In class this week we had the opportunity to explore the virtual world Second Life (SL). I made my account a few weeks before the class in preparation and had a quick look at how SL works, but I couldn’t work out how to change the camera angle to be looking from my avatar’s perspective, and I found customising my avatar very confusing, so I decided to wait until the class. During class, I spent time getting used to navigating my avatar, customising my appearance and exploring the world. It was only until I logged in back at home that I was able to have a more in-depth experience with the game.
I was wandering around some random newbie world when I bumped into an avatar called Merlin. He seemed pretty nice, and he was new like me, so we decided to explore together. We found some random little cottage, however we had trouble working out how to open the door (I worked it out in the end!). Once Merlin left, I continued to explore, but was getting annoyed by the male avatars who kept hitting on me.
I decided to go to one of the main islands where the new players gather in order to meet some new people. Once my page loaded I noticed that there was a voice conversation occurring between 3 or 4 players. They were actually having a pretty in-depth philosophical discussion about Second Life and the actual world and they seemed quite educated. Then, they somehow managed to veer their discussion onto topics such as gender and how virginity is valued in various cultures. I couldn’t help but sit there and eavesdrop for a bit… however I didn’t have the confidence to butt in and join the conversation – and definitely not using voice!
My poor avatar was probably suffering from shock – 1 minute ago she was surrounded by men soliciting her attention, the next she’s listening to a heated debate about society and culture!
In that same location later on I met some experienced players with whom I had a lovely conversation. One of the girls then told me that my outfit screamed ‘NEW PLAYER’ and she decided to give me a whole new outfit. It was unbelievable! I can’t believe I was drooling over a gorgeous pair of virtual high heels. She gave me the heels, some black leather pants, a black corset top, new hair, a new body shape (sexy female shape? oh dear) and a tan. I thought that this was probably not going to help the problem of male avatars hitting on me, especially when the female shape was very well endowed and the top definitely accentuated it. I discovered how to adjust my shape and made myself a bit shorter, and with a smaller chest!
Later, I met another two people who I proceeded to converse with. I told them that I was a university student who was on SL as part of a class, and they seemed really interested and answered heaps of questions that I had. It was kind of amusing actually – we ended up discussing issues such as identity, gender and personality. The conversation began with discussion about time zones, but managed to develop to involve questions such as ‘does gender shape society, or does society shape gender?’ and whether people who use SL behave with a completely different personality, or are just exploring another side of their actual personality. Turns out I had had a very academic discussion with a guy from Queensland and a forty-one year old from the US. Who knew?
I found SL to be very interesting. It is amazing how so many people treat this game as seriously as an actual life. I thought it was funny how one player said ‘brb’ because ‘real life is interrupting’ – it was almost as if he considered SL his first life, not his second! Most things you can do in the actual world seem to be able to be done in SL; the fact that most of the content is user-generated means that the possibilities are pretty much endless.
SL does cause some problems, however. I had a discussion with some people on SL about relationships on SL and how they were taken as being the same as those in RL. The woman I was speaking to had a relationship on SL for around two years and even met the man in RL. She said that he was very similar to his SL avatar. Divorce is an issue with regards to SL relationships. I actually met a SL divorce lawyer who said she got a lot of business from SL couples who needed their assets split. A VIRTUAL DIVORCE LAWYER? Are you kidding me? Another issue we talked about was those people who were couples in both RL and SL, and whether cheating with another avatar on SL could be considered to be the same as cheating in the actual world. People seem to think that it is, which is fairly mind-blowing. I mean, SL is a pretty immersive game, but is it really an extension of the actual world? It’s kind of scary how involved people are getting in SL… and as the world becomes even more realistic, people are going to become involved even more so.
Overall, I found my experiences in Second Life to be intriguing. I’ve played online worlds before, but never one that was such a mirror of our actual world. I made quite a few friends, and am now slightly concerned that I am becoming addicted to SL at a very inconvenient time of the semester!
Images are screenshots taken in-game from Second Life