If you Google “Second Life experience,” you’ll find two types of results:
1. Suggestions on how to best experience your time in Second Life (or SL, as users call it). This will include an array of websites and conversations about a fictional world written by people discussing it as if it were a completely real, tangible, everyday existence. It’s both fascinating and somewhat curious.
2. People talking about their time in SL – mostly, how it ruined some part of their life or existence. I find these types of stories worthwhile, but often a misdirected blame.
If you are unfamiliar, as most people are, Second Life is a virtual world entirely created and driven by its users. You can do anything, create anything, be anyone. Want to be nothing more than a digital representation of your everyday self? You can do that. Want to be a walking, talking slice of apple pie that lives in a 200 foot tall purple penis made of cheese? You can do that, too. It’s that type of freedom that allows Second Life to be a completely unique experience, and also lead to an examination of the worst and strangest parts of human behavior.
Many people see the world as an open appraisal of creative freedom, where you can find out more about a person than they’re free to share in real life. With no societal constraints, the way people act in SL is often a more genuine representation of the human behind the avatar than that person projects in reality.
Many others just see the world as a playground for perverts, pedophiles, rapists and murderers to live out sick fantasies they couldn’t get away with in life. That, or a world which can become such a compulsion, such an addiction, that it consumes a person’s entire real life and ruins their relationships with people. All are true for some, but in my 8+ years of experience with the virtual world, I’d have to argue there’s far more merit in the former.
From 2006-2008, SL was a huge part of my daily routine. I ran multiple businesses that brought in several thousand real-world dollars per month, was relied on by dozens of people, created a massive amount of content, and I took it all very seriously. It was not only an engaging creative outlet that allowed me to craft things I couldn’t make in reality, but it provided a real-world job when I began turning it into profit. I even served as one of the lead writers for Grid World News, a SL-based news organization owned by LivePlanet, the now-defunct media outlet created by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Many of the friends I made during those years translated into real life, and remain my friends on Facebook and other real-world entities where we keep in touch. One still talks to me almost daily, gets my Christmas cards, and is one of my best pals.
But that experience did come with a price. I was genuinely addicted to the world for a while. My relationship with my (at the time) girlfriend, who is now my wife, had strains. I spent all my time in-world, and she had no interest in joining me there. It became a problem. Fortunately, we were able to fix it – but many people don’t. There’s countless stories on the Internet of people’s friendships, marriages and lives being torn apart by their inability to separate themselves from SL. I can see where that comes from – and it’s important to figure out the place it should hold in life, and not let it surpass that.
After 2008, almost everyone I hung out with stopped using the world. I spent years logging in intermittently, seeing what was up, knowing things were changing around me – but without anyone to talk to, and without knowing where to go, I’d get tired of roaming by myself and log out. It was too much work to make a whole new group of friends or discover new places, so I just stopped.
Jump to the present. I’ve started using the world again regularly during 2015. Having a long history of ups and downs with SL, I know how to harness the joy and creativity from the world without letting it consume my every thought. Since I currently work from home, generally only leave my house 1-2 days a week and don’t really talk to people, it has provided a boost in my “social” life. I’ve found a new place to hang out. I’ve made new friends that see SL the same way I do, and who provide encouragement and insight. My creativity has already been jumping, my social skills are feeling less awkward, and I’m feeling those same positive vibes as I did in the late 00’s.
My goal now is to see and experience all the awesome, creative ways people utilize the world. I visit art installations and check out unique designs. Some incredibly talented artists and designers use the world’s tools, which are a unique medium in their own right, to create art they couldn’t achieve anywhere else. Art that people can interact with.
Here’s some examples: