As I mentioned last Friday, I’m totally addicted to the virtual-reality game, Second Life, to the point where I’m neglecting my first life. I know it’s pointless, but it’s utterly engrossing, despite the fact that the Second Life software crashes frequently on my computer.
One SL “resident” commented that the whole thing is completely futile, and that it’s just a glorified chat program. Well, in one respect, yes, SL is an extremely social game. It’s more than that, however. By providing a simulated world and simulated bodies, it allows people around the world to interact in ways that mimic the physical world. For example, on the weekend, I attended a lecture. The instructor stood at a podium in front of the class, and talked about creating images in Photoshop. She showed us examples in a slideshow on a simulated screen behind her. The instructor could see us–our avatars, actually–and we could see her. A computer file can be exchanged simply by reaching out and handing it to someone–or leaving a copy in a convenient spot, like on a table or something.
I also cooperated with other people as we designed buildings and other objects. We walked with our avatars around the objects and moved 3-D primitives (basic polygons) into place like a colossal building toy. When it’s done, the residents with scripting skills can make the objects come to life. I took a ride on an airplane that someone else built. Then I played laser tag in an arena that someone built and scripted. I lost badly.
This kind of interaction is nothing new. It happens in the real world every day. People meet, chat, exchange money, build things, interact socially, and do everything that makes human society go. But until computers came along, these activities were limited by physical location. Simulations like this one escape the contraints of the real.
There’s also an element of the surreal in SL. Anything can be built, and the SL residents obviously have an immense amount of imagination and creativity. On one occasion, I found myself standing on the shoulder of a 20-meter-tall glowing monkey. I’ve got a photo to prove it too. Shortly afterwards, the monkey’s creator gave me a copy of the monkey, which I shrunk to teddy-bear size and placed on my shoulder. Inside SL, residents can build anything they can imagine.
Another time, I explored the interior of a gothic cathedral… as the Hulk. No kidding, I was big and green and I had purple pants too.
I’ll probably get tired of it after another week or so when the novelty wears off and when Second Life crashes one too many times in an evening. Until then, you can find me hanging out near the stage in Dore.