Monday, November 15, 2010

A Whole New World

I would like to say my Second Life experience left me with thousands of virtual friends, but I would be lying if I didn't say I had a rather frustrating and secluded second life experience. Like the previous posts point out, a game that is designed to build community and connect people from around the world was hard to navigate and hostile. But before I get ahead of myself let's start at the beginning.

I first began Second Life by creating my avatar, Frances Serenity, who wore a pink dress and "girl next door underpants." Users can alter their avatars in every way shape and form - everything from eyebrow shape to undergarments. This is where I probably spent the most time playing around with different avatars, names, clothes and hairstyles. Once I had committed to Frances we traveled through a tutorial teaching us how to navigate inside second life. Walking, siting, talking, even flying was covered. Feeling confident in Frances' newly acquired skills, I was eager to teleport to my first destination. Before doing so, I first had to agree to a terms and services warning. I was shocked not only with the length of this agreement, but also the content. For once, in my entire life, I read every single word of one of those agreements. In my opinion the most shocking agreement I engaged in was an agreement not to bite or attack anyone in order to prevent vampire clan recruitment. Additional agreements included adherence to a dress code, along with refraining from swearing, harassing, and enslaving other Second Life members. My game setting was set to moderate, so perhaps that was why I had this agreement. Yet, I cannot imagine what else the adult setting could have possibly included.

Once I had agreed I wouldn't bite anyone in Second Life, I was off to my first destination. I traveled to Inspire Space Park which was a galactic environment full of stars and planets. I couldn't see any of this however until I changed my environmental setting to midnight, which in turn made the sky black and highlighted my surroundings. I was so excited to see so many other avatars, although none of them seemed to be doing much except wandering around. Numerous times I tried to speak to other members by saying things like, "I am new to this, can someone help me?" Out of the five or six people I spoke at, only one replied with, "Go away, I am waiting for Eric." With that I decided I was probably doing something wrong, so I clicked on a "find friends" link and traveled to a new location, which claimed to have lots of members waiting who also wanted to make friends.

After arriving at this supposedly friendly destination, I clicked on one of the names of another avatar near to me. Leanna Moralls was the first pick, but I had to chase her for a while until I got caught behind a billboard and couldn't figure out how to move. Getting frustrated, I tried a cathedral church for my next destination and continued traveling to different locations each time I played. Whenever I logged back into play it was usually the same experience, a lot of strange looking avatars who occasionally yelled at me, although I didn't experience the level of vulgarity as other classmates did, it wasn't necessarily a welcoming environment. I tried to change outfits a few times or go shopping, but quickly realized you ACTUALLY had to use REAL money. As much as I wanted to fit in my second life, as a college student, I couldn't drop any dough on the "latest virtual boots."

The Second Life lifestyle went on like this for more than a week and sadly didn't get any better. My experience could have been part of my mediocre gaming skills, but my fellow classmates' experiences would attest to the fact that navigating Second Life is challenging for non-users. There are not any tasks to be completed, such as in WoW, which left me unsure of what exactly I was supposed to do in my Second life. Second Life is undoubtably intriguing, but after playing I found it hard to imagine how players willingly and frequently return to this virtual world. I found an explanation for this virtual behavior in an unexpected place.

During another class, a guest speaker advised us all to watch instead of watching television. After taking his advice, I was pleasantly surprised when I found this talk about the effects virtual gaming has on our brains and why millions of people are motivated to participate.

Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain | Video on

I think many non-gamers, myself included, often scoff at the money and time gamers pour into these virtual worlds, thinking it's wasteful or damaging to "real" relationships and human or societal development. This talk identifies what it is people are so attracted to in virtual games and how that attractiveness can be harnessed and implemented in our "real" world to motivate people to produce positive outcomes beyond the computer screen. While I am not dying to get back to Second Life in the near future, this concept is ingriguing enough for me to take a second look.


  1. Even though your character wears "girl next door underpants," Frances looks like a Midwestern mom who does an insane amount of scrapping, baking and knitting. I think it's amazing how avatars can be so detailed that viewers can make assumptions about them just as you would do in the real world.Also, I think you are secretly aspiring to be Frances.

  2. When thinking about why people use this game, I draw from my experiences as a Sims 2 addict in high school. I used the game to supplement a lot of my personal issues/insecurities and it kind of offered and safe environment that I felt like I could control at that time. And on the Sims 2, no one is real, so I could kind of see why having an interactive world would appeal to people. Most of us in this class have real-life community that we can work out our issues with. I'm not saying every Second Life user is lonely, but I bet it has a higher percentage of people who need that type of space.