One of the mysteries of SL is why a few are captivated by it, when everyone must suffer problems like crashes and lag. Why do we not all quit? What hook can get someone committed to this online world? Well, I think I know the answer. Here she is:
Ahhh yes, Jamie Marlin. As you can see, she would score maximum points on any ‘hubba-hubba meter’. But that is not what I am talking about. Yeah, I know of all the opinions to the effect that SL is where people go for kinky good times, but what I am really talking about is something you cannot see in this picture.
I consider myself very fortunate, because I have met a couple of people in SL who mean the world to me. One of them is my partner, Serendipity Seraph and the other is my best friend and sister, Jamie.
So, let’s go waaaaay back before my first rezday. My primary found out about SL by reading a feature that a popular games magazine ran about it. As per usual the feature included screenshots, including one image of three cartoony girls strolling down a cartoony street. Now, the article informed the reader that, although SL looked like a videogame it was actually something else. It tried to explain what that ‘something’ was. And it was this explanation that changed that screenshot of the cartoony girls strolling down the cartoony street. It provoked question after question: Who were these girls? Where did they meet? Where did they come from and where were they going? Who designed the handbag that the girl on the left is carrying and did she get it in one of the shops lining the street? What else is being sold in those shops and who owns them?
It was a screenshot that launched a thousand questions. You could, I suppose, make up as many questions regarding any screenshot of a modern videogame. But when it came to that SL screenshot, these questions seemed somehow more…legitimate. Because, these girls, the street, the buildings, everything..It was not just put there by some computer artist paid to fill an MMOG with content. It grew, it evolved like a real place. Everything in that screenshot from the shoes on the girls’ feet to the clothes they wore to the buildings on either side, it all had a story to tell that connected to someone who was also a resident of this place.
Jamie and I have this tradition. Every year around Christmas we always go to the Blue Note Club, a venue in SL that plays Jazz, swing..Frank Sinatra-type music. It was here, 5 years ago, that Jamie and I decided to be sisters, because we both realised we loved each other too much to call it just a ‘friendship’. ‘Sisters’ seemed to sum up best of all the nature of the love we felt for each other, at the time. Of all the places in SL, Blue Note represents what makes SL so special in the eyes of some people.
To me, this place is an ‘evocative object’. What is that? Well, it is Sherry Turkle’s term for any object that connects to you in a deeply personal way. Your favourite bedtime story as a kid, your first car, your wedding ring, the ticket stub from that concert you attended years ago. The object might not be worth much in terms of money. It might be worth nothing at all. But its sentimental value is immense, perhaps infinite. It has a story to tell that is an intrinsic part of your own life narrative.
What I find so great about SL is that it is full of evocative objects. The necklace that the shop owner made. Made because she wanted to, not just because it was her job to make it. The girl who bought the necklace for an aniversary present to give to her sister. And the sister who never takes the necklace off because it is a symbol of the most precious thing you could find in an online world.
There have been many attempts to define SL, but I think Cory Ondrejka’s definition is the best one. He described Second Life as ‘communication through shared experiences’. I think this is the thing that keeps some people returning to SL. The experiences they shared with other residents were rich and rewarding in all the ways that matter. If you are fortunate enough to have formed friendships in Second Life that mean the world to you, and especially if that friendship is predominantly developed in that online space, then you can put up with the lag and all the headaches the system can inflict upon you. And all the other online worlds can develop technical advances that surpass SL in every way you care to mention, and it counts for very little. Because it does not have the shared experiences, the social networks with the friendships that are treasured and the evocative objects with so many stories to tell.
OK, there is little reason why such things cannot be true of other online worlds (maybe to a lesser extent if they restrict content creation) but the point is, you have to start all over again, largely from scratch. SL happened to get there first for me. It is the place where many shared experiences have woven stories around countless evocative objects that are integrated into my personal narrative. So long as it lets me be with people I love, I will want to stick with SL:)