Wanted to post some random observations from Thursday’s class meeting in Second Life. That was my first time interacting in a serious way in SL, and a few things struck me.
I was intrigued by the different ways people presented themselves and their avatars. SL is a world where you can literally look however you want to look; you have control over minor details: the fullness of your lips, the shape of your head. You can give yourself the breasts or pecs you’ve always wanted; guys can even manipulate (sorry) the appearance of their … ahem … banana hammocks. And if you want to look like a walking Coke can or a buxom, bipedal Easter bunny, that’s no big problem, either.
Even though Second Life is only two years old and most of its inhabitants have been there nowhere near that long, firm social conventions have already taken hold regarding dress. In a world that could be populated by conventionally beautiful avatars, there seem to be relatively few – and those few are immediately recognizable as newbies. Veteran SL residents seem to go for more far-out trappings, with wings, tails and other accoutrements distinguishing them from lesser beings.
It’s interesting that in SL you can see all sorts of fantastical, chimerical beings wandering around, interacting, shopping, etc. They often wearing clothes that would drop jaws in 1stL, but don’t cause an eye to bat in SL. It seems like the only fashion crime you can commit in SL is to dress like you would in the real world.
As an experiment, I had my avatar disrobe during class. Surely if I could walk into class in a virtual leather S&M outfit with a squirrel’s tail and bat’s wings, this would seem tame. (The limited screen resolution limits just how graphic this striptease would get.) I stopped myself when I was down to my tighty whities, not knowing myself, in truth, what would be found underneath. However, the more-outrageous-the-better ethic in SL does not appear to extend to virtual nudity. I apologize to anyone I might have offended.
By the way, lots of folks have had the archetypal dream about showing up to class in their underwear; now I can say I’ve actually done it.
As far as the interactive aspect of the class experience, it strikes me as basically a failure. SL is pretty good for one-on-one conversations but group talk is messy. One problem is that despite the rich visuals, we’re still using IM. If someone asks a question, it takes some time to respond; during that interval other questions can arise, rendering your answer obsolete or irrelevant. It’s hard to follow the messages while you’re typing. People end up not talking to each other as much as at each other. I noticed that Dr. Halavais’ attempts to direct the conversation wound up dissolving into chaos.
You really need a wider vocabulary of visual and audial cues to hold a group conversation successfully — on SL it’s hard to tell when it’s appropriate to talk and when you need to shut up. I think that would still be a problem even if we were all speaking through microphones — people use lots of subtle signals to convey their intentions: “I plan to talk”; “You need to shut up”; “I have something more to say.”