Friday, July 28, 2023

Commentary: The Staying Power of Second Life

By Bixyl Shuftan
As a Gen-Xer, most of my earliest memories about home video entertainment involve the Atari and it's games that the household had. We got it around Christmas 1979. Four years later, I was playing the Atari games less and less. A better videogame system had came out, the Colecovision, plus the house now had a compuer, an Apple II plus. I can't remember when the last Atari game had been bought, maybe around that time or shortly afterwards. But less than five years after my household had gotten the Atari, I had stopped playing the games and they were shelved.

So what happened? Atari had gotten somewhat complacent over the years, and others began coming out with systems that could play better games, such as Intellivision and Colecovision. And then there were the makers of videogames that were soon flooding the market with them, some that were more or less cheap knock-offs of similar games. Eventually came the "crash" in 1983 in which demand for the games dropped. I myself still liked games that were coming out, but they were for the newer Colecovision the household got. In a couple years, our Coleco console would break. There were no more being made, and Atari games were no longer being sold. Not that I was overly interested as their appeal was waning on me, and went to just the computer games. And so that was my end of playing the home video games. It would be just the games on the Apple II.

Two decades later, it was a different world in regards to home entertainment. The World Wide Web had been around for about a decade. It was around December 2006 when I finally got high speed Internet. I soon checked out two places friends had been talking about: World of Warcraft and Second Life. World of Warcraft with it's simpler goals was easier to make sense out of, so I got into that one almost right away. Second Life took longer. After some looking around, after which the person who invited me over was suddenly too busy to help much, I only came on once every three to four weeks, until I found out about the Relay for Life track. That got my attention, and I began logging on more often, started meeting people, made friends, got a better avatar, began learning more about the place and where more interesting places and events were.

A year after my arrival, I'd gotten an SL job and a purpose here, had a group of friends, and all looked well. How long it would last, I didn't know. I'd been part of an online sci-fi roleplay that lasted for several years before it closed down. And then of course there were the Atari games that lasted for a few years before things went downhill with the company.

Sixteen years later, I'm still around. It was nine years ago that I let my Warcraft account expire. While I would get back on a few more times, the last time three years ago, I didn't stay for long. But Second Life I'm continuing to log on regularly.

So why the difference between my time here and Warcraft, and that of playing Atari games? Well, it the case of the Atari games, the answer is more obvious. There was no social aspect to the games, the technology of gaming progressed so that others were offering better products, and the company ran into trouble after a few years before it's new and improved gaming system caught on. With computer gaming, there were more possibilities as computers could be upgraded as games got more detailed and sophisticated. And with the Internet and World Wide Web came more and more of a social aspect. Those two developments would allow for MMORPGs and public virtual worlds.

My personal experience with World of Warcraft, I got into it fairly quick and got into an Internet friend's guild. But he and his wife would need to log off after a couple years due to real-life troubles, and eventually the group closed and my group of friends became fewer and fewer. In contrast, in Second Life I kept making friends and kept finding places, and experiences, to go to. Probably the only reason I stuck around in Warcraft for a while was because some SLers I knew also enjoyed the game. But after several years, my interest waned to the point I would come on only for short periods. Part of the reason was it's monthly fees. There would be other MMOs such as Rust that got my attention over time, but once again I would mostly playing with friends from Second Life, and eventually be taking breaks when their interest waned.

I would also give a few other virtual worlds a try. Early on, there was InWorldz. But if it wasn't for my Second Life friends, it wouldn't have gotten more than a passing interest. And when they paid less attention, so did I. Later on, some began checking out VRChat. Two keep going back there, a late Gen-Xer and a Millennial. It does seem this next-generation virtual world attracts mostly computer users not yet in middle age. But Second Life continues to get numerous residents in their 30s, 20s, and younger.

So what is it about Second Life that continues to attract people twenty years after it's creation? I once stated I came here to see the places people had been making, but I stayed because of the people. Like elsewhere on the Internet, I found interesting people, some like-minded and some a bit different but still interesting. There are others who came here for different reasons. Some came to see what they could build here. Some came here as it can be a great place to hold a roleplaying game in the style of "Dungeons and Dragons." And yes, there are those who were attracted to Second Life because of the "cyber noogie."

But in the end, what keeps us here, at least in my opinion, is the social aspect, the people. 
Yes, social media such as Facebook and Twitter has proved more popular. But some of us want and feel we need more than just a space to chat. We desire a three-dimensional landscape to interact on. Plus in recent years there's been growing concerns about social media's willingness to respect privacy and that it may be bad for the mental health of some people and be toxic to America's political discussion.

As to why Second Life and not VRChat? Well, the newer virtual world is in a different style. There is no "mainland" or any  other group of directly connected areas. All locations are basically islands onto themselves that one can easily portal to, but not directly connected to. Also, there is no inworld economy, no currency. Everything at "stores," at least that I've seen, is for free. If one wants to sell an avatar, one has to work out the deal outside VRChat and convince the interested party you're not trying to cheat him or her. That and wanting your own unique look can be much more expensive. And aside from a few places that set something up, there is no texting. You have to up and speak and not type. If you really don't want to, or can't, use your voice, you're out of luck. That likely discourages some, especially women, from going about there.
This isn't calling VRChat a bad virtual world, it's still good. One regular user I talked to told me it seemed more alive to her, enjoyed the option for full body tracking (which needs special gear) and she found it easier to find places where people were active and not just AFK. It's just that (in my opinion) Second Life has aspects it doesn't, and is more versatile.

Twenty years later, Second Life is still, in my opinion, the best virtual world available to the public.

Bixyl Shuftan

Addition: Someone contacted me saying recently VRChat has added more options for texting, notably a "chatbox" about a year ago.

1 comment:

  1. I have a totally different experience in Second Life. I see the world dying. I too came in after a friend invited me in. i was amazed at the Avatar Art. I Am a DJ but went from 5 or 6 shows a week to 3. most of the shows where on Sims that died, and to this day i see more and more dying. I see second life as a dying world. for reasons,uninteresting Sims, no fowl language, killing, sex or gallons of blood and none of the citizens are getting younger. not enough young ones are coming in. For example the youngest Person i have found just turned 32.