Recently this question came up (in a relative sense): What is Second Life for? Is it a game? Is it a learning experience? Is it more, or is it less?
I think all of the above, and things that have yet to be thought of.
A lot of people approach it as a game instead of what it really is: A 3-D social interaction environment that allows original content creation as well as commerce involving such. Facebook on steroids. LiveJournal realtime.
Just because it "looks" similar to a game, doesn't make it one. There are real people behind all those pretty faces and eternally fit bodies, just like there are behind the words found on a myriad of social networking sites.
This doesn't stop people from "conveniently forgetting" it isn't a game. They "play" here, and treat the other avatars like computer-driven companions in a Strategy City-Building Game.
People get hurt here. People lose money here, gain and lose love, gain and lose property that can sometimes amount into the hundreds, even thousands of real-life dollars. That, my friend, is what makes it NOT a game.
Real people are the ones either gaining or losing, not made-up soul-less game avatars.
I postulate therefore that it is a falsity to treat it as a game. First and foremost it's live interaction. Unless you set yourself busy and/or basically ignore everyone around you, sooner or later you will interact with an avatar being "driven" by another real flesh-and-blood person. You can fall into real love here. You can suffer personal loss here.
As with all things, most of what happens to you here is dependent upon you; at the same time, you have no control over the choices others make, and they will often choose in such a way as to cause you real, genuine, emotional grief.
It ceases to be "just pixels" when genuine feelings come into play. It really REALLY ceases to be "just pixels" when real money comes into play.
Take a situation which happened with my group and, despite our best efforts to move on, continues to turn up like a bad penny.
If you don't like to read about drama, just skip on to the next entry you come across; if you wish to learn, please read on.
No matter where you are, the concrete universe or cyberspace, you always take a risk trusting other people. You hope against hope that your instincts are on the money but sometimes they are not. I don't regard it to be a bigger risk to extend trust in people on the internet; the longer you're on the internet, the easier it is for you to "scope people out" to the point where they might as well live down the street from you. That's not to say you shouldn't exercise a full measure of caution - that's true no matter where you are.
Even with your best efforts, you're bound to run into a person or persons who prove themselves to be untrustworthy. That has happened to our group twice.
The first time was with the crowd we first started with. I'd contacted a DJ I knew from the first club I worked at (which closed) and we got together. He brought his crew with, and soon enough we had people coming in. He started up a DJ fan group and started building a following; problem is, when he got a good number, he decided it was time to take what he'd garnered at MY club and start a club of his own. He told me he was doing this, but what he didn't tell me was he decided to try and recruit all MY staff and all MY customers. We just waited till they stopped showing up to do their scheduled events, and fired each one till they were all gone. Their new club didn't last long, because the same sort of backstabbing and treachery continued amongst them.
The same thing is going to happen to the more recent group who left/we got rid of. First, the ringleader created a little clique within staff. I knew about it but I didn't say anything; I simply observed. Every so often I'd check the ringleader's profile and talk to other people to keep tabs on the situation. I observed those involved in day to day activities. I noticed that they were being rather secretive and spending a whole lot LESS time on the sim and in the club.
Well lookie here: They're starting their OWN club. Do I find that surprising? Hell no.
Let's see. The ringleader learned everything about hosting and club-running from me. Her best friend is a RL friend I brought into SL who has since become quite the material girl and was right in there with the secrecy and the undermining. And the lynchpin of it all? One of the people who was a voluntary owner, helping me pay the bills, who promised me she'd always have my back, was right in there with them, because, after all, "I have to follow my wife". Nevermind the promise she made me. Talk about passive-aggressive bullshit!
The crowning glory was the ringleader trying to undermine my relationship with Willy, by trying to get him into her super sekret clique, and trying her damnedest to get into his pants. Little did she know that he was telling me everything. And when I finally confronted her she denied it all, and now, she's trying to turn it around.
These types of people are petty, small, and totally out for themselves. At first they will come across as the greatest friend and helper to calm your fears and lure you in, but the first chance they get, they will take what you have given them, take what they have learned from you, turn around and stab you in the back.
This last time cost us real money because the passive-aggressive "I can't do anything" owner decided to leave, to "follow her wife". And her "wife" wonders why I cut her off, not only on SL but everywhere else? She wonders why my RL partner did the same? "I didn't do anything" was the response I got. More passive-aggressive bullshit. More not accepting responsibility for the fallout of one's choices.
This club won't last long either, because it was founded on backstabbing and treachery. That's not a threat; rather, it's an observation. If you start things out on that kind of a foundation, they don't last long.
Now we have a fun group of people who are dedicated to make things fun for everyone. That's what it should be about: Not personal glory, but working toward a common goal.