We looked at Digital Ethnography this week for my University of Florida Masters Degree program specializing in Social Media. For an assignment, we had to spend at least two to four hours in Second Life. This exercise is purely academic…
I’m a beach gal. Born in southern California, my childhood is threaded with moments spent swimming at Newport, Santa Monica and Huntington Beach. When I was in Junior High, my family took our first big vacation together to the island of Oahu. I fell in love with Hawaii and as an adult have had a handful of occasions to return with friends and my better half.
It’s not just an island, it’s a lifestyle. An awesome one too.
So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my journey down the rabbit hole of Second Life was not a beach-less one. In fact, I could visit some of the greatest beaches in the world– and I did. My adventures extended beyond the sand in my toes though…
* 26 years-old, Aspiring singer
* Waits tables by day, sings in clubs by night
* Only child, parents are dead
I’m sure there is some psychology to who I chose and what she does but I really wasn’t focused on that. I was more about getting in and checking out this world.
Where I Went & Who I Met
If you have never been to Second Life, it is alarming at first because you just get dropped on an island. When I first arrived, I was surprised by how self-conscious I suddenly felt. Then again, I was dropped right next to a naked man who literally kept running into me. (Possibly a fellow student learning their way?!)
I was worried about interacting with others and proper etiquette. Being able just to function in Second Life is a little challenging at first but once I learned to move and fly, I was off.
I changed my clothes but that was a process and a half. I am sure it was because I was new but there were just so many options. Too many if you ask me. So I checked out the categories for newcomers. I entered “The Shelter” where people were friendly and willing to help. There were several bulletin boards teaching basic instruction and of course, shopping.
From there, I wanted to go exploring to places I have been and places I have never been. I wanted to see just how “real” the experience would be. First stop: Miami Beach. It was exactly as I recall Miami Beach to be…complete with the constant thump of techno music. Next stop: Rio ~ A place I have not been.
I walked around and talked to some people but I don’t speak Spanish and found that most people did during the time I arrived. I ended this trip into Second Life at Machu Picchu. I have never been there and always wanted to go. I flew around for perspective and walked a lot. I hung out with the Sherpas and alpacas. It was fun but certainly not the real deal.
I logged in the next morning to round out my experience. I spent $10 to buy $2500 Linden to see what a commerce experience in Second Life entailed. Upon completion of the transaction, which I did via PayPal, I was immediately informed that there had been market fluctuations in the Linden and a credit would be applied to my account (Nice touch Second Life).
Day Two was a little stranger. I decided to explore what I will call the darker side of Second Life. I went to the Adult sections to a place called Hathian. It was a bit much. You walk down a gray and black maze with various billboards advertising sex toys, pornography…even brutal S&M depicted with photos of black and blue women. The corridor ends with an elevator that takes you down to The Crack Den. The Crack Den was a whole different city scape with fires burning in abandoned cars, prostitutes on every corner and an occasional home. I walked into one and was promptly told to get the hell out—it was private property. So I did. I also got the hell out of The Crack Den! (Slide Show below ~ Warning: Adult Content)
From there, I went to Temptations Resort. Bad Idea. Not even worth discussing.
I checked out Featured Events, more new citizens places and even walked the streets of Italy. In the midst of all of this, the system kept crashing and pushing me out. I logged back in and when I did, I was dropped in the middle of what I will call Naked Land. Take a look (and this is with some creative cropping for a safe-for-work image):
I still don’t know where I was. I asked what was going on and mentioned I had just been dropped here. That was met by laughter from other SIMS. I was told it was “rolling restart day” and that many SIMS were restarting which can affect the Second Life experience.
What Do I Think of Second Life
I have mixed opinions on Second Life and in the end, it all comes down to the intention of the user. I can see so many benefits from many areas I explored. I went to Indiana University. I climbed a beanstalk. I went to the John King experience and lived like a pirate. I walked the streets of France and refreshed my ear to the sound of my second language. I revisited Bondi Beach…a place I have been to in real life…and recalled pleasant memories. I see the educational value of Second Life with its ability to pull in people to learn and discuss. I see the imagination stimulation for a child to climb a beanstalk or be a pirate. I see the possibility for someone without means or sick or unable to travel to explore real places and have some rich experience.
I also see the Rabbit Hole. I put earphones on and immersed myself in it. There are so many little touches that enhance the experience drawing you in deeper. Native languages are spoken in the background when you travel somewhere international. Music and ambient noises compliment the location: NPR plays in the background while touring a nuclear plant, HawaiianRainbow.com plays the ukulele while you stroll Oahu. People are having intimate conversations and when you move near, you hear every word. I even witnessed a marriage proposal. When you capture an image, your avatar snaps a photo and you hear the camera. When you chat with someone, your avatar types. The beaches come complete with crashing waves, porpoises squeaking and the crunch of the sand.
I didn’t spend a great deal of time in the seedier side but I can see where curiosity would pull in someone who has never tapped into that environment. The sex and crime and grit feels very real because no detail is spared. It is rare that my eyes left the screen. When I am working or surfing, I often get distracted and look up or out the window. In Second Life, I found this didn’t happen. When I finally logged off and looked up, my eyes hurt, I was tired. There were many nice people but it just all seemed too much. It is just real enough to be sad.
So What of SloanFierce?
By the end of my journey through Second Life, I was ready to return to real life. I’m very aware though that the naked man and the newly engaged couple and the pirates are still inside there, living their lives. Just like Sloan ~ my personal alter ego and tour guide. So I did what any responsible girl would do. I plopped her down in the sands of Hawaii, left her with the meditative crashing waves, singing dolphins and the sweet sounds of the ukulele.