About a week ago, a friend of mine from the Chaos Computer Club introduced me to the hypy avatar chat community Second Life (SL). It took me some time to get into it, because I had to get used to moving my avatar through the virtual worlds of Second Life, in order to find interesting places, but in the meantime I feel at home in the SL universe and started to read some articles about the phenomenon. Strikingly enough, I found a number of misconceptions even among secondlifers, and the wider public seems to be particularly ill-informed. This may be due to Linden Lab’s sensationalist information policy (understandable with regard to investors) and the less understandable predilection of journalists for magnified and distorted information from cyberspace.
Second Life is not a virtual economy
Randolfe from Capitalism 2.0 has thoroughly analyzed the financial and internal economic implications of Second Life (with predictions on future developments). What is going on within SL is what Randolfe rightly labels “The Linden Dollar Game”. It is just a game with concepts of real-life economy where―as in real life—hazard and fraud play an important role. Such a game may even be funny, as long as one doesn’t expect to get money out of it. Unfortunately, Linden Lab and certain journalists present matters quite differently.
That doesn’t mean that it is impossible to make money with SL, but of course this happens in the real economy: Since SL is a popular platform, people who want to advertise and sell products in the real economy should be present in the virtual world as well. Programmers and skilled virtual designers can create virtual branches, agencies and stores within SL and get paid with real money. But again: this is part of “first life” economy and by no means a separate virtual economy.
Second Life is not a game
In Randolfe’s articles SL is considered a game, and I mentioned the economic game above, but SL as a whole is not a game. Normally, I would define game as a goal-oriented and rule-governed interaction between people (this is a very broad definition, other criteria, such as playfulness, break-off possiblity, conventions etc. may be added). The rules of SL are too general to be considered rules of a game and there is no common goal, nor even a set of common goals, that every participant of SL strives for. The “Linden Dollar Game”—though important—is one game out of many. SL is just a platform where people get into contact and interact, and most of the SLers that I have met (virtually and in real life) take no interest in the “Linden Dollar Game”. I would even go as far as calling SL a fancy-graphic chat room.
Second Life is cybersex
I’m pretty convinced that cybersex is one of the main attractions of Second Life and therefore an important factor for its success. Recently, a German lawyer concluded that engaging in cybersex in Second Life can be punished as making pornography accessible to people under the legal age. For something to qualify as pornographic, it has to be sexually arousing, but the avatars in SL are less arousing than explicit drawings in public toilets. The eroticism of Second Life comes from the conversation between people (and I know what I’m talking about—thanks to Kip, Flori and Enrique, you were great!). I wonder how such conversations can be forbidden. If the telephone had been invented only now, German “youth protection” would certainly try to prohibit phone sex, perhaps even normal phone calls, because they could potentially convey pornographic content to people under the age of 18, who should not be allowed to touch a telephone! And even under the present circumstances, I wouldn’t wonder if it is forbidden to imitate animal sounds while having phone sex.
Don’t underestimate Second Life!
Although I maintain that SL is just a platform for chatting, trading, having (mostly virtual) sex, playing games etc., I am pretty sure that it will be more and more successful: people advertising and selling goods through Second Life will make a lot of money (in real-life economy). In the end, Second Life or future similar platforms may substitute the World Wide Web, or the World Wide Web will at least be similar to a Second-Life derived platform. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a Second-Life client integrated into Apple’s iPhone.
Don’t overestimate Second Life!
From a technical point of view, Second Life is not much more than a multi-media web browser with fancy animations, a built-in chat and instant messaging modules. SL simply is the vanguard of a technical development that will change our habits of using the World Wide Web, but it will neither redistribute wealth nor create a new economy.