This week I will be reflecting on my experience with the program Second Life. Before this week, I had heard of Second Life both professionally and casually through colleagues sharing experiences on the program as well as reading about stories of classes being held in the Second Life world. Having experienced online games that also attempt to create a “free roaming digital world” and being a former avid gamer, I must say, I went in with rather high expectations.
My experience with Second Life started with a few technical glitches. After creating my account and downloading the relatively small “Second Life Viewer,” I was disappointed to see that my video card drivers were considered out of date despite being as updated as possible. (Editor’s Note: The error also said the card itself may be out of date and I suspect that was the cause) I switched to my laptop and attempted to download the Viewer again with success after not being able to log in the first few attempts. Eventually however, I was up and running and ready to create my avatar. I chose one of the 10 or so options available to me at the time and decided to pick a male with hair and skin features closest to mine. I suppose it is interesting to reflect on the basis for this decision and also the amount of choices available. Can we really all essentially be boiled down to 10 different variations? My avatar also came fully dressed and I thought the black tie with a casual jacket was a nice touch.
I should note I was rather quick about this element of character creation and have always been this way in my history of gaming. I just wanted to get started, and didn’t particularly care what my character looked like! To start the game, you are thrust right in the middle of a landing pit of sorts and I immediately notice the classic evidence of “newbs” (or fellow first timers): erratic movements signifying acclimation to the controls. There was even the token newb “pwner” who greeted me by pushing my character into a glitch in the landing pit rendering me unable to move. I was eventually pushed back into a position where I could move by the same person (Reflecting I assume they are just seeking the thrill of “messing someone up” in the beginning of their experience, gamers will be gamers.) and I was ready to start again. But where to start?
I suppose this is the dilemma of life as well. Where do these motivating factors come from that tell us to get a job that we spend 40 hours of our week at? Why do we feel the need to live in our own home? Why do we seek the life long companionship of a single partner? In Second Life, I found myself consumed with the idea of just meeting other “players” and trying to talk to them about their experience in the program. I said hello in the launch pit area and it was returned by two other people. I eventually would engage in conversation with my first official friend on Second Life, Julia. I learned that Julia was from Colombia and this was her first experience on Second Life as well. She did not speak English very well but I thought she was doing fine. After speaking just a little while, I told Julia I was going to see what else there was to do here. I followed the arrows on the map and wound up in another landing pit of sorts. Again noticing the telltale signs of newbs, I began to think this was getting a little redundant.
The rest of my experience in Second Life involved picking different “destinations” from the bottom of my control center and viewing the ways people were interacting at these locations. I was surprised to hear region-specific music being played at these locations and even more surprised at the prevalence of the digital currency within the program. The whole thing felt like a gaming version of craigslist personal ads with different backgrounds for each type of page. There was no compelling reason to do anything within Second Life and suppose that the educational elements of the program must have involved joining a very specific group that you probably had to be invited to. I was expecting more freedom and things to do. I thought there were interesting elements within the program such as a dress code for some of the locations, but did feel changing outfits was more of a chore than it was worth.
I suppose at the end of the day, I have already been “tarnished” by gaming and was not able to completely engulf myself in the experience of Second Life. From a digital ethnography view, I’m also not so sure about the research implications available to us as a result of this platform. There is a lack of guidelines and intuitive roles within the program that interactions with others are simply at the breaking language barrier level. I did see people dancing and casually interacting on the program, but it always felt forced or like it was people who were too comfortable with each other, implying they had spent A LOT of time on the program. So I wonder if the platform is just too large of a buffer in order to really research the way people interact. Also, the program “lagged” when too many people got together, inhibiting my ability to experience the world.
Did you have a better experience in Second Life? Was I a cynic in my experience? Does that mean I’m a cynic in real life?!?! 🙂
Do you think there is solid ethnography research to be had on this platform? Can we really study the complexities of human interaction online in a free roam digital environment?