Second Life

I must confess to knowing virtually nothing about Second Life, the online “virtual world.” I once toyed with the idea of joining a Star Wars virtual world — Star Wars Galaxies — but was put-off by the monthly subscription and the realisation that it would consume my life. So I blog instead.

I see regular news stories about Second Life, like this one where John Edwards’ SL campaign HQ was vandalised. At the risk of sounding like someone who talks about the “interwebs,” I wonder whether the perps will be arrested by SL police?

The whole thing is apparently nothing to sniff at. The SL homepage states that there are over 4 million residents. Over $1.5 million real money has been spent today alone. (You use real money to buy Linden Dollars with which you buy things in SL.)

According to this thread there’s a small Mormon presence in SL, with groups such as “SL Mormons” and “Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ.” So, that’s my first question: anyone out there a resident of SL?

But something more interesting, perhaps, is this: Let’s say in ten years or so, people occupy virtual worlds in vast numbers the way we surf the web today. The technology could potentially make these worlds very real. Is it possible to prophesy as to how the Mormon community would interact with such a world? Would there be a Second Life “BCC House,” or a Second Life First Ward? Would the church have a Second Life HQ? Will we have SL missionaries? (Don’t scoff. Notice how late the church came to the internet; I imagine the initial thought back in the early-90s was ‘this is no big thing’.)

At the very least, expect the dangers of “virtual porn” to cause much future consternation. (What if you “date” another SL avatar. Is this adultery if you’re married in the real world? I say yes, kind of.)

And now for the truly science fiction: would a virtual reality world allow people to experiment with things that don’t work in the real world? The answer is yes. Where else can a spotty teenager walk around looking like Brad Pitt and have sex with hot young women who are, in fact, lonely middle-aged housewives sitting at their computers in Wisconsin? (And in the future, you wouldn’t be sitting at a computer but be plugged-in to some VR device. “Sex” could conceivably be pretty real.)

Could Mormons, say, build a Second Life Zion, pool their resources, and live the law of consecration? If you had five virtual wives, would the church excommunicate you? Would the Second Life church excommunicate you?

Anyway, my SL avatar is going to be “Lord Ronan of Worcestershire.” In return for spiritual guidance you can donate 10% of your Linden dollars to my new church. Defy me and I will hack into your avatar and give you TK Smoothies. I’m told there’s not much point to SL if you’re a eunuch.


  1. Please ignore the last paragraph. I do in fact think this warrants serious discussion! And it’s really a SL 3.0 that captures my imagination.

  2. This really is nothing to sniff at. I imagine it will continue to expand until the alternative possibilities in SL have a violent repurcussion in the real world. I have an academic interest in SL — I actually find it tedious myself, but I’m writing an article about some of the moral questions raised by SL.

    It would be interesting to see an LDS ward in SL, but it would be doomed to fail. I can just imagine the hubbub of SL tithing based on a recent BCC thread. It would be the test of whether an LDS community could exist without a heirarchy based on revalation. I don’t think it could.

  3. Clayton says:

    This second life web world sounds like the real life manifestation of Proverbs 23:7:

    “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

    The internet permits us to express what we truly think and feel when in other circumstances social customs, politeness, and the desire to be approved by others often restrain those impulses.

    Being able to control these thoughts regardless of the circumstances is one of the significant challenges of mortality.

    Obviously, there is lots of entertainment to enjoy as well, like receiving spiritual guidance from “Lord Ronan.” May I be the first virtual disciple to join. My 10% electronic transfer is in the e-mail.

  4. Clayton,

    You are absolutely, scarily right about the moral failure that a SL-type experience could potentially bring out in us.

    Let us know what happens with the paper. Also, I think this is spot-on:

    It would be the test of whether an LDS community could exist without a heirarchy based on revalation. I don’t think it could.

    I’d be almost willing to try it, just as an experiment.

    The more I think about it, the more blown-away I am about the implications of a virtual reality future.

  5. Halo is my VR. Much better to blow away someone with rockets than pay them 10%.

  6. But can you make money playing Halo?

  7. The last time I was in the metaverse I was wielding a samurai sword and chasing a giant, radioactive Aleut on a motorcycle who was threatening to infect everyone there with a mind-altering computer virus based on esoteric Old Testament mystical languages.

    Wait, that wasn’t me.

  8. Too cool, BTD Greg. I have that same memory.

  9. Anyway, my SL avatar is going to be “Lord Ronan of Worcestershire.”

    Speaking of the interwebs…apparently in SL you have to choose your surname from a predetermined list. Quite why, I don’t know. “Gynoid” is on the list.

  10. I had that memory, too. But it got all screwy at the end and trailed weakly off

  11. Naw, HP. The rocket dog at the end of the memory is still pretty cool.

  12. But can you make money playing Halo?


  13. Do they still dress in mostly neon underwear and bike helmets? Tell me they still have those deadly frisbees, at least.

    Ronan, I think we are honestly quite a ways away from true Second Life-territory to catch on, and I suspect it will come to us through entertainment media like movies and TV, not the internet.

  14. quite a ways away

    Seeing as this post is generating all the excitement of a dead fish, I have to ask:

    What is a “ways”?

    (BTW: I think you’re wrong to draw a internet/tv/movies division. The SL/VR of tomorrow — SL 3.0 — will be something beyond this.)

  15. jjohnsen: Nice. So my son has a future, after all.

  16. Has anyone read Tad Williams’ Otherland series? That’s the kind of “net” that would make questions like this hugely important. Obviously, SL is a way away from this.

  17. Honestly I think a “ways” is a perfectly permissible local grammatical usage, dork.

    And I think you are hopelessly overoptimistic about SL 3.0. Maybe the VR of not tomorrow, nor the day after, but say, in 100-200 tomorrows will be immersive on that scale. But quite honestly: SL is real crap, and almost nobody cares very much about it.

  18. SL is real crap, and almost nobody cares very much about it.

    I don’t care about it, you don’t care about it, but some people evidently do. And not a few. We’ll re-visit this in 10 years, Mr. Usenet-is-the-limit-of-my-imagination Man.

    And Steve-o, I expect the Commonwealth contingent to not lower their language standards, even when amongst the proles.

  19. Did anyone see the movie The Net, with the girl from The Bus?

  20. Ronan, I consider myself pretty au courant when it comes to online phenomena, and I can tell you this: when a give online community becomes popular enough for political candidates to use, that community is DEAD. Youtube, Myspace, Friendster, Blogger, Flickr…. all are past their prime, having long ceded their initial creative energies to corporate interests. It’s not that I don’t care about this — I do, I find online communities vastly interesting. But Second Life? A passing fad, I guarantee.

  21. Second Life? A passing fad, I guarantee.

    If you mean SL qua SL, mayhap. But if you mean SL as proto virtual world I say no way.

  22. Why is it that I am suspicious of claims that we are spending more time working? Time at work might be more accurate.

  23. The Net is one of my favorite movies. Second only to Hackers.

  24. I have read the Otherland series. Put me in the camp of it’s still way to early to know how VR or immersive online experiences develop/impact society.

    I agree with Ronan’s #21. There’s way too much money flowing around SL for it to be a passing fad. Some better technology may come along and poach all its members, but the concept will remain the same after all, it would appear to be the leading experience for netsexoring.

    The question is whether or not it [meaning an avatar-driven world that allows for 3-D content creation] will become the primary Web experience. We’re already seeing generational and educational differences in social networking. Gen Xers tend towards blogs. Millenials like their MySpace and text messaging. Boomers like e-mail groups and online games. etc.

    The problem with all this from a pr perspective is that it’s difficult to know where to invest time and resources. The Church seems to have somewhat embraced blogging. Pro-LDS activists are active with blogs, message boards and wikis/faqs/other online resources. But is Second Life worth it? Clearly, someone from the Bloggernacle needs to go in and do some scouting for us.

    Someone != me

    I guess it’s up to you, Ronan.

  25. Eric Russell says:

    I joined and created an SL character after reading an article about it some time ago. I played around for a couple of days before getting bored. I still don’t quite get the appeal, but maybe I wasn’t playing it right.

    But I would agree that we really are a ways away from the types of issues imagined here, though they certainly will be interesting problems if we ever really get that far.

  26. I became interested in SL because I some of my students did research on marketing within it for a media studies project. They interviewed 20 people who spend more than 100 hours a month (!) in SL about why they liked it and their habits within SL and elsewhere on the web. They came to several conclusions, but I found the relationship of the respondants to their avatar interesting. Some clearly saw the avatar as themselves in ‘disguise’ or an alter ego; others saw the avatar as their creation, but ‘real;’ and a few refered to the avatar as a fictional character in one way or another. I’m looking at what the relationship between the avatar and the person says, if anything, about their own sense of ethical behaviour within the VR. I also want to see whether or not a perceived lack of consequences is the reason for decisions of virtual morality.

    I’ve just started the second set of questionaries. Of course, by the time I get anything done, the whole thing will be oldschool anyway.

  27. David Brosnahan says:

    As far as virtual sin vs. real-world sin is concerned the following scripture comes to mind.

    Alma 12: 14
    14 For our awords will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the bmountains to fall upon us to chide us from his presence.

  28. I visited an LDS visitors’ center in Second Life while checking out various religious communities in SL. It had a lovely fountain with benches and a painting of Jesus with a young man. On the other side of the lot was a sort of recreation of the Kirtland Temple with some “historical” objects like wagon wheels, etc. A lot of the images had been carefully put together to echo LDS Church signage and had a kind of Temple Square feel.

    The online magazine I edit for religious liberals featured a story about a Unitarian Universalist church in Second Life, which actually holds worship services twice a week that draw a sizable congregation. Personally, I find Second Life intriguing as a model of social networking and browsing, and some of the places are visually interesting, but I haven’t got hooked on the experience of being there. “First life” — to say nothing of blogging! — is more compelling by a long shot.

  29. Jessawhy says:

    I have an avatar on SL, my husband learned about it in his MBA class (they were talking about ways to sink MySpace and mentioned SL as a possibile alternative)
    It’s interesting, but there would have to be major changes (like restrictions on porn and gambling) before it could be a universal way of navigating cyberspace.
    It is interesting. I particularly like education island. You can all lounge around and watch a power point presentation in a cool island hut.
    Anyway, I’ve been impressed that most people walk around with clothes on (even though they buy really expensive lifelike bodies) and I think that says a lot about how people are respectful in some ways despite their anonymity.