Dissociation and Second Life: Pathology or transcendence? by Gregory P. Garvey was published in Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research (volume 8, number 1) in 2010. This is a rather odd piece in my opinion (not a research study). Garvey starts out stating the operational definition of dissociation from the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV-TR, which is not unusual or even out of place in the abstract of the essay.

Then he goes on to describe questions used to measure dissociation; specifically depersonalization, de-realization, and dissociative-identity disorder (DID). More specifically he addresses the Structured Clinical Interview for Depersonalization-Derealization Spectrum (SCI-DER), a self-administered instrument and two questions on it, one of which he seems to assume refers to out-of-body (OBE) experiences.

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Not going to lie; this was pretty much the look on my face reading this essay.

The question in question is if the person has “ever felt that your body did not seem to belong to you or “you were outside your body” and cites an earlier study presumably on the SCI-DER instrument. Garvey seems to assume that the question references OBE, going on to describe it as something “some religions and cultures find desirable“, and then he states “research has shown that OBE can be induced.”

Last I checked, that statement is technically true; but if there is a quantifiable body of research on OBE proving without a doubt that the phenomenon is what it subjectively seems to be, I have yet to see it. As far as I know the OBE experience is inducible, and in some cultures and religions, desirable, but otherwise, it was considered to be in the realm of pseudoscience last I checked. It may be worth looking into again.

I say this because use of brain image scanning in the area of neuroscience has had some interesting results; though proof of the OBE experience is not one I have heard of. To be fair I haven’t researched it; maybe I will in future. But what comes next in this paper makes the whole question of OBE seem perfectly reasonable. Garvey goes on to describe the virtual game Second Life as if the gaming environment is dissociative.

To be fair, this applies to research studies; this paper is not a research study.

The way this paper is written, it is as if Garvey is saying that he could use the SCI-DER to diagnose and prove Second Life players as dissociative, and or experiencing OBE episodes because of the way the online gaming environment is designed to be experienced by its players. Garvey equates the player perspective as OBE, and avatars that “look unreal“, in “surroundings that look unreal” as “identities and personalities“.

According to Garvey, “To experience any of these disorders in real life may be considered undesirable, even pathological. But for users of Second Life such dissociative experiences are considered normal, liberating, and even transcendent.” Garvey goes on to explain the details of dissociation, dissociative states and “possession trance” from the DSM-IV, and identifies dissociative disorders by their numerical codes.

Garvey then identifies Depersonalization disorder (300.6) and Dissociative-identity disorder (300.14). as his focus of concentration for this paper and lists the diagnostic criteria. Then he describes what the DSM-IV states about both of these disorders, and then explains in slightly more detail, the SCI-DER instrument, including 5 questions from the instrument,  5 yes or no questions meant to diagnose dissociation.

Then Garvey returns to discussion of OBE, noting some “metaphysical discussion” and an (alleged) “serious scientific scrutiny” with another in-text citation (I can’t wait to see if this thing has a reference list. It cites a Silverman, 2007). He continues with a brief description of OBE as “associated” with trauma, accidents, seizures, lack of oxygen, and near-death experiences.

I could be way off my mark but I think this paper is intended as observation, preliminary to forming a question and hypothesis, in the Scientific Method. Maybe Garvey feels the observation could have important merit on future studies for treatment of dissociation disorders for instance.

But then Garvey goes on to talk about research done in Switzerland with virtual representations of avatar bodies where subjects view the projected body, but report felt sensations when the avatar bodies are prodded in the virtual environment. Similar research was conducted by a neuroscientist in the U.K., the results of which seemed to imply applications for remote hands-on work such as virtual surgery.

Garvey next discusses another study involving the work of an artist who created a virtual reality system in which users could view themselves as their avatars in the game World of Warcraft (WoW). He goes on to describe observations that were made of the WoW players, and then discusses third-person perspectives of online games versus first-person perspectives of people not engaging in online game play.

Like World of Warcraft players, Second Life players also view the gaming experience in the third-person perspective, and players of both games can have multiple avatar characters that can be designed to be distinct in physical characteristics, behaviors, and personalities. Garvey goes on to argue that multiple characters in the game “may mimic aspects of the criteria for dissociative-identity disorder (DID).

Then Garvey states that if the SCI-DER were to be modified; the word “avatar” substituted for the word “body”, Second Life players may answer yes to questions found on the SCI-DER. At this point, I started looking into seeing if the publisher and journal were legitimate academic peer-reviewed publications. It’s not a research study, its thin for a literature review. Is Garvey suggesting diagnostic or treatment applications?

This is where good critical thinking skills come in handy.

Is Garvey trying to  suggest Second Life has  potential for diagnostic or treatment applications? I suppose it’s possible; and I certainly hope that is the intent. But this paper reads like Garvey believes the users are playing this game because the perspective seems dissociative, that they are aware of it, and consider it desirable and transcendent. I wondered if Garvey realized the game environment was designed and not real.

In any case I wondered if this was an example of predatory open-access publishing. What is that you ask? It’s the academic peer-reviewed journal version of “fake news”. Opportunistic publishers that will publish anything, for a fee, claim that the paper has been through a peer-review process when it has not, and otherwise serves to counterfeit and undermine real academic and scientific papers.

Here is more on predatory open-access publishing: Benedictine University: Predatory Publishing Predatory Open-Access Publishing

This is a database that tracks such sites and can be a very useful reference for checking credibility if one has a paper that looks shady: Jeffrey Beall’s 2017 Last List of Predatory Journals

Next, let’s have a look at the publisher: Intellect Ltd.

I couldn’t find it on Beall’s list of Predatory Journals; not the publication nor the publisher. Given what Intellect Ltd. has to say about its own approach to the work of authors they publish, and the broadness of the spectrum of  their journal publications. It could be legitimate and credible, it could be fake and shady; I’m not done looking it over to try and determine for sure which it is.

I wouldn’t cite it in a paper if I were still in school; that much I do know. Not without a lot more information about the publication, journal, review board, and author. To have a look at the paper yourself, you can find it here: Dissociation and Second Life: Pathology or transcendence?

And if you have a different impression of this essay, maybe I’m being too obtuse or missing a point on it, or you know something I don’t, by all means, educate me. I don’t pretend to know everything, and I’m not too proud to learn. Thanks for reading!