Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hey, Get a First Life!

Yeah, that was my first reaction too when hearing about Second Life® for the first time. The tech press ragged on SLTM mercilessly for attracting more fringe-y, parents'-basement-dwelling gamer types who like to dress up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Kittycats and fewer legitimate businesses into its virtual world. CSI and The Office featured it in episodes, and of course the Office character who was into SL was Dwight K. Schrute.

None of that made the concept all that attractive for me. After having spent many years as a historical re-enactor with some of the biggest, whiniest get-a-lifers on the planet, entering a virtual world for more of the same just sounded to me like another online dungeon game without even the fun of whacking the heads off some monsters (or get-a-lifers) and pillaging their lairs.

I even scoffed when the company I work for started investing time, people, and resources into SL. "Nice work if you can get it," I snickered. "We oughta make a mint offa that."

And then one day a few weeks ago, something just came over me. The company was offering a virtual meeting and presentation by an author whose latest book happened to be about a topic I need to understand. Maybe it was the chance to learn something, a lure that works on me much in the same way a piece of leftover steak works on Seamus. Maybe it was the chance to look at scenery that didn't have friggin' dirty snow all over it.

Anyway, next thing you know, this happened...

Greg came upstairs into the office, saw what I was up to, and confessed that he'd been into SL for a few months already. He'd wanted me to join him there, but didn't quite know how I'd take the concept. Actually, he did -- and he didn't want to hear all the delightfully witty things I'd have had to say on the subject.

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da. In a couple of days, they have built (well, rented) a Home Sweet Home, with a couple of dogs running in the yard...

...of Tip Corbett and Kate Welsh... (Because we couldn't get the names Desmond and Molly Jones from the registration server)

Happy ever after in the marketplace, I've just been bowled completely over by the amount of time, effort, enthusiasm, and just plain creativity have been poured into my company's "islands" in the virtual world. So much so, in fact, that I've taken the basic classes offered by my company with an aim of becoming a trainer myself. I've been able to get to know some fellow employees whom I wouldn't have met otherwise, and I've discovered what a great virtual community my company has. Folks like me who work from home without any real company interaction will be able to feel a part of the community again.

IBM likes the idea so much that it has just inked a deal with Linden Labs to run the SL software on its own private grid to create its own separate interactive employee community. IBM just might be the kind of "legitimate business" that the tech press hasn't managed to rag on. I've also had occasion to meet a number of small online business owners and some mighty talented artists and musicians who might not be making enough money in SL to retire, but who have found another creative outlet in which to shine.

Greg, who had one of his BU professors recommend SL to him, is a member of a bunch of classical music groups and is learning scripting and animation. He's happily picking up virtual Rothko paintings for the walls. At least we can afford one there!

Turns out my sister-in-law joined SL before either of us did, and we're trying to get my sister involved, too. I'm not denying that it isn't a huge time-sink to keep up on things in two worlds, and heaven knows I didn't need another excuse to spend time on the computer -- but we spend our downtime interacting in ways we don't do when we're watching TV. (Oh, and my virtual self has three dogs -- one of which is a rehome -- and Greg's has a cat.)

If you're ever in the virtual neighborhood, drop one of us a note. It would be a hoot to hang out with people whom we know in RL. Okay, so we won't be able to whack the heads off any get-a-lifers and take their bags of stale Cheetos, but just being in the world can work its own strong magic on us -- and that's more attractive than Cheetos anytime.

Trademark Stuff: Second Life is a registered trademark of Linden Lab. SL is a trademark of Linden Lab. This is how my editors always have me use trademarks in my day job, so I hope Linden's copyright folks are okay with it.


CaliChi said...

When I looked into Second Life a few years ago, everyone had to be named after a vegetable... such as Suzy Rootabaga or some such non-sense. Is that still the case?

blogdog said...

No, but Linden still controls the last names you can pick, and they add them according to themes. When I looked at creating an alternate avatar (one I don't bring to work), all of the names they had were awful. I ended up hunting around some of the affiliated company groups for any leftover "old" names that didn't make me cringe. I finally found one I didn't hate in the Ben & Jerry's group.

Barbara W. Klaser said...

I also scoffed at it when I first heard about it (not on The Office, because I've barely heard of that show). But I've since read about some of its value as an online meeting venue, and can see its draw and its value. I haven't ventured there yet, mainly because the Internet already sucks so much of my time, without SL, and I'm afraid I'd very quickly get hooked and, well, spend the rest of my first life with my head inside SL.

I'm tickled by the fact that you and Greg found it independently and then moved into that house together. (Sweet house, by the way.) Great story!