Brent Lawson of the Hamilton Spectator has written a 1-pager
on virtual world Second Life
, featuring myself
and 3pointD's Mark Wallace
in our own mixed-reality vignettes. I've only had my face appear in a newspaper a few times--this time, it's my avatar, which I designed to mirror (well, "mimic," maybe) my own features. It's pretty strange to see my own homonculus
plastered on the printed page.
Lawson's article introduces Second Life
to the uninitiated fairly well, although it does contain a few minor factual errors and a hilarious take on the virtual world by McMaster University professor Robert Hamilton
. While Hamilton is correct that Second Life
"fails miserably" on several levels, his opinion seems exceedingly uninformed.
I'm by no means a cheerleader for Second Life
, but I think it's worth addressing Professor Hamilton's complaints as printed in the Spectator article. They are summarized (in boldface
Second Life "fails miserably" on several levels
It sure does fail miserably, primarily in the performance and security
areas. But not so much in the areas Hamilton complains about, as you will soon discover...
Second Life doesn't suspend my disbelief or draw me into the experience
There are basically two groups of users: Those looking for immersion (a game- or story-based world) and those looking for augmentation (a world that supplements, supports or facilitates real-life activities). Second Life
, by the nature of its architecture, isn't an immersive world, and isn't trying to be. Early on it was positioned as an alternative to real life from an immersive perspective, but it has been repositioned by its maker, Linden Lab
as an open platform--much in the way that the World Wide Web is not story-based by nature, but is instead an open platform where immersion and augmentation co-exist. One problem is that Second Life
's immersive experiences aren't easy to find, but another is that its engine is constantly reminding us we are in a constructed virtual world (not a "real" fictional world).
"The graphics are really low quality, and that’s really important."
It's true that Second Life
's graphics are low quality compared to contemporary video games. The software that runs the client "viewer" is outdated. I'm not sure what Hamilton means about the importance of low quality graphics. I think he might be saying that high-quality graphics are a necessary part of an immersive experience--if so, he's dead wrong in my opinion. Just look at the entire history of video games and virtual worlds--graphics have improved steadily over the years, but has our feeling of immersion increased directly in proportion to the graphics? Many fans of text-based worlds will tell you that graphics aren't even necessary for an immersive experience. I was just as immersed in Bungie's Marathon
series (1994) as I was playing Half-Life2
"It's like a Fisher Price-level entrance into this kind of stuff"
No explanation for "this kind of stuff" was offered, so it's hard to respond here. If Hamilton's talking about virtual worlds, Second Life
is one of the main contenders in the space, along with its competitor, There
. And Fisher Price actually makes really excellent toys, so I'm not sure what he's on about. But as far as "entry level" goes, we are starting to see many large corporations turn an interested eye towards Second Life
--the list is now growing too long to publish here, but the virtual world is being seen (however incorrectly) as a place to stake one's corporate claim, much like the early adoption of the World Wide Web before it was a household phrase. It's a virtual gold-rush (except there's very little gold to be had, unless you consider publicity stunts gold).
Since Second Life relies on text for conversations, your typing skills determine your social skills and value.
is a visual, 3D virtual world. While it's true that text is the main method of communication (just like text-based virtual worlds before it, and just like instant messaging), there are plenty of other ways to express oneself. Not only does Second Life
facilitate human-style body language
--capable of expressing more than words with a single emote--but even one's proximity and facing relative to another avatar can communicate something. So can the appearance, actions, or facial expressions of avatars. Social value in Second Life
is as often gauged by appearance and actions as it is by one's textual communication.
It's questionable that Second Life provides a blueprint for efficient online collaboration.
Many real-world groups are already using Second Life
to collaborate efficiently online. Aside from the collaborative building of 3D props and structures, lots of people use Second Life
as a meeting place--like videoconferencing in 3D. It is regularly used in a professional context for training, education, mental therapy, office-work, and other collaborative purposes. I wouldn't recommend it in all cases, but for many purposes it's quite suitable. Just as a couple of examples, The Electric Sheep Company
has done work for large real-world corporations using Second Life
as a teleworkspace, collaborative creation environment, and project deployment platform; just today, a public library initiative was announced
that will offer virtual library services to teens through a private, virtual island: "The project hopes to build teen developmental assets, encourage collaboration and promote active learning that will prepare teens for future learning." Hell, even I was able to have a client fly into the virtual space to review 3D concepts I was working on
I'm not an evangelist for Second Life
, but I think it's due a lot more credit than Robert Hamilton gives it, despite all its flaws.