Thursday, April 11, 2013

Second Life, this dangerous thing!

Nostos Deer
As an old-time Second-Lifer, I’m part of an endangered species, I must admit reluctantly.
I am one of those people who believe Second Life (SL) is an amazing platform that, if well developed, could become an important stepping stone to the Future. Yep, dreaming big today!
Well, being totally ignorant of the technical aspects behind the complexity of SL (which could be a blessing), I nevertheless defend that it IS a viable platform.
Yes, the sims don’t work, the accounts are too expensive, the drama is overwhelming, the stress is exhausting, the griefing, the lobbies, all that is part of SL. However, let me focus on one area in particular.
In one of those crazy-believer days SL old-timers have every now and then, I tried to convey the potential of this platform to a friend who is a teacher. This friend is a well educated person with a college degree in History, several decades of work in the educational system, and someone who is always interested in new technologies, new options, and new means to implement in her classes. I was sure she’d be extremely interested in knowing about SL!
I had prepared my speech carefully and to the point, after all people do tend to get bored out of their wits when we talk to them about SL; I never quite understood why. So, I explained it briefly. The basics of creating an avatar, what a sim was, and that many people were involved in Role-playing (RP) in SL seemed enough to trigger interest!
At the time of this conversation, my friend was teaching the Middle-Ages to her students. What a perfect opportunity! I told her about the large number of sims with a Medieval theme and how interesting it could be to try to find one adequate to her students, perhaps even contacting the owners and suggesting organizing an RP event so the kids could see how people dressed, how their houses looked, what they ate, the tournaments, the social classes, etc. (and avoid any unexpected, X-rated situation we could come across, I thought).
She listened, patiently, and nodded.
“Imagine the possibilities! If the school sees the potential of this, they can even get a sim! The cost of one sim divided by all the students and teachers would be ridiculously low! Each department could have their plot in the sim, and create exhibitions, events, debates, classes!” She nodded.
“At the end of the year, the sim could become one large showcase of what everyone did throughout the school year!” She nodded.
“Imagine the kids who come from other cities or even countries (and we do have a lot of those) whose relatives would never visit the usual end-of-term exhibitions. They would be able to do that online!” And she nodded.
“No…?” I asked.
My well-informed, always curious, technology-focused teacher friend stood up and killed the one-sided enthusiasm with a simple wave of the hand. “This is a game thing, not that educational. They’ll get distracted with the cartoon-type figures and it’ll be a waste of time.”
Hah, I couldn’t help but smile. I am old enough to remember when we had our first computers set up in our school with an internet connection. How suspicious the teachers were of them. The students would get distracted, they wouldn’t write their own papers, they’d simply copy them from the Internet, they said. Their portfolios would be a pastiche, ridiculous and blatantly worthless. Everything would be a waste of time.
I… Well, I rushed to learn about this Internet thing. I organized classes in the library, back when that was the only place with Internet. Later on, I took my own laptop to my classroom, after being strongly advised not to, if the students broke it, the school wouldn’t pay for that. I did it anyway and no one ever broke my computer! Plus, was it a waste of time? NO! The students learned faster and better. They were more motivated, brought more questions to the classroom and I had never heard “what if we do it like this?” so often!
Back to my History teacher friend, the fact that educators specifically are not flocking to be in SL intrigues me. Is it our total inability to explain to them what SL is or is it people’s lack of interest in new possibilities that prevents them from becoming involved in this platform (and please remember that I am referring to a very specific group of people with a very specific goal)?
I can hear some of you saying that this indifference happens due to other factors… Yes, I know. But I must say that despite the recurrent complaints of cost, technical limitations, a steep learning curve (a pet peeve of mine I think we could totally overcome), amongst other aspects widely discussed elsewhere, SL could be an extremely interesting resource in education!
Perhaps it’ll take another 20 years for SL, or any other similar platform, to be considered the remarkable resource it really is. Perhaps it’ll take more unyielding souls like us Second-Lifers, who simply refuse to give up. Perhaps!
So, for the sake of the Future, bring down the Danger signs! Yep, dreaming big today! Hah!


  1. hi Lizzie... i've felt the way you do at times, and i've met people who just don't get SL.

    i think we sorely need an evangelist at the helm of Linden Labs, someone who actually understands the potential and isn't trying to fit it into a tablet or phone because they've heard that is way the industry is headed, or make it something it isn't. Originally, SL was supposed to be a virtual economy, but it was a lot more and no one noticed or cared.

    There are many different points of view about what Second Life is, but there are values that all of them would recognize.

    I can't help feeling that someday, somehow, someone with the power to make things go right will create an environment that makes our virtual world into an educational platform and everything else you could dream of.

    ... just sayin'

    1. Hi Yordie, thank you for your comment. Your words are so true. There is a common ground of value that will be recognized as such, one day! What strikes me as impossible is the total lack of interest. Even if, when presented with somethig we end up not considering relevant/important, we'd expect a certain level of intellectual curiosity, especially in the case of people who are used to being challenged by novelty and actually embrace that challenge. Big hugs!

  2. Very interesting post Lizzie and you bring up some good points.
    I am of two minds about SL.
    I also think that there could be educational value to a virtual world and I loved the historical sims and the imaginative scope of the place. However, I also think that SL can be a very dangerous place psychologically and perhaps more so for the young. It would need some real controls by educators ( and parents) to achieve your vision - not impossible. But to me right now SL is really a free for all and anything goes- very confusing for some and not entirely positive in their lives (even damaging for a few). At least that is what I observed from some of my own experiences there. I became a bit disenchanted with it. If something enhances my first life and doesn't take away from it then I am all for it. I can see it is a positive creative influence for you as an educator and writer. SL did inspire me in an indirect way to become more creative in my first life and I have always loved story telling and art and SL is a good venue for that. After sitting in an Irish pub in a virtual Dublin I began to feel it was time for a real trip again so SL also inspired me to get off my duff and dust off my passport!!

    1. I so agree with you when you say that the lack of control in SL may be extremely dangerous for young people. The teen grid was an attempt to have that bit of control, although I fully understand that kids had/have access to the main grid (too) easily. Parental control is the most effective way of reducing the danger.
      From my experience, one of the biggest issues in SL are people's egos. Anyone can be anything. In RL, you can just a regular Joe/Jane and in SL you become a VIP, a star, a prominent designer/owner of a sim/creator. This is, for many people, not easy to integrate in their "mental/psychological" balance. But, as it happens in al situations and as you so well stated, SL does prompt us to seek change, new horizons, new projects. :)