Just when one thought it was possible to escape the confines of real life by emerging oneself into a virtual world, Second Life as a popular example, is becoming rife with destructive practices from child abuse to prostitution, and is now becoming a site for religious convergence.
Catholic missionaries have trekked the Earth to spread the word of God since the colonial era, and are now finding ways to Christianise the virtual world. An article set to appear in the August addition of the Vatican approved journal – Civilta Cattolica, is aimed to encourage Catholic missionaries to immerse themselves into the virtual world of online computer games in an attempt to convert cyber souls.
If you are not yet familiar with Second Life it is basically a vast computer-generated online world in which players can create virtual versions of themselves (known as Avatars) and can buy or sell virtual…stuff and interact with other users in several ways. The game is huge, ‘housing’ roughly 8 million ‘residents’ at present.
A Vatican priest named Father Spadaro, has been quoted in several online publications saying that “sin has flourished in the various towns which make up Second Life”. According to the same publications, acts of gambling and prostitution have become rife within the game. To give a fact closer to reality, $1.5 million (R105 million) is exchanged in the online world each day, according to Linden Labs – the creators of Second Life.
Spadaro has also said, however, that “while the virtual world might be a refuge for some people seeking to flee the real one, it is also full of people seeking something more from life, including, possibly, religious enlightenment”.
Thus there appears to positive light on either side of the ‘Christianising of the virtual world’ argument. However, the penalties for such virtual sin is becoming very real in some countries where virtual misdemeanours constitute real crimes. Germany as an example has already called authorities to investigate cases of paedophilia and virtual child abuse in the online world. In other countries virtual gambling has been completely banned.
The erotic dimension of Second Life may be a little extreme, offering players the opportunity to buy unique genitalia for their avatars, but just how dangerous is a virtual act of prostitution or paedophilia? It might not say much for the mindsets of the ‘sinful’ players, but what real damage do such acts constitute?
Second Life has already been penetrated by commercial conglomerates such as Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, BMW, Mercedes and Vodafone, which are seizing the commercial prospects the game offers. But is there really still room, or a necessity, for religious penetration too? If the virtual world is as close to reality as it appears, then what’s there to prevent the formation of religious cults? Or the outbreak of religious wars from occurring within the game as they do in real life? To me it seems that the real danger is a blurring of reality with virtuality.
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