A second look at Second Life

A female Second Life avatar is hanging onto a large sea cow as it swims.

Since starting work on my master’s degree, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about Second Life, the online virtual world that once seemed to hold so much promise. Back in the day, I used to be a member, but eventually left because it was no longer this new, shiny, interesting thing. Last October, I joined again, to see if anything has changed.

For the most part, it seems to be mostly the same. The graphics haven’t improved that much. There are still vast expanses where you’d be hard-pressed to find another person. There are still lots of empty stores, a sign of money-making expectations that have yet to be fulfilled. Back when it started, smartphone and tablets didn’t exist, so it didn’t have a mobile client. The fact that it still doesn’t have a mobile client nearly 15 years after the iPhone was introduced is shocking. Has Second Life stagnated? It’s hard for me to tell.

There are a few changes I’ve noticed. One is that it’s gotten better at dealing with people wanting to talk, mainly because they gave up and started using Vivox, which is voice software from a different company.

Another thing I’ve noticed is these things called gatchas. A gatcha is a machine where you spend money to get…something. You don’t necessarily know what you’re going to get, but you’ll get something. It’s like those gumball machines where you put in a quarter and get a toy, or a sticker, or a tattoo. You don’t know exactly what toy, or sticker, or tattoo you’ll get but you’ll get something unless the machine is empty. If you’re looking for something specific, it’s sort of like gambling, so I tend to stay away from them. Why would I want to spend money and not get what I wanted?

Anyway, the main reason I keeping thinking about it after starting my master’s degree is because I think it would be a great resource for teaching. I’m still sort of getting into it; grad school is keeping me busy, so I don’t have a lot of time to spend in SL. What time I do spend there is mostly exploring and wandering. I’m curious and trying to find things out.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I keep looking for information about Second Life in general, and teaching in Second life in particular. One of the main things I’ve found is that most of the information is out-of-date. There were lots books and articles between 2007 and 2014, but since then the volume of articles and books has decreased considerably. I assume this indicates that others felt the same way I did when I left Second Life years ago. On the other hand, with the lockdowns and self-isolation going on, I’ve heard rumors that SL has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence.

Last year, or the year before that, it was sold to some outside investors, but I don’t think they’ve made any changes yet. I think the SL community is treating this event with cautious optimism. Are the investors there to merely profit of Second Life’s existence, or are they planning on making Second Life an innovator again?

For my part, I plan to write more blog posts about Second Life, OpenSimulator (sort of like DIY Second Life software), and issues peripheral to the idea of virtual worlds.


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