wanna play me?

I used to think of God as the “third place”-an external hard drive on which we stored all the contradictions and unknowns, the programs that would crash our daily operating systems. Now I have a new third place: Second Life.

Which is fitting since as J. Huizinga reminds us in “Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon” [Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, 1950], Plato conceived of religion as play consecrated to the Deity. Life in Second Life is definitely play-a game, according to C. Crawford, because it is representational, interactive and safe [“What Is a Game?,” The Art of Computer Game Design, 1982].

During the class session we held in SL, one student-avatar said that to be interesting a game must have an element of danger. But clearly, his dramatic act of stripping down to his Jockey shorts while risqué was hardly risky-unless someone snapped a screenshot and is able to tie him to it in RL incontrovertibly.

One of the main bases of civilization, play, says Huizinga, must by definition be safe, offering the illusion of conflict with no consequences. But it is also illuminating to contemplate play as revelatory seizure, an involuntary repetition representing a cosmic event (Frobenius’ “the order of nature as imprinted on [man’s] consciousness”).

Like ritual, computer gaming presents a third space in which players can invest themselves, create stories and imprint their personality. In “We Live Here: Games, Third Places, and the Information Architecture of the Future” (2006), A. Hinton says these game environments prefigure where we’re headed with conventional software and networked experiences. They may also prefigure where we’re headed in Life (the First).

In MUDs, MOOs and MMOGs, as in the Web itself (which Tim Berners-Lee viewed as “a democratic antidote to the hegemony of hierarchy”), decentralized games produced not accidental anarchy but “a social environment encouraging community and creativity” and “a collective consensus of use.”

Blurring the boundaries between first, second and third places with real-life connections outside the game, such “immersive-yet-permeable” game environments, says digital activist Joi Ito, represent “the future of real-time collaborative teams and leadership in an always-on, diversity-intensive, real-time environment. [The game] is a glimpse into our future.”

With all three “places” increasingly connected, interrelated and ever-present in a world of ubiquitous computing (ubicomp), games and the Web “represent the inevitable triumph of spielraum [the third place],” concludes Hinton.

For me, the blurring of lines has already begun: I had trouble falling asleep the night I entered Second Life. And every day since, my SL story line has been running-not on some external hard drive but on an expanded memory chip implanted somewhere deep in my brain.

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