In modern reality, constant reproduction in the mode of the simulacrum effaces the true real and at the same time creates a new real that is generated by the simulacra that now have no true real to reproduce. Baudrillard calls the real (that does not have an origin or actuality) that is being reproduced the hyperreal, and the reality constructed around this hyperreal, could be termed hyperreality. The hyperreal is what exists after the death of the true real and when simulations reproduce simulations that reproduce an aspect of the real which no longer exists except in the form of simulations and simulacra.
The online virtual world and communication server created by Liden Lab, called Second Life (often abbreviated as SL), is an excellent case study for Baudrillard’s theories. In this virtual world, the ‘residents,’ or users or participants, can engage in a seemingly endless variety of everyday activities – the only difference being that these activities occur in the virtual world as opposed to the analog world (meaning the non-virtual world, to avoid confusion that may be caused by using the word ‘real’). These activities include social interaction (chatting or playing sports with other residents), political interaction (visiting a virtual embassy), the creation of virtual art, engaging in economic, educational, and religious activity.
It is easy to say that SL is a simulacrum because it is a simulation of hyperreal life, which has no existing origin, but a closer inspection will prove fruitful. Starting from the beginning; SL is composed of visual signs and symbols that are representations of things from the analog world. Things like the sky and chairs are representations in the virtual world of the things analog world and are equivalent to but distinguishable from their corresponding concept.
SL contains simulations of analog world concepts as well. The avatars that users employ to navigate this world, the residents, are simulations of their analog selves: they reproduce certain aspects so directly that they are indistinguishable from the analog aspects. The systems of activities that can take place in this virtual world are also simulations. For example, the virtual economic system is a simulation of the analog economic system in that aspects are reproduced to such an extent that they are not only indistinguishable but operable in the analog world. The Liden Dollar (the unit of currency in SL) has an exchange rate with analog currency.
This is where the Baurdrillardian analysis of SL becomes very interesting. If the system of activity is the simulation, then the activity itself is the simulacra because it is a simulation of the simulated system. It is difficult to fully say that the actual activity that takes place is the simulacra because it is not necessarily the simulation of a simulated system of an analog activity when it becomes a real, analog presence, which the economic system of SL has done if its currency has an analog market value and a legitimate site for analog economic exchange.
This would be a very interesting question for Baudrillard: what happens when the simulation/simulacrum stops reproducing and starts producing? When the simulation becomes part of the (hyper)real?
I think that Baudrillard would say that this is a stupid question; obviously the simulation has not become part of the (hyper)real, it has only become part of a larger simulation/simulacrum. In the case of Second Life’s economic (hyper)reality, it has left the simulacrum of Second Life and moved into the simulacrum of the analog world. Baudrillard might say, Second Life exists in the second order of the simulacrum, being that it is a simulacrum of a simulacrum of hypereality. Another dimesion that makes the case of SL so fascinating when examined this was is that Baudrillard considers it the nature of simulacrum to conceal that there is no real, so something like Second Life, which reproduces ‘real’ life, not only conceals that the analog world is no longer real (but hyperreal) but also uses the duplicitous nature of the simulacrum to make it seem that SL is not even a simulacrum at all.