Tag Archive: second life


How do you explain where you are going to someone when you enter a virtual world? Is it a secret adventure, another world or just a game?  Or is it a curiosity into the new. For those Gamers and Second Lifers, it’s a question we really never ask. In world – our world – the world we enter, is a way of life. To question it is the same as questioning the concrete world that we inhabit. Why do we exist? What is our purpose here? What is this existence for.

Sitting in front of a computer screen, we click buttons and move the mouse and then emerge as a character in an inexplicable world that sends the adrenalin flowing. It’s a new world, one devoid of many of real life constricts. It’s a creative, challenging, secret world. It’s a world that we can either shed all inhibitions or play out a life we wish we had. It’s an addictive form of escapism.

I’ve criticised the way that the controllers of such environments have manipulated such environments for commercial reasons. Second Life is run on real money with a real economy and creates real problems. Like any addiction, Second Life or many MMORPGs, the inhabitants find it hard to leave behind their concrete world and create a mirror image of it in world. But the potential of these environments is vast on many scales – the potential to breakdown barriers, to allow everyone to cohabit in harmony (albeit often at war with each other). We hide behind masks. We drag our alter egos into virtuality. We sit in front of screens en masse across every continent. Going there is just another inexplicable concept that we accept.

If the Spacexcape Project had gone according to plan, we would be celebrating over 2 years of success today. Even though it was a very new installation, it was immediately featured on the projects page of the Second Life website as a ‘hotspot’. Phase One, that was open for just over three months, attracted over 500 people on peak days with 10,000 unique visitors in total.  The Artist in Resident programme was in full swing with a large gallery to showcase the work. On a monthly basis we were running art markets with various discussion group evenings and other events planned to attract people to the site. The potential was immense or so you would think. So what went wrong?

At a time when Linden Lab is being highlighted for its rejection of the non profit organisations, it opened up old wounds. The Spacexcape Project was not unique in its story. Projects like this need financing and for the first phase I did that personally, outlaying around $3,000 over the first year. $1k of that was on the purchase of a main island (sim) with two low usage islands – an investment of a sort. We rented the low usage land to the team at cost price on which they could build and experiment. The business plan seemed solid and would have allowed us growth. With the current phase operating well, we were in a strong position to prove the worth of such a project and raise sponsorship. Then came the crash.

The crash arrived in two different forms. The recession began to bite and the dollar against the pound weakened. Although we had outlaid $1k to buy the islands we still had a rental to pay to LL of around $300 per month! So the rental went from the equivalent of £200 to £280 almost overnight. In addition to that, LL made the extraordinary decision to hike up the tier on the low usage sims by 60%. It created a tsunami of anger. By the time LL realised what a huge mistake they were making, there had already been a mass exodus of residents. The community that had made Second Life what it was, was collapsing.

My official protests were never acknowledged by LL, apart from banning me from posting on the forums for being ‘hostile’! In an attempt to recuperate some of the money outlaid, a buyer for the main sim was found for less than half the price originally paid for it three months before. Damage limitation. The two low usage sims were surrendered and deleted and with it the initial outlay. LL process all sales of sims – only they forgot to deduct the $100 fee for the transaction before processing the sale and I refused to pay it back to them. The money had been swallowed up into overdraft.

The consequences of that were that they deleted the account – Spacexcape Bridges. With that action they deleted over $700 of inventory and nine months of art installation work.  The entire Spacexcape Project was gone with one flick of an administrator’s finger.

So whatever happens to Second Life, there can be no going back from that. Mark Linden (CEO) did a fast exit from LL in the summer and now Philip has now announced his departure along with many rumours. They claim that SL is on the up again and that they have growth. I strongly contest that. Unless someone deletes their account or has it deleted like Spacexcape Bridges, then you are one of their statistics. A statistic in an apocalyptic virtual space.

The Spacexcape Project will never exist in Second Life again. Is the Spacexcape project dead? We hope not. But at the moment we are living in a cardboard box under a bridge. Like so many that Linden Lab evicted.

What is it that you seek when visiting Second Life? or for any of the virtual worlds for that matter? I first found SL through an article in the Guardian newspaper that hailed it as the most exciting internet concept ever. Indeed, that is how I saw it for over a year until the events of late 2008 that drove so many, including myself, out for good.

I was somewhat shocked by a tweet today that purported to have the formula to ‘save’ Second Life from what seems to be an inevitable further demise from the recent decline in popularity. This blog made me so angry! If the only way to save Second Life is to improve the marketplace then the platform is already dead. It’s past saving.

Second Life’s demise has been a series of underhand actions by a money greedy corporation that have lost touch with the true potential of what they control. Linden Labs forgot that it was the vibrant, energetic and innovative people in its community that lead it to success in the first place. By excluding them in the way they have recently – by not supporting them and alienating them – they were driving away the catalyst for further growth. Second Life is unique in that it allows anyone to create. That’s a potent recipe.

Education and the Arts bring in crowds and we all know the formula for internet success – traffic, traffic, traffic. People who, in turn, would be the consumers that Linden Lab are so determined to target. A good property developer will watch the artist communities to see where they relocate. Generally, run down, cheap to live in areas, such as the East End of London 10 years ago. They follow the artists in and in a short time they can completely regenerate an area with new properties to create new prime locations. But in the process it too often makes that area unaffordable to the artist and educators community that created it in the first place. Savvy developers work with artists and schools to include them in their regeneration programme therefore looking for a more sustainable and long term solution to a never ending problem.

Linden Labs have not been savvy. They are driving out the very core of the community that visitors to Second Life are seeking. What will be left? Virtual shopping malls, virtual prostitutes and virtual boredom. Sounds too much like real life for me.

Second Life has no end of possibilities. The creative growth of it was not the work of Linden Labs. All they did was provide a platform. No, the creative instincts come from many different disciplines all brought together in a space that so inconceivable that all most can do is create another world so similar to the real life world that many confused the two. However, the work of the artists and educators was to invite the users of Second Life to think beyond a parallel life to ‘Another Life’. But how can they do that when faced with such corporate opposition? There has to be a better way to save this failing model than improving the marketplace tools.

The screen has been acclaimed as a 20th century revolution. But as we move further into the 21st century, the effects of the screen are becoming more and more apparent. Spending too much time in front of a screen can cause a number of side effects including headaches, eye strain, tension, hyperactivity and even depression to name only a few. It can affect sleep, relationships and self-esteem. There have been several reports of children committing suicide after playing for too long where reality and virtuality have blurred into one.

In the New Scientist today, Nic Fleming reports on the negative aspects of too much screen time for kids. .

Are we nurturing a generation who will have the worst psychological problems in adulthood that Western Society has ever seen?

Entering the world of gaming was a mysterious adventure into what Spacexcape thought, at the time, was a new world. Forever the explorer, she found herself in land of breathtaking graphics and visual stimulation with constant challenges and achievements. It was not difficult to see why gaming is addictive and why users would rather spend hours in front of a computer than with friends, playing sports or even just watching TV. But the consequences of that are already becoming evident. Research is showing us that gaming is contributing to obesity, depression and violence. Yet it is one of the largest growing activities western society has produced.

Spacexcape’s experiences in World of Warcraft were very different to those in Second Life. In SL, she quickly found like minded people to collaborate with in both the real and the virtual world. In WoW she works in isolation wondering how or if that world could ever be what she needed it to be. 3D animation is a complex and time consuming practice, not to mention expensive and finding a way to progress with the project has been slow. But the gaming experience is very much a part of that progression.

 

 

The communications pod in SL

Communications Pod in the Spacexcape Project (Second Life)

 

There are over 10 million people subscribed to WoW. Gamers appear to fall into two categories – casual that play occasionally for fun and hard core who are totally immersed in the ‘life’. Spacexcape has met both. The hard core are ‘experts’ in their profession and life has to work around the game, rather than the game fitting into their life. This is the excessive, compulsive and addictive nature of the game. But at what price? Is gaming changing the way that people behave?

 

I recently posted a link to a short video that I had made of my mage gnome reading Sartre’s 1945 speech on existentialism, on the WoW forum – part of a piece I am working on at the moment but was intended as a piece of fun. I emerged with only some small pieces of flesh hanging from my skeleton! Gamers are a hard audience to address. Gamers like to be in control. One poster – Santea (in a guild called ‘My little Pwny’ on the Twilight Hammer server) posted a long, long diatribe about the lack of merit in my work and that it was not worthy of discussion … and yet had spent probably 20 minutes doing exactly that! There were other similar posts. One poster wrote “If you want to be an artist give up your dreams because you are terrible.” and another “If it IS serious however, god I do pity upon you.”

I found these remarks to be very insightful and exposing the type of attitude that is prevalent in game. Ask any gamer and they will tell you that the open channels in virtual worlds are swamped with users who seek attention through insult. As a player myself, I have become accustomed to being belittled by the hard core gamers – or those who strive to be. World of Warcraft breeds anger – and it is projected into forums, chat rooms and the world through violence, abuse, and prejudices.

Gaming is a dangerous and yet delicious exercise.

Spacexcape Bridges in Second Life

Does virtual reality allow us to look at the concrete world in in a different way?

– when we enter virtuality do we behave and act in a different way?

– do we see the world from a different perspective?

– does it help us to deal with constraints in our daily lives that hold us back?

Spacexcape was an avatar created in Second Life in 2003 after six years of actively participating in virtual discussion boards.  Now she continues with the same name and different avatars but always as the punk rebel who refuses to accept authority. Travelling across virtuality she is constantly seeking new ground to tread.

In this blog, Spacexcape will be writing about her journey in order to investigate the enquiry outlined above. She welcomes all feedback and help!