Virtual World Television in Second Life


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  • Along with producer Pooky Amsterdam of PookyMedia, we have begun to study how amateurs and semi-professionals have used virtual worlds to create television programming.  We are interested in virtual world television to understand the nature and potential of these productions, as well as how they relate to traditional practices and relationships in television production, distribution, and exhibition. We believe what we learn from these case studies will provide insight into the wider Web 2.0 phenomenon of “build it, and let them create” as the Web 2.0 paradigm continues to shape life, online and off.
  • From a common definition, virtual worlds are the reproduction of the physical world, either real or fiction,in a digital environment into which people, via digital representations or avatars, can gather and engage in a variety of social and personal activities. Virtual worlds, as digital artefacts and constructions, do not reproduceunless through conscious design, either by a production company or the combined efforts its users. The more common versions of virtual worlds are structured for gaming, such as World of Warcraft or EverQuest. Such worlds are designed by a production team and are offered to users to play in and through. Others are primarily designed to facilitate social interaction amongst people, such as Blue Mars or Habbo Hotel. For the purposes of our study, we are considering both types under the nomenclature “virtual worlds” if they are three-dimensional graphic spaces persistantly inhabited by multiple people via avatars. 
  • Across virtual worlds, people have been creating various types of television programming.  To be considered television programming, these productions have to be multi-part fictional or non-fictional productions that are not intended to be a feature film.  The production can be either serial or episodic, and such productions represent a range of genres, including but not limited to: talk show, live performance show, design show, sports show, game show, news show, drama, and comedy.  There are productions that are recorded as avatars interact with one another and then are edited in post-production for streaming.  Then there are those productions that live stream the avatars’ interactions as they occur, while also recording them for later streaming. Thus far, we have identified 68 productions across numerous virtual worlds that met these criteria.
  • We sought to gather a representation from across the multitude of possible virtual worlds.  However, in the end, only programming created within Second Life has been included in this analysis. The inclusion of only these programs is due to several reasons. First, the user-generated controls and methods of Second Life include the ability for the producers to retain intellectual property rights for the series they produce; such IP rights would not occur in a gaming world, such as World of Warcraftor Halo, where the world’s designers hold the creative copyrights. Second, there exist in Second Life a series of broadcast and streaming networks that are analogs to the television networks that constitute over-the-air and cable programming in the physical world. Third, across the virtual worlds surveyed for this study, Second Life contains the highest prevalence of produced and distributed television programming: according to this survey, 79% of the located programming occurs within Second Life. Fourth, as a co-author to this study, Pooky also operated as a gatekeeper, facilitating entry to this particular community of producers.
  • The producers were interviewed over the phone or Skype. They were asked to discuss the following: what led them to enter Second Life and to create their series; what were their ideas of the design and the audience for the program; what they were challenged by and learned about; how they were helped and hindered during production; and how they saw virtual world television in relationship to traditional television, as well as its future. A total of 26 producers were interviewed for this study. Listed in Table 1 are those productions from Second Life that have had their producers interviewed: the sample consists of 41 different series.  Each series has also been labeled for its traditional television analogue, as the drawn out examples indicate. From these interviews, three themes emerged that concerned how the producers discussed what was involved in producing their shows. These themes will also be discussed for how they compare to what typically occurs in traditional television production.
  • One of the primary themes discussed by producers is the ways in which they connected with other Second Life users. Some of these connections surrounded the entity of Second Life as the producers connected with other users, either directly or via some media, as a way to start their inworld experience. Other connections occurred within the virtual world and were part of what helped the producers create their series. Still other connections occurred because of Second Life, as the technological characteristics of the virtual world afforded connections with geographically separated or socially isolated people.To get into the world, the producers discussed three primary methods of introduction: a personal relationship, a professional relationship, and a relationship to the public or popular discourse, such as via news reports or online discussion. To get their productions going, the producers discussed how being connected to professional people within the world helped them; the professional served as the connection between what they had been doing and what they would eventually produce. As for the last connection, the producers discussed how Second Life, with it being a global free platform, helped them to connect with people around the world, and with people who might wish to create television but otherwise could not, due to their geographical location or some other personal issues.
  • The issue of connecting to others is not completely unique to the experience of producing television in virtual worlds. Being able to have connections to those already in the profession has been important to physical world producers for decades, with networking seen as an important step in securing work in some stage of television production. The fact that such connections were useful to VWTV producers to both get into the medium and to use the medium to produce their programs is to be expected. However, a difference does arise in the professed ability and even desire for VWTV producers to connect with people who might otherwise be left out. While there are undoubtedly people in traditional television who want to connect with those around the world through their productions, the importance of this possibility to VWTV producers indicates a conception of inclusion as part of the discourse of the social medium they have appropriated for their television productions.
  • As mentioned with the previous theme, another theme considered the means by which Second Life promoted the producers’ creativity. Here producers discussed the variety of structures that constitute Second Life: technological, economic, and subcultural. The first subtheme focused on how these structures directly contributed to the producers’ creative expression. The second subtheme focused on the direct opposite of the first: how these structures appeared at first to limit this expression, forcing the producers to become even more creative to express themselves.Not being beholden to the physics of the physical world means that users can generate content that is not possible in the physical world, the world to which traditional television is beholden: thus, content is only limited to the user’s imagination. Likewise, the freedom from political and economic considerations also frees up the television producer in ways that are not possible in traditional television. While some producers may see the limitations of Second Life as a challenge they welcome, others may feel it as more of a frustration, one that has to be beaten back in order for their creative expression to be born. But across their responses are stories and considerations of how they have found ways to deal with these limitations, which often led to creative solutions.
  • In comparing VWTV to traditional television, we can see the same discussions of creativity occurring. As with VWTV, producers in the real world, whether they are producing live action or animation, need to negotiate the conditions in which they can express their creativity. Any person seeking to express themselves creatively has to deal with the limitations of the medium through which they express themselves. The difference is that with the virtual world, there is a greater possibility to create a television show as envisioned due to the freedom from the physical constraints dictated by the laws of nature and the need to add-on computer generated effects.
  • A final theme came from the producers reflecting on the larger issues of how the virtual world was involved in or supported by the creation and maintenance of virtual communities. Within Second Life, from the vantage of these producers, there were different types of communities operating to produce, distribute and propagate these series. The primary communities they discussed were the community of producers across series, the community of the crew within a particular series, and the community between the series and its audience.Some producers argued that if it wasn’t for this community of producers, they might not have been able to achieve their creative vision: the positive feedback and cooperation experienced in these communities appears to help propel people to feel capable and comfortable exerting their creative visions into and through the virtual world. These producers, and others like them, recognized that producing their television series is not a solitary activity: for many of their shows, each episode required a careful choreography of people doing different activities. The communities within the series helped to ensure that the producers’ visions were expressed. As with the ability to connect and to create, the virtual world’s nature promotes and permits a type of community of the audience not common to traditional television. A community where the audience directly knows those who produce the series, and who are able to attend and participate with a live series in a way the majority of the traditional television audience currently cannot.
  • Of course, communities and a sense of belonging to a community can be important to the production of traditional television. Communities occur at various levels within traditional television systems, such as among professional organizations of producers, directors, actors, and so forth. Indeed, it is most likely the case that, just as VWTV producers discussed the importance of having a good community working on their series, that traditional television producers would feel the same importance for producing a successful series. However, it has been the tradition in such television to have a different relationship with the audience of the series; across the spectrum of real world television, the history has not been one of beseeching the audience to interact with and participate in the production process, to the extent seen on VWTV where audience members can influence of the content of the show as it is being recorded. While there are examples of such engagement with the audience, it has not been applied to the same extent.
  • In the VWTV producers’ views, they are able to produce their series in this virtual world because of how they have connected with others, been able to be creative, and felt the sense of community at different levels of their second lives. Connecting with others has helped them start their journeys as producers and to reach out to people who might otherwise be left out of the experience. The nature of Second Life has at times directly, through its freedom from reality, and indirectly, through its limitations to be overcome, promoted their creativity. The three tiers of community have helped the producers to express their creativity as well as give their audiences a part to play in this expression. Across these different thematic dimensions, we can find similarities and differences for how those same themes apply to the definition, spaces, and practices of traditional television production, distribution and exhibition. An explanation for the perceived similarities could be human nature: how we struggle to find ways to express ourselves with and against the elements, and how we reach out to connect to others and find a community of like-minded individuals who share our passions. Explaining the differences, then, could be seen in how the technological construction of the virtual world permits and promotes such human nature, allowing for more connections, more creativity, and more community. Additionally,anotherdifference is the lack of an institutionalized production industry within the virtual world which permits more participation from people who before might not have had access to the production process. But the lack of this political-economic structure in Second Life did not necessarily create the producers; instead, people with the agency and ambition to produce became aware of this lack inworld, and individually and collectively took advantage of the situation.
  • Overall, this virtual world Second Life is but one example of the technologies that arose with the paradigmatic shift to Web 2.0. The themes of connectivity, creativity and community have become defining characteristics of such Web 2.0 technologies, from Facebook to YouTube. What makes the activities in Second Life unique is that the virtual world allows for user-generated production as well as distribution and exhibition of the users’ creative visions. For the most part, as the VWTV producers acknowledged, they are not transgressing the codified content and genres, styles and formats of traditional television. While Second Life affords the production of experimental, avant-garde content, no one interviewed has been producing such content, with the closest being the racing of giant snails. Additionally, the producers are not transgressing traditional power dynamics, since they still occupy and differentiate the identities and positions of producers, crew, and audience. What the VWTV producers are transgressing is the notion that, given their circumstances in the all-encompassing physical world, all they can be is audience. The producers’ relationship to Second Life is as the audience for and users of that particular media product; the same relationship they would have to the television shows produced in the physical world. However, upon entering the virtual world, these users find the ability to connect, to create and to commune helping them to produce their own television programs. They are no longer just “audience to television”; they are able to change their position to “producer of television”. The technology of this social medium permits this transgressing but it does not require it. What is required for the transgression is the human desire to connect, to create, and to commune.
  • Virtual World Television in Second Life

    1. 1. Virtual World TelevisionProducers on the Importance of Creativity, Connectivity, and Community in Second Life CarrieLynn D. Reinhard Dominican University Pooky Amsterdam PookyMedia
    2. 2. Defining Virtual Worlds Gaming Worlds Social Worlds• Designer-created • User-generated content, content, world built world built through social through gaming interactions interactions
    3. 3. Defining Virtual World Television• Produced by users of virtual worlds, amateurs & semi-professionals• Recorded before live studio audience or in the field• Influenced by format, content of traditional television genres• Example: Giant Snail Races
    4. 4. The Case StudiesFour reasons focused on Second Life for interviews1. User-generated controls and intellectual property rights2. Streaming networks analogs3. Highest prevalence of television programming4. Pooky operated as gatekeeper
    5. 5. The Case Studies
    6. 6. Connectivity Producer Producer The Producer RestProducer Second Life of the Producer World Producer
    7. 7. Connectivity: Comparing VWTV to TV Similarities Differences• Importance of • Extent to which connection to VWTV producers professionals for indicated a employment desire to connect purposes with people otherwise left out
    8. 8. CreativitySecond Life Facilitating Second Life Facilitating Directly Indirectly, Forcing Workarounds
    9. 9. Creativity: Comparing VWTV to TV Similarities Differences• Whether live action • Due to nature of or animation, virtual world, necessity of greater ability negotiating with produce as conditions for envisioned without expressing creativity laws of nature & separate CGI programs
    10. 10. Community Producers within Second LifeCrew for a Series Audience for a Series
    11. 11. Community: Comparing VWTV to TV Similarities Differences• Communities of • Interaction with professionals occur audience to point at various levels in of encouraging TV production (SAG, input used to PGA. DGA, etc.) impact content• Importance of during live good working streaming, relations with crew recording
    12. 12. Concluding/Ongoing Thoughts• Able produce VWTV because… • Connected with others • Ale to be creative • Felt sense of community• Some differences, some similarities in these elements with traditional television • Similarities due to human nature to connect, to create, to commune • Differences due to technological structures, lack of institutionalized production industry• But need remember producers as agents at heart of productions – not just reacting to structures, as exist or as lacking
    13. 13. Why Does This Matter?• One example of technologies that arose with Web 2.0 • Themes of connectivity, creativity and community defining characteristics of Web 2.0 • Thus, not surprising would be central to how described experiences of using Second Life • Second Life unique because all-encompassing: user- generated production and distribution and exhibition• Transgressing position as audience within physical world that encompasses this virtual world • Not transgressing content/style, power dynamics • Virtual world permits transgressing audience position, but human agency of producers enables transgression