This week I left the “actual world” and entered the virtual world of Second Life. When logging on, I had the option of choosing an avatar, none of which came close to resembling me. I assumed once I entered into Second Life, I’d be able to customize my avatar more so it would be a better representation of me. After downloading the program (which I had to do on a PC because it wouldn’t work on my Mac), I found my avatar on the beach, surrounded by other avatars. An avatar near me started chatting with me, but he didn’t speak English so I didn’t engage in the conversation. Before I started chatting, I decided to get my profile in order. I was hesitant to get into too much detail by saying that I was conducting research, so I just wrote that I was a “Midwestern girl, 20-something, exploring a virtual world.”
Amidst the sound of ocean waves, I could hear the sound of typing. Eventually I figured out that I was involved in a group conversation. I was put in a precarious position when an avatar near me asked if I was in Second Life for fun or for research. I decided to reveal the truth, she wished me good luck and that was the end of the conversation.
After finishing the conversation, I decided to explore more of the island. I made my avatar run around the island (I’d been sitting down trying to figure out SL for awhile, so at least one of us was getting in shape!). After exploring the island on foot, I decided to give flying a whirl. I assumed my avatar would fly around obstacles, so poor virtual me ran my head into many boulders! I finally figured out that if you clicked to places on the map, your avatar would travel to where you clicked.
Upon finishing my tour of the island, I decided to work on my avatar’s appearance. I was shocked that you could control the most minute details of your appearance, including how much your butt swayed when you walked! I spent awhile trying to get my avatar to look like my actual appearance, but the end result looked nothing like me.
I played around with teleporting and explored some of the free worlds in Second Life. Most of the places I teleported were clubs, where I struggled to get my avatar to dance. Dancing is surprisingly a lot easier in the actual world than it is in the virtual world! I finally thought I had figured it out, and I got so excited when the avatar next to me on the dance floor sent me a direct message. He asked me if I was ok. Confused about the question, I answered with a simple question mark. He informed me that I was running in place…so much for dancing! I must have run right out of the club because before I knew it, I was in a completely different building.
Next, I explored an island that was supposed to be for people just starting out in Second Life. I thought this might be the best place to try and start conversations with people, because we we’re all learning together. I direct messaged a couple of the people around me, and they were all really helpful in helping me navigate the virtual world. One of the people who I talked to was someone named Jeff. Here is our conversation:
Me: Do you play this game a lot?
Jeff: Yeah, quite a bit. Why, what’s up?
Me: I’m just starting out, and I’m not really sure what to do.
Jeff: This is a good place to start, things all over the walls that you can read to get started.
Me: Ok thanks, just trying to figure it all out.
Jeff: It’s not so much a game, but you should read that tutorial behind you.
The conversation continued, he helped me find other clothes, and tried to help me fix how Second Life appeared on my laptop. Turns out, the PC I was using wasn’t so great, and that’s why the majority of the Second Life world appeared purple to me. I asked others similar questions, and got a grasp of the Second Life lingo. Besides learning that the people in Second Life don’t like it to be referred to as a game, I learned they always distinguish between SL (Second Life) and RL (Real Life).
Second Life reminded me a lot of middle school and high school, when I was nervous to talk to new people, and I would spend a couple minutes looking at an instant message before I actually pressed the send button. After spending some time on Second Life, I have a better understanding of how it could be a useful classroom tool. The anonymity made it easier to talk to people, which would benefit an education setting because students could participate in conversations without the fear of raising their hand in class. On the other end of the spectrum, I also experienced why Second Life is frowned upon. During my stay on the newcomer island, one of the people who started up a conversation with me told me he was going to take my “SL virginity,” within seconds of saying hi. As a parent, I wouldn’t allow my child to enter the virtual world.
After spending five hours on the site, I was definitely happy to log out of the virtual world, and get back to my actual life!