What is this “Second Life” thing?
Posted by Jennifer Smoot
This week both Qualman, in Socialnomics and Salvo and Rosinski, in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, bring up the virtual world “Second Life“. This is not the first time we have seen it referenced by Qualman but since it was also referenced by Longo, I felt it was time to take a hard look at this site. They both seem to think we are all moving away from real life and going head first into these virtual worlds: “Those of us living in Western cultures based in technoscientific knowledge economies increasingly find ourselves thrust into virtual worlds where we inhabit avatars and interact with other simulated beings.” (Salvo & Rosinski, 2010, p. 155); “If you still don’t believe that some traditional interpersonal communication skills may be suffering, then maybe this example will make you a believer” (Qualman, 2009, p. 215). I will say his (Qualman’s) commentary about the courtship and then marriage of Second Life players Amy and David was a little . . . . creepy. If that was a one time example of people moving from reality into the virtual world than I am not worried. If, on the other hand, this is just one of many similar examples, then I can see where he is coming from.
The strange thing is, if this is such a popular game, one that is transforming the world around us, why haven’t I ever heard of it before? I found a blog post that described the phenomena a little more in detail than the site itself does. According to The Verge’s Chris Stokel-Walker, this game was launched in 2006 with a ton of fanfare and media coverage (again, I did not have my head in the sand back in 2006 and I still don’t remember it!). While the novelty wore off, in particular for the media and businesses using it to, of course, advertise, there is still a hard core group of around 1 million users. On any given day the popular Zynga game, Farmville 2 (also available through Facebook), can have as many as
8 million users and this game does not involve a parallel world where you can re-create yourself. It is mostly just a silly game that other friends can help you play (in a limited, Facebook, sort of way). So is this idea that we are all going to become avatars a real threat or a hyped up one because both books were published within a couple years of the time this site first became popular (and I am sure their research and planning stages were even closer to the sites’ start date)? The best information I have is coming straight from the mouths of those most apt to play any sort of online games – teenagers. After a very (very, very) informal survey of about 20 of my kids and their friends (all between the ages of 17-20 about 14 were boys and 6 were girls), none of them had heard of Second Life, the boys had all played other sorts of online games (such as Call of Duty, or World of Warcraft – both 3d virtual world style games but not as involved as Second Life), and the girls could care less about anything involving gaming. By no means is this scientific but it always gives me a little bit of the pulse of what is happening at least in our region, and a little peace of mind that I have one less thing to worry about! I don’t think we are heading in the direction of a grand scale replacing real life with virtual worlds anytime soon but I guess it never hurts to be made aware of the future possibilities.
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