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Train In The Distance

June 7, 2010

I’ve always had a weakness for two things: suggestion and potential.  They’re related, of course; bound by a latent promise of something better.  To me, suggestion is the journey ahead, filled with endless routes and possible destinations.  While potential is the engine you take down these tracks, hoping that it is sound enough and has enough fuel to get you there.   My favorite sorts of suggestions, of course, are ideas; I’m seduced by ideas.  Whisper something in my ear, and I’m guaranteed to think about it.  And as far as potential?  Let’s just say that I’ve bought the American cultural ethos that we can make ourselves into whomever we want hook, line and sinker.

Which brings me to this post.  For almost three years, with the exception of a few breaks, a large part of my Second Life has been all about suggestion and potential.  I’ve been fascinated by ideas like avatar identity, communities in virtual worlds, and the ways we could use virtual worlds as a important tools.  These ideas still resonate powerfully with me, but it also feels as if something has happened in the past few months.  In short, the suggestion and possibilities that had captured my imagination feels stale.  It may well be me, that it feels like the same familiar ground has been walked upon over and over.   (This isn’t entirely true, Grace McDunnough has recently fostered some wonderful dialogue on the concept of culture in Second Life.  These important conversations, however, seem by nature to be more about defining what *is* versus what *could be.*)

Intuitively, I can’t help but feel as if Second Life is entering some sort of transitional state.  Transitioning to what seems to be the question of the month.  My crystal ball is a little hazy on this point, I can’t seem to get a good sense of all the possible directions yet.  But my question is this, what do you see the new ideas of virtual worlds becoming?  Will they be more nuanced versions of existing ones?  Or new ones altogether?  So what is it, dear reader, what suggestions and potential of Second Life have grabbed you lately?

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5 comments

  1. I so hope I’m wrong here, but…

    As a personal choice I’ve decided to not further invest RL dollars into Secondlife. I never thought I would make money in world,it would have been great yes, but that was never my intent.
    I wanted and achieved having a community here…My community is small, 3 sims and 20 plus people.
    Today it’s become increasingly harder to sustain that community.
    Linden Lab seems to have forgotten the dream that Phillip Rosedale sold so many of us…”Your World, Your Imagination”.

    Over my 50 year real life work history I’ve had the misfortune to have occasionally worked for people and companies that only saw their bottomline through a myopic view. Linden Lab seems to have gone that route…
    While Secondlife was truly created by the residents, today that creative spirit is being lost. It would appear that the Lab wants a 3D chatroom, HTML on a prim, a 2.0 viewer…BTW a viewer that doesn’t do what it was supposed to do, retain new users.
    For so many of those that created this world, the key word is immersion, not augmentation.
    The Lab is forcing a viewer on the new user that’s not any easier to use and destroys the feeling of immersion.
    I don’t think it’s possible to effectively understand this world unless one spends time in it…to immerse yourself in it…to create in it… to have relationships with other people that are also immersed in it.

    I will try to stay until they turn off the servers. I don’t want to leave…but at my age, I can be driven out.


  2. I’ve recently been thinking about how divergent the immersive ideal of Second Life is from the dominant thrust of networked culture and media. Everywhere else, multi-tasking is becoming the norm.

    For instance, it’s rare to have just one window open on a computer. Many people don’t even watch TV without simultaneously surfing the net or at least texting. Even in RL social and business gatherings, it’s pretty common and socially acceptable to divide attention between those physically present and whatever you choose to be engaged with on your smartphone.

    Bringing in social media and html on a prim allows you to multi-task to some degree from the virtual world, but it’s still pretty kludgy (for instance surfing the net from a standard browser versus from within Second Life.) Although you can certainly have a Second Life window open while you’re doing something else in another window, or talking to someone in RL, such activities break the sense of experiencing being an embodied avatar within a virtual world.

    Anyway, I don’t know what, if anything, this has to do with the stagnation you sense, but it’s one factor to consider.


  3. Secondlife is not the only community based virtual world. There are all the opensim based one (InWorldz is nice) which seem smaller and consequently more community based.

    Twinity appears to be going from a bottomline company to a community based one too.

    Don’t give up is, I guess, my message. If SL becomes too bottomline then try others.


  4. Part of the challenge of writing is completely conveying the point you were trying to make. My intention for this post wasn’t a negative one, but more along the lines of rhetorically pursuing the concept of does the maturation of the idea of virtual worlds mean that we’re entering a phase of more deeply examining ideas that have been around for a while or are there shiny new concepts coming to the fore.

    The challenge with these questions is that it is hard to take them out of the context of the direction that Linden Lab appears to be directing Second Life. Beyond the context of Second Life, are we looking at the maturation of the idea of virtual worlds?


  5. Do virtual worlds have a muse? I think they do…probably in very much the same way each of us does. How we and virtual worlds hear it, how it comes forth is something mysterious. As for SL and LL specifically, one of many interesting dynamics or tensions is the balance between a necessary focus on the bottom-line of the entity and the oftentimes less-structured focus or exploration of LL’s own muse. Maybe just as much as virtual worlds hold the promise of containing our muses, maybe we, the residents, are LL’s muse (or maybe we were in the very beginning). There seems to be a very strong symbiotic relationship. I could be mistaken but the infiltration of atomic values, atomic norms seemed to happen on both fronts: the entity and the community. By that I mean, LL may have signaled with a shift to “let’s replicate first life in a virtual setting” but many residents appeared to line up behind that culture…even before it was formally announced. For me, one of the canaries, if you will, has always been the proliferation of atomic-world styled malls that appeared months and months before the “dream home” LL campaign appeared. Did everyone sense a potentially larger, homogeneous market (focusing on the practicalities of what we all know)? Or are we entirely reasonable by following the natural tendency to upload what we already know, as Botgirl has alluded to in a number of her weblog entries? Or both? Or neither? Or something else entirely? I’m not sure…but I do sense a wonderful thing and that wonderful thing is the fact that the conversation about this is occurring and in several places. Far from being something negative, which many often mistakenly view this conversation to be, it seems more an exploration of how to discover – or rediscover – our muse, and the muse of virtual worlds. When the exploration of that stops, that’s when things would appear to be set in stone.



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