Growing waves of virtual world users are leaving the familiar, established world of Second Life for a new meta-virtual experience, collectively called "Third Life," a new study suggests.
"Given the lag, the software conflicts, and the general emptiness and lack of purpose in the public spaces of Second Life that we have seen of late, it's no surprise that more users are retreating to a safer, if more solitary, existence," says Professor Rayburn Happysocks, founder of the Virtual University Roleplaying Group's Department of Metanomics.
"For these users, occasional emails, random Twitter updates, and other tenuous connections with their Second Lives are a safer social venue than actually venturing into an alien and hostile 'grid.' "
Dr. Happysock's thesis, funded by tip-jar donations and underground poker games, shows that more than 45% of the avatars on his friends list are now forgoing all primary virtual world contact, instead favoring a more ephemeral connection with friends through email, blogs, and social networking sites like Ning.
"These users don't have a reason to actually go into the metaverse anymore," he says. "They feel more secure with a meta-relationship to their former metaverse status," he explained. "Twitter updates and Flickr pictures are less threatening than actual in-world experiences. It's all about re-establishing a comfort zone against the alien external world."
Other scholars see a dark social trend. "This malaise is far deeper than Happysocks in his usual technophile Extropian libertarian optimism would suggest," says Doctor Killbob45, Human Paladin Level 70. "Let's step back and remember: Many avatars fled the first world for the virtual world precisely to escape the bonds of social obligation, status, and hierarchy.
"Once we become enmeshed yet again in those same hierarchies, the inevitable result will be panic and further retreat."
"Then comes the Predator drones," he whispered, in his penultimate podcast.
Shortly after posting his thesis, Doctor Killbob45 cancelled his WOW account, stopped answering his avatar's email, and abandoned his 4028 sq. meter Mainland estate, the "Erotic Pegasus Encounter Zone."
It is rumored that he now devotes all his waking moments to modding up stories about Linux distros on Slashdot and Digg, while saving up bus fare for Akihabara.