Social Interaction in Second Life

Only about one in ten people who visit Second Life stay on to become regular inhabitants. This is not surprising because the advantages of being there are not immediately apparent.

It takes a little time, at first, getting used to moving your avatar around but as soon as this is accomplished (after an hour or so) you begin to identify with that avatar as being part of yourself.

You begin to explore the vast world which Second Life is becoming. You are amazed at the profundity of ideas, ingenuity, skill and imagination that is going on all around.

Finding that you can fly around to different areas, moving from place to place quickly is a novel experience that has no Real World counterpart. Soon you discover the facility of the Teleport that allows you to instantly go to anywhere that you have landmarked as a place of special interest you will want to return to.

At first it is awkward meeting other avatars. They greet you with "Hi" and you don't know what to say to them. Then one day you meet an avatar that says more than "Hi" and you start to have a real conversation. It is then that it dawns upon you that this is not just a fun place, but, a place where you can make real contact with other people and make friends with them much as you would in the real world.

To the newcomers to Second Life the subtleties of this communication are far from obvious. I first became aware of this when I met a female avatar who invited me to go to one of the dance areas in SL. I'd seen the dance areas and this had always appeared to be rather an inane activity - avatars just silently dancing together on a dance hall floor.

Our avatars took to the floor, using a dance ball that animated our characters to move together in a dance animation. I started to chat with her using the public chat channel. "That's not cool" she told me. "Use IM" (IM. or "Immediate Message" is a form of communication that is private between avatars who know each other). I then realised that the dancing I has viewed as an inane activity was actually a very convenient way for avatars to have a conversation. As I looked around, I saw groups of avatars sitting around tables. They appeared inactive but I guessed that they too, through the IM communication system, were actually having a group discussion.

The true power of IM was realised when I began to get IMs from avatars I had met who were in some distant location. Some asking questions, some asking, if I was not busy, would I like to chat. If I was inclined to chat, the other avatar would often offer to teleport me to their location, where we could chat much as we might in the real world. This technique is especially useful when avatars find something of particular interest in Second life that they think might interest a contact. They just IM them and TP them to the location to show them what they have found.

Avatars sometimes take "newbies" (people new to Second Life) on tours in this way, teleporting them around to show them particular places of interest. Strong bonds and real friendships often develop in this way, particularly when avatar owners find they have mutual interests.

As I became interested in building 3D structures in Second Life, I found many avatars who would give me tips and advice - often with demonstrations as to how to create particular intricate design effects. Similarly with scripting, animating and designing sculptured objects. Whatever area of activity you become involved with in Second Life, there will always be be some other avatar around who is only too willing to help, offer assistance and point you to discussion forums, tutorials and other useful sources of information. Picking up skills in Second Life is far easier than in the Real World.

The power of the community spirit, which is so strong in Second Life, became more evident when I bought some land. Nearby neighbors would visit and ask what I was building. As in Real Life, neighbors become especially friendly and much information is exchanged.

Another subtle use of the IM system I discovered when a female avatar took me to visit a dance club she had found. It was a particularly attractive place with decor that made it seem as real an experience as being in any of the best clubs in the world. Excellent music was being downcast and she asked me to dance while we chatted (dancing by the way is always provided at the dance places by clicking on an animation ball that animates both you and your partner in a synchronized dance routine - clubs vie with each other to get the best and most authentic animation dance balls for their establishments).

As we were communicating and dancing she suddenly told me she had been asked for a dance by another avatar. I looked around but couldn't see any other avatar around. Then she told me she had been sent an IM from one of the avatars standing somewhere off the dance floor. It soon became obvious that this was a principlal way people can make friends with strangers. They can go to a public function, note the name of an avatar who may or not be dancing and by looking up their profile can send them an IM from anywhere in the room (by right clicking on an avatar a pie menu comes up that allows you to look at thir profile). This is a great improvement on the Real World situation, where you would have to summon up the courage to physically go across to a person and then attempt to strike up a conversation or ask to dance.

It then occured to me that this was a highly effective way for people to find others who might have a common interest. What if venues were created to cater for the particular interests in niche subject areas? Click, and a little light wet on in my head . This was an ideal environment in which to make my Future Projects ideas become a reality. So much more efective than trying to put them into effect with a Web based system. The beauty of this approach is that it is not mutually exclusive. Second Life and the Web have innumerable ways in which they can interact with each other.

By forgetting my initial prejudices against artificial worlds and actually making the effort to take part, I'd come to realise that this was not simply a recreational game environment but had the potential to become a powerful media for communication which offers a vast new range of opportunities, unique techniques and strategies which could greatly enhance and compliment those in the real world.

Peter Small (SL: Eliver Rang) December 2007

This then, provided the basis and incentive to develop a project which would fully utilize the benefits of this environment to create a useful and valuable service for the real world.