A BETTER WORLD IN SECOND LIFE? TARA MANN | MICHELA ESHAGHIAN | NOVEMBER 1, 2011
WHAT IS SECOND LIFE?Launched in 2003, Second Life is a software application, allowing “residents”to explore, socialize, and interact with one another in a virtual space.Users create and customize their own avatars.Second Life’s economy depends on the Linden Dollar (L$),which can be exchanged for international currencies.It is free to use Second Life, although users have the option to upgrade toa premium account, providing them with extra features, such as a stipend of300 Linden Dollars a week.
NEW WAYS TO SOCIALIZEDue to anonymity and a lack of real physical requirements,the virtual space creates new opportunities for people who areoften unable to flourish in traditional social situations.
BRIGADOON: A PRIVATE SECOND LIFE ISLANDCREATED BY A NON-PROFIT COMPANY CALLED BRAINTALKServing as a form of virtual therapy, the island treated peoplewith Asperger’s Syndrome, using avatars and common spaces tosimulate social norms and gestures.Patients were able to establish lasting friendships in Second Life,and in some cases become social leaders. The Salty Dawg Sea Tavern (Cafe on Brigadoon)
GLOBAL RELATIONSMost communication occurs through text, allowing users to disguise their gender and accents, andwhen VoIP (voice over internet protocol) functionality was introduced to Second Life, the featurewas not celebrated, as it hindered one’s ability to truly role-play.Unlike other MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), Second Life groups allusers, from all geographic areas, into one place.People from all over the world are interacting in one common space. As oppose to inaccessible,research-based virtual reality facilities, Second Life is available to almost anyone.“Avatar proximity and an immersive sense of shared space are evidently activating factors to a phenomenon that quite literally seems to improve global relations.” – Wagner James Au, The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World.
WILDE CUNNINGHAMA group of people in a Massachusetts care center created an avatar to share.All of them contributed to the life of this character (Cunningham) during the 45 minutetime slots they were allowed to spend online.Second Life allows disabled people to explore and socialize, without facing harsh criticismbased on first impressions, stereotypes, or physical disfigurements. It also gives them theopportunity to not only fly, but to walk.People in the group possessed different skills used in Wilde’s navigation,forcing them to work together in order to explore. Uninhibited mobility is a reality for disabled Second Life users.
VIRTUAL HALLUCINATIONSCreated by Nash Baldwin of UC Davis as a simulation of schizophrenia.Existing in its own building in Second Life, the facility allows residents to enter, walk around,and experience hallucinations/voices in a virtual psychiatric ward.The tour of the building has haunted visitors, despite its virtual existence, and educatedpeople about the disease.
LAST THOUGHTSSecond Life provides a more immersive experience for users in comparisonto other ways we socialize/share our opinions online. “Residents” truly live inthese created environments, and react to events accordingly. Rather thanbeing a passive observer, they value the outcome of their second life and areinvested in the relationships they build virtually. The freedom of the mediumallows users to explore, converse, and live in their ideal world.
QUESTIONS“How much investment of time and resources should be put in online worlds to effect social good?”“What’s the return on investment in the metaverse?”(FROM THE WAGNER JAMES AU READING)