Meet Elaine Minotaur, AKA Me

June 29, 2008 at 10:33 pm 2 comments

Today is the first day of my Second Life. Second Life is a “massive multiplayer online game” (MMOG), or virtual world, where people from across the real world can create avatars that interact, buy land, create content, attend events, listen to live concerts, and participate in an online economy.

My Second Life personality is named Elaine Minotaur. She wears a fierce pink and white polka dot dress and her hair coexists with the island humidity much better than my real life hair.

But getting a Second Life wasn’t easy. I created an account only to be informed that my laptop doesn’t meet Second Life’s minimum system requirements. After installing the program anyway, I took my first halting avatar steps, somehow submerged myself up to my avatar neck in water… and then my computer froze. Not to be discouraged, I logged in again on my home computer and made my way around Orientation Island, a tutorial for newcomers to Second Life.

During my explorations I met Goldvald Enoch, a Second Life mentor, who helps newcomers to Second Life adjust to life online. He told me that Second Life has an entire culture of its own, complete with rites and myths. He also compared Second Life to a more developed version of MUDs and IRC. I never asked Goldvald what he does in real life, but based on his comments about MUDs, IRC, and wikis, I think it’s safe to assume he’s a technologically savvy person who’s emerged himself in social media over the past couple decades. He said he’s from Scandinavia and that he first visited Second Life to “attend” a lecture hosted by a local university. He never made it to the lecture, but he was hooked. Today is Goldvald’s one-year anniversary as a Second Lifer.

My burning question about Second Life is, “who has the time?” It took me a few hours to set up my account, complete a small portion of my Second Life tutorial, and chat with Goldvald. Work, classes, homework, errands, and my real-world social life eat up most of my time. It’s hard enough for me to fit in blogging, much less building an entire second life online. That’s a shame because I suspect Second Life becomes more rewarding the more you engage with it.

I asked Goldvald my time question and his response made me laugh. He suggested that many Second Lifers are jobless. He added that a number of people use Second Life as an extension of their real world social lives, where they can virtually “hang out” with their real world friends. He also said some people use Second Life as a way to build social skills for the real world. Goldvald finds time to log on during evenings after work and on the weekend.

While my burning question is “who has the time?,” my burning observation is the emphasis on buying “stuff” – such as land, clothes, and accessories – that pervades Second Life. Goldvald told me about money trees where Second Life newcomers can acquire Linden dollars – the currency of Second Life. Goldvald himself owns a land rental business to earn some cash. I suddenly found myself wondering whether my avatar’s outfit was quite up to snuff, or whether the pink polka dots immediately identified me as a naive Second Life newbie.

I think I need to explore Second Life more before I fully understand how real-world companies and organizations can harness it as a way to hawk their products, build their brand, and reach new audiences. The two youtube videos posted below provide some background on the possibilities. A quick disclaimer – the first video is about two years old, which is a long time in the online world. Needless to say, some things have changed since the video was produced.

Believe it or not, my real life collided with Second Life before this class assignment. I work for an international education nonprofit that produces professional development products and convenes workshops and conferences for educators. We also lead a campaign to encourage the public to support a broad-based education for all students. Surprisingly, the nonprofit’s execs are considering using Second Life to both drum up support for our campaign and better connect with our members. They got the idea from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), which has it’s own Second Life Island where it hosts meetings and events for members and others interested in becoming members.

The possibilities are intriguing. I just wonder whether the required time commitment and technological know-how are barriers to reaching significant numbers or types of people via Second Life. It makes sense for ISTE to make use of Second Life: It’s a member association for technologically-minded people. On the other hand, the nonprofit I work for has members who barely know how to use email and listservs. Setting up our members on Second Life and actually getting them to visit Second Life regularly could be incredibly time and resource intensive.


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