A few days ago, I had it in my head that today — the one-month anniversary of my introduction to Second Life — I would sit down and write some sort of comprehensive statement on the pros and cons of the experiment. But this afternoon, well, there are other things that need writing, and I admit I'm not feeling in a very comprehensive frame of mind. But there are some things I will say.
For one, my ups and downs with Second Life are right here for everyone to read, the highs and lows of the past 31 days. I have had moments when it amazed and dazzled me. I have had moments when it disappointed me, and made me wonder why I was investing so much time in such an enterprise. The truth of the matter, of course, lies somewhere in between those extremes. I'll get to that in a moment.
Yes, there are serious flaws with the fundamental concept. The obsession with currency, with Lindens, that's one of the worst. I have traveled far and wide inworld over the past 31 days, and I am very sad to say that too much — probably most — of Second Life amounts to a sort of strip mall/exurb sprawl purgatory. Because that is what the members of the experiment (there are presently almost 8 million worldwide, I think), shaped by the commercialism and sprawl of their First Lives, have made it. Instead of exploring the possibilities afforded by the simulation, too many residents go looking only to buy and sell, to amass virtual wealth and virtual belongings, to open businesses and rake in the Lindens, etc. And I think this is something the Linden Labs people are at fault for encouraging. It is a pity, because it has rendered much of Second Life hideous and wasted. But, again, I think this problem ultimately stems from the simple fact that few people who enter SL make any effort to be anything more — in any truly significant way — than what this First-Life world has made of them. And that is the truth, I think. At least, that is the truth as I have witnessed it.
Second Life is not a game (though it makes possible fabulous, and not so fabulous, gaming). It is not an MMORPG. It's not another take on The Sims. But if that's what you bring to it, you'll likely take nothing else away. In SL, one has a great say in creating the reality one experiences. As is often the case in First Life, perception plays a great role in determining what is being observed.
For me, Second Life is possibility. And here we enter into the specific positives, which are, sadly, only a tiny fraction of SL. Same as this First Life. Either way, unfortunately, Sturgeon's Law applies. If you come to SL expecting something delightful to be handed to you, ready made, ready for easy consumption, then you've missed the point and you'll probably miss the wonders. But the wonders are there, if you take the time to look. And in a month I know I have only begun to scratch the surface. But already I have seen the possibility SL presents as a teaching tool and as entertainment and as an international forum. I have found a niche for myself in the steampunk worlds of Babbage and Caledon. I have walked through Van Gogh paintings. I've visited Mars. I have begun the construction of a museum that was never built here, in this world. And for these things I am glad, and because of these things — despite the common ugliness and consumerism that clutters and defines so much of Second Life — I know now, a month in, that I'm going to stick with this thing awhile. It requires time and patience and imagination. I have very little of the first and only a smattering of the second, but quite a lot of the third, so I figure I'll do okay.
All that said, there were some questions asked a few days back by tactileson that I promised I would answer when my first inworld month had passed. He writes:
I wanted to raise this question for a while now, but do so in a respectful manner, so please do take it with that intent. I've tried out SL in the past, and while it never did much for me personally I can understand the appeal of it for others, I myself have, in the past, spent good amounts of my youth playing some other popular massive multiplayer online games. I've stopped in recent years, but I do have fond memories of them.
That said, there is a particular criticism I have with Second Life, and massive online games in particular, that I've always wanted to ask someone who has similar views to my own on other issues. As someone who has on many occasions come out as an avid protector of the environment, and someone who seems to believe in the conservation of materials that can be easily depleted, and are generally against much of the ridiculous capitalism that America and much else of the world falls prey to, causing them to buy needless and wasteful items; I am slightly baffled by your appreciation of something like SL which, for all the fun and enthralling entertainment it might bring, is basically getting you to pay to suck up your own electricity (and subsequently oil used along the way to create that electricity and get it to the general populace), but also getting you to pay to suck up the electricity needed to power SL's multitude of servers (usually housed in nice air conditioned rooms as servers are).
All in all, I myself have grown to see how such MMORPG's and other such games have just as big an impact on the environment as people driving oversized SUV's, using air conditioning 24/7, etc. etc. I can only imagine the amount of energy that could be saved from removing the servers for and usage of the 8 million World of Warcraft players alone.
First, as I've said already, I do not consider SL to be an MMORPG, though it certainly contains a great potential for role-players. Beyond that, my response would be that these comments are mostly true. But I see no reason why Second Life (or, for that matter, World of Warcraft) should be singled out here, as this problem will present itself if we examine any sort of mass media, whether we're talking about the recording industry, book and magazine publishing, film and television, electronic gaming (online and console), sports, and the internet in general. Indeed, compared to many of these things, the carbon footprint left by SL is negligible. Those things that humans do are damaging to the world around us, and it is almost impossible to conceive of genuinely "green" technologies.
But if I condemn and abandon SL as an unnecessary use of energy, then, in all fairness, I must also say the same of LiveJournal and my Gmail account, my website and MySpace and those Wikipedia entries I've written. I must say the same of all personal computers (Macs included). I must stop buying CDs and books and DVDs. It's not so much that you don't have a point. You do. It's just that picking on SL, in this regard, is like standing in the midst of the Great Chicago Fire and complaining that someone has struck a match. In the end, I have no reply beyond that. I do what I can to limit my personal and household energy consumption, and I would guess I do a fair sight more than most. But I am guilty when it comes to art, and to popular arts, and to the internet. Art is only another technology, and we express ourselves, almost without exception, at the expense of Nature. I have not yet stopped writing, though I know full well that my writing is the cause of pollution and energy depletion. It is a conundrum I have not yet solved, and fear I never shall.
Other than that, I can only say that Mother and I are still collating.
Okay. This has gone on too long. It's almost 1 p.m., and I'm wondering how much energy was depleted that I could write and then propagate this entry...