Living a life 2.0, motivation and engagement in virtual worlds

In the documentary Life 2.0 you can follow the lives of different persons and their involvement in the virtual world: Second Life. These characters are very different in real life and likewise their motivations to live in Second Life are also dissimilar.

There is Ayya, an avatar of a ten year old girl who goes to school, makes friends and explores the world, this avatar is controlled by a male adult. In the case of Ayya it is very clear how there is a disfunction in the sense that the involvement seems to come from an obsessive passion, he needs to be in the world, he has a compulsive and uncontrollable urge. We can infer from this that the basic needs of this man are not being met in real life. (Ryan, Przybylski, Rigby, 2010) We see later in the documentary that in fact there was a need for social connectedness in the present and that playing the game was also a way to experience a fun, safe childhood which he wasn't able to have. Throughout the documentary we see how this man tries to connect with his wife, the wife however doesn't want to talk about it because she is embarrassed that he choose to be a girl, he kept telling her that there was something that he was getting out of being a girl. Later in the documentary we learned that he was abused as a child just as his sister were; he was in fact saying "I'm also one of the girls" he was trying to tell the world about the abuse.

Another story is the one of Asri Falcone. I think that we can explain her experience with the theory of optimal experience of Csikszentmihalyi. She experiences flow and is able to spend many hours in the game because she found a way to use her abilities. Her skills match the challenges and she is able to create. I think that self-determination theory also helps explain her interest in Second Life she has opportunities for action, challenges in which she can demonstrate her competence and an opportunity for relatedness. She is very successful in Second Life and has been able to make money out of playing! She considers herself lucky because her work is more like play, she is experiencing flow everyday and living a fulfilled life.

The third story is that of Annie and Bluntly, they fall in love in Second Life. They probably both had a need to connect, and Second Life gave them that relatedness. They translated their relationship to real life and were unsuccessful at the end. I can imagine that perhaps SL also satisfied another need of Bluntly: control. I am guessing that he needs to feel a lot of autonomy and that is why he had trouble adapting to a life with a family. Their life together didn't satisfied his basic human needs, he couldn't control the daughter and he didn't feel competence because he couldn't find a job.

As we can see virtual worlds provide the social context where humans can have experiences that satisfy their universal human needs and their involvement in them seems very natural. The amount of time they spend in them is directionally proportional to how well are these needs being met in the virtual world and inversely related to how well those needs are met outside of it.

Great documentary, a must-watch, for those that want to understand motivation in spending time in virtual worlds.