[iDC] An Inconvenient Youth and Second Life

Andreas Schiffler aschiffler at www2.ferzkopp.net
Sat Feb 24 17:15:25 EST 2007

With all the SL talk around, I had to try it ... so I went and got my 
second life last night: let's call this segment "babysteps in SL". Here 
are my observations and comments.

Off to Google to find the website - the SL homepage greets with a black 
Ninja. Never wanted to be one. I notice the "Under 18?" version button - 
thankfully I am older than 18 and are spared the "Teen SL". So let's get 
straight to it, I'll join and become a "member" (of what?) for free. 
After two screens, the credit card number is requested - aha, it is all 
about money. Well, that was to be expected - the front page announces 
the US$ statistics squarely on the front in bold. Skip the CC or poke a 
bit around on the homepage before continuing ... yup - the islands are 
definitely pricey (btw, their cost is exactly equals the cost of a 
decent rack-mount PC plus hosting = that's how it is build; each square 
is one server). Funny - the choices in last names. Click. Download.

While waiting for the bytes to arrive I look a bit around the site ... 
the SL map shows areas of suburban sprawl. Features: Event URLs? "Prims" 
editor? A few minutes later, the Linux client is running. Unfortunately, 
the 3D graphics are too slow on my box, so back to the Windows game 
machine. Login again, pick the guy in Jeans (least offending to others, 
me thinks) and off we go to Training Island! Yup - it looks like a game 
and the controls work like in Doom3.

So after squishing a little animal to get a "training star", doing 
typing exercises on a "Survivor"-like island (I hate that show), getting 
a chain mail shirt in a medieval castle (it IS a game!), downloading 
Quicktime from apple.com (NO, please don't sell me the frigging QT Pro 
version for the 100th time) the training is finally complete. So far I 
don't feel SL very compelling, but what the heck - this is just the 
training level. But where is the "mainland"? I want to see the action 
... doh, stuck.

So after a few /smoke and /hula's someone responds. I don't really know 
who at first, because there are 8 other people in Jeans lounging around 
the portal and it's just IM text with a cryptic name attached to it.  I 
need to "Do the tutorial" some tells me. "I did ...", is my response, 
"... but where is the Teleport button that went mysteriously missing on 
my interface". No response understandably. Its a software bug. Now the 
real training begins - learning the interfacing  of a PC game.  The 
harsh reality of navigating layers upon layers of menus, windows, 
buttons and context menus. Not giving up, the double click on the map 
finally works - I guess the system was just slow - and I end up in 
teleporting to a box called "Korea2".

Wow - lots of people, many still in Jeans (I managed to change to a cool 
black jacket; I feel cool, almost a SL pro). After a few steps - an 
invisible barrier. "Server full". Walk Walk. "Server full". Hmm, the SL 
'Matrix' is under a big attack it seems. Someone shouts "joohoo" - I 
respond likewise. Asking where the "beef" is and where one can "go now", 
I earn just a short "Dunno" from the Doll-like girl (must be a pre-made 
Avatar, aka: cheap and crude). But the amount of responsiveness of 
others is encouraging.

But then we have the magic Teleport button. Click and zap somewhere else 
"Star Trek" style. A nice snowy area with a BIG "for sale" sign shows 
up. I have L$0 and don't want to figure out how to increase that number 
or how much the 12-polygon country house is worth. Click and teleport to 
somewhere with some "Life". The map shows a spot with a few green dots 
(people) gathered around a pink star (event) - so let's join the 
happening. Upon arrival I am greeted with a  "voulez vous coucher aved 
moi?" it reads, and "Hellooooo". I respond again, mentioning to the 
femal avatar that this is my first 10min in SL, earning a brief "ic". 
Where are these avatars typing on - thin air? Click and teleport into a 
deserted "Mature" square - now let's see some action! ... Wow nice 
couch, the arrangement in the otherwise empty room is suggestive. I let 
my avatar sit to him his well deserved rest while he sleeps his binary 
"$logged_in=false;" dream. Quit.

My son, who was watching me experiment loves it. He's been playing "City 
Life" - a Sim style building game. He figures SL is the same and doesn't 
quite get my hint of "he would need to read and write a lot with other 
people in the game" if he were to play SL. After all City Life looks the 

As for me - I do understand the hype. Technically it is cool - but the 
execution is lacking. Even in my 1 hour of use, there were glitches and 
with my Satellite broadband (ping times >1sec) the game is barely 
playable. And the advertised "Physics" in the game, means that I fall 
(but don't die) when I turn off "Fly". The "tamed volcano" on Training 
Island is, after all, accessible via a wooden bridge. It IS a game!

I'd like to dig deeper, but need help. Can anyone hold my hand and show 
me around? I would love to hang out on an "island" of like minded people 
(what is it that I like? geekstuff maybe) during my work day - using it 
as "just another messenger" window on my desktop (although one which 
consumes more memory and CPU, but hey that what we have the new 
equipment for). 

So where is the "iDC clubhouse" in SL?

And in response to Trebor's comments
> It's a stunning social experiment.
Stunning - not really, social - within its limits, experiment - no, it 
is a game designed to make money. We may use it to experiment though.
> give their immaterial labor away for free
Good point, but what are we getting? What is that "labor" ... 3D 
designs, access rights bypassing virtual fences, actual "content" or advise?
> My main question to Jenkins and all of you concerns the relationship between this virtual world and "first life."
I think at this stage - it's merely an expensive game.

Yes, one with "political" or "artistic" possibilities. Yes, one that 
uses a new level of technology which can benefit the interactions we 
pursue. But in the end, the fact remains that to gain anything 
substantial apart from entertainment, we pay a "price" ... to get Linden 
Dollars or in the time we spend away from the "first life". And I am not 
sure if the "bang for the buck" ratio is very good for this particular 
implementation or for this kind of technology yet.

For example, if we are looking at it as a medium to disseminate 
information, the shortcomings outweigh the benefits: its a 
high-bandwidth protocol, has a significant vendor lock-in, and is 
inefficient for searches because it uses the real-world metaphor of 
place. If we like to talk with each other, teamspeak or Skype works 
better. As a widely used IM replacement, the computer hardware and 
Internet hasn't evolved enough to facilitate this in 3D yet. The list 
goes on ...

So what I really would like to see in the future is a technology that 
has some real benefits AND is designed to let me use it!

Andreas Schiffler

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