Okay, this will be perhaps the hardest to understand of all the pages on this blog, simply because of all the places where I present my music, Second Life is the hardest to understand.
I’ll start with a very simple left-brain writeup:
Second Life is an online virtual world, in which people are represented by avatars and can interact with one another through the world’s programming engine. This virtual world is represented as a grid of squares of virtual land, organized into a map; each square on the grid, officially called a “region” but usually nicknamed a “sim”, represents a 256 x 256 meter chunk of real estate, and everything that happens on it is run on a server blade in one of two very large data farms. Okay so far?
Now, each region on the grid can support its own streams for audio and video, so it is possible for an avatar to appear in a particular place and play a concert, with audio streaming into the area that can be heard by anyone who comes there.
Avatars that enjoy the music can elect to give the performer money via virtual transactions (a sort of virtual tip jar); however, this is not “play money.” It is a real tradable currency that can be taken out of Second Life and put into your bank account as hard cash.
So: Inside Second Life, I perform live concerts in a virtual setting for audiences around the world. It’s a lot like performing on Internet Radio, with two big exceptions: one is that the audience is different and potentially larger than the one I can reach on my radio show, and the other is that this audience will actually pay me in real money for my music as I perform it.
On a good night, I can clear $30 for a one-hour performance that I do in my basement in my sweats, with no hauling my gear around, no fighting for parking, no worries about having my stuff stolen, no staring dolefully at an empty tip jar, and no breaking down my set and driving home in the rain. It doesn’t replace a real concert in a real venue, and it’s not utterly effortless—being a musician in Second Life is even harder than being one in Real Life in terms of promotion and marketing!—but if I’m going to be sitting down and playing anyway, it has its rewards.
You can hear me perform on Second Life if you’re there, but most of my concerts are simulcast on Internet Radio if you don’t want to bother. Someday my Atomic City website may have a virtual tip jar that goes to my PayPal account, but it’s not a huge deal to me just yet; I’m not fussed about how you choose to hear my music, as long as you end up enjoying yourself.
Right, on to the fuzzy right-brain stuff…
The first question I always get is, “What is Second Life?” Hundreds of people who spend time there have tried to define it, and they’ve all come up short. I’ve just defined it in technical terms, which does nothing to communicate what makes it worthwhile; that leads to the second question, “What is it about Second Life that makes it such a big damn deal to some people, anyhow?”
Linden Lab, the San Francisco-based company that created and runs Second Life, has tried all sorts of ways to monetize and popularize Second Life, most of which fall flat because they try to cast Second Life in terms of what people will understand and relate to…
- Second Life is a massively multiplayer online role playing game.
- Second Life is a feature-rich virtual conferencing system, with intensive educational capabilities.
- Second Life is an immersive social network and chat experience.
- Second Life is a virtualization system for online businesses.
- Second Life is a research platform for explorations of the interaction of the real and online worlds.
- Second Life is an online simulator and walk-through system for online representations of real places and situations.
- Second Life is an environment that enables simulations of normal interaction for people with severe physical or mental illnesses.
Yes, it’s all of those things, and quite a bit more, much of which Linden Lab doesn’t want to put in its marketing materials. You can build any or all of those things inside Second Life; none of them will work as well as a purpose-built bit of code will, but that’s not the point. The point is that Second Life is an online world in which all of these things can coexist and in ways that are impossible in the real world. It has lots of ways to entertain its residents, from dance clubs and pubs to museums, art galleries, virtual cities, role playing games in every genre you can think of, immersive communities in dozens of languages… it can be anything, within the limits of the programming and the imaginations of the people who live there. And because the residents create what’s in it rather than the Lindens, its potential is nearly limitless.
Alas, that leads me to my answers to those questions, and they are effectively a copout of the worst sort. It’s not that I don’t want to be able to define Second Life in a way that makes people say, “Ahhhhh…. I get it!” It would save me so much time and hassle! But I can’t.
All I can ever say to either of those questions that means anything at all is: Second Life is Second Life, and you either get it or you don’t. You won’t get it instantly; you have to walk around and explore a bit, do some research, meet some people, talk to them, learn from them, and it will either click and you’ll be hooked (it’s free for most folks, by the way) or it won’t and you’ll leave.
There’s nothing wrong with not getting it. Not getting it doesn’t make you stupid or shallow or ignorant or imaginationless or (whatever the heck this means) “wrong”. Not getting it just means you don’t get it. There are many, many things in the vast universe of human experience that some people love passionately that other people don’t get, ranging from stamp collecting and trainspotting to most if not all of the world’s religions.
If you do get it, come visit me inworld. My avatar’s name is Spiral Sands, and you can also contact me through Gypsy, who goes by the name GypsyW1tch in Second Life. You can chat with us, buy recordings and virtual merchandise, attend my shows, and support what I do.
If you don’t get it, no sweat. Come see me when I play near you, or listen to my show on Sunday nights, or buy my albums, and if we ever get to chat, you can tell me about how you don’t get it and we’ll have a civil and hopefully enlightening chat. It’s all about meeting and connecting with people, and ultimately the connection can be as important as the way we connect… one of the few cases where the goal equals the journey in significance.