Thursday, 3 November 2011

Only Pixels?

Almost inevitably when a person complains about loosing a Meeroo, or having issues with them, some other individual will make a comment along the lines of: "They are only pixels." There are a few variations on the wording but the concept is the same and I am not entirely sure what it is intended to mean. I might just as well say: "The Mona Lisa is only paint" or "That dog is only cells." Both are accurate, but they do not convey the entirety of the object being observed. A lot more goes into Meeroos than what you see on your screen.
One explanation of what the phrase might really mean is: "They are not real." That leads us to examine what being real is. In no way are they the same as a live animal, but they do exist. Perhaps it is because, technically, they can be turned off. A light bulb can be turned on and off, but that does not make light less real. One significant difference that must be noted is that real life animals can feel pain, they can be unhappy and uncomfortable. You can buy yourself a whole litter of Meeroos for your Birthday and if in six (6) months you do not like them any more you can just delete them, or give them away. Nobody is hurt because, while they are incredible, Meeroos can not really feel. So part of what could be meant is that becoming attached to your Meeroos is one-sided. You can love your Meeroos all you want but they are, in fact; scripted. We all accept that Meeroos are simulacrum, that they mimic life. It is part of becoming immersed in Second Life, that slight suspension of disbelief that makes it possible to accept Second Life as it is. There is really no issue there, it is understood that the attachment is simulated by the Meeroos, that does not diminish the attachment their owners hold for them. Nobody, I hope, is saying that any digital pet is equivalent to a real animal. If you have to choose betwixt Meeroo food and dog food, please please, for Vashara's sake, feed the dog.

Some people have more cause to become attached, almost reliant on their Meeroos. As inevitable as the first comment disparaging the form Meeroos are presented in is the eventual reply from another player, housebound with a dying relative, confined to a bed for months at a time, permanently disabled, agoraphobic, and so on. There are so many people out there using Second Life in general and Meeroos in specific to bring some joy into their lives, to keep them company or to keep them busy when there may be nothing else there to fill that void. Would they find some other outlet if Meeroos did not exist? Many would, some perhaps not, but what matters is that they do exist and they have and or are performing that roll. When something is that important to you, maybe even keeping you sane, you can be excused for becoming slightly attached. For every corporate style mega breeder in it for the money there is another player for whom Meeroos are a lifeline.

Meeroos are pixels, that can not be denied, but they are far more than pixels. A complex web of data, scripts, prims, textures and they are real, despite the fact that you can not hold one. There are many real things that cannot be held. Meeroos should perhaps be likened to great works of art, or architecture. They are a creation of humans, and some very real people put in an awful lot of time and effort to get them to where they are now. They are not alive, just adorable.

Finally there is another interpretation of the pixels phrase that occurs to me, that what they are really saying is "You should not care so much" to which I reply: I will care as much as I like thank you, but I hope that is not the case. The recent spate of Nest giving philanthropists in Group Chat leads me to believe the vast majority of Meeroos folks have their hearts in the right place.

= I'm reading about #Meeroos: Only Pixels?Tweet this post!


  1. I love my meeroos so I think they are more than pixels. I spent a lot of my time to care them and make them advance. I think there are also involved emotions.
    If a lose one i would feel very sad. Some for the work that I did with them, others because they are special for me in some way.
    Anyway, we are very lucky to have these great CSR's that return our Roos in a very short time, returning us also our smile when we recover them.

  2. Meeroos are pixels, and programmed, it's true, but they are not, strictly speaking, "simulacrums". They are quite evidently artificial intelligence- the difference being, they have a little set of code which allows them to make decisions which they weren't directly programmed to make. They choose between mates, choose their sleeping place, choose where they play, (when they have a lot of room,) and choose even to ask for attention from people who do not own them! I have seen roos show a preference for the attentions of a non-owner over their actual owner, in fact. I have seen them develop habits unlike others. In my opinion, the differences between the code by which they make their decisions and the neurons and synapses by which we humans make our own is only a matter of complexity. If they can make choices then they demonstrate preferences. If they have preferences, then they have feelings, even if they are artificial!