The Tech Development Team at FIT

Why Second Life is So Compelling

I have been giving my Second Life talk to small, informal groups of faculty at FIT now for a few months. More and more I am grateful for the opportunity I had to devote some of my professional time to Second Life, building a community there for FIT, and helping introduce faculty to it.

When I first gave the “talk” I referred to a moment in-world where I saw someone I cared about who I hadn’t seen in a long time, and how surprised I was at how moved I was by their virtual presence there with me. I saw this old colleague, and felt a big smile come across my face, in a way no email or chat could ever do. I felt a presence that really moved me.

Since then, I have met so many FIT faculty, and faculty from other institutions, in Second Life. These days, Hildy Gardner (aka Sig Klar) can be found building like a bee, anxious to build a runway, and adding a veranda of sorts to a Rem Koolhaas building we purchased a while ago. Hildy wants to show student videos in Second Life. Brian Emery (sometimes with Alison Wermager) pops in with his senior photography students as they plan their senior show in both real life and Second Life. Kurt Wendt invites me to cool concerts. Janet Brav (aka Lilac Laville) send me notecards abouta educational spaces in Second Life and places to shop, Steven Zucker sends me invitations to art openings, and new friends, like Michael Wright (aka Mrags Writer) IM me to say hello. Michael and his students created an amazing project for Otis College of Art and Design, and one afternoon Mrags generously took the time to show me around. Just the other day, I popped on late one night and ran into Ron Amato (aka Professor Amiot) I took him over to the NMC Aho Museum — Ron has some cool ideas about building a museum in SL. Today Josie Vargas stopped by the FIT site, though I missed her. Yesterday Steven Zucker and I spent some time setting up a smARThistory space on the FIT parcel. And this afternoon, I introduced Naomi Gross (aka Basha Selentiak) — of the FMM department — to Hildy Gardner (of the Fashion Design department). Would they have met anywhere else? Maybe. But there is something special about meeting in Second Life. People are excited, they’re trying new things, they’re particularly open to new ideas and collaborations.

So, we have a lovely little — but growing — community. And it’s wonderful.

Lately when I give my “talk” — I describe an upsetting Second Life experience where I confronted a griefer who had been building on FIT land. I found myself really frightened as I approached the house he had built. I could see him sitting on a couch inside the house, not answering my “hello” or my offer of friendship. I could feel myself growing more and more afraid of a potentially hostile, male presence, the way I would feel in the real world, and I actually called my husband for help. As a male avatar of course, he was no more “powerful” than me. But I felt really afraid anyway. My husband appeared in SL to help, and together we confronted the griefer. I deleted a doorway and marched in. When he continued to ignore me,  I deleted the couch he was sitting on. Soon after, he got up and left, and we spent the next ten minutes getting rid of everything he had built. But the point of the story is how intense my emotional reaction was. Nothing was truly in danger — and yet I felt truly endangered. It was a surprisingly powerful experience.

All of this must have something to do with the fact that we are represented in SL by avatars who are connected to our identity (I highly recommend I, Avatar). And Second Life forces us to think about our identity, almost like we are adolescents once again. Who am I? How do I want to present myself to the world? Which part of my personality can I expose here? What do I hide? What can I expose here that I can’t in real life?

For example, I’ve begun collecting mourning dresses, and wearing the most amazing black lace dresses (thanks to Nonna Hedges) — one is a Victorian era dress, and the other is 18th century in style. I could never wear these in real life, but boy do I love wearing them in Second Life. My morbid side emerged…

How could this NOT be a compelling learning environment?

How could this NOT be a place you would want to explore?

I just came across this by Kevin Kelly:

A major theme of this present century will be the pursuit of our collective identity. We are on a search for who we are. What does it mean to be a human? Can there be more than one kind of human? In fact, what exactly is a human?

On average science unveils a new invention every day, and almost without fail these days, that daily invention disrupts the notion of ourselves. Every day we are getting news that challenges our identity. Stem cell therapy, genetic sequencing, artificial intelligence, operational robots, new animal clones, trans-species hybrids, brain implants, memory enhancing drugs, limb prosthetics, social networks — each of these tools blurs the boundaries between us as individuals and among us as a species. Who are we and who do we want to be?

We get to play with answers to these questions online. In Second Life, or in chat rooms, we can chose who we want to be, our gender, our genetics, even our species. Technologies gives us the means to switch genders, inhabit new forms, modify our own bodies.

At the same moment, we have the rise of hyper-realities. These are simulations so complex, convincing, and coherent that they have their own reality force. A fake so good, it is sold and bought as a fabulous fake. A Disneyland so enticing, that it spawns its own “fakes.” There must be something there to fake. Or Photoshopped images so obviously unreal that they have their own reality. Synthetic materials more desirable than natural ones. Originals inferior to their reproductions. Who cares what is real and what is memorex?

These hyper-realities launch questions such as whether a assault in virtual space counts as an actual violent assault or mere virtual assault. How much of our real lives is mental? How much of reality is a consensual hallucination? Where do our minds end and outside begin? What if it — everything outside of us — is all mind?

I came across a work of art (by AM Radio) in Second Life showing a — now watch how weird this is — a virtual representation of the bathroom — the bathtub and accessories — in David’s great painting The Death of Marat. This work of art looks like a black box in a way (but one you can’t enter), showing an illusion of a 3d space (the bathroom where Marat, a leader of the French Revolution’s most violent period was murdered). Now remember that the 3d space of the painting is already an illusion of a 3d space on the flat surface of the canvas. So, like a painting, it is like a window — it is an illusion of 3d, but we can’t enter it (at least I couldn’t, but apparently it is, or was enter-able), but there it lies, behind some kind of barrier, so compelling and real. Marat the person, the hero, is there, but only in a reproduction of the painting that hangs on the back wall.

So, a 2d painted illusion of a 3d world is represented as a 3d space on my flat computer screen and a 3d version of me moving in a 3d space on my flat computer screen looks at it … ugh!… you get the idea!


March 24, 2008 - Posted by | second life


  1. Second Life News for March 24, 2008

    From: melanie mcbride online Getting educational in Second Life Quote from the site – Back in 2003, when Second Life arrived on the internets, I was not in a position to take part. My computer wasn’t fast enough and I didn’t have the time available…

    Trackback by The Grid Live | March 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] I have written elsewhere, and as many have noted before me, it is remarkably easy to feel very real and powerful emotions in […]

    Pingback by smARThistory » Blog Archive » smARThistory looks at Art in Second Life: Alizarin Goldflake | August 4, 2008 | Reply

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