Is Second Life pointless?

A post on Web 2.0 Blog Network argues that “frankly, there is no end, no purpose in Second Life”. Second Life (SL) is based around consumerism, pointless and mechanical activity, and offers no real interaction. Ive never entered SL so I dont know: but surely this argument can be applied to most uses of simulation on the web? What is the purpose of MMPORGs, for example? Or most non-serious video games?

The blog argues that…”The sad truth about your property in Second Life is that once you’ve finished consuming (decorating, gambling, playing), there’s nothing to do on it….I’ve seen avatars dance in Second Life. They move back and forth in a herky-jerk pattern defined not by them, but by a C++ script. It’s not dancing; it’s a digital St. Vitus dance…Just as we’ve lost sight of some of the more important values, like growing a very local, shared space, Second Life has never had those values in the first place. The colorful decor and splashing waterfalls mask an inherent sterility: aside from money changing hands, there’s just not that much going on.”

“If we’re superficial in real life, then Second Life has succeeded in mimicking our society. But I contend that there are certain ephemeral qualities like creativity with purpose, art, solidarity, and growth that Second Life hasn’t captured – and is unable to capture with its current design and focus.”

Its a powerful argument. CSVen, to whom I owe this reference, acdds a comment that “As it turns out, SL might be considered a mirror of FL, and if we don’t like what we see and are more people are aware of who and what they are because of it, then maybe that’s not a bad thing.”

I dont play SL – thats my personal comment on it. Rather than invest the time in building a virtual house, Id rather learn PHP and write programmes that have social uses and make me (small amounts!) of money. I do my best to live in a very local, shared space, though arguably I travel internationally more than most people, so perhaps Ihave the best of both worlds.

Note that some serious games, though they have a purpose, may not have a good purpose . Americas Army comes to mind – a game designed to recruit, to sell a product (army membership). You may or may not respect the purpose, but in the end it is advertising, using simulation to achieve some groups ends. (What would the US or UK authorities think of an Al-Qaeda simulation game?)

But then Id regard many FL activities as just as pointless. Watching any sport, for example, is difficult to justify, in a strictly Puritan sense. Its only done for fun or relaxation, and if you dont enjoy it, well, that doesnt help much.

At the same time I cant really accept the Baudrillard reductionist approach, that everything is simulation – which implies that some lean and muscular reality underneath it all is being kept from us by the ad-men and spin doctors. Our lives are pretty well what we make of them. You need to bring your own ideal, or purpose, with you, wherever you go or stay.

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