After five years of its release, I am always shocked when I have to describe Second Life to another person. I assumed with its massive coverage of mainstream media (who are quick to jump on any salacious scandalous material), many dedicated blogs and websites, and even a clear definition on the website, describing and defining Second Life would be an unnecessary chore. However, I’m wrong. When presented with the question “What is Second Life” I find myself juggling between three different components in trying to describe the platform as a whole: the technology, its capabilities and the purpose. The platform is very organic; I don’t believe a single definition focused on one aspect serves as a complete definition. Somewhere between these three areas is a clearer, understandable definition of Second Life.
The Technical Definition
Second Life is a persistent 3D virtual world where avatars controlled by a user (called residents), interact with one another on shared spaces. These shared spaces are land masses called simulators (sim for short) and run on a server. The content (buildings, clothing, and items) are created through polygonal objects (called prims) and textures (graphics files) are created by residents and reside on a sim. Each sim has a maximum amount of resources in which prims, the number of avatars and scripts all utilize. Second Life is experienced by travelling from one location to another, performed by walking, flying, or teleporting, as different location usually resides on a separate sim.
Everything in Second Life is based on a simulator and the amount of available resources. The best describe a simulator is that of a land mass. If the Earth was without and land it would be a globe of water, the same is true for Second Life. Each simulator is a part of Second Life. People live, play, and have business consisting of one or many simulators.
While this definition may serve as a technical overview of Second Life, it does not describe the many capabilities and things created within the platform.
Second Life’s Capabilities
It is easier to discuss Second Life in the terms of what you can do before describing the technical underpinnings of the platform (although I believe you must start with some of the technical basics and terminology). The motto of Second Life is “Your World. Your Imagination” and describes potential of the platform, everything is created by its residents. Rarely do you find content, massive builds or wide open areas preconfigured by Linden Lab.
Second Life is a virtual world where you can create, build and explore your wildest, creative and imaginative desires. You can be anyone, any race, any gender, even if it is completely different from your own in real life. If you are short, you can be tall, if you are tall you can then be short, if you are human you can be an animal; the possibilities are endless. Anything can be constructed; houses, cars, planes, and mansions are sold to other residents using the Linden currency. Then Linden operates on a macro economy and through a currency exchange, can be converted into real money.
The capabilities extend beyond the creation of content, finances and appearance. New relationships, business opportunities, and forms of entertainment are created. Skills such as graphic design, business management, entertainment, and musical proficiency can be easily applied to Second Life creating new opportunities such as a virtual world clothing designer, real estate mogul, or DJ and performer. These new opportunities is the basis of the inspiration for many whom actively engage the virtual world, however it doesn’t quite answer the question of why a person would participate in Second Life and what IS the platform?
(Note: I’ve avoided mentioning anything concerning Intellectual Property, but feel I should mention it. Anything you create in Second Life is yours, and your able to do what you want with it. This topic delves into a broader topic outside of this posts scope.)
Explaining the Purpose
Unlike other online worlds (i.e. World of Warcraft, Everquest) Second Life is not a game, and not built on game based rules or structures. All of the things in Second Life are uniquely created and designed by those whom inhabit the world. Each individual has a different goal for their Second Life use. These goals may be may be social, business, artistic, personal, creative, explorative, or any numerous combination; however these are not pre-planned paths created by Linden Lab. A person’s goal is based on their personal experience, purpose and how they wish to shape their experience. These experiences are shared experiences much like they are in the “real” non-virtual world.
I have never been to Paris or visited the Eiffel Tower. However, through photos, travel books, and movies I have an experience of the Eiffel Tower. I know what it looks like, where it is, what it is made of, and possibly even some facts surrounding the structure. This experience of the Eiffel Tower is not real however my experience is not inferior to a person’s vacation in Paris and their visit to the Eiffel Tower. I can still have a conversation about the tower, its structure, and its beauty, even through our prospective and experiences are complete opposite. I cannot discuss how the tower feels, the crowds in the area or how magnificent the view is, but through great photography or film, I can use all of my previous life experiences to replicate being in Paris watching the Eiffel Tower in my mind.
Second Life is built on experiences, regardless of familiarity and possibility. While these experiences are replicated in a virtual, online, fake world, it is composed of many real, tangible experiences, making the virtual experience a very real one. An individual’s experience causes them to approach Second Life differently, some people consider it a game, others a business, and others a fantasy land. The ultimate purpose here is not what Second Life wants you to be and do, rather what you want to be and do in Second Life.
So, What IS Second Life
Second Life IS an experience, explored, built and based on your and other individual experiences. Through this experiences business, art, creativity is formed to create a vast and complex world where individuals interact with each other in a shared space. It is completely dependent on those whom participate in Second Life the definitions of that experience.