Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Second Life

So, what is Second Life? Second Life is a virtual world completely online. A virtual world is a computer-generated, real-time 3D environment designed by its users. It is accessed through the official Second Life Website, http://secondlife.com/. According to the Second Life Website, “Second Life is a world imagined, built and created by its Residents - people like you…there's always more to see and do.” It’s been described as a video game, but game play can go on indefinitely. It costs nothing to join and create an avatar, but there is a cost to upgrade, buy land or start businesses. According to the Second Life Website, “A single Basic account is FREE. Additional Basic accounts cost a $9.95 one-time fee. Premium accounts (required for getting land) start at $9.95/month and up (http://secondlife.com/whatis/faq.php).” There is Second Life for adults 18 and over, while a Teen Second Life (http://teen.secondlife.com/) exists for younger players. This blog will primarily concentrate on educational game play in the adult version.

Players sign onto the website and through their avatars (to be explained later) can go to any location in that virtual world. What they do there is up to them. Musicians are able to use Second Life as a platform for their real-world careers like Melanie Fudge, AKA Mel Cheeky (http://www.melcheeky.com/). It can be used as another arena for business, where companies like IBM have set up shop, as well as Second Life-created AnsheX (http://www.anshex.com/sl.php). Blogs for Second Life Dance Clubs (http://www.secondclubs.com/) and for artists of all kinds (http://sl-art-news.blogspot.com/) have also popped up online in this computer-only world. A gossip-style newspaper has even surfaced: http://www.secondlifeherald.com/. Visiting these sites certainly gives a fascinating look into a virtual culture.

Players in Second Life use their avatars in order to move around the virtual world and interact with other players. These avatars are important to Second Life, a feature no user can play without. An avatar is their in-player representations, a “virtual them” of sorts that they can control. There are several blogs on the Internet devoted to Second Life clothing and avatars, one of them being http://blog.secondstyle.com/. These avatars can be any shape, race or species and can be clothed or marked anyway their user chooses. These different looks, clothing, and virtual look can be purchased from Second Life developers or from individual game players/entrepreneurs (see the “economy” section below). According to Wikipedia, an avatar “is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego...it is an ‘object’ representing the embodiment of the user. The term ‘avatar’ can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user…essentially the player's physical representation in the game world. In most games, the player's representation is fixed, however increasingly games offer a basic character model, or template, and then allow customization of the physical features as the player sees fit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(computing).” Other players get to know your avatar, many can even become famous: http://secondlife.wikia.com/wiki/People. Avatars/game players can even talk to each other using headsets and in-game software. In order to get from location to location, players can either fly or teleport their avatars anywhere in Second Life. In terms of education, one avatar can teach a group of other avatars in a virtual environment of their choosing. According to a WordPress blog for online educators, “Avatars are excellent for online education. They provide the human interaction that is natural in classrooms and in the traditional learning environment…avatars provide a face to the students and a face to the teacher. They provide the human element to online teaching (http://acohen843.wordpress.com/2007/11/11/avatars-and-education/.”




pictures of miscellaneous avatars

Buying land in Second Life is not a complicated process. “The world of Second Life consists of nearly a half million acres of virtual land, and almost all of it belongs to other users, or Residents. As more new users join Second Life, we keep adding more and more virtual land - so the world actually gets bigger every day…virtual land is like a 3D web site: a blank space where you can make anything happen. (http://secondlife.com/land/faq/).” You can purchase both developed land (“move-in ready”) or undeveloped land (create it any way you wish). Once this land is purchased (see the “economy” section below), the user can then do what they want with it. Players can create buildings, houses or other unique structures. Second Life users must also remember that while the land is virtual, it still exists in its own unique way. “When you have land in Second Life, you're actually renting storage/server space…each piece of land takes up a certain amount of dedicated storage space - the more land, the more space. So, it's like renting a hard drive (http://secondlife.com/land/faq/).” Above all else, new users must realize that you don’t have to buy land in order to play Second Life—you can simply walk around 3D worlds and interact with other players. “Buy a plot on the Mainland of Second Life, and you'll become a part of its vibrant community…create your own neighborhood with your friends, set up a movie theater with personalized screening rooms, or build a business, community center or library (http://secondlife.com/land/learn/)." Buying land and creating structures are a perfect opportunity for educators— there is no school board to create a budget or to deny crucial services. Educators can literally create the space they want, unique to their teaching style, and are able to make it their own.






pictures of Second Life land

How does the economy of Second Life work? How are players able to buy the various outfits and even land in this brave new world? Essentially, players pay money to Linden Labs, the company that created Second Life. The in-game currency is called Linden Dollars. According to the book How to make Real Money in Second Life, Linden Dollars is “fully convertible to U.S. dollars at an exchange rate that, in mid-2007, was about 270 virtual dollars to $1 (Freedman, pg. 14).” Today, the Second Life economy is worth $120 Million, according to figures from the official Second Life Blog (https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2009/04/16/the-second-life-economy--first-quarter-2009-in-detail). As stated previously, these Linden Dollars are traded freely in an open society for clothing, accessories, and anything else one can imagine. They are also used to purchase land and the buildings that go on them. Since the cost is relatively low, educators are not faced with budget issues or running out of money for students or faculty.

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