New interactive online game gains credibility amongst gamers
There’s a new virtual world out there for tech geeks who can’t get enough of Facebook and “The Sims.”
Played like a video game but operated like a social network, Second Life offers a hands-on approach to social networking different from other Internet experiences.
Second Life is a unique social networking tool that allows anyone from anywhere to interact with others in a virtual world. Second Life allows users to interact with others vicariously through their own personally created and fully customizable characters called “avatars.” All social networking inside of the Second Life world is done with these avatars.
Alex Yenni of Linden Lab Public Relations said Second Life was made this way in order to add a third dimension to the experience of social networking.
Networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are interactive – but it’s still two real people communicating in the real world. But the virtual-reality avatars in Second Life remain somewhat separate from the “real world,” making it seem like a video game. But Yenni said it’s more than a vicarious gaming existence.
“It’s a virtual world,” Yenni said. “It’s definitely not a game.”
In a multiplayer online game such as World of Warcraft or Star Wars: Galaxies, users can expect to find a set of objectives to complete, or a level system to rank one user’s experience to that of another. Second Life does not contain such elements. It is simply a virtual world that duplicates many of the activities seen in the real world.
For example, inside the Second Life world, users can go to dance clubs to chat with other people while their avatars dance, or they can go to a movie theater and watch a movie with friends. If they do feel like playing a game, there are hundreds of multiplayer games set up within the world, including role-playing games, puzzles and casino gambling.
Users can also take a more business-oriented approach to Second Life. They can earn currency, called Linden Dollars, by paying a monthly fee. This money can be used to buy virtual property, including virtual land. A user can build a house on the virtual land and then sell it in order to make more Linden Dollars. A user can also use an object-building tool to create and sell anything from furniture to artwork. Here, a video depicts the creation of a guitar using the building tools of Second Life.
The economy of Second Life extends into the real world as well. Linden Dollars can be bought and sold with real money, as can other objects in the game.
Yenni said that some people are able to make a living by building and selling objects in the game, or selling Linden Dollars.
However, Second Life can also take users away from the real world. There is a bit of a learning curve in learning the controls, Yenni said. The user must also spend some time becoming comfortable with the world of Second Life in order to interact with the world and the other users inside of it.
This brings about the issue of real-world isolation caused by spending time in virtual worlds such as Second Life. Virtual realities like Second Life offer a different kind of social interaction between users than those that occur between people in the real world. This is because of the physical separation between users.
Leslie Irvine, associate chairwoman of the CU Department of Sociology said although there is no replacement for face-to-face contact, virtual worlds can replicate or replace some social interactions. She said it is not necessarily unhealthy to spend times in these virtual worlds, as they are no more or less harmful than any other pastime. She said problems with social interactions arise from isolation, which is not something that is strictly limited to playing videogames or living vicariously in virtual worlds.
Ezekiel McCaslin, a graduate student and doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at CU, concentrates his studies on the sociological aspects of videogames. He said that in his experience with multiplayer virtual realities such as Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft, users eventually reach a turning point where they become familiar with other users on a personal level beyond just playing a character. He has seen real-world friendships and even romantic relationships evolve from online experiences.
According to McCaslin, social relationships forged in games seem to last for long periods of time because they are based on the game. The people involved in the relationship know that they have the game in common and are easily able to keep in contact with each other because they are both playing the game. McCaslin said he has made friends with people in Australia through Final Fantasy XI, and still keeps in touch with them.
The virtual world of Second Life is unique because one of its main functions is to allow users to interact with one another as they would in real life. According to www.secondlife.com, 3,620,044 people from around the globe are members of Second Life. This, coupled with the numerous other activities implemented into Second Life, give the user the potential to spend massive amounts of time in the Second Life world.
But Yenni said Second Life is like anything – too much of a good thing can turn sour.
“With any sort of pursuit, moderation should be taken into account.”
For more information on Second Life visit: http://secondlife.com/whatis/
Contact Campus Press staff writer Jon Swihart at Jonathan.Swihart@thecampuspress.com