PostHeaderIcon Second Life: Endorphin Rush Drug Fix

[Update: totally freaky-weird - Tateru Nino has posted an new article on the whole "first hour" thing here. Well - I just noticed it, I'll put it that way. - though this article of mine was written on Friday last week. /me hears Twilight Zone music in my head]

There has been a lot of commentary over the years about the retention of new users most, if not all virtual worlds and MMO's struggle with. Tateru Nino and others have written on this many times. It seems a pyramid is built where the base is the start resembling the many, many people reviewing the web site and working up to the top: the completion of that "first-hour" experience.

Egypt, April 2009

You know the routine: The 'base" being the first step: reviewing the web site information. Next step up: actually creating an account. Next: downloading the software, then installing that software, moving up the pyramid to actually fire it up, then login... then fiddle with the interface and seeing the world for the first time. And thus begins that 'crucial first hour'.

But it doesn't stop there.

The pyramid is bent, like the Sneferu's second pyramid in Egypt, affectionately nicknamed the "bent pyramid"; A very wide base that narrows as we climb higher. Then, we reach that point of downloading the software and actually logging-in. This is where I suspect the "bend" is located, where the numner of people dramatically falls-off. However, if you take it further still, beyond the 'crucial first hour', our pyramid is actually bent in the opposite direction: Extend the height of the pyramid to say two years beyond that first hour. It goes from a very wide base to a narrow size almost immediately. From there, the sides are very steep. And the majority of our pyramid is more like a spire. The point where it goes from being a pyramid and changes into a spire would be the conclusion of that first hour as people "fall away' steadily, but at a far more gradual pace.

If you consider the base to be the number of people investigating the Second Life web site, and the further up we go being the people that actually follow-through to then create an account, and continue on to download the viewer, then actually install it and fire it up and finally even to finally log-in to the grid...

Then make it past that crucial "first hour"... we have a 'new resident'.

Well, unless it's an alt.

The christening of a "new resident" who has completed that first hour is the point of our pyramid where the shape drastically changes and it goes from a recognizable pyramid converting into a spire, continuing upward.

The 'spire' portion of our pyramid are those 'residents' on the grid doing things and comfortable with Second Life - all introductory hurdles successfully accomplished. But yet, it still narrows as we go higher. Those residents who eventually stop logging-in, or allow their accounts to fade away and start-over as alts, or for whatever reason, allow their in-world persona to simply "die."

An SL account that 'fades' away - the way a majority of 'lost residents' disappear I suspect - is like the flame at the end of a candle wick, the rotating, recycling resident population of Second Life, at the top-end of our 'inverted bent pyramid' flickers and puffs and struggles to stay alive... until it eventually just goes away and a thin, barely visible stream of left-over smoke wafts away for a few seconds.

It is like a water fountain. Second Life account typists (think Soul?) being the water that is simply recycled again and again from one account to the next. How many times have you peeked at a profile and it will say something to the effect of:
'Don't let the date fool you, I'm no newbie.'
'Starting over so don't let my rez-date fool you'
'No drama please! Starting over because I'm tired of it'

...or even better: a damned good-looking resident with a rez-date only yesterday or within the last week? My first question is why is your rez date so important to you? It really doesn't matter, does it? Are you that conceited? The reason rez-dates are important is the same reason an alt was created in the first place.

At least those who say they are an alt in their accounts are honest about it. It's funny to me when they try to explain "Oh, I'm new. A friend got me all set-up to look this way (in one day - yeah, right - and you actually throw $25 real money into an unknown to get started without any experience, too).

So why are alt accounts so prevalent? It's not, or at least very, very rarely ever is "drama" in the original account. What it really is is the lack endorphin flow. It's that simple.

Yes, endorphins produced in our brains are really more of a pain suppressor. But an overflow of endorphins, often called an "endorphin rush" has been adopted in popular speech to refer to feelings of exhilaration. As I refer to endorphins and endorphin rush here, it is simply an example of the feeling one feels and not meant to be literal.

Look back to the first time you saw the world on the grid. Think back to the awe and wonder that it was. Is it still full of the same awe and wonder for you? I doubt it. Yes, there are places you might visit and see that bring these fleetingly, but as a rule you are settled-in and comfortable with the grid, the viewer and Second Life as a whole. You know how to move around adeptly, how to shop and find what you want, how to judge the value of a single Linden Dollar and whether a product for sale is worth L$1000 or not more than L$10.

You are on the path to boredom.

But you don't want SL to be boring because the world is still too fascinating to leave it. So you try something new because it's so easy to do. You started out as the typical wholesome neighbor man or woman but now decide to try something a little 'riskier' - instead of the typical 'free sex extravaganza club" you decide to peek into the taboo and try-on silks and a collar or buy a sword and leather or maybe stick a pair of fangs into your mouth...

But even those become boring after awhile, when the newness wares-off. The shininess dulls, time to explore some more. You look into role-play - decide to become a medieval knight or Spartan soldier, to perhaps a faerie or even some kind of wicked demon. Or a magic user. Yes, that's it! Spend L$4000 for one of those awesome "Magic-casting" HUDs and role-play a powerful wizard!

And then find that you rarely get to actually throw your magic around because role playing is work. So you move-on to another role-playing sim that caters to a completely new-to-you genre and the excitement starts over again.

Until you become comfortable in it.

Like dogs, we as humans are generally pack-animals. We want and enjoy social interaction. And we tend to gravitate often to one specific 'significant other'. Hence, the reason for the massive profusion of romantic (and other) monogamous relationships in Second Life.

Many often explode into dramatic splits but most simply fizzle-out. Only for each member to rekindle with another later-on. It is pretty rare that a romantic relationship will last more than a few months, often not more than a few weeks.

An acquaintance of mine just recently went through this cycle. And it's a pretty common cycle that works the same way no matter if it's a romantic relationship, a new role-play sim or even Second Life as a whole in general:

  1. Entirely new thing, something we haven't seen/heard/felt or otherwise experienced yet. Something 'new' and 'shiny' to us. Our brains and imagination is stimulated. The excitement escalates, endorphin-rush kicks-in and starts flooding our minds. We have high-hopes and want more of it.

  2. We become comfortable, content, happy. A routine begins and a we settle-in.

  3. The routine is becoming mundane. It's always the same thing, different day.

  4. Something else catches our eye that promises (step 1 above) and we want it. Need to touch it. Know what it feels like. But what about where I am now? Sometimes it's the other way around and "drama" causes us to go looking for something new.

  5. We move-on, allowing our current "place in the world" to fizzle, the magnetic attractiveness of that new shiny thing is too big a draw, it mesmerizes us and pulls us toward it, away from where we are now. Recycle to step one above.

This is why there is high turn-over of role-players on role-playing sims. Except for a few "pillars", the population and characters in role-playing sims constantly change with new characters coming in as old characters just... kind of... stop showing up.

This is why alt accounts are created, to begin the search for or experience of the 'new' while having that comfort zone to slip back into on our main accounts. Sometimes alts are created specifically as a replacement for our "old" main accounts (hence the "Ignore birthdate" messages in profiles.)

As for the reason for mundaneness on the grid and specifically with romantic relationships...

Part of the problem with SL is how everything moves so quickly.

Time is compressed. What might feel like a week in our first lives feels like a month is SL, This doesn't help things any. Also, our actual contact with one another in SL is limited - so it when it is new it is exciting, fresh. Especially when that contact is so limited - a couple hours a day in most cases. It is a 'treat' like a desert - something special you get once a day.

And above that, the physical contact we have is perceived. However, because it's in our minds, our imaginations kick-in to fill-in the blanks. The majority of our experience in Second Life is in our imaginations, which tends to exaggerate things to begin with. Then there is the grid itself: there are "a million things" to "do" - but whatever it is and whatever they are, they still are just images on a screen. So even if we see and "do" new things - there is still the routine of being comfortable with how things work when our minds and imaginations want something fresh and new on a constant basis.

The shiny wears-off rather quickly.

Endorphins aren't being produced and flowing so freely, in our comfort things become mundane. We want fresh excitement, new shinies, new exploration, something our minds haven't yet explored... Or - some kind of thrill. It's why the Gor role-playing sims are so popular - and even within that community there is so much 'capture, enslavement, combat' - because it's a thrill. Imagine yourself being captured and being threatened with a collar around your neck, like a dog - and that you will be sold into slavery and you are bound-up tightly and unable to break free... no escape...

Sure it's Second Life, but it becomes really hard to not tap that teleport button and role-play the scenario out. That is an endorphin rush that comes very rarely. And that is what our minds want. But being 'captured' too often and it becomes... mundane. Tiring. Boring.

One of the sources of new and shiny is in the new personalities, new ... people we meet. The mysterious is what holds our attention. The unknown keeps us curious and curiosity is what makes things interesting. Once you've learned all about the 'thing' or person... it becomes predictable, routine, mundane. Our interest fades and wanes and eventually fizzles.

My inverted bent pyramid chart

(In case the caption is difficult to read: the "measurements" are bogus and completely from the hip, intended as an example only and the percentages are examples of remaining residents, not the number who leave.)

Thus, the relationship - with the other person, the role-play sim, your character, your SL account... Second Life itself...


And for most of these accounts or participation in role-play or... relationships, all that is left is a faint wisp of smoke that wafts away for a few seconds then disappears - often - forever more.
blog comments powered by Disqus