In the press: Sansar, Second Life, and avatar empowerment

Via Linden Lab
Via Linden Lab

There have been a number of press reports on Sansar since the start of the year, some of which I’ve covered in these pages – such as in Road to VR (see here), Upload VR and Tom’s Hardware (see here). However, while I’ve read others, I’ve not made the time to write about them. so, in case you missed them, here’s a quick breakdown of notable coverage of the Lab, Sansar and Second Life.

On January 19th, Réalité Virtuelle, the French on-line publication for virtual and augmented reality carried a piece entitled Sansar: la vraie réalité virtuelle débarque en 2017 (“Sansar: the real virtual reality arrives in 2017″).

Penned by Farid Khedri, the piece covers familiar (to those following Sansar’s development) ground, but offers a very well-rounded overview of the Lab’s new platform – and something of a potted history of Second Life, including a look at French politics.

Farid Khedri
Farid Khedri

A nice touch with the piece is that it starts out with a 5-point summary, noting that Sansar gains the advantage of having the Lab’s long-term exposure to VR environments, thanks to Second Life, that Sansar itself is not “Second Life 2.0” (how many time do we have to emphasise that?), but it is geared towards “social VR” experiences.

The potted history of Second Life is dealt with briefly in the first two paragraphs, which offer a rounded view of the platform circa 2003 through 2007. It’s interesting to note that the platform has not only played something of a role in US politics and presidential elections, as Farid notes:

In France, many candidates in the 2007 presidential election, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen, José Bové, Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, opened virtual campaign offices in Linden Lab’s metaverse.

Despite the bubble bursting in 2007/8, again as Farid notes, Second Life has – all things considered – been a success in validating the idea of virtual spaces for social networking, and as a means of learning, business and more. This serves to lead into a well-written piece on Sansar and the Lab’s reasoning behind it (including touching on a return to the company’s VR roots with The Rig – although it is not mentioned by name). As such, and whether you opt to read the original piece, or opt to use something like Google Translate, Sansar: la vraie réalité virtuelle débarque en 2017 is worth taking the time to sit down and run through.

Rachel Metz
Rachel Metz

January 27th saw Rachel Metz delve into similar Sansar territory for the MIT Technology Review.

While somewhat misleadingly entitled Second Life Is Back for a Third Life, This Time in Virtual Reality (Second Life is still very much on its first life, and  – as already noted, Sansar isn’t “SL 2.0”, much less some kind of “Second Life Three”), the article offers a further general overview of Sansar and the Lab’s hopes for it.

Although there is nothing particularly “new” in the piece vis-à-vis Sansar, what I do like about it is that rather than being gung-ho about VR’s future, Rachel offers a measure of caution about how and where the brave new (VR) world might actually go:

Consumer virtual reality is still in its infancy—over two million headsets were shipped worldwide in 2016, according to an estimate from market researcher Canalys. That’s tiny compared to the several hundred million smartphones that ship each quarter, and we’re still figuring out what the heck to do with virtual reality.

And therein lies the rub. As I’ve stated elsewhere, while I believe VR definitely has a future – we just need the technology to mature in ease-of-use (size) and cost – I remain sceptical that it will be as all-pervasive as VR evangelists state – particularly when AR and MR would seem to have much broader practical applications which can impact our daily lives. Thus, Sansar is something of a gamble for the Lab, although Second Life is a long way down the road in demonstrating that if done right, and allowing for the potential for Sansar to fit a lot of suitable use-cases far more easily and affordably than SL has managed, the Lab’s new platform could have a comfortable future.

Going back to earlier in January – but offering a nice pivot away from Sansar and to Second Life, on January 8th, 2017, Alex Burnham examined how Virtual reality opens new doors in education for Florida State University (FSU) News. In particular, he looked at how the university has  successfully leveraged Second Life in undergraduate programmes.

Alex Burnham discussing FSU's use of Second Life for education
Alex Burnham discussing FSU’s use of Second Life for education

The work involving Second Life has been spearheaded by professors William Landing and Stephanie Dillon. Working with Chant Newall Development Group, CNDG,  they have developed  environments within Second Life to help students studying environmental science (under Prof. Landing) and chemistry (under Prof. Dillon).

The article highlights some of the challenges of virtual teaching, as noted by undergraduate student Chris Ortiz, but it also underlines the broad range of opportunities that virtual environments offer for achieving goals and allowing greater understand of, and involvement with, the subjects being taught – something I have little doubt will increase as the likes of Sansar come on stream and which also – equally importantly – demonstrates that far from being a thing of the past, as some pundits would have people believe, education is still a source of involvement and experimentation within Second Life.

Nadika Nadja
Nadika Nadja

In Gender Binary: Second Life, First Loves (January 30th), we are presented within an exploration of gender and identity – two topics which have been much explored in the past through Second Life.

Here, the discussion and exploration – which also in passing touches on archaeological and historical recreation – is presented in a very personal form: the thoughts of Nadika Nadja. It’s a thoughtful, thought-provoking piece, one of a series written for GenderIT.org, poignant for their outright honesty and directness.

Given all that is going on in the world today, with so many fundamental human rights under threat and with so many living in the world who are unable to give expression to their inner selves, Nadika’s article is a powerful reminder of the freedoms inherent in spaces like Second Life we can personally experience – and how they can help us to grow and better understand ourselves and those around us.

This is an article I was tempted to write at length about – but anything I have to say is actually superfluous; Nadika’s own words need no filter; they are beautifully honest and open, and should be read directly.  Instead, I’ll leave you with her closing comment – one which, I think it fair to say, will resonate in all of use who are engaged in Second Life, no matter what our backgrounds, beliefs, feelings or desires.

In turn, Second Life took all my love and gave me something else in return: a community I could depend on, a world I could belong to, an identity I could own.

The final article I’m turning to is Samantha Cole’s piece in Motherboard, Second Life Users Are Protesting With Their Avatars (February 4th, and later picked up by Glixel), a piece looking at Avatars Against Trump moment, established by Strawberry Singh and Cajsa Lilliehook in the wake of the increasingly divisive and negative Trump regime in the United States, and which also reference’s the Lab’s own statement on Trump’s immigration policy (which I reported here).

As noted earlier, politics are not uncommon in Second Life – we are, after all, all flesh and blood behind the screens, so it is only natural the line between physical and virtual worlds is naturally blurred. But as explored within the Motherboard article, Second Life offers a unique ability for people from all backgrounds, religious, geographic, political, social, etc., to come together in a virtual melting pot and – for the most part explore views, understand positions and even form bonds. And which it is required, the platform can also be as much a voice of social conscience as any other medium or activity.

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The Haul in Second Life

MetaLES: The Haul
MetaLES: The Haul

Hauling, on land and in the sea. Exploring limits and bypassing any respect for them, while stringing our catch into a growing story.

So reads the introduction to Haveit Neox’s latest installation The Haul, which opened on February 5th, 2017 at MetaLES, curated by Ux Hax and Romy Nayar. It’s an interesting description, offering just enough to pique the curiosity and point the imagination in a certain direction, without laying bare the artist’s intent or hope.

MetaLES: The Haul
MetaLES: The Haul

Occupying the region’s sea level – loftier reaches being occupied by Chimkami’s Illogism (which you can read about here), The Haul offers an enigmatic setting which is both familiar and other-worldly. Teleporting from the MetaLES landing point, visitors arrive on the deck of a vessel, one of three in fact, although it appears to have collided with one of its sister ships. All are deserted, delicate sails unfettered by rigging, silent roll outwards from heavy masts, caught in a gentle breeze.

Above these ships are four giant objects, looking like some otherworldly jelly fish floating serenely in the currents of the air. Three of these drop chain-like lines or tentacles down into the sea, but the largest trails an intricate filigree of lines and webbing from its rim, in which are caught fish and other creatures. Look up inside this great jelly fish of the sky, and you will see this web of tentacles is in fact nets, the catch within them being hauled aloft by figures poised on spheres within the great dome.

MetaLES: The Haul
MetaLES: The Haul

Nor is this all. Follow the lines of the smaller “jelly fish” down below the waves and you will find them drifting over ruins encrusted in coral – some are even holding the upturned form of an encased car. The ruins are arranged around a central square, the remains of a great hall to one side. In the midst of this former square, delicate, broken spiral of coral rises, its spines and turns resembling a broken strand of DNA.

What are we to make of all of this? The clue seems to rest in Haveit’s description: we explore – or exploit – over land and sea. We take what we want, ignoring limits and showing no respect for the damage our actions may cause, stringing everything into a net of greed and want. Not even the loss of our homes and lifestyles (the flooded ruins a reference to global warming?) can stop us, even as we sow the seeds of our own destruction (which are perhaps embodied in the sleeker, smaller, group of “jellyfish” which seem to be approaching the larger group in an almost predatory manner).

MetaLES: The Haul
MetaLES: The Haul

Of course, this is only one interpretation, you my well find your own narrative within the great tableau, and it is Haveit’s ability to put before us some pages from a narrative hidden within our thoughts, as much as his ability to create such beautifully intricate pieces as these, which make him not just an artist, but a master storyteller and a social commentator.

Fascinating, beautiful and challenging, The Haul will remain open through until the end of March 2017.

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