Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Is Second Life?

My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.

Ashleigh Brilliant

Recently, while talking with my friend, Perryn Peterson, the question of what is Second Life (SL) came up.  (Perryn’s quicker on the uptake on these weighty questions than I am, I kept thinking he was talking about its system architecture.  Fortunately, for the sake of our friendship, Perryn’s patient.  Very patient.)

The question came about during a discussion about my recent story about MadPea Productions when we discussed whether or not SL is a game or is it something else.  This got me thinking, what is a game and if SL isn’t a game what could it be?  And what proofs would I have once I make a determination?  (I’m on thin intellectual ice from this point on.  I take full responsibility for whatever mistakes in logic or faux pas I make from this point forward.  Perryn, your reputation is safe.  I bet he’s feeling better already.)

 I turn to Wikipedia for a definition of what a game is.  I read, “A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool….Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction.”

OK, I have to something to go on with this.  SL, at least in my humble opinion, is not exactly “structured playing”.  Especially where I’ve been hanging out.  Enjoyment, except for the masochists, I think everyone I’ve met inworld is there for a good time.  But, hey, being in a bar on a Friday night for a good time doesn’t make it a game.  (Don’t go there.)  Educational tool, probably not since Linden Lab killed the educational institution discount. 

Let’s take a look at the next set of criteria.  Goals?  One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard leveled at SL by noobies is what do they do once they get in there.  As for rules, other than Linden Lab acting as some sort of deus ex machina chaperone, I don’t think so.  Challenge, somehow I don’t think the authors of the definition had working through the new SL viewer in mind.  And, finally, there is interaction.  Definitely a lot of that of that in SL and not just in the adult sims. 

The other thing about a game is that there’s generally winners and losers.  (Alright, alright, yes, I know.  There can be draws.  But, you get the idea?)   SL is far from World of Warcraft  There are no points to score, gold to accumulate, or hidden prizes somewhere down there in the virtual Cracker Jack box.  Sure, maybe occasionally you run into some rude jerk but that happens every day in Real Life (RL) too. 

Right about now, I’m comfortable with saying that SL is not a game.  There may be games contained within, residents may certainly play games with each other, but SL is not a game.  (Even if they don’t know they’re playing.) The next question is then, what is SL if it’s not a game?  This one is not so simple to answer. 

I go back to Perryn.  He feels SL is an extension of RL.  That’s heavy.  I think about this for a while and maybe he’s onto something. 

What do we do when we come into SL?  I ask this from a personal level, not a technical one.  Many of us form relationships with other residents.  How many friends do we have?  Have many of us have partners inworld who may not be our partners in RL?  (Please don’t feel any obligation to answer that one, it’s rhetorical.) 

Next, don’t many of these relationships lead to communities?  Recently, I’ve written about vampires, steampunks, furries, and goths to name but a few of the groups I’ve encountered since joining SL.  How many of these people engage in these types of activities in RL?  Except for a minority involved with cosplay, not many I’d hazard a guess.   

Finally, how much time does a typical resident put into his or her SL persona?  Anecdotally, some SL residents have told me they are in SL over ten hours a week.  Sure, some are probably less, others more.  My point is that people are spending decent amounts of time inworld. 

Now, some may say is SL just another form of social media?  I don’t think so.  Here’s why. 

First, borrowing from my friends at Wikipedia again, “Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as ‘a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.’“  What I’m suggesting is that the SL user-generated content is actually RL in another format and is an end in itself enabling RL.  The anonymity of SL is irrelevant.  What matters is that SL permits people to engage as they would in RL.  Social tools like Facebook and Twitter merely facilitate that. 

My next point is SL develops new relationships and communities while social media merely facilitates existing ones.  I use myself as an example.  (Always a dangerous thing to do.)  All my friends in SL are people whom I met there.  None are my RL friends.  (And, yes, I do have RL friends.)  The communities I’ve met inworld I wouldn’t have encountered in RL.  In RL, I don’t use Facebook and Twitter to meet new people.  Reconnect with old friends, yes, but I don’t go trawling for new friends in social media.  (Considered socially unacceptable by many.) 

Finally, developing SL’s user-generated content as well as the relationships and communities takes time.  This is many times leveled as a criticism of SL and the advantage of social media.  I submit that as in RL, relationships in SL take time to build and nurture.  People are hurt in SL every day.  I see many resident profiles where they ask others to remember that a real person is behind the avatar when they interact with them. 

So, where are we now?  SL is not a game because it doesn’t meet the criteria of a game and it’s not social media because it’s not a tool. 

SL is an extension of RL.  We all start in SL with a blank page which we need to fill. Isn’t this akin to being born and having to develop?  Each of us takes our own frame of reference into SL just as we do into RL.  And, as in RL, we can be hurt in SL but then we can be happy too.

I would be very interested in knowing how others feel about this question.  Please send me your thoughts with the following contact information. 

I would like to thank Perryn Peterson for raising this philosophical question with me and then taking the time to discuss it.  Not to mention, encouraging me to write this story.  As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 1: Perryn Peterson

Photo No. 2: Vampyr Empire Landing Pentagram

Photo No. 3: Steampunk Airship Tower

Photo No. 4: Luskwood – Furry Sim

Photo No. 5. Lost City of Gothika

Photo No. 6: Vampire Wedding Party

Photo No. 7: STEAM: Hunt!5 Wrap Party


Janey Bracken said...

Hi Web, Interesting article! I never did think of SL as a game, although there are role-play games you can play in SL. When I first heard about it, the person on the tv explained that it was a virtual place where you make your own way and you can be whatever you want. Well it is actually a Second Life, it's a place where people can be re-born and see if they can achieve goals that they may not have achieved in rl. I have friends who started businesses in SL and have taken it into rl. It's also such a lovely place to interact with friends that you meet from all around the world. You can share things, not just chat, you can go shopping together, create gifts, build a virtual home together or even marry as some people do, without it spilling over into rl for some. The whole thing being visual put's it on a different level, it also gives people the opportunity to market ideas to sell. Just like rl, usually you are born with nothing, so you have to start from scratch to create your own little world. Sorry for rambling! It was fun reading your article, well done with the blog!

Janety :))

webspelunker said...


TY for visiting and no you're rambling! As always, you're spot on. SL is definitely another facet of RL. TC