Second Life? I’m all right, thanks

Last night, I watched Channel 4’s documentary about online virtual worlds, Another Perfect World. Actually, I only saw some of it; Flight of the Conchords was on another channel halfway through the programme, which was always going to beat a show about really pale people with bits of biscuit in their beards sitting in a dark room staring wistfully at their grotty little flickering PCs.

What I saw of Perfect World, though, was classic shout-at-the-screen TV. Who are these people? What do they get out of it? Why don’t they just go out and do some real stuff, the kind of thing proper people, like me, do?

Don’t pretend you haven’t done it; at some point everyone’s sat at home and smugly slagged people off for going on Big Brother, or slated them for spending their whole life playing games, all the while feeling all superior and better about themselves and ignoring the delicious irony that, while the people in these shows are actually out there doing all this crap, shitty stuff, we’re all cooped up inside watching an hour-and-a-half-long TV show about them doing their crap, shitty stuff. Which surely means our lives are even crappier and even more shitty than theirs?

That said, I found the concept of these virtual worlds a bit odd. Why would anyone want to spend actual money on buying, for instance, a new little pixelated bed for an online alter ego – or avatar, apparently – to do a spot of horizontal dancing in? Or set up a Second Life business that could go bust and potentially propel them into actual debt in the real world. Or, worst of all, have a weird binary affair that results in their actual wife – who can give them an actual blow job, remember – divorcing them?

Well, earlier today, I thought I’d realised why. It was a nice day, so as I was packing up to leave the office I toyed with the idea of going for a run in the park. I was pretty fired up for it, too, but then, just before I left, I read a column in the Guardian about a fit, active Fitness First-goer who had a heart attack on leaving the gym.

First things first, let’s hope that the writer makes a full recovery. But the story got me thinking, and that thinking put me off doing anything strenuous ever again. The more I thought about it, the more I began to remember other health-related scare stories where apparently fit and healthy people had dropped dead. Like the 25-year-old builder who popped his clogs playing his girlfriend at Wii Fit.

I Googled the story again, just to check I hadn’t imagined it. I hadn’t, and I didn’t want to go for a run after that.

Being something of a relentless hypochondriac anyway, these kinds of stories erect even more serious barriers between me and getting out and doing anything active or constructive. It’s these kind of random events that scare me the most – the ones that no one could ever see coming. And, it turns out, when you start looking for them, there is a whole world of unexpected hazards out there waiting to pounce.

Another story caught my eye today: a City banker has “gone missing”, helpfully with two shotguns in tow. Oh yeah, and he’s been made redundant and is, in the uncharacteristically understated vernacular of everyone’s favourite opinion-imparting red-top, “upset”. According to the article in The Sun, “Mr Boumeester has homes in Clapham, Belgravia and Scotland”. Brilliant. I’ve also got a home in at least one of those places – I’ll let you work out which one – so he’s out there waiting for me now, too.

So if I’m lucky enough not to die wading through swine flu on the way to work every day, or from some sort of reaction to the 400 litres of anti-bacterial sanitizer we now have to hose ourselves down with every time we go through another door, then I’ll probably get popped by the loopy spiv with two hand cannons that’s hiding around the corner from my house. Shit, even the cows are out to get us.

With all this suddenly cluttering my head, getting involved with Second Life or that Warcraft thing seemed to make a bit more sense. After all, people have lost money, even destroyed their real-world relationships, but no one’s actually died. Or have they? While researching (ha!) for this bit of writing, two things happened. First, I stumbled across this news story. Someone actually has died playing World of Warcraft. Fucking hell, nowhere’s safe.

Then, I saw this advert on TV.

And I thought, if I could die doing literally anything, I don’t want to sit in front of a stupid game in a dingy room being an elf for 12 hours a day. I want to be doing forward rolls through those massive duvets with that girl.

So I went for a run. And everything was OK.

The sun was shining. There were dogs there – they’re idiots, but they made me smile. There were girls there, too. Actual girls with real bodies and real faces. And as I was running, listening to an album by the brilliant instrumental guitar band El Ten Eleven, it all – a little bit, at least – started to make sense.

So there it is. We’re all going to die, so just get on with it. I am still slightly concerned about that gun-toting maniac on the loose in Clapham, though…


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