The Virtual World of Second Life
Second Life (SL) was originally conceived by Philip Rosedale who began working on the concept in 1991. At first it was more like a video game but then he and his team realised that users wished to create their own experiences. SL began beta testing in November 2002 and went live on 23rd June, 2003. It is an online virtual world created by Linden Lab where users create avatars (virtual representations of themselves) and have the ability to interact with other virtual avatars, places and objects. The objects are built by using 3D modelling tools based on simple geometric shapes and are able to interact through the use of Linden Scripting Language (a procedural scripting language) Sculpted prims, mesh, textures for clothing or other objects, animations, and gestures can be created using external software and imported and users retain copyright for any content they create.
Anyone can register, download, install and run SL but there is an optional monthly charge if one wishes to buy land, a house or purchase more complex avatars. A monthly subscription includes a set amount of virtual Linden dollars to use for these purposes but more virtual dollars can also be obtained in exchange for additional ‘real’ currency. That’s the odd thing about it because people can actually make money by selling objects within SL.
The Terms of Service are quite comprehensive (see here) and users have to agree to them before accessing/using SL and two Sections in particular are important to take into account. [i] [ii] Although you can do ‘virtually’ anything you like, appear how you like, choose to be a different gender etc SL’s rules and Etiquette are listed on a notecard in every User’s Library, including six cardinal sins (“the Big Six” which are intolerance, harassment, assault, disclosure, indecency (unless on private land) and disturbing the peace. [iii]
I have only been able to find a 2008 version of the official guide to SL which does provide a comprehensive introduction to the way the site operates. Some real-life universities have set up a virtual branch there, as well as companies, well-known pop groups and a virtual art world. In 2007 Richard Minsky, artist and entrepreneur, started a website and blog SLARTmagazine.com as a critical review and journal of art in SL, and there is information and a video here where he gave a presentation at Location One. This included him navigating SL in his avatar identity (blonde-haired woman) to show the variety of artists and art locations there which appear and disappear as time goes on. Having registered SLART as a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office Minsky also threatened legal action against those who used the term to refer to art in SL, see here . In 2008 he filed a complaint against Linden Lab and an art gallery in SL operated by an avatar but litigation ended in January 2009 when a private settlement was reached. The SLART website no longer appears to exist but there is another site The ArtWorld Market Report which includes a blog – the last post being in June 2015.
I’ve noted the above information as it shows how we sometimes continue our propensity towards conflict into a virtual world despite the opportunities towards personal development. I want to return now, though, to the emphasis on the opportunities for social interaction and self-development in SL.
“Your avatar choices say a lot about who you are; to the people you encounter in the SL world, your avatar is who you are. It’s true too – your avatar choices reflect your personality and mentality.” (M. Rymaszewski et al (2008), p.10).
Chapter 11 is titled “Considering your real-world self” and beings by asking readers to consider who they are offline. Yes, it does seem odd to offer this virtual world where I can be anything and then to ask me, “Who are you?” That’s because,
“… rather than totally reinventing ourselves when we enter a world like Second Life , what we’re really doing is extending ourselves – our existing hopes, ambitions, and ideals – and adapting them within the newfound communities of people that the online space affords”. (ibid, p. 227).
“So before you discard yourself at the digital doors, remember that who you are inside of Second Life is part of who you want to become when you’re offline. Don’t reject it – embrace it! ” (ibid p. 228).
I’m sure many people desire to become a whole, new, different person in a virtual world so this struck me as quite a strong message that we can never entirely escape the effect of our culture, nature and upbringing, whilst acting as a reminder that change is possible. Examples are also provided by Robbie Cooper in his book Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators (2007). Cooper, also known for his work looking at young video-game players spent three years travelling the world and interviewing people who ‘played’ in the virtual world; placing their portraits next to their avatars whilst also looking at how we create our online personas in a way to transcend our physical existence. He looked at a number of players and game designers on a variety of sites, several of whom had SL presence as Users/Avatars; SL personnel; designers and/or research analysts. Of course there are some who have become so immersed in this virtual world that they spend inordinate amounts of time there but there are other hopeful stories about the way in which people who suffer from disabilities have been able to transcend them in SL, as can be seen in the video:-
Cooper, R et al, (2007) Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators
Rymaszewski et al (2008) second life: the official guide , Indiana. Wiley Publishing Inc
[i] Section 2.4 states “You grant certain Content licenses to other users by submitting your Content to publicly accessible areas of the Service”.
[ii] Section 2.5 states “You also grant Linden Lab and other users of the Service a license to use your Content in snapshots and machinima that is displayed in publicly accessible areas of the Service”