Over ten years ago I joined Second Life, the virtual world thing. I quickly became hooked; it was my next choice of online socialising platform, the first being Yahoo Chat!, and there were a few others in between.
I remember being immediately hooked on the internet; because I only had pay-per-minute dial-up internet connection and on a telephone line that I shared with the rest of the house. I quickly realised I was unable to self-impose restrictions to my time online and I’m pretty sure my college studies suffered because of this.
I have since learned that while the internet and the various chat platforms available at the time felt like the ideal way for me to socialise (because I seemed to lack such opportunities (and abilities) out in the real world), the internet was also a form of escape. I was battling through my college years at the time and I now see that whenever I have something mildly challenging to deal with in life, sitting at my computer is my go-to form of escape.
I’ve noticed how, over the years, I’ve exchanged one such thing for another – filling a hole where one has been left; so when my time in Yahoo Chat! ended I turned to something else, then something else, then Second Life for some years, and even blogging on WordPress, or watching stuff on Youtube, and creating a website on Neocities (along with other interactions there).
I believe it was the book The Loneliness Cure by Kory Floyd which I read in 1019 that gave me much insight into and explanations for this seeking of escape.
Today I learned that Second Life is banning ‘gachas’. These are things I’ve never actually been into in the virtual world, perhaps either because I recognised the ‘gambling’ aspect and shied away from them, or because I’m tight with my money and I could see how the hunt for a particular thing could become quite costly.
“Gacha mechanics are similar to loot boxes [in games] in that they offer a random reward in exchange for payment. The monetisation tool [in Second Life] has come under increasing scrutiny due to its similarity to real-world gambling and its prominence in popular games, many of which are played by children and young adults.” – www.gamasutra.com
It frustrates me when things are deemed to be only harmful to “children and young adults” because I can see how they contribute to many a miserable life for adults too. Yes, it could be deemed to be a sign of immaturity of the kind of mind that gets hooked on something (this seems to be how it is perceived by those fortunate enough to not find themselves in such situations) but it’s beside the point that such things aren’t helping anyone beyond those making money out of such things.
In Second Like you can purchase virtual things (essentially using real money). Things from clothing and accessories for your avatars, to vehicles, homes, and more.
Gacha machines typically present a collection of things that each have a different ‘value’ attributed to them, with some things being ‘common’ and others being ‘rare’. (I’ve even considered that such machines could surely be simply rigged to get even more money out of a victim.) You’ll see something you like and pay into the machine (which often looks like a gambling machine) in the hope that you get what you want; the more ‘rare’ the thing is, the lower the odds of you getting that thing first try and you’ll try again, and again… It’s clearly gambling, and presented as a fun and harmless game, just like much of what’s in Second Life.
A few times I’ve been given things by friends who have paid into such machines and who have been landed with multiple things (and copies of them) that they didn’t want. It makes me laugh, but it’s a concern too.
It has perhaps been a long-time in the making that gatcha machines would be banned. Other things aren’t allowed or have been banned over the years; different regions within the virtual world, and even clothing and accessories you can purchase in the Marketplace, have different Maturity levels attributed to them. But when you ban or restrict one thing, why not ban or restrict others? There’s often a fine line being trod, and many a grey area.
One thing within Second Life that I did get hooked on ‘playing’ for a while was Lucky Chairs/Boards. These are also typically found in virtual stores and they display a random character along-side an item you might want; if your name begins with that character you get to sit on the chair or click the board and win the item. No payment is requested, however you typically have to have joined the store’s group and there may be a fee for this.
I don’t know why this became so addictive for me, I was otherwise bored and perhaps lonely at the time, but I can remember just standing around at these stores waiting for my letter to come up for an item I perhaps didn’t really want that badly, or I could have just purchased (I might be working on something else on my computer at the time, not just staring at the screen waiting!) I get a similar mindset when I’m trying to avoid logging in to such a site/platform and yet I still find myself relenting, like there truly is an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other. In fact I once had a friend that didn’t understand the fascination with lucky chairs/boards and when I was hanging out at a store waiting for a thing, she just offered to buy the item for me so we didn’t have to be there! That didn’t seem to be so fun!
Lucky Chairs/Boards seemed to be an ideal way to obtain things with little or no money. In fact, I’ve never actually put any real money into Second Life so have often enjoyed partaking in activities that enable me to acquire things. ‘Hunts’ were another such thing I played for a while where you have to search for hidden items, with some of the larger events having hundreds of items to find spanning as many stores and virtual regions. I remember feeling disorientated and mildly unwell from all of the looking around, and then there were all of the things I’d accumulated in my inventory that I had to open up, check out, and try on my avatar – most of which got deleted, which is probably why the enjoyment of such games eventually wore off. Taking part in such events with friends, or even making friends along the way with people also participating, was certainly a nice aspect and gives me fond memories.
For those that have a social aspect along with their gacha-playing, they may well find their time in Second Life will be less fun once all the gacha machines are removed (I’m imagining some of the stores keeping them in place but taping them off like when Lockdown was in place and the public were not allowed to buy things that weren’t deemed ‘essential’…), perhaps they’ll move onto something else that’s addictive.
It seems a little strange that ‘gambling’ is only deemed to be such, and therefore either bad for minors, when actual money is changing hands. If anything, addictive tendencies should be discouraged, regardless of whether there is money being lost or harm being inflicted. Do children not still collect stickers that come in random assortments and have similar ‘common’ and ‘rare’ values attributed to them? I believe they do; a local news agents seems to give away the sticker books from time to time… but what are you going to do with such a thing, other than buy the stickers for it…
Other addictions within Second Life could be presented as examples here, from pretend junk food being displayed (yes you can buy that too in Second Life), to sexualised content (from the mild to the extreme, not to mention illegal in some cases) that might promote unhealthy habits and addictions. Where does this end?