SL 11/3 Shopping the Social

[Contextual note: For the introduction to this blog’s switch to musings about Second Life for a while, see Virtual Adjustments from 3/16.]

Bella in her harlequin costume.

I confess the shopping is getting to me. I’m going to have to divest myself of this L$ money, and fast. Like The Sims Online (clearly this all reminds me of TSO….) getting stuff (and probably building stuff, although I haven’t tried that yet) is a big part of the appeal in here. Soon enough I’ll be building things, which will probably suck me in just as much as building things in The Sims Online did.

But, like all these worlds, it’s really most fun when it’s social. I still can’t figure out why spaces like this aren’t more globally appealing, why it’s not the new Facebook or somesuch. It has *such* potential!

Perhaps it’s all about the interface. Maybe if Apple put their iPod-designers to create a virtual world people would flock. But as it is, SL seems to be largely populated by the rather more hardcore virtual worlders. It’s so close to being an amazing space to hang out in, play, be social, but it doesn’t quite hit it.

The difficulty really might be the steep learning curve. It’s rough to figure out all the nuances of the items and structures in some ways – some of that is, indeed, because I’m used to the interface of WoW, but some is due, I think, to the nature of user-generated spaces: there’s the potential for each type of object to be designed with a slightly different set of functions and interaction parameters. One “bicycle” is “worn,” another is an AO, another comes with its own animation when you “sit” on it. Dancing and personal animations are even more so – I still have to go into my inventory, search for “dance” and select them that way. There are a few hot keys/commands, and you can, of course, map your own onto your dances. But it’s a matter of remembering them all…. uggh.

So yes, set up is labour intensive and a bit overwhelming. But I’m hoping that when we have our own island going, I’ll feel a bit more “at home.” I actually remember this feeling in The Sims: without a “home” to call my own, I felt rather unmoored, wandering around trying to find a “safe” place to hang out and relax. In there, until J. and I created our house, we tended to go too certain places we knew best, but… you’re always in “someone else’s space.” Which is just weird.

It reminds me of wandering around New York City in my early 20s with nowhere to stay – realising that it was just too tough for an out-of-towner like me to find someplace to *relax*. Of course, that was exacerbated by the fact that I had usually stayed up most of the night and was wishing for a nap more than anything, but without an anchor, even a hotel room, it was an intimidating place.

Second Life evokes that feeling. I’m wandering around other folks’ spaces – even though they’re public, they’re not mine. So there is this strong need to feel comfortable and to belong in here, rather distinct from WoW. In WoW, you are given a space defined as yours but public, you *do* things there. A la Adam Smith, you invest in that starting area, making it yours through labor and interaction. Here, the early activities are… well, there aren’t any, of course. Somehow, though, in WoW, I don’t have the need for a belonging space in the same way; it’s much easier in there to take ownership of spaces when I’m in a hanging out mood.

In Second Life, I think I am keenly aware of the fact that these spaces are created by other, actual people. So I vaguely feel as though I’m trespassing, even where “visitors” are welcome. The ownership and investment, I know, is what builds these spaces in the first place.

It’s more akin to wandering around someone else’s neighbourhood, going in people’s houses, hanging out on their front yards. That whole idea makes me uncomfortable, seems invasive. If I had social bonds that legitimized my presence in those spaces, I am confident that would change. Actually, even just having been welcomed and interacting with the owner of the Champagne Club the other night makes me associate more safety with that space than others. Again, it’s about the social investment into the space. So, Adam is joined by Margaret Mead, I suppose: we invest in and generate value for spaces by virtue of our labor there, or by virtue of our social bonds there – social bonds with those who have already invested the labour? Perhaps.

Whatever the case, I am most definitely responding strongly to the implicit social norms of these spaces and notions of property and ownership on a broader level. Obviously, I’m bringing those myself, generated from my experiences in other virtual worlds (WoW, Sims), experiences building my own virtual spaces (as in The Sims Online), and of course my offline notions of propriety, belonging, and property. Not that we’re surprised. Gratified, perhaps :)

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