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Living Game Worlds at Georgia Tech, Second Life

This is what I’m doing right now.

My Second Life avatar is sitting in my stead, attending the fourth-ever Living Game Worlds symposium, streaming live from Georgia Tech. And right now, Raph Koster is speaking. The symposium focuses on the interplay between, and I quote, “multiplayer games and virtual worlds.”

You too can attend Living Game Worlds via Second Life (fitting!), if only you click here. Of course, if you wouldn’t be caught dead in Second Life, you may also participate by opening the live streaming video in one window and keeping IRC open in the other.

I think I want to talk more about this soon, but right now I’m really just enjoying it.

edit: It’s over! Until tomorrow.

What’s really neat is, the IRC channel and the theater in Second Life are ‘bridged,’ so that everything the kids say in IRC pop into Second Life, and at the same time, Second Life users appear as users in the chat room. Neato.

7 responses to “Living Game Worlds at Georgia Tech, Second Life” »

  1. pauljeremiah says:

    never got into second life jenn, but strangely i love playstation home

  2. librarian says:

    Someday soon I would like to write a great deal about Second Life here. I am a convert, but I know Second Life is encumbered by tremendous inaccessibility: there is a steep learning curve; the UI is piss-poor; the engine barely runs on Mac and Linux; it is, at the outset, hard to make your avatar look human, much less obtain the tools for doing so. For these reasons, Second Life comes with its own stigma—after all, how can anyone rightly understand it if no one can easily get onto it? The same stigma came along with Telnet, with D&D, with early newsgroups and listservs: for the people who found these social media inscrutable, it was easy to write these off as territories intended solely for the socially and culturally inept.

    Here, HOME has an innate advantage and an exciting amount of potential. Because it is perfectly accessible, it is unencumbered by stigma. There is no small collective commandeering it as its own; everyone may use it. And because people are any online community’s greatest resource, HOME has a larger resource to draw from than any virtual world ever before.

  3. Chris Person says:

    Oh man. Ya know I actually tried second life like a four months ago on the strength of your recommendation? I started off as a dragon, but I didn’t like it so I tried being a human again. Unfortunatedly I could only change my skin, so my character just looked like a dude that had had all his bones smashed and reformed so that he had to crawl on the ground; kinda like Chinese foot binding, or that operations that midgets get to extend their legs except, ya know, with dragons.

    Then I think I rode a tricycle around in a circle until I got bored, fell over and gave up.

    Also, I like that someone who looks like Crecente and an evil insect man from a kaiju flick is just chilling out while you look bored in that picture.

    Also also, French Pants.

  4. The article you quote is only one man’s perspective of the Second Life environment and his disaffection. Others would argue that there is much more to be gained from experiencing the virtual world. Of course, not everyone will enjoy Second Life, just as not everyone enjoys sports (yawn), Halo (oh no, you mean I have to shoot someone else?), or quilting. There is no shortage of folks who don’t like Second Life (or any virtual world) and feel it is their duty to pore scorn on any poor, misguided loser who happens to find themselves immersed in the online experience.

    You might want to take a look at my recent coverage (http://www.slentre.com/the-jou.....tual-life/) of the Journal of Virtual Worlds, a rather sober – and interesting – online publication that looks less at the sex-and-scandal elements of virtual worlds and more at some of the issues that make such worlds interesting.

    The “inaccessibility” is over-rated. It doesn’t take too long to become familiar with navigating the virtual world – no longer than working out how to use any video game. Sadly, some people are, by nature, slow learners, and they tend to ascribe their limitations to the software/hardware/design or whatever scapegoat helps them cover up their failings.

  5. librarian says:

    Hi, friend,

    I think Eric Reuters’s/Krangel’s most recent op/ed was in response to pieces like “Second Life’s Death Knell,” where a lot of mainstream tech press have recently (and gleefully) attempted to connect Google Lively’s failure with Second Life and Reuters. It seems Krangel’s real intent was to shrug that off, to remind people that virtual worlds are things that will not just pop out of existence.

    I know that wonderful, niche Second Life blogs have been written off, in the mainstream blogosphere, as merely “Second Life blogs,” denied their cultural worth. It is the norm to see Second Life itself written off as a world “without intent,” as an un-game. I think your comment suggests you think that I, too, write Second Life off as a sex-crazed sim. Nope. I watch carefully. I play carefully. I want to explain Second Life to my closest friends.

    I joined Second Life to look at gaming possibilities. My background, too, is in virtual community (web). I like emergent gameplay; I like what we call ‘safe spaces’; I like collective games made by users. I am fascinated by social games. I used to MUD and RP on BBSes and I recognize Second Life as an extension of that. (I joined the internet in 1993—not unbelievably early, no, but certainly early for an 11-year old.) Actually, about that: it was strange to learn DOS by myself, and trying to ‘learn’ Second Life is the only comparable experience I can think of. No, it is not as simple as “working out how to use any video game.”

    Of course I didn’t intend my RL blog, or its comments section, to convey anything about my Second Life experiences—instead, I’d actually just set up my Second Life blog (ha) to maybe gradually work my way up to discussing these things. You should know I have absolutely become a champion of Second Life, quietly. And as a result I’ve wanted real-life friends to know why this virtual world is so important.

    But I would like to remind you what starting out is like. Yesterday I tried to remind someone—a grad student, actually, who maintains a very fulfilling Second Life presence—what starting out in Second Life is like. “Two words,” I told her. “Default Hair.”

    She said, “What? No one told you on your first day?”

    No, I explained. At the start, you understand ‘wearing’ shoes. You understand ‘wearing’ jeans. It is difficult to understand, however, wearing ‘hair,’ ‘eyes,’ and ‘skin.’ These are things you expect, ordinarily, to be given. These are things that mark you, in Second Life, as human. But very few people in Second Life will help you in learning to become apparently human.


    Instead, you will begin Second Life looking stupid and doll-like and ugly, and it is an incredible feat to convince someone to help you even as you wear default skin and hair and free rollerskates. It is difficult to find your way in Second Life. When you first arrive—even if you’ve had experience with virtual worlds or communities before—it’s very difficult to tell what you’re looking at.

    My Second Life avatar was “born” in July 2007. But I only began exploring, on my own and in earnest, in July 2008. This is not abnormal. This is actually incredibly normal. Or, if nothing else, it was totally abnormal that I came back, with huge reserves of resolve, to try again.

    It is December 2008 now. In the summer, I purchased the Second Life Users’ Guide. I attempted to make as many friends as I could—I’ve read that this task is much more difficult now than it was in 2006. People don’t like newcomers, they’re fine with the friends they have. Etc.

    Understand that the ‘learning curve’ in Second Life isn’t a result of stupidity, as you suggest, or even a lack of passion. It does not note a human failing.

    Would you help this Funny Face?

    This is the truth as I see it: the social stigma surrounding Second Life is absolutely not what affects new users—indeed, they arrive in spite of it. Instead, the social stigma from mainstream press is what frightens old users away from new users. Users write in their “1st Life” profile tabs, “Don’t ask me about my real life,” or “I’ll tell you when I trust you.”

    If new users, supposedly, think Second Life is about ‘one thing’—furries, BDSM, whatever—and they show up anyway, the safe space is compromised. The threat must simply be ignored. A new user is welcome only after he somehow marks himself as ‘invested’ or ‘gets it’—perhaps he somehow finally learned, on his own, about new skins, free shirts, resizing his hair prims. But we cannot, will not, help the new users ourselves. And Linden sure doesn’t.

    I love, love, Second Life. You could throw all the money in the world at a Mad Max MMO and, still, you’d never come up with anything like the Wastelands. You couldn’t create an MMO that could compete with Babbage and Caledon, or with Midian and Toxian.

    But nothing Linden has given you has made Second Life what it is. No, Second Life’s grand meaning—its “intent,” its “point,” if you require one—is that Second Life, from your face to your shoes to the weeds to the birds to your freckles, is a mod. It is all user-created.

    So there you have it. I am not “disaffected” and I do not use Second Life’s absolutely horrific UI as an excuse for my own thickheadedness.

    But I think you might take for granted exactly how difficult it was for you—yes, you!—to learn even just the interface, the unspoken and quirky social intricacies, the secret ‘language’ of Linden. It takes a lot longer than simply learning how to rez boxes, teleport, or attach your hat to your nose, mouth, or chin. How long until you learned how to apply textures you made in Photoshop to prims you’d rendered? Or how to edit your Animation Override HUD so that you could load it up with animations? Perhaps you taught yourself bits and pieces of scripting language because you wished your apartment’s windows would open? Parcel! Snap to grid! Mouselook! Poseball! Who could enter Second Life and understand what these words mean, never mind how to accomplish anything?

    The people who remember learning that weird, new language are not trying to undermine the meaning or importance of Second Life. Rather, we all attempted to learn that social and cultural language because we recognize that Second Life—in spite of stigmas or what we’ve read—is an important emergent gaming and social space that other people don’t understand well enough.

    Yesterday I explained to my newest Second Life friend—an academic who specializes in marginalized groups and in creating ‘safe spaces’—what I love about Second Life. My real-life friend Adam once remarked that “the internet was smaller and kinder” in the mid- to late- nineties, when we’d met online. “The difference between early internet and now,” I later wrote, “was that we had absolute control over our own identities.”

    Second Life is like the internet in 1995. You have total control over your identity, your privacy, and your safety. It is small and safe, inaccessible and misunderstood. That’s fine—we know it isn’t for everyone. We’d actually prefer you didn’t try to join in, actually. Make no mistake: Second Life is inaccessible, in form, in function, in culture. For someone who cares enough to jump in, and in the absence of anyone else who cares, ‘learning’ Second Life might take weeks, or months. For me, a year and four months—on and off, anyway.

    My first avatar, gorgeous!

    The point is, Second Life is roundly misunderstood in the mainstream because it’s this faraway, inscrutable thing. Just getting started requires a committed interest that is difficult for the merely curious to muster. As for help, it never comes. Why should it? After all, people who don’t get the knack instantly are “slow learners,” right? Best to leave them behind—we don’t need them anyway.

    Yeah, screenshots of my early, shitty avatars. Isn’t it hilarious how you tweak it for hours and think you finally look totally great, but weeks later you figure out something’s wrong with it? Because no one will talk to you? It’s easy to forget how awful your very first avatar was.

    Eric Krangel’s criticisms are valid. These are not musings from an ‘outsider.’

    And when you troll the blogs of people echoing Krangel’s concerns, looking for your chance to extol Second Life and dismiss all criticism, there’s an extremely good chance your chosen blogger has a very active Second Life account. I mean, these people would not voice their frustrations with ‘inaccessibility’ if they were not, in fact, extremely emotionally (and financially!) invested. You know?

    Point is, Eric Krangel sure doesn’t sound like one of the “disaffected,” out to take Second Lifers down a notch. Instead, he sounds like someone who, uh, cares about Second Life. Like, enough to want to explain it to the mainstream for a living, and then, even after switching careers, continue brooding about ways to improve Second Life and help other people understand it.

  6. librarian says:

    P.S. Chris. Crecente? Really? I was thinking more Billy Mitchell.

  7. Chris Person says:

    Look at his tie. Do you see stars and stripes?

    I rest my case.

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