Blog Post #2: Second Life as not just a second life

The article we read on Second Life for today’s class was extremely interesting and informative for me. As I mentioned in class, I was introduced to the game as a money-making world, and thus came into it not expecting the depth and overall realism that lay within. At first I didn’t understand the game, and after about five minutes became generally disinterested in it.

But what I would have liked to hear, probably from Boellstorff, is other people’s general responses across multiple demographics. We brought up multiple perspectives in class such as the “average Joe” who isn’t necessarily looking for a second life, and also becomes disinterested in the game. As a gamer, I realized that I had entered Second Life as if it were a game. The first thing I did when I landed in the world was to think, “alright, what is the purpose of the game, how do I get things, and how to I earn money?” But with a network that not only had no apparent goal but tried to be a reflection of reality itself (albeit augmented in some key ways), I couldn’t help but lose interest. It seems to me that while Second Life is definitely one of these interactive bubbles that Coleman speaks of, it is still fundamentally different from texting, skyping, and emailing in that it is presented almost like a game. It presents itself as a 3D world to socialize and interact within, which it definitely is for many people, but the very fact that there are controls and systems to build wealth and fame within the system make it something altogether different from these other modes of technological communication. It is still very much a foreign phenomenon for me, and while I think that Second Life places itself in the “Internet of things” as Coleman says, it certainly has place in the realm of “legitimate” social mediums (legitimate being in quotes because, of course, we have come to learn that legitimate is not so easy a word to define). But I think one thing I am most interested in regarding Second Life is the experience of assimilation, and what it is like to come to like the world and “live” in it to some extent. How did people come to like the game? Why did they start playing it in the first place? Did it make people more interested in traditional games? Would the game itself not matter anymore if the same community was transposed onto a game like WoW or Eve Online? What is it that people mainly seek when they play SL?

One subject brought up by Coleman and a bit in class today that I thought was very interesting was the idea of agency, and the immediate urge to forge camaraderie between fellow players. This is something I have definitely experienced in many games I have played, and is something I wouldn’t have thought would translate to a game like Second Life. With a game like RuneScape, for example, everyone has the same goal generally: Get powerful and rich. So it is no surprise that many players want to help each other out. But for a game like Second Life, where goals are all up to you, things are different. It must be partly that the focus of SL is social, and partly because something about our anonymity increases the need for some sort of team within the game, or within any game.

When Coleman explains the overlap of all of our interactive spheres (who hasn’t texted while playing an online game, or skyped while watching TV, etc.), it becomes incredibly apparent how our world is shifting more toward this idea of living within multiple worlds simultaneously. It was what prompted the title of this blog post, and honestly sometimes I think I’m more confused by all of this talk of social spheres instead of less. It only goes to show how difficult it really is to do something like blame just video games for violence, or blame all of technology for the fall of authentic communication, or to praise video-games for their ability to engage our optimism. When we live in 3-4 worlds at a time, the task is brutal. It seems that this class for me is raising many more questions than it is providing answers, which is fantastic because it makes for some great debates in class (but is obviously frustrating at the same time). Coleman’s article was very informative, and also demonstrated how new and difficult these questions of self-representation in virtual worlds are.

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One Response to Blog Post #2: Second Life as not just a second life

  1. cstabile says:

    Sorry it took me so long to reply to this very smart post. While I can’t respond to all of the points you raise, I do want to respond to a couple. First, I think your questions about demographics and socialization in Second Life are crucial. I’m sure there’s some kind of census data around — my general sense is that SL users skew older. As for socialization, when we were talking about MMOs this past week, one of the issues that got raised is that leveling to a large extent forces players to socialize, or at least to encounter other players at their level who might be experiencing similar challenges. There’s not a “mechanic” in SL that forces you to do that, although if I recall correctly, new participants all spawn in the same place.

    And yes! Raising a lot of questions. I think it’s true that studying new media means acknowledging the limits of what we know in often frustrating ways. This course is at every step making me very conscious of how much we don’t know about video games and gaming.

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