Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ruminations on Second Life

Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.

Victoria Holt

          As is my wont (Hey, it’s my blog after all!) every once in a while I stop in between projects and ruminate about what I’ve seen and learnt in Second Life (SL) as I’ve wandered about.  And, at the risk of becoming overly self-centered, there’s a lot to think about.  Especially around the question of whether or not the promise of SL has been fulfilled. 

          I always come back to the diversity of SL.  The many different types of residents inworld, what they do, and how they do it never ceases to amaze me. I freely admit to first coming onto the grid expecting it be populated by an overly technical group of geeks building whatever they took a fancy to.  Yes, there is certainly that group inworld but there are many others too. 

          The social aspects of SL took me by surprise.  People had come inworld, overcome the hurdles (more about these later), and staked out communities on this virtual frontier.  Many of these were drawn by the social aspects of SL.  Others by the creative opportunities. 

          People come together to socialize but also for other personal reasons such helping one another.  People go to concerts, create new art forms which can only exist inworld, and are reinventing the literary salon.  Don’t let me forget that old cultural standard, the magazine. 

          With communities and socialization comes bad behavior and, unfortunately, SL has it.  Glorf Bulmer and Lindal Kidd have recently blogged about some of the behaviors they have encountered recently. I regret this type of conduct inworld as much as I do in RL but I do find this a reassurance of the vibrancy of life inworld.  (Glorf will kill me for writing this.) 

          Another interesting observation I’ve made is how these communities can either parallel Real Life (RL) interests and communities or be completely stand alone in SL.  The BDSM communities come to mind for the former and vampires for the latter.  (If there are any RL vampire communities co-locating in and I’ve missed you, I apologize and want to meet you.) And, these are only a couple of examples. 

          Other things I’ve noticed in SL are that there is a lot to see and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of it all.  (Although with sims shutting down I do worry this may not be as much of a problem longer term. Sorry, bad joke.)

          I have noticed that things change fast inworld.  Some of the groups whom I first met when I began blogging I’m now told are no longer as cohesive as they once were.  Good friends have quietly winked out never to be heard from again.  Some of the more poignant blogs I’ve read have been about friends lamenting the disappearance of those whom they’ve been close to and have never come back.  A real sense of loss can be felt by the survivors and I may run the risk of sounding trite here but the not knowing what happened really bothers them. 

          Of course, there’s the more traditional break up of a relationship where both parties are inworld and don’t want to know where the other is.  The anonymity of SL relationships plays an important role here.  Myself, I always take at face value how a resident presents herself or himself.  One could drive oneself nuts trying to figure out who is really behind an avatar really is.  I’ve always been suspicious that many avatars whom I meet inworld are fronts for nineteen year old unemployed community college drop-outs who live in their parents’ basements in suburbs of Detroit.  Yet, I’m always told by my inworld friends to remember that there is a real person with real feelings behind that avatar. 

          Finally, while I find a lot of repetitive “me too-ism” inworld in some creators’ work there is still much original work.  The recent addition of mesh technology in SL has fueled a creative revolution in my humble opinion. 

          All of this has got me thinking about the promise of SL versus the reality especially when measured against Facebook (FB). In RL, when I mention SL these days, many are surprised that I’m still here.  Most had avatars or still do, they just haven’t returned in years. 

          When I inquire as to why they haven’t returned, the infamous hurdles are raised.  They say that getting set up was a hassle and when they finally got an avatar going they couldn’t find a lot to do.  I remember one RL colleague at work, whom I convinced to join me in an effort to explore SL’s potential for RL meetings, was just sitting at a bus stop somewhere inworld when I found him. He didn’t know what to do and couldn’t find anything to do.  Those who hung around a little longer complain of poor system performance and frequent crashes. 

          FB, on the other hand, seems to have fewer barriers to entry and I’ve met too many people in RL who have told me that they’re grandparents even use it.  FB permits a few tasks to be done but does them well.  Their simple games and the ease with which developers can create applications only helps.  FB’s business friendly approach seems to have helped people make some serious RL money.  (Unlike their recent IPO!)

          Are there alternatives to SL?  There are other virtual worlds but I’m not sure how successful they’ve been.  Based on a recent post in Wagner James Au’s blog, New World Notes, until the recent technologies, smart phone and tablet mobility being the most notable, are absorbed, not a lot may be happening in virtual worlds for a while.  (Although an even more recent post on his blog gives hope for the future.)

          So where do we go from here?  I’m not sure.  SL has a niche, although admittedly, it’s getting smaller.  Social media like FB and Twitter have large followings but will they last?  Everyone remember the AOL and Yahoo portals?  Anyone still really using them?  I don’t expect any new virtual world competitors to arise until the technology shakes out. 

          SL can continue to hold on for a while. Although, if paying customers continue to decline and the platform’s performance issues get worse then things could spiral out of control.  Remember the SL architecture is almost ten years old and most, if not all, of its creators are long gone. 

          I’ll continue my travels across the grid and bring my stories back to my readers for as long as there is a grid. One thing I’m certain of is that as long as the grid is still there, I won’t be lacking for things to write about! 

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.

1 comment:

Glorf Bulmer said...

Well, as you might imagine, I started writing a comment on this one, and it turned into a small essay, and now it's on *my* blog.

(And I'm not going to kill you! If all the idiots were gone from SL, it'd be effectively empty... the odd twerp is the price we pay for vitality.)