Tom Boellstorff, author of Coming of Age in Second Life, discusses virtual worlds and brings to light how indispensably informative they are in teaching us how the physical social world works. Second Life is an online virtual world (launched in June 2003) where users can interact with each other using avatars, which are virtual representations of oneself. Avatars are highly customizable. Anything can be changed – from one’s skin tone or hairstyle down to their eye color or weight. Miniscule details can be altered for the more particular users, allowing one to change even the most personal virtual articles of clothing, such as undergarments.
Second Life immerses the user in, quite literally, an entire virtual second life. Parallel to our physical world, this virtual world allows users to hold jobs, create families, own pets, and participate in recreational activities. Relationships are formed, hearts are broken, and soap opera-esque dramas are frequent. Many similar games exist – open “sandbox” environments where the users are free to roam and explore without a set path. What sets Second Life apart from many other kindred virtual worlds is the seemingly endless options.
Users are free to create, direct, and change their destinies as they wish. There is not set goal or endpoint; This world has no set monetary amount to save towards. There’s no plateau of employment or CEO position to covet in hopes of finishing the game. That’s right – there’s no end credits in this game, regardless of what you accomplish. Inhabitants just live life day-to-day, much like we do.
There is an ongoing dispute as to whether or not Second Life actually classifies as a video game or falls under the simulation category. Tom Boellstorff has other concerns. His book is about how these virtual worlds change our perception of the self and how we interact with others in different, yet eerily similar social platforms. To learn more about Second Life and other virtual worlds, watch Marc Strassman’s interview with Tom Boellstorff below:
If the above embedded video does not work or you prefer to watch this interview on YouTube’s website, click this link: http://youtu.be/1XkZMXtDEWM
Coming of Age in Second Life:
An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human Review
“If you thought a virtual world like Second Life was a smorgasbord of experimental gender swaps, nerd types engaging in kinky sex or entrepreneurs cashing in on real world money making possibilities, think again. . . .Could Boellstorff be right that we’re all virtual humans anyway, viewing the world as we do through the prism of culture?”–New Scientist
“Boellstorff applies the methods and theories of his field to a virtual world accessible only through a computer screen….[He] spent two years participating in Second Life and reports back as the trained observer that he is. We read about a fascinating, and to many of us mystifying, world. How do people make actual money in this virtual society? (They do.) How do they make friends with other avatars? The reader unfamiliar with such sites learns a lot–not least, all sorts of cool jargon…Worth the hurdles its scholarly bent imposes.”–Michelle Press, Scientific American
“Boellstorff’s book is full of fascinating vignettes recounting the blossomings of friendships and romances in the virtual world, and musing fruitfully on questions of creative identity and novel problems of etiquette.”–Steven Poole, Guardian
“Where many of his colleagues insist on making a mystery of things that are straightforward (so to neglect mysteries real and pressing), Boellstorff is a likeable, generous, accessible voice. . . . This book, once it gets down to it, does truly offer a detailed and deeply interesting investigation of Second Life.”–Grant McCracken, Times Higher Education