It's a question that Second Life designer Aranel Ah posed on Plurk recently, and one that saw a pretty surprising range of responses. Does Second Life, across (and within) its many diverse communities, have a class system? Some were quick to dismiss the idea, ohers said it was more like a hierarchy (which in this case is just a synonym for class system, folks.)
It's tempting to think of the virtual world as a place where everyone is on equal footing. We all start the same way after all, ugly and confused and probably looking for the best dance clubs. The reality of it is that even though we may all start in the same place, we don't stay that way for long.
Based on my experience, there are two factors that move a new player up the social ladder in Second Life: Money and talent. If you have the skills necessary to build, design, script, perform, anything, you will immediately have a better chance of separating yourself from the herd. High-quality content put out often enough will steadily gather a following.
Arguably money is even more important, though. The appeal of Second Life for many players is that they can have all the trappings of a high-class lifestyle (whether that looks like a Malibu mansion or not) for a fraction of the price, but even among players living much simpler virtual lives appearance is very often conflated with experience. If you can afford to spend real money on virtual goods (and many people can't) your progress and status will increase in leaps and bounds. It's not that you're buying your way into somewhere exclusive, bribing people to like you or anything of that nature-- it's much more subtle than that. You won't be stuck looking and acting like a newbie for nearly as long. You'll have the flexibility to experiment and find your place, while other players are much less likely to write you off at first glance.
At their best, virtual worlds extend beyond the limits of what's possible in their real world counterparts, yet it's also terribly easy and very common to fall into all of those familiar patterns. Whether you want to call them cliques, classes, or hierarchies, the fact remains that the virtual world isn't exempt from both the best and worst of human nature.Tweet
Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times, and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.