To be honest, when I decided to delve into Second Life, I half-expected to find a dying world of outsiders and bronies gleefully recreating pornographic impossibilities. But that simply doesn’t seem to be true. What I found, and mind you, I was only able to visit a strikingly miniscule portion of the available spaces, was that Second Life is still a fascinating and vital world that is constantly changing and pushing the boundaries of what a virtual space can be.
The article itself is worth checking out, because it's a compendium of truly great locations and builds in Second Life, but the summary above is not accurate at all. So why did he reach it? Probably because Grundhouser's visit through SL was tightly guided by Linden Lab staff and the excellent Ziki Questi, one of Second Life's best community curators. Consequently, Grundhouser gets to visit places like the Petrovsky Flux (above) and other classics like Insilico, Kowloon, and AM Radio's "Faraway". (Notably, most of the regions/locations featured in the article have been around well over 5 years, a whole generation in Internet time.)
Which is all fine, but by presenting this wonderful content with that conclusion, it presents a distorted picture of Second Life that ultimately does a disservice to SL and its best creators, while doing nothing to help grow its userbase. Here's why:
In fact, Second Life is a dying world [Please see update below] (which is why its successor is currently being developed) with a lot of outsiders and bronies (a very large usergroup in SL, actually!) who do often recreate pornographic impossibilities. (Over half of the most popular locations in Second Life are Adult-rated for pornographic and other extreme content
pornographic.) Anyone without as great a guide as Ziki Questi is likely to reach that conclusion (if they can even figure out how to use the software at all), and is liable to conclude the article is a distortion.
The other problem? The very fact that most Second Life content is offensive/banal/crude/just plain bad [Please see update below] makes the sliver of greatness that shines through all the more precious -- both for new users, and those who've stayed through all these years, to create and foster it. Which is why, when I profiled AM Radio for Polygon, I made a point of pointing this contrast out:
At the height of Second Life's hype wave, the world resembled a libertarian fever dream with garish sci-fi cities and fantasy sex palaces strewn right alongside official corporate headquarters and high-toned shopping malls, and everywhere above you, it seemed, were blinking billboards. (Not to mention intermittent storms of giant, flying dildos.) It was crass, endlessly chaotic and mostly ugly.
And then amid all that, often by accident or via word of a friend, players come across a work by AM Radio. And the light itself seems to change — the outside cacophony is forgotten.
Which in my opinion is still a better, more honest way of seeing Second Life (except that the hype and the corporate towers have since gone away). And if Second Life's successor is going to be better, it's better if we remember everything about SL -- including and especially SL at its worst -- then learn and build from there.
Update, 8:55pm: Some readers have interpreted this post to infer I'm bashing Second Life, which is sort of surprising, given that it includes this link to a long Polygon article I wrote fairly recently about great SL art. It's not a criticism of Second Life itself to say most of the content in SL is offensive/banal/crude/just plain bad, because the very nature of any user-generated platform makes that so. (Most content on YouTube, Minecraft, Twitter, etc. etc. is also bad.) My only point is that basic honesty and self-interest requires Second Life advocates (which basically includes myself) to point that out upfront, so as not to be accused of being misleading.
As for Second Life dying, no one disputes the fact that its revenue model is unsustainable -- including and especially Linden Lab, which is investing profits from SL into building SL 2. That doesn't mean Second Life is entirely going away any time soon -- it can probably exist in a much attenuated state for years to come. But then it becomes an ontological question if that's Second Life, or a shell of its former self. (Which we can all energetically discuss... in Second Life 2.)
5/17: Corrected Adult sim description to note they're not only rated for graphic sex.
Hat tip: Fellow Linden alum Haney Armstrong.
Please share this post: