The short answer: yes and no. Those of us with social lives and social skills don’t need a virtual environment to engage in cyber-dates and God knows what else. But in the age of Facebook and Twitter the fact remains that, socially speaking, Second Life is WAY ahead of the curve. It takes the often mundane, two-dimensional world of social networking and extrudes it into a full three dimensions. And then some. This is no game, no MUD or MMO, but a true virtual reality with virtually limitless potential.
Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: Im not particularly a fan of Second Life. I prefer my friends and mates in the flesh, so to speak, and as for its interface… Well, I’ve played virtually every MMO from the seminal EverQuest and Ultima Online to the latest entry into an increasingly crowded market, DC Universe Online. Second Life, even though it predates many MO’s currently on the market, is clunky at best. It’s interface would make any gamer, and most average computer users, cringe. A combination of elementary Web Browser, MMO gameplay, and Google Earth, its user interface is difficult to grow accustomed to. At best. However, one one is able to leap that initial hurdle, its unique qualities and extraordinary potential come into their own.
First off, Avatar creation is clunky, but deeper and more customizable than anything I’ve yet seen, including the best and most complex of the MMO’s. Forget about basics like clothing options. Everything from the size of your avatar’s nostrils to the hook in his nose to the size of his forehead can be manipulated to virtually any configuration… if one can navigate the somewhat clunky interface. You can, quite literally, create an exact duplicate of yourself, not to mention that fantasy you’ve never been able to achieve regardless of how many spinning and yoga classes you’ve attempted. The universe itself is stunning and varied, far beyond anything one can experience in the “real” world.
“But it’s not a game,” I hear the gamers whining. “What’s the point,” the rest of the joyless masses chime in. On their homepage a banner rather lasciviously asks “Who will YOU meet in Second Life?” The real question is “What will you SELL in Second Life?” Corporate entities and Marketers well ahead of the curve have realized the potential of this place for years. That car you’ve been eyeballing? Check it out without schlepping to some smarmy dealership. Interested in a company’s services? Visit their online offices in Second Life without leaving your armchair. Do you work for one of the growing number of virtual companies sprouting up around the world in ever-increasing numbers? What better place to hold your meetings in a virtual office (see image, above), or even an entire office complex, for a fraction of the cost of its real-world equivalent? Even politics has its place. Last time I checked, there was a virtual Egypt (see image, below), a place where disenfranchised Egyptians can safely meet to discuss the radical protest and change taking place in their beleaguered homeland? Think earning an online degree is a joke and a bore? What if instead of some bland screen full of text and numbers you were taking your seat beside hundreds of other students in a virtual classroom? I loved my days at Vassar College. A world-class education, and socially it was like shooting fish in a barrel. But in the age of online degrees, this takes the concept to an entirely new level. Are you a member of the world’s LGBT community and feeling a bit persecuted in the real world? There are entire regions of the Second Life globe where you are welcomed with open arms. Hell, even Iraq/Afghanistan war vets suffering from PTSD have an environment where they can explore this unique condition, share their experiences, and help heal themselves.
What’s next? I would imagine that a real estate industry in decline around the world would be well served taking advantage of Second Life’s 3-Dimensional capabilities. Moving to Florida or California or New York City? Tour a model apartment without the travel. Commercial real estate developers would be equally well-served, allowing prospective clients to tour potential facilities from their desktops. All that is required is a free Second Life account for the prospective buyer, and a digital 3-D Modeler for the seller… And they’re a dime a dozen these days.
Forget about “making friends” and “virtual meets”… We are, after all, human beings with needs rooted right here in reality. Marketing and Sales executives are the future of this technology, and the folks at Linden (Second Life’s developer) know it. Otherwise they’d be charging the basic user to join up. The well-informed and tech savvy are already out there. And you;d better follow suit within the next few years.
Nerds, go and have your cyber-sex at your Second Life cyber-clubs and private Second Life apartments. Business folk? 3-D graphics pros? Add this to your list of Marketing and Sales options. And as for us computer graphics, information visualization, and futurist types, create an account, dive in, and add Second Life-related services to your toolkit. Because if you don’t, you’ll be left in a cloud of virtual dust the likes of which you couldn’t possibly imagine.