The Skinny on Second Life


Ever won­dered what Sec­ond Life is and if you should care about it? Imag­ine a 3‑D immer­sive game where you con­trol an avatar and trav­el through con­struct­ed environments–and now take away the game part. What’s left is a fair­ly wide-open cre­ative space where users can cre­ate and sell in-game stuff–houses, objects, cloth­ing, etc–or engage in group activ­i­ties rang­ing from con­certs to polit­i­cal activism to pros­ti­tu­tion. It’s free to join but to own land (and receive a larg­er stipend of in-game cash) you have to sign up for a month­ly sub­scrip­tion.

The online com­mu­ni­ty has been grow­ing fair­ly rapid­ly over the past year or two, now boast­ing over one mil­lion users who logged in dur­ing the past month. Big busi­ness has tak­en notice of the trend, and com­pa­nies from Toy­ota, Microsoft and Sony BMG have all launched vir­tu­al pres­ences in SL.

The ser­vice has been receiv­ing some of its most enthu­si­as­tic press from edu­ca­tors who hope to take advan­tage of the free-for-all 3D spaces as tools for ped­a­gogy. You can find a lot of engi­neer­ing schools, med­ical insti­tu­tions and, of course, the Star Trek Muse­um of Sci­ence on this list of sci­ence places in SL. The world’s cre­ators active­ly encour­age edu­ca­tion­al par­tic­i­pa­tion and teach­ers from many uni­ver­si­ties (includ­ing Har­vard, Colum­bia and more) have tried run­ning cours­es or train­ing ses­sions in the sim­u­la­tion. There is at least one skep­tic out there, though: Clark Aldrich, a con­sul­tant for an e‑learning com­pa­ny, offers up ten things he sees miss­ing from SL as an edu­ca­tion­al tool.

Whether or not Sec­ond Life becomes a per­ma­nent fix­ture of the Inter­net land­scape, it’s cer­tain­ly cap­tured a lot of peo­ples’ atten­tion. To learn more about it check out the pletho­ra of pod­casts avail­able on iTunes. At the very least this world does offer some zany oppor­tu­ni­ties for mul­ti­ple lay­ers of sim­u­la­tion. Check out this video of a U2 “vir­tu­al trib­ute band” per­form­ing a con­cert with lov­ing­ly ren­dered trib­ute avatars:

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.