Thursday, June 22, 2006

Review: Second Life


A few of my friends - blogging and otherwise - have been suggesting that I try Second Life. Second Life is kinda like a giant roleplaying game, except without a central theme. Or maybe it is just a giant virtual chat arena - think IRC or IM with graphics. Or maybe it's none of these. You see, that's part of its charm as well as part of its problems. It's all of these and none of them. You're free to do anything you want, but so is everyone else.

Let me just say that I have over twenty years experience in virtual environments. Starting with MUDs in the early 80s, then IRC, MUSHes, IM and FPS in the 90s and beyond. I've written code for MUDs. I've head-wizarded MUSHes. I've even been a server op for one of the larger IRC networks. So for me Second Life (SL) isn't a gee whiz new fangled idea. Perhaps if it was I would be more impressed. But I just see it as a further evolution of the same stuff we were playing with in the 80s.

You see it's just a chat program with 3D graphics. Oh sure it has some nifty add-ons like being able to design your own avatar (what you look like) and the ability to create and own various objects, land and buildings. But essentially it's the interface where SL falls down. All communication is still done through the keyboard (you type what you want your avatar to say). The inventory and object system is clunky and almost unusable. I found movement to be hampered by excessive lag. I kept walking into objects as a result. The only saving grace in this area is that you can fly.

Apart from the fact that lag also affects flight, it was my preferred method for moving around up until I discovered the teleport button. You see, in SL not only can anyone fly they can also teleport to just about anywhere on the map. It kinda defeats the purpose of letting people fly or have vehicles. It would have been better to keep them limited and special.

I suppose one of the reasons that they didn't was because the SL world is huge. Planet sized. So there's lots of space to grow. Great! Except even with 5000+ people online you're lucky to find more than 20 in the same general locale. Even 20 is a stretch and most of them will be engaging in some sort of fetish activity.

Us humans are a predictable lot. Sex is one of our motivating factors and we tend to seek it out even in a virtual environment. Back in the 90s it was quite common for entire MUSHes to be dedicated to virtual sex. SL has its fair share of it too. Within a couple of hours of joining I was propositioned 3 times.

Essentially SL lacks a purpose. In my experience most people just sat around chatting. There's gotta be a better reason to go there - and to pay for the privilege in some cases. In the film world we'd call it a strange attractor. If you're new to virtual environments or if you're still blown away by 3d graphics (that take minutes to fully render on broadband connection) then maybe SL has something for you. For me, it's all old hat. Just another stage in the development towards something resembling Stephenson's Metaverse.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Did you stick with Second Life? I joined at the beginning of June and I'm also from Perth. Your review matches very much with my opinions of the place, though I have a business perspective too. You might enjoy my slog at