January 25th, 2010 by Marianne McCann
(Somewhat inspired by my last post and some discussion that came after it)
For as long as I’ve known of Second Life, there’s been some confusion as to just what it is. This war of words has been going since the first shots were fired in Jessie and continue today in debates over “augmentation and immersion,” or fears of the “Facebooking” of our world.
What I think lies at the heart of this debate is one simple matter: Second Life is a noun, and — as those of us in my generation learned from Saturday Morning cartoons — a noun is a person, place, or thing.
Now I’m going to discount Second Life as a person. There are a great many people there, but it is nigh impossible to call Second Life a single person. It is not Philip Linden, nor is it M Linden. It is not Ansche Chung, or Aimee Weber, or Desmond Shang. It is also not that n00b who is wandering around right now in Waterhead, trying to figure out what this world is about while being harassed by the regulars. Second Life’s people are its “killer app,” IMO — but again, no one person or even group of people is Second Life.
What we’re left with is “place” or “thing” — and this is where it gets tricky. There’s very much two sides at play here.
To many, Second Life is an “application” or a ”game.” It is a place they go and play in, or its something they pop into for meetings, 3D prototyping, business, classes, or yes, even hooking up on Zindra. It is a thing that one uses to achieve a goal, a tool in their computing arsenal.
Content creators come in every day and spend their hours tweaking prims and uploading sculpt maps. They might be knee deep in scripts or textures, hardly aware of the virtual world beyond the confines of their workspace. In the end, they’ll have created the most wonderful things to sell or use in other ways within Second Life. They will also have somewhat sated their own creative impulses, at least for the moment.
They might be here to work, spending much of their SL times in meetings or (where I often end up) in IMs. They might be handling builds for big schools or institutions, or even simply taking courses with some of the same-said locales. This is not just a plaything for errant hobbyists, but a tool full of serious potential for business and education.
To others, Second Life is a hangout. It’s where they go to see live music, chill with friends, maybe even have their virtual family. It’s a tangible world where they might (if they’re brave enough with region crossings) sail a boat on the Blake Sea, or drive down the highways. It is a place they do to akin to visiting a nearby theme park, campus, or large shopping center.
I think I can say with some sense of sureness that those of us who play kids most often view the world as a place, and feel that kinship to our homes and family. I think it comes with our territory.
Right now, Linden Lab “Moles” — paid Resident content creators — are putting in a “reserve infohub” in Murray. A handful of residents who frequent the area are up in arms about their place being changed. To the west of there, in Bay City – Docklands, a small group of Residents has claimed a street corner, and dug in their heels when a self-appointed police force moved into the area to somehow assume control of the area. Two groups right now are vying for their views on the Second Life Railroad’s right of way. You see stories like this all over, as people lay claim to their home soil.
Heck, I know that n about a month, when I hit my 4th rez day, I will be stopping by the place where the Sami Infohub once was, just to visit the place that a very new Marianne McCann first called home.
That’s what it is to call it a place
These are not mutually exclusive. I know that much of my own experience falls under “place,” and I know this surprises no one who has ever read this blog. But I too have used Second Life as a thing. I build for my store and for other companies. I use it as a communication medium for meetings and gatherings in the same way I might have used AIM or Skype. It’s an application that runs in a window on my Macintosh, often sharing space with a browser window giving me the latest from Twitter or Plurk, or running YouTube videos to entertain me while I fling primitives.
Nevertheless, it is the disconnect between these two things that seems to lead to the biggest troubles. Residents who view Second Life as “their turf” see the possible influx of “outsiders” from mainstream sites like Facebook with the same sort of disdain often afforded to real-world “immigrants.”
To many outside the world, the idea of place is lost entirely. This is a world that comes out of passive entertainment, who enjoy a good movie or TV show, At best, their “virtual world experience” might have come from collecting their share of mystery prizes from friends in Farmville via Facebook. There is no “world” within their computer to explore, just games, applications, and programs that entertain and inform.
Some who are here for the “game” might find themselves bored and disaffected, finding it hard to see beyond the confines of an infohub into the broader world beyond. They want “quests” and the like, and just don’t want a place to “chill with friends.” By the same token, they may also turn to griefing, making their own quest life out of mario cubes and the like, getting their lulz off those who see SL as a place to visit, not a game.
Second life is a noun. It is both “place” and “thing,” and attempts to serve both audiences. It seems clear to me that Linden Lab would like to increase its stake in the “social networking” crowd, and knows that this may alienate, even anger, those for whom this is a place. It’s what I said of Murray or Docklands ramped up several notches.
The thing is, Second life is big. Tens of thousands of Regions, enough that many decry how “empty” the world feels. They have a point. Given that, there really should be enough room for all viewpoints — and if there is not (and there is a market for it), Linden Lab will add more simulators, and the world will get that much larger. There is no scarcity of land and resources like First Life, and nearly anything can be bought or made without need to find much in the way of raw materials. There is room for Second Life to be “place” and “thing,” like some virtual Schrödinger’s cat.
There’s space for us all within the noun that is Second Life.