Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

Forever Young

I read somewhere recently that the median age of Second Life residents is around 32.  From my own unscientific, unofficial polling I think that’s probably accurate.  There are others of us who are older and some younger, adding variety to the mix.  It’s what keeps the oldies music streams going in some sims and guarantees that discussion groups will survive despite being overwhelmed by the hip-hop dance clubs and escort services.

Think ahead, though.  What if Second Life defies normal MMO trends (and my dire predictions of doom) and survives another 20 or 30 years?  Will we hit 30 million alts — sorry, I mean subscribers and 100,000 concurrent users?  Will the grid be able to bear up under that sort of mind-numbing load?

Grave personal doubts aside, the demographics of Second Life are probably going to change as the population ages.  After all, SL imitates reality in many ways – modern American society reflects the aging of the baby boomer generation in its preoccupation with Social Security and the rise in AARP membership.  Second Life will probably be no different.

What does that portend?

Off the top of my head I was thinking of prim walkers, prim false teeth, geriatric custom skins, $Linden retirement annuities.   I pictured the decline of the dance club in favor of avatar retirement homes (they could do double service as voting places every other year) and square dance clubs.  Before your avatar could have pixel sex, you’d have to be sure you had a stock of prim viagra on hand, followed by a nice long nap.

But none of that will happen except perhaps as a joke (send a percentage of your profits to me or I’m calling my SL lawyer).  Because the reality is that Second Life is our dream world.  There, we can be anything we want — which usually is a virtual expression of how we see ourselves more so than how we really are.  Our avatars are our holographic projections of self-image.  If you’re 90 years old, with the attendant brittle bones, bad memory and saggy boobs, why in the world would you want to be all that in a virtual creation?  You’re living those golden years, why recreate them?

In reality, I am a tall, skinny blonde.  I boss people around for a living.  In Second Life, I’m raven-haired (or auburn-haired — I have to use the thousands of $L worth of prim hair somehow, yes?), with a great butt and a flirtatious nature that my real self doesn’t always share.  In SL, I’m happy not being on stage – give me my circle of friends, something to laugh about and a business with which to express my creativity and I’m happy as a clam.  To heck with being a leader and moving and shaking – I do enough of that in my personal life already. This is my escape.  I’d rather leave dozens of bunches of prim bananas in my best friend’s SL office as a prank than organize the next protest against Philip’s Tao.

All of this tells me that the ongoing trend among other virtual worlds leading toward voice interaction and integrated webcams may not be as popular as the innovators believe.  The developments we’ve been seeing for voice chat within Second Life via “Second Talk” are interesting and promise to be popular, indeed — but it’s my belief that many of us are more interested in preserving the fantasy immersion and the focus on our avatars than we are in having our real-life webcam image stuck in a corner of the client viewer, projecting an image that probably has no relationship to our avatar whatsoever.  It’s not just those residents who have chosen to create avatars of the opposite gender – though they stand to lose the veil of anonymity that allows them to switch genders – it’s also people like me, who view our Second Life as unrelated to our First Life except in the most superficial ways.   It’s also my French and Brazilian friends who can barely type English phrases and whose heavy accents will probably be unintelligible if I heard them speak.

I am not my avatar.  My avatar is a fantasy creation – a work of art, if you will.  Super-imposing my real identity over the top of that creation turns it into something else again, something more real and thus less enjoyable.  Second Life is not Myspace.com or Facebook, and I’d hate to see it drift in that direction.   But maybe that just means I really am ready for the Avatar Retirement Home.

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February 1, 2007 - Posted by | Second Life

3 Comments »

  1. Hi Cindy! I agree that the integration of webcams into SL would totally decimate the fantasy aspects, I’m not sure use of VOIP would. My online partner and I started using Ventrilo a week or so ago and it’s only heightened the fun IMO.

    Thanks for a great blog, by the way.

    Kel

    Comment by Kelli Fapp | February 16, 2007 | Reply

  2. And let’s not forget the hhearing impaired – are they going to become second class citizens as a result of not being able to interact via speech?

    Comment by scrim Pinion | February 22, 2007 | Reply

  3. It is interesting to think what the effect of adding voice can have to SL. While I think that peoples voice can -and will- be customized (there are voice changers available already that work with most major voice programs like skype, et al), the issues on language fluency, accents and even disabilities will surely create a cultural barrier that is almost inexistent or at least blurred today.

    As you said, Cindy, SL people comes from everywhere in RL, but this is almost unnoticeable, given to the fact that (regarding English at least) there are lots of non-native English speakers who are fairly good at writing, and at the same time, there are tons of Americans that barely write.

    Thus, people been unable to understand street-level spoken English will separate from English-speaking people who can’t stand call-center accented English at best.

    Of course the same will happen in other languages. I know many people from Latin America have a hard time understanding people from Spain or even from other Latin countries.

    So, in that sense, a more *real* experience could actually hinder cultural integration, creating ghettos and elites where used to be a nice commonality.

    It is a pity because I sadly believe that voice will finally come in full adoption once the technical problems get solved.

    As you, I won’t bet for video, however. We already *have* a visual appearance. Would you come home every night to have dinner, then go to the mirror and produce yourself before logging on? I doubt it. As you said in other post, our ever-young avatars have the formidable ability to always look as good as we want, and that’s something we won’t compromise.

    Kisses,
    Sal

    Comment by Salome Summers | February 27, 2007 | Reply


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