Virtually Real: Being in Cyberspace

Table of Contents


    This is a collaborative project. I hope you will be interested enough to help improve this resource.

    I wrote this in 2014, so the technology bits have aged a bit. This version has some changes from the original. Mostly these have been to add information that wasn’t available at the time. I am sure there are many more things that could improve this work of which I am entirely innocent. Please tell me about them.


    This work is an autoethnographic account of my search for the sacred in cyberspace.

    The research was conducted in the virtual world Second Life, and in particular in two role play communities set in Ancient Egypt. Virtual worlds are often criticised as unreal, as just games. Here I explore the ontological status of virtual worlds, recognising the priority for their inhabitants of lived experience over purely rational assessments. This research is unique and important as no monograph of role play communities in Second Life has yet been published, and yet tens of millions of people spend an increasing amount of time in virtual and game worlds, often preferring them to the meatspace world.

    I recount my experiences with ritual in cyberspace, describing sacred virtual space, and its relationship to sacred meatspace from a Pagan perspective. I compare two initiation rituals, and describe how one produced the perception of sacred space, in both meatspace and the virtual world, while the other remained only a role play.

    Finally I analyse an opening of the mouth ritual to reveal the way we make sense of our own realities by building on and remixing what came before us, and to argue that there are many truths and that objectivity is impossible in the human condition. This is the story of how I became one with my avatar, despite my best efforts not to do so.

    Themes of the fun economy, remix culture, and copyright inform the analysis in the thesis. I explore Castronova’s concept of the fun economy, the amalgam of work, play and education which characterises twenty first century life in the developed world.

    Freedom and fun are the motivators for the inhabitants of virtual worlds and the bounds of these are defined by copyright. This issue is examined through the lens of the Second Life permissions system and the work of Lessig and his concept of remix culture. I argue that remix culture has permeated the entirety of human history, giving examples from ancient Egypt through to the present day, and consider the implications for human culture if restrictive copyright laws continue to dominate legal frameworks, despite their failure to achieve their desired ends. Exploring our future in cyberspace though Kurzweil’s conceptualisation of the singularity, I consider the possibilities of his predicted combination of the worlds of meatspace and the virtual.

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