you're to blame for getting my brain moving ;) Thank you.

    Grace: Thank you, too.:)

    Of course, I didn't think Henrik/Lys's choice of terms was deliberately misleading. Perhaps they have been taken out of context when applied to the wider scope of interaction in/with the Metaverse… but they have been, nonetheless. As both situations and thinking have evolved beyond '06-'07, the terms and the concepts they represent — while valid — also needed a kick in the evolutionary pants.

    Henkrik's discussion of Archetypes was the second page of that wiki I read while researching. It definitely deserves another visit, and comparison to/synthesis with Khamudy's three-axis suggestion.

  3. Grace: I like your idea that a perspective of motivation and activity may reveal a different picture than beliefs and philosophy. I tried to focus on motivation and activity in a few charts about disclosure and pseudonymity http://botgirl.blogspot.com/2009/10/pseudonymity-disclore-and-activity.html

    I'm interested in the idea of an Archetypes model, but so far this particular four quadrant version doesn't resonate.

    I tried to hack into an activity-based perspective by creating a visual map of Second Life subcultures and communities of interest, but it ended up not being useful from the standpoint of my focus of interest on identity:

    http://www.mindmeister.com/32802237/sl-subcultures-and-cois (By the was that map is in a wiki-like setting that can be modified/extended by anyone with the inclination.)

    Lalo: Thanks. I think we are starting to push past some of the old dichotomies that as Grace said, were useful at the time but may be outdated.

    I realize this is anecdotal, but the most active, ardent and high profile Separatists I've known over the last couple of years in SL were the founders of the Extropia sims. Three out of four have left Second Life because they couldn't figure out how to integrate their two lives/identities. I suspect that most people will find that 30+ hours or more a week in a disconnected virtual identity is not sustainable.

  4. Botgirl: Anecdotal, but illustrative. It hasn't been long since you posted about the disappearance of the latter two of those three.

    I begin to wonder, now, if Separationists are any more prone to “SL burnout” than Integrationists. Probably impossible to quantify…

  5. Wow, never thought of myself as a separationist, or any other ~ist really.

    I have a much more mundane view really. I do workshopy things in my workshop, bedroomy things in my bedroom. I don't get the oil paints out when I go online, and SL has its own 'realm' of creation and “being”. I am constantly amazed at how varied the attitudes are and love this diversity.
    I would have to agree tho with the philosophical thought that “duality is the start of all delusion” i.e. there is a basic unity and that categorisation is a basically outmoded Victorian pastime.

    What we have in common is far more interesting than what separates us.

  6. soror: The human drive to categorize goes back a lot farther than Victorian times. However — synchronicity rides again! — as I was waking up this morning and thinking about this blog's topic, I noticed an analogy to what in the 19th Century was called “Natural History”. Then, in the real world — as now, in the virtual — curious individuals were doing the first analytical thinking about their surroundings, beginning with categorizing what they found. That work, coupled with discussion about categories, was the foundation of what we call Science.

    My own stand on duality comes by analogy from quantum physics. Is a photon (the quantum of electromagnetic energy) a wave, or a particle? The answer is “Yes.”

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