Discussing Second Life: It is (and it isn’t)

Second Life Avatar Banner

Source: Second Life, “What is an Avatar?”

Second Life is a topic that is going to come up again and again, because it provides so many excellent concrete examples for a discussion on Metaverse design. Before it comes up for the first time, there is a thorny issue that we need to get out of the way.

In most cases, when I use Second Life as an example, I talk about the vanilla experience for an average user. One problem I’ve found in making observations about Second Life is that Second Life can actually be fairly tough to make general statements about it. For every general observation, there is likely to be one or more specific counter-examples. I don’t deny that these counter-examples exist, but I don’t believe that they fit the profile of the everyday experience.

I look at the image above and I tell myself, “This isn’t Second life.” It is, but it isn’t. It looks more like what I would expect to happen when Facebook collides with VR. While it is entirely possible for someone to make an avatar that so closely resembles and expresses themselves, this kind of representation seems more aspirational than typical.

As another example, I might make the observation that Second Life has a horrible user interface. What fresh hell is this?

Second Life menu disaster

Source: An exploded Second Life interface shot from Metaverse Tutorials.

If you managed to sit a non-technical family member in front of Second Life, they probably weren’t as curious as they were confused and frustrated. Movement? Awkward. Looking around? Awkward. Interaction? Awkward. The design pendulum swung way too far in favor of the minutia of virtual world management and away from simple usability.

I have no doubt that a defender of Second Life would tell us that it is actually quite easy to log in, explore, and interact. By setting certain options or using different viewers (software), the interface could be made more friendly for sightseeing and social engagement and still be functional.

The story of the user interface is similar to that of the avatar at the top of this post. An alternative interface that is simple and intuitive is Second Life, but at the same time, it isn’t Second Life. For the purpose of observation and comparison of virtual environments, we’re mostly going to stick with the vanilla user and the vanilla experience.

In the future, I may reference this post when a significant reference is made to Second Life. Is focusing on the general case a fair or unfair policy?

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