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.
8 thoughts on “Down the Rabbit Hole: My Trip Through Second Life”
Your story-telling is just so wonderful. It was all-encompassing and I felt like you were able to explore so much, and really get a good feel for it in a relatively short period. I’m at my office right now and had some serious LOL moments, including a panic attack as to whether I was the naked man who ran into you! You’d see in my blog that I was actually nude at one point without knowing it! The stories that we can exchange with this experience are just second to none. It’s great to know that I wasn’t the only one exploring some “interesting” destinations and sub-cultures.
I especially admired that you explored in detail your clothing options, and even more-so the financial transaction experience. Outside of that, your emotions at various junctures were very similar to mine. I think you may have been far more outgoing than I was though, which is strange, as I’m one of the most outgoing people I know! It has to do with the newness and inherent intimidation I’m sure. That said, your experiences (and my own) are tempting me to return and explore further, but probably during Christmas break, when I no longer need a cloning machine to survive this semester.
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Ryan it’s so interesting because I had to push myself to be outgoing. I am naturally but in Second Life I entered with suspicion and caution. Probably because I was dropped next to a naked dude. You are brave to want to go back. I think I am done. It could easily become a serious time-suck!
I enjoyed reading your blog! You do have a knack for story-telling. I have mixed emotions, as well. Intentions are important to the experience, the first place I landed was the Grand Canyon and I literally bumped into a man with a giant penis sticking out of his pants…It is amazing what a role sex plays in Second Life. I love how you immersed yourself in the experience. I just may go back and try to experience more of the things you mentioned. I found the program to be hard to navigate…everything was so complicated. I guess for them to be so detailed and specific it’s necessary. I spent 2 hours just working on my outfit, because of that my avatar only has one. I loved all of your clothes…a girl could have so much fun. I was directed to a place in Paris, with isles and isles of free clothes. The other thing I enjoyed was how nice everyone was and there willingness to help. I explored the darker depths of SL a little as well, but was scared off by a couple wanting a threesome. There’s nice and then there is TOO nice…
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Well…the good thing is you explored and it sounds like you had an adventure yourself! That said– yes, the propositions in Second Life are a bit much.
I did love the clothing aspect of it…and the hair. I changed my hair a few times. I found the changing of the clothes could be cumbersome but I am certain that was just my newbie skill set (or lack thereof).
Thanks for reading my entry and for commenting!
OK, that was so well written that I almost want to go back. Almost: I had a pretty dreary experience in SL, but then I didn’t do nearly as much as you. Checking out the commerce portion was a very good idea, and it sounds like it opened up some other components of the site. (As did the adult section. Yikes!) This makes me really wish that I had bumped into SloanFierce while I was fumbling my way around. I think her confidence and your adventurousness would have rubbed off on me a bit. But wait, what’s the John King experience? Isn’t he your CNN coworker? What were he and SloanFierce up to?
Thanks Eric. Big compliment coming from you. I also laughed out loud. I assure you that the John King in Second Life was not the politico of CNN. Sloan rolled solo through that experience…as any respectable She-Pirate would.
Interesting experience. Did you do any research in or have experience with how companies are using it as a virtual meeting space or how entrepreneurs are using to sell real and virtual goods. Fun read. SL is a great concept will be interesting to see where it is in another 10 years. I forget how strange it is the first time…I am old in SL. Fun!
I didn’t do any research on my own about company meetings but that was discussed briefly in class. The other thing we have looked at is companies that create virtual experiences for training grounds. For example, one company created a plant to train engineers on real world problems that can go wrong. They immerse themselves in this training and they are the problem solvers. So often training is “monkey see- monkey do” so to speak.
I did a little shopping in second life but did not explore the selling of real life goods. Given that I already have a proclivity for online shopping in this life– I didn’t see the need to perfect it in a second one 🙂