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Donna Quixote?

August 13, 2010

Image by Bettina Tizzy

I thought it only fair to take up the challenge I put forward in my last rambly post.  Among other things, I asked if it was possible to describe the value of a virtual world to the uninitiated.  There were really some great responses to the questions, both in comments and in posts on their own blogs.  So, to be fair, I thought I would tilt at windmills and attempt a description of the value of Second Life to the unitiatied.  Here’s my brief try:

Virtual worlds offer an ability to interact with that allow for a projection of self while having a sense of place.   Within these worlds, a person can find community, interact within a three-dimensional context and have an unparalled opportunity for expression.  What one chooses to do – and how they choose to do it – is entirely up to them.

Okay, so I’m going to completely honest and tell you that I don’t love my description.  Writing a pithy description of the value of a virtual world is a challenging prospect; there is so much that simply cannot be captured by mere words.  Like a number of the commenters on the original post, I don’t believe that it is possible to describe the magic of Second Life to the unitiatied.  Yet. One needs to experience it to more fully get a sense of what it means.  We’re still in a period where the idea of a virtual world either resonates instantly or it doesn’t.  I’m sure we could have some very long discussions as to why this is, but I think there are multiple factors.  The first is the shortcomings of technology; we’re simply not yet at a place where it can look and feel viscerally real.  The second are the shortcomings of Second Life (and to be fair, let’s say all of the current nongame virtual worlds); the interface isn’t terribly intuitive and operational issues can magnify the shortcomings of technology.  Finally – and perhaps most important – is the “you say tomaTOE, I say toMAHtoe” factor; let’s face it, people all enjoy different things and the use of SL is a choice (perhaps with the exception of some business and education applications).  Just because Second Life gets my synapses firing and I find it very enjoyable, doesn’t mean that is true for everyone. (Take my sister, for example.  I once tried getting her engaged in SL and she just plain did not like it and would rather spend her time in other ways.)

I also asked if Second Life has a broader purpose that appeals to the masses or was something that resonated with a smaller section of society.   As I’ve thought about that question, I haven’t strayed very far from what I wrote in My Tammy Faye Bakker Moment post last June.  In it, I wrote that “I’ve grown to believe that the best uses of Second Life are the ones that strive to take advantage of the ability to do things that would be prohibitive or not possible to do in real life. ”  I still believe this to be true, but with a couple additions and caveats.  The first is that I would also add that it’s really okay to simply have fun in a virtual world.  The other is that the applications and usages will likely evolve over time and become more resonant with people in general.

Easy, right?  I still would love to hear more people make an attempt at a definition; the more we can articulate what we value and what we want, the greater the chance we’ll be able to help others see our vision as well.  We’re at this funny moment in time where language doesn’t entirely capture the experience and that there are gaps in experience that can’t be covered with language.  Maybe we should all try tilting at windmills a little more to try to fill that gap.

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