Is Second Life polarizing? -

Is Second Life polarizing?

Well, I guess it is, at least in Germany and I wonder if it is the case aswell in other countries and if so, why that is.

I have noticed on many occasions that once you talk to somebody about Second Life, people who accidently stand around you start to voice their usually negative opinion about it somewhat louder to their discussion partners. Or there is some blog post about it in a somewhat popular blog and people suddenly come out of their corners writing things that they hope Second Life is soon dead, only freaks use it, don’t see any benefit and the usual me-toos.
I also remember one train ride where a friend of mine said that he hopes it’s soon over but refused to discuss this statement at the same time.
And I remember a discussion I had with my uncle during a family meeting when another member of my family started to diss Second Life in a quite loud manner. Nevertheless the discussion about with my uncle was quite good and eventually led over to a conversation about addiction (as my aunt is teacher and had some not so good experiences with game addicted teens).

So is this the case in other countries, too? Robin said that she thinks it’s only Germany and blames the child porn story but then again this happened also quite a lot before that. And what is the problem anyway, why is it like that. If people hope it’s gone soon it nearly sounds as if they are afraid of it. Is it because it’s something completely different than they are used to? Is it because it looks a bit strange if you haven’t experienced it yourself? Is it because of the hype and people are fed up with it? Will this change in the future? (I guess it will).

What are your experiences? Do you try to discuss this with those people?

That said I should also say that I also had positive experiences of course. If people actually tend to listen they are eventually quite interested afterwards and want to try it out themselves. I just fear that this might backfire if they do it on their own as they might not know where to go and what to do. Also something worth thinking more about how to change it for 2008.

Tags: , , ,

14 Kommentare » Schreibe einen Kommentar

  1. Nur ein paar Stichworte – ich wundere mich über dasselbe Phänomen:
    – es hängt auch mit dem Sprachproblem zusammen (für viele Deutsche ist Kommunikation in Englisch sehr befremdlich, wenn nicht gar verdächtig)
    – es liegt auch gleichzeitig an mangelnder Fantasie und entspannter Haltung gegenüber Technik. SMS-Tippen oder mit 180 km/h über die Autobahn fahren ist normal, ein Treffen mit Nutzern aus aller Welt in SL ist "unnatürlich".
    – Ich wundere mich auch darüber, dass angesichts der Benutzerzahlen kreative Angebote von Deutschen in SL rar sind.

  2. kA, ob es das Sprachproblem ist, wahrscheinlich waren viele dieser Leute gar nicht drin. Und ausserdem hat man dieses Problem im Web selbst auch.

    Ich tippe eher auf den anderen Punkt.

    Über den letzten Punkt wundere ich mich auch ;-)

  3. I'm surprised Robin would say such a thing, because it is just as polarized if not MORE polarized in the United States. You have only to read the very wide range of press to see the issue. Contrast and compare Valleywag, for example, which has loathed Second Life and the Lindens since their inception, on the West Coast, and the New York Times, which has given a consistently positive and engaged coverage of both SL and the Lindens since 2002 — the NYT was the first to put an article about SL into their Travel & Leisure section, as if it were a RL destination, and has taken the economics and social aspects of it seriously. The recent Q&A with Philip by the Freakanomics blog people is proof.

    I've long pondered what it is that separates people over Second Life, and come up with these explanations:

    o right-brain versus left-brain
    o West Coast versus East Coast
    o 30-something Web 1.0 geek versus 20-something Web 2.0 geek
    o Religious believer or utopian idealist versus non-believer
    o Male versus female (and gender doesn't always track the actual physical manifestation of the sexes)

    Well, and lots more. But none of this is a perfect explanation, of course.

    I've come to conclude that liking or disliking Second Life really has to do whether you find avatarizing yourself fascinating and fun or whether it makes you uncomfortable, even repulsed. It really comes down to whether you can, as Will Wright put it, "invest your consciousness in a toy", i.e. imagine your avatar is you.

    So it seems to be "one of those things" — like some people can curl their tongue — or not (it's genetic); some people can taste phenylthiocarbamide — or not (genetics again). Some people can easily be hypnotized, others not (genetics? environment? education?)

    I think in Germany, it's true that you have the additional polarizer of the child pornography issue.

    US is no less moral — even more religious, of course — and you would think this would play more of a role in the U.S., and curiously doesn't (perhaps because of the First Amendment environment). However, I find that geeks who are experts on Web 1.0 and even social media who loathe Second Life are as fanatically hateful of it as a whole as if they were denouncing sin like a fire and brimstone preacher.

    I don't think you can do anything to change these attitudes, as they are very visceral.

  4. The fact that it is being commented on in such a negative way is indicative that the idea of a Virtual World has struck a chord with people. Having lived in Germany for 18 years I've come to realize that Germans enjoy the art of the debate and though you might not 'win' such a debate, you can plant some of the right ideas in their heads, so yes, I would try to debate it.
    I would disagree (at my peril, no doubt) with Prokofy that it is a age thing. Hey, I'm not young and not even a gamer, but decided that VUs will be important. My own professor and mentor Prof. Brunnstein has been urging us in IFIP to take the idea seriously. On the other points, I can agree with most. It may be a right/left brain thing. I can see how very religious people could be turned off by any form of anthropomorphism, though you could argue that VUs are in fact very amiable to religions.
    I really doubt that it is a German or even US thing. It's just a new idea that will take a long time to be accepted. I know people younger than me who refuse to use email and don't have any form of Internet access out of choice. We sometimes forget how long new ideas take to become the fabric of a culture.
    – Sifu

  5. Do you guys actually find it hard to talk to them about their reasons for "hating" virtual worlds? Or do they also block discussions directly from the start as I experienced it? To me it seems more a not so rational thing to be against it.

    I agree that it might be about the "newness" of this idea to walk throught a 3D world. I am not so sure about the gender thing (although I mainly remember males being that active in being against it) and of course in Germany we don't have east or west coast ;-)

    I think and hope though that time will teach them that it can be useful for something.

    BTW, we also had a quite rational discussion on saturday in which I said that I'd prefer watching TV in Second Life instead of watching Joost and chat with my buddies there (if I'd have any on Joost that is) just because of the immersion. This was also hard to understand for people not being in SL. And I would actually really know how many people use that chat function in Joost.
    But that's maybe a topic for a different post.

  6. I have real life friends who are in SL, curious friends, and a couple who really loath it. I have no problems talking to my friends who don't like SL about what it is that bothers them. One friend says that it's just too weird for her, and that it basically equates with ignoring the real world. Another just think the interface is clunky and that people in SL are losers. But he's a pretty hardcore gamer, so things like FPS are pixel counts are important to him.

  7. In The Netherlands, it's pretty much the same. Until now, I have assumed it was part of the backlash after last years' hype. But, thinking about it, there's definitely a part of the population that is, more or less, abhorred by the idea of "investing your consciousness in an avatar" as it is stated above.

    On the other hand, there's positive developments too; the University of Utrecht has started a research company for 'serious gaming' and it's uses for training, simulation etcetera. Second Life is of course involved in this project.

  8. I doubt country, nationality, politics or language has much bearing on whether a person likes or loathes Second Life. I can see some argument for religion having an impact. I mean, suspending all sense of reason and intellectual honesty and choosing to believe in an omnipresent god who can hear your thoughts might align with being able to suspend belief and immerse yourself in an avatar, but it clearly doesn't hold in every case.

    In Australia at least, there is a good deal of press commentary on Second Life, most of it positive and Australia has historically had a high take-up rate of new technology. But still, when I speak to people about Second Life, it rapidly becomes clear whether they are interested and "get it" or don't. Those that don't get it appear almost to find the whole thing rather distasteful. It's the whole "get a real life" attitude we have all heard so often before, rather than any concerns about real or alleged pornography. I admit I have long since ceased proselytising Second Life to these people.

    The willingness to invest your consciousness in an avatar and to actually enjoy doing so, may not be a genetic trait, but it seems to be about as black and white. It's something deep seated and comes into play long before any geeky concerns about clunky interfaces or frame rates. We could have been having this discussion in the early 90's about any text based MUD. I expect the people who used and enjoyed those and the people who found them abhorrent, would have precisely the same views about Second Life today.

  9. Heh, I never thought about it like “investing your consciousness in an avatar". This sounds like the movies "Welt am Draht" by Fassbinder (, "13th floor" or "Matrix" in which you really upload your consciousness into a virtual world (and in Welt am Draht it was then even possible to download a different consciousness from within that world into that then apparently empty brain in the real world or what they thought was the real world).

    But is this the reason? I mean people play ego shooters and the like which might be similar. Of course you don't interact in a very broad way with your environment (mostly you make it dead) but I guess you still think of the one in the game being you (I think, not playing these so much). At least the immersion should be comparable if not stronger due to the action.

    I also wonder if people really think of putting your mind into that avatar. I experienced once that a client said to me "And you control that puppet there?". This was very strange to me as I think if my avatar as being me. But people not experienced to virtual worlds do not think like that. For them it's just some graphics you control.

    For Germany I can also say that it's definitely not a religious thing but I guess for other countries with strong religion this might add to that.

    So for me I will keep debating (or better educating) because I also experienced that some people will listen and have a different idea about what SL is. Usually they have their information from the hype press which was not very accurate (and tend to influence my view of what journalists actually do…)

  10. I think what's important for anyone in any country working with virtual worlds, is to focus on community. Try not to look at the larger picture of a transformative/paradigm-shifting technology.
    If people find a cultural/human face of application for the technology (and this one seems to be 3rd dimension which is "supposed" to be more natural), it would probably become easier for them to accept it as everyday life.

  11. That's of course also true. And one of the questions I hear a lot is also the reason why they should use e.g. SL and why e.g. not using Webex instead of SL for doing a virtual conference.

    But that's also something you need to experience first to maybe see the benefit.

  12. Christian, you have summed up the way most worlds work perfectly: "Of course you don’t interact in a very broad way with your environment (mostly you make it dead)". And like it or not, that behaviour tracks more with young males, not middle-aged females.

    The reasons I have listed for where the SL love/hate split lies isn't an attempt to explain the polarity with any *one* reason. Rather, it is to look at a series of reasons and note that there is a certain center of gravity.

    o People who believe in *something* of some sort, God, gods, or even some kind of sectarian utopian ideal like Extropianism find it easier to believe in Second Life. And frankly, people who devoutly imagine themselves not to be religious are the ones who get most excited about new belief systems not differing a great deal from mainstream religions at the end of the day

    o More women and men who wish to have female avatars seem to like SL then men

    o Some countries seem to fervently embrace SL for all kinds of cultural and historical reasons

    Perhaps it's easier to explain the profile of the hater than the lover: a 30-something or 40-something cynical male geek who is an expert on Web 1.0, and possibly even a widget-builder in Web 2.0 social media, but loathes this very platform that makes not him the expert, but the average user who creates their own content.

    That's all it's about: unseating the cynical middle-aged geek who used to rule the world, and his seething hatred of that development.

    MUDs and such weren't of interest to any large group of people in their day because they required not only a lot of fantasizing, which most people would rather have ready-made either with books and movies or with their own lives as the substrate, but they required geeky expertness to create.

    Nobody needs game gods as much in Second Life, if at all, and that upsets the whole game-god MMORPG paradigm with its levels, quests, and wizards and fanboyz.

    I also think that the hatred of SL as some kind of time-waster, indulgence, or even sin is very much like the hatred of sex. It's very similar in feel, this zealous, Puritanical rage about people extending themselves into an avatar freely.

  13. I've definitely seen a particular strain of SL backlash from a very tech-savvy crowd who have expertise in web development, and I chalk it up to resistance to new paradigms that values different skill sets. I'm sure some of them won't make the transition even when virtual worlds do live up to the hype, just like some didn't make the transition from silent films to talkies.

    And like Prok, I've also seen the "holy fury" against these sinful time wasters, but I've also met a more reasoned (and I think reasonable) worry that we'll turn into a world glued to a computer screen. Funny that many of them still spend many hours watching TV, though. Hypocrisy much?