What is this “Second Life” thing?

second lifeThis 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

farmville2 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.

Posted on November 4, 2013, in Social Media, Society. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I was kind of vaguely aware of Second Life but the info in the Turkle book was what was really eye-opening for me, especially about the people who become addicted. And, yeah, I thought the Amy/David story was a little strange, though my threshhold for “strange” is growing by leaps and bounds daily.

    I think it was there that I read about how some of the statistics get inflated about the number of users because repeat visitors who start over and take on a new avatar could be getting counted twice.

    My 20 year old daughter plays a game very similar to Farmville and loves riding her pony and raising her crops. I just sort of scratch my head and go ‘huh”?

    • My husband scratches his head all the time when I get on and play these silly games. I scratch my head right back trying to figure out what he sees in shows like “Ice Road Truckers”, “Duck Dynasty”, “Pawn Stars” etc!

  2. Second Life is more like The Sims than a traditional game. You don’t have to do anything, and there is now winning. From what I can tell, it was intended to be virtual sandbox for people to play in. You design your avatar and can build whatever life you want to there. What shocked me was the amount of actual money that is spent there to buy land, property, clothing, furniture, etc.
    I had heard of Second Life marriages, but the book example was the first I had heard of an actual marriage between two people who had only ever met through second life. Turkel also discussed Second Life. I forget the man’s name, but he essentially had a Second Life girlfriend who he would cheat on his wife and family with. Some may question whether that is cheating because it wasn’t real, but it being real to him answers the question in my book.

    • I also thought of the example in Turkle’s book about the man who had a Second Life girlfriend. I remember there being a question as to whether his “girlfriend” was a man or a woman in real life, but he clearly said the he didn’t want to know. I think this game is intended more for adults than teens, but like others have admitted, I also had never heard of it. World of Warcraft is probably the most relevant role-playing game that I am familiar with. People get VERY addicted to it. Did anyone see the South Park episode where the boys play it nonstop in order to gain enough power to defeat another player who was very experienced and knew all the cheats?

  3. Thanks for your ideas! Very insightful and thought-provoking, your post made me imagine a futuristic society of people who no longer interac in reality, but only sit on the computer and communicate with one another through the Internet and other portals. Can you imagine?! I hope that technology does not prevent us from using real communication skills in the future!

  4. I had heard of both Sims and Second Life before, but I have not had much experience with either, except listening to others talk about it or watching my sister play Sims. For some reason, a virtually created personality and game-like form of a second life has never really held much appeal for me. Now, I see it used more and more in the educational arena, and I have seen demonstrations on the power of simulations to assist students in learning how to perform in created scenarios, such as a simulated medical environment.

    This also makes me think of a cousin who is very much into gaming and role-playing and does this online with people all over the world. I am not sure I fully understand the allure of acting and taking on a virtual personality, but I find it an interesting topic to explore on a societal and cultural level.

    • Your simulated medical example is becoming very real. I met a woman over the summer while we were waiting for our sons. She teaches nursing and she was explaining to me how technical surgery is becoming. She said we will soon see that surgeons never actually touch a human body – they will do it all through a robot and a computer. I guess that is a simulated real world example!

  5. Great post! I second your statement wondering why you’ve never heard of Second Life if it’s such a big deal. I also don’t think I was under a rock in 2006, but I hadn’t heard of it either. In fact, our reading in Alone Together for the midterm was the first time I’d ever heard of it.

    I also think there’s a sort of distinction between games like Second Life and games like Farmville. In Second Life, the implication is that we are spending our lives pretending to be other people to the extent that we ignore our real lives. I think Farmville is different because it is just a silly way to waste time rather than something we confuse with reality.

  6. I’ve played The Sims before and enjoy the game. I think there’s a fun element to controlling the Sim and building their life. Maybe it gives a sense of control that we lack in our personal lives and that’s what’s fulfilling? I never played Farmville but have enjoyed Cityville. It’s a similar point except instead of building a farm you build a city. I enjoyed the game but hated that I had to get my Facebook friends involved to “give” me things in order to move forward with the game. I don’t have much spare time, so when I do and I choose to sit down and play a game, I don’t want to hit a roadblock because people aren’t online that play to help me.

  7. While I had heard of Second Life in 2005 and tried my hand at in 2008, I quickly realized I’m more of a textual virtual person than avatar or game-playing. Quite honestly, I thought Second Life had closed its virtual doors years ago. Here’s a 2009 BBC News article attempting to answer why its popularity waned: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8367957.stm

    You might be interested to learn academics have used Second Life as a meeting place for virtual conferences rather than merely considering it a game. See Henry Jenkins [remember him from the midterm exam?] as Dumbledore take questions about Harry Potter fandom here:

    and also read this, albeit dated, piece about academic conferences: http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2008/nov/11/highereducation-secondlife

    It does seem like virtual world conferences still use it at a meeting place, for obvious reasons: http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/VWBPE-Conference-in-Second-Life-July-24-27-2013/ba-p/2091593

    • I had no idea it would even be considered by academia! Fascinating. My guess is that the learning curve to understand how to participate might eliminate some people. I also think Second Life might have been a bit ahead of its time. Even normal computers (those not intended specifically for gaming) can handle this kind of game better now than back when Second Life started.

  8. Hmm, you have some interesting thoughts. I do think though, while I don’t know anyone who has played Second life, I do know more about some of the other games. I do think though, that while I don’t think that we are all going to become so computer game obsessed that it takes over our lives. However, I really do think that we can see more and more a dependence upon technology that never existed before. People do sink into a variety of games and such.

  9. I have never played Second Life, but thought about it when my husband was deployed. to be able to connect with people while i was sitting in my house alone. Never did sign up for that. I have played another Zynga game called Castleville and i did enjoy this for a time, but the enjoyment waned after a bit.

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