In the Press: Second Life in Medium and VICE

A couple of media articles looking at Second Life appeared on Friday, May 22nd that made for interesting reading. They came from different perspectives, but both offered a relatively fair view of SL and attempted to probe some of its appeal / capabilities.

Writing for Medium, Doug Antin offers How the Virtual World “Second Life” is a Showcase of the Metaverse. It’s an attempt to explain both Second Life and the concept of “the metaverse” by someone who perhaps hasn’t spent a significant amount of time in SL, writing for an audience that may only have a superficial understanding of either the platform and the idea of “the metaverse”.

It might be tempting to roll the eyes at the idea of a reporter writing about Second Life when he may not be as au fait with the platform as we might like – but in fact, Antin does a good job of providing insight into the platform and the idea of it being a precursor of “the metatverse”, by couching one in terms of the other in what is an easy-to-read article.

Doug Antin

This is a piece that concisely and positively covers why Second Life exerts such lasting appeal on its users, whilst also touching on some the the “deeper” aspects of the platform’s reach  – a quote from Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human touches on matters of identity, while an observation that Second Life communities tend to show a reduction in the preference falsification characteristic is particularly relevant in a time when western society is becoming increasingly polarised. I will admit to being surprised at seeing an image of Sansar in the article, but as this is pulled from Engadget, I put it down to a small error in research.

What is particularly engaging with the Medium piece is that it is entirely free of “official” quotes. Not that I have anything against interviews with Linden Lab representatives; it’s just that by taking the approach of looking directly at the platform through the eyes of a user, as it were, and focusing on users (including the embedding of one of Luca’s excellent Second Life videos), Antin’s piece cannot be seen as carrying any kind of “corporate spin”.

This approach allows Antin to reach what I’d say is a fair and balanced summation of the platform:

Second Life isn’t a game. It’s a fringe community experimenting with a new way of life. For the people that participate, it’s a chance to escape their regular lives and build a world they want to live in … The Second Life community probably won’t ever achieve mainstream adoption. It’s too fringe and the technology doesn’t support easy access to a casual user. But it does represent an incubator for what the Metaverse can become.

 –  Doug Antin, Medium, May 22nd

Writing for VICE, Shamani Joshi offers Virtual Reality Is Going to Change Live Events Culture Forever, an examination of how virtual spaces might revolutionise how we view / attend live events in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. However, rather than looking down the VR headset route, the article instead focuses on three long-running virtual environments: Minecraft, IMVU and Second Life.

In terms of Second Life, this article is a curious mix. As readable as the Medium article, it take the route of direct quotes from Lab CEO, Ebbe Altberg and offers an upbeat view of Second Life’s appeal  – the power given to user to develop, promote and execute their own events is reasonably covered, as is the benefit of having a virtual economy, the ability to fund-raise, and even the ability for environments like SL to assist in matter of health (in this instance, dealing with anxiety – again a condition that is relatable to the current situation vis SARS-CoV-2).

The oddities, for me, come in a few places. Early on, the articles refers to the current pandemic having helped both IMVU and SL to “level up their users by more than 75 percent”. While the active user count for SL has increased, I would doubt it is by 75% (“levelling up” to me implying overall user base growth).

Similarly, the closing observations struck me as a little off; I’d actually argue that mobile-phone inspired text speak has done more damage to the art of conversation than the use of a traditional keyboard has ever done. Similarly, given the freedom of interaction and expression offered by a platform like SL, coupled with the rich mix of users it presents actually increases a person’s ability to freely think and behave, particularly when compared with social media platforms, which so often encourage a narrowing of personal outlook to only those views and opinions that conform with, rather than challenge, our own.

But grumbles aside, the VICE article fairly explores the potential of virtual environments and their ability to offer spaces for live events and activities that offer interaction, and without jumping down the VR headset rabbit hole. Like the Medium article, it also casts s solid, positive light on Second Life, and both make for an interesting read if you haven’t already done so.