The following four vignettes have stuck with me since I watched them first in 2006, following the worldwide curiosity pique with the virtual world phenomena. As a filmmaker, when I first explored virtual worlds I wanted to document their religions like an anthropologist. I planned to make an hour-long film about the religious centers and religious spaces that could be explored inside the most popular world known as Second Life. My film was an expression of online religious seeking, based loosely on the book Give Me That Online Religion (a book that presciently anticipates virtual worlds) with themes borrowed from the novel Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre.
The project was never finished because the hard drive which held these file failed. Like the story of the wolf and the grapes I decided my filmmaking skills were not up to par anyway. However, several people I met and interviewed I discovered later had been featured in news interviews. The owner of a Jewish religious center, for example, aired on National Public Radio talking about Second Life and Judaism.
The film was initially supposed to be about my own experience traveling through Second Life with my gothic vampire avatar. He explores online Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism, Buddhism, Wicca, Judaism of all sorts, Islam, Classicism, Unitarianism, Bahai, and many new age breeds of just about everything. Every perplexity in real life is magnified with the new metaphor about the virtual world. He had encountered dozens of people and had conversations with them via skype, and these were all recorded. The script essentially wrote itself. Most of the places the avatar visited, however, were empty and lifeless. I usually found just a single occupant who was excited to have a new visitor (and virtual world journalist) visit them while they organized pixels.
The loneliness I found online reflected the poverty of online escapism, especially when combined with religious escapism. Eventually my character was unsatisfied with the “answers” everywhere he looked, and concluded that virtual life was every bit as meaningless as life in the real world. It was only an an extension of real world, and did not transcend it. This was, essentially, a reflection of my personality at the time, an expression of my dissatisfaction with the world and the multiplicity of cosmological stories and devices for overcoming alienation and despair.