Can computer graphics divide a community by class and culture? After some foot dragging, New World Notes is now upgrading to the WindLight-enabled version of Second Life, currently in pre-release. Here I am in Naturum (SLURL teleport at this link) a gorgeous island designed for outdoor recreation that looks even moreso, when seen through the lens of the atmospheric lighting and rendering system. My reluctance to upgrade was mainly from journalistic ethics: since WindLight isn't yet part of the official viewer, it displays a non-standard version of Second Life that isn't "real", so to speak. So if I were to report an SL-based story with real world implications, like the strike on IBM's Second Life campus, taking screenshots of the protest in WindLight would artificially make it seem more dramatic than it actually was. (To me that seems as questionable as a real world news organization adding Photoshop effects to enhance a battle scene.)
Then there's a deeper question which NWN arts correspondent Amalthea Blanc suggested to me recently:
"I love what WindLight does to my pictures and to machinima, but there
are some other implications," she tells me, "including
the end effect that you can't share your settings with another person,
etc." To me that also hints at a cultural/class divide: most of SL's hardcore content creators and early adopters already seem to be using WindLight on a full time basis, experiencing the world in a profoundly different way than the more casual users who comprise the rest of the community. What's more, the WindLight viewer requirements are evidently steeper than the official client, so those who can't afford to upgrade their graphic cards are likely to be left behind in a drabber reality.
Amalthea has a philosophical resolution for this divide: "The balance point is that we as humans are inherently solipsistic," she argues. "We all have subtle differences in how we perceive anything, this comes from our anatomy." For myself, I take a more hands-on approach: assuming that WindLight will become part of the official client in the next few months anyway, I'll generally use it for culture and personality sketches, just not for hard news stories.
Because I mean: look at the pretty picture.
Update, 12/21, 4:10am: Added a non-WindLight pic for comparison's sake.