Second Life from a non-gamer/non-techy’s perspective

26 08 2007

Last week as I was having dinner my floormates popped me a question, “Su Yuen, what’s new and interesting in the technology space?”. Knowing they don’t play games and are not technologically inclined, I decided to tell them about Second Life because I figured it was one of the less geeky and more interesting concepts to talk about.

They’ve never heard of Second Life but the idea of virtual worlds was not alien to them. However, their idea of a virtual world was very different from what Second Life is, one like World of Warcraft where there is a fantasy magical world with mages, monsters and creatures. Upon being informed that Second Life was just literally a virtual version of our current world, the first thoughts that went into their mind was “BOREDOM!!”. Why would anyone want to live in a virtual world that was like the real world? This reaction came as a shock to me as I never saw it that way, neither did my geeky friends who are always up to date with everything tech. I knew this was going to be an interesting discussion.

As a person who once thought Second Life was a great idea, I strived to defend it by tying it in with the concept of an online version of The Sims, but with much more freedom (and without a retarded family AI). I explained how the game worked, where you are an avatar with no goals and infinite freedom to do anything under the sun imaginable. The idea of being whoever you want and doing whatever you want went down well with them. They started to understand why many people would play Second Life, you could be a whole different person living your dream life.

Then the downside came, where you had to work for money to buy the things you needed to fulfill your dream life like cars and houses, and these do not come cheap. In other words, Second Life is not spared from the rat race of the real world. I explained how they could earn Linden dollars by working, getting a job from the classifieds, starting a company and creating objects for sale. AND, of course I did not hesitate to tell them majority of the job listings are red light jobs; prostitution, porn movie productions, pole dancing and strip dancing. “Huh? Why were people looking for employees in this field?” They were more shocked with the employers than the employees of such jobs. Was there a market for such services?

I then told them “This may be surprising but pornography is the number 1 growing and flourishing industry in Second Life”.

Friends: Umm….? You mean people actually PAY to watch avatars strip and have sex?

Me: Yes, they do that

Friends: Wait, do the avatars look realistic?

Me: No, they look like polygon meshes with not much detailing.

Friends: But why would you pay to watch meshes strip? Why would you even pay for your avatar to have sex with another avatar? You are not the one experiencing or benefiting from it but your meshy-looking avatar which you are not cognitively and sensually connected to.

I didn’t have an answer as I wasn’t one of the patrons of this industry in Second Life.

In the next segment of the discussion, I told them about how people are using Second Life to earn REAL money and not just Linden dollars. Their eyes gleamed with surprise as I continued to explain how you could exchange Linden dollars for US dollars and vice versa. “Wait a minute, and vice versa? There are people who exchange REAL money for Linden dollars?” This phenomenon blew their minds as they couldn’t believe people were paying money in exchange for something non-existent with a perceived value, something which the gaming world is familiar with. Gamers are used to using money to buy gold, characters and rare weapons/items in MMORPGs but to people who have never been accustomed to this, it was unbelievable.

The question that followed was “How do the creators make money?”. My answer was “Real estate”. Another look of jaw-dropping shock displayed on their faces particularly when I told them about Anshe Chung, a real estate agent who has earned more than $1 million. Again, the idea of using real money to buy something unreal shocked them, especially virtual property which is expensive. In other words, Second Life’s creators are making money from selling a concept/idea that is non-existent with a perceived value. This equates to a high profit margin, maybe 90-95%? My friends started to think of the geniuses behind Second Life in awe.

Towards the end of the discussion, thoughts about a large portion of the world economy being driven by activities in virtual worlds ran through their minds. This may seem absurd but no one knows how virtual worlds will disrupt our culture and lives in the future. After all, no future is certain. I, on the other hand, left the discussion feeling glad with no regrets. My friends’ reactions and thoughts gave me a perspective of Second Life and the phenomenon of virtual worlds I’ve not come across before (one that hints at humans being crazy and totally unpredictable).

Interesting articles you might want to read:
1) How Madison Avenue is wasting millions on a Deserted Second Life?
2) Virtual Tokyo to be unveiled in cyberspace’s Second Life (Thanks to Estee for highlighting this article)




8 responses

26 08 2007
Yee Hoong

Sorry to disappoint u, but *sigh* damn lame lah… I was a gamer oso, but games like this just never make any sense at all..
Whats the purpose of playing a game about a life that u dream of.. fulfiling ur inner most desire of mayb committing crime or watching stripper every other hour? >.<
Just dun see the point of playing another life without even completing ur real life =)
Stop playing lah su yuen – DONT BELIeVE u stopped playing after 2 days!! kakakaka =p

26 08 2007

Haha Yee Hoong!! I really stopped playing after 2 days because I got bored TOO fast and the lag didn’t help either. Its a game with no goals. Actually the founders themselves don’t call it a game because of this.

Anyway, even though you say the game is lame, according to the website there are 9 million+ registered users but I don’t know how many from that figure are REGULAR players.

26 08 2007
Yee Hoong

That shows how much ppl these days r frustrated bout their current life and want to avoid it! =p
AIya c’mon do somthing else lah.. meditate or do yoga oso much better than avoiding real life by intoxicating urself with this game… >.<

26 08 2007

Actually that is very true. Some people have said Second Life is an example of how our world would be if there were no politics, judicial system, legislation and limit to what you can do. Ironically, pornography and gambling are the flourishing industries in Second Life and would be in our world if there weren’t so many laws against it.

26 08 2007
Yee Hoong

Haha I guess that’s how games work these days, considering that there’s always more male gamers than females gamers!

26 08 2007

SecondLife does a lot more things than we can imagine. Companies like Cisco and Oracle held conferences that involves real staffs through Second Life. There are e-University which actually offering e-learning courses through SecondLife (which you have to pay actual course fees to attend, not by linden but real dollars.

So are we still calling this a game? Even Singapore’s government has bought a piece of land there. And there are lots of actual embassies from various countries operating there.

So I won’t call it a game anymore, it really is a virtual life. Regarding laws, there are some to be followed up pretty soon!

27 08 2007

Hey Ryan!

Its really great that all the things you mentioned are happening in SecondLife but are they highly patronized and effective?

Actually with laws installed, it may kill the fun with the restrictions as people would have less freedom to do silly things but at the same time, it may also increase the fun as you might end up having a world like Grand Theft Auto where people are STRIVING to break the law and commit crimes without getting caught, since technically you can’t die / get hurt.

12 11 2007
Share Holder

Thank you for the insightful article.
There are several ‘divides’ that we can see already.
1. Some people get ‘immersed’ some – NOT. It’s not so surprising after all, f.i. some people read books/novels (it requires some ‘visionary’ qualities), some – not. Some like movies – some not.
2. Spirit of entrepreneurship is a scarce resource. Most people are not gifted in this way (statistics tells us that they are 95% majority).
3. As to virtual sex. I guess there were no women in your group of friends. Women would tell you, that virtual porn or whatever you call it looks much less offending to them than ‘real porn’.

Good article. Regards.

P.S. btw, we’ve just built a specialized search engine for information about VW and MMO ( ) as a part of our upcoming service. It’s spam-free and searches only reliable sources. I hope it will help you some day in your research.

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