Upon first setting foot in the world of Second Life a first time user, with no background with this type of environment, could find themselves entirely overwhelmed by the sheer open-endedness that the type of atmosphere allows. Dropping the user off into the middle of a sandbox-like world with little or no direction, one is expected to find and create their own meaning through the world’s many social spheres and by personalizing an avatar and the space which they occupy. Being new to this sort of thing myself, my first presumption about the world was that it is some sort of game. It has quickly become apparent to me, however, that it is not. Much like Curtis’ experience with MUDs, this “game” has no long-term or explicit in-world goals for users to accomplish and therefore cannon rightly be called one. It does however provide for a freeform world where players can create whatever they wish. This brought up some questions in my mind as to what sort of limitations were in place to prevent players from causing harm to one another. Julian Dibbell’s paper “A Rape in Cyberspace” proved a notable precedent for this type of behavior and it led me to wonder what sort of measures, if any, there were in Second Life to prevent such horrid acts. After talking to a few people who played the game I discovered that the primary ways that people are kept safe from this their ability to set their own rules in their own area, spamming has been restricted and griefing has be strongly.
The second trait about Second Life that I noticed was that the huge number of unique custom textures and models that users had placed into the world. The massive amount of bandwidth required to transmit all of the data has to be astronomical. Upon reading the paper about Lucasfilm’s Habitat, I can see that several of the standards set and lessons learned from that project have already been applied to Second Life. With the large number of custom objects in the world, Second Life’s designers have learned from its predecessors that bandwidth is a scare resource. Because of this, textures are kept to a somewhat manageable resolution and simple shapes are the most often used tools by the in game users. Object-oriented data also plays a big role in the usability of this game. The ease of processing power and data transfer in a object oriented language is a lesson that has already been taken into account with Second Life.
The third and, to me, most profound characteristic about Second Life that I noticed was the vastly varied subcultures that had taken root within with world. Much like the Uru refugees that had taken part in the great relocating and resettled in other Game worlds (including Second Life) the different cliques within Second Life can have completely separate cultures of one another, as different as any real life social group. Some are only bound through the shared constraints of the Second Life world itself.
After having experienced the world of Second Life and having read about its predecessors, it is my opinion that Linden Labs has already taken into account a vast number of the lessons learned by its antecedents. Having said that, despite the fact that a lot of the user generated content can be considered largely inappropriate; the fact that Second Life is such an unrestricted place speaks strongly about it. I can’t think of any changes, as a designer or a player, which could control content without infringing on its sandbox character.