Second Life's Best (Perhaps Only) Killer App: An Immersive, Open-Ended Social Platform for the Disabled
One point stood out strongly for me in last week's post about Fran, the 85 year old woman who believes using Second Life has helped recover some physical ability despite her Parksinon's. This from her daughter, Barbi, who built a place in SL for her mother and their family (her brother, like her, also plays Second Life) to share and support others with Parkinson's and their caregivers:
She feels and thinks young, so it is thrilling for her to watch her avatar run and dance again (very much like the movie Avatar). She loves meeting fascinating people from all over the world. Fortunately she is a basically happy person and has never been depressed, but SL increases the joy in her life.
This is the case even if Fran's physical recovery experience is only unique to her, and it's a theme repeated by many other SL users who are disabled in real life in some way or another, be it a support group for people with cerebral palsy or military veterans suffering from PTSD (often in addition to physical wounds that confine them physically as well). Many other examples abound, with the commonality being the immersiveness from Second Life's realistic 3D graphics creating a "you are there"-ness which gives them a context for person-to-person socialization, and individual exploration in a simulated "outdoors" environment. This is great in itself, and it also suggests something that SL has searched fruitlessly for, in the ten years it's existed: A killer application that's unique and important and in many ways indispensable.
Second Life could have been (or might still be) a killer app in other categories, but so far, that hasn't obtained. Consider:
- Second Life is pretty good at making machinima, but has poor frame rate and lip sync options, compared to a platform like, say, Source Filmmaker.
- Second Life is pretty good at 3D building and modeling, but not compared to more powerful and more popular platforms like, say, Maya or Google SketchUp.
- Second Life is pretty good as a social game or roleplaying game, but is much less popular than, say, IMVU on the one hand, and World of Warcraft on the other.
- Second Life is pretty good as a sandbox building game/toy, but, Minecraft, say, is much more popular and easier to play.
And so on. I've long wondered what Second Life's killer app is supposed to be, but over the years, every time I think one candidate is emerging, a competitor shows up and usually beats it on some level. Except in this one application, of providing a meaningful online place for the real life disabled. Consider:
- Second Life is immersive and open-ended: While MMOs are also immersive, the traditional game structure constrains the immersion, and limits user options and creativity.
- Second Life is flexible: The flexibility leads to a wide diversity of content and social experiences, while as a system with an open source viewer, makes it possible to create versions of Second Life intended to work well for people with particular disabilities. (Including versions of Second Life controlled by thought.)
- Second Life is social: While many disabled people use Second Life, it also has a relatively large, general active userbase of 600,000 or so, making it possible for them to connect with others from many places and backgrounds, giving them a robust online community not defined by disability, but by shared interests beyond it. (This came out in my discussion with Barbi, who mentioned that Fran loves to attend live jazz performances in Second Life.)
I can't think of an alternative platform which is superior in all these things at the same time. And here's the true irony: Because Second Life is pretty good as a social game and a content creation tool, it's great as a platform for the disabled. Perhaps greater by far than anything else on the market.
And maybe this is the best future of Second Life as a commercial product: A platform that doesn't have to be great for everyone, but good enough for a large enough number -- who in turn, can help create an excellent place for the smaller number who consistently benefit from it so much.
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