It could be said I have a hard-on for obsolescence. Maybe it’s in gratitude for the wrecked and decrepit giving us the gift of seeing enduring efficiency by contrast. Maybe it’s a desperate grasping for something to be nostalgic about as things are birthed and flame out over and over through life’s journey. Maybe I’m just petty and like to laugh at failure. All these are good reasons to take a trip into Second Life.
Second Life is the past’s vision of the internet’s future, back the internet was always capitalized and sometimes likened to a highway made of Al Gore’s divine gleaming seed. Go thumb through the bits of Snow Crash that talk about the Metaverse and see if it sounds familiar. Yeah, that was 1992. Second Life is the fulfillment of the cyberpunk dream of ditching the flesh and having an avatar functional enough to really live a life with. Unfortunately, Second Life, being a virtual World, faithfully reproduces all the boredom, tackiness and ennui of the meatspace.
Reports of Second Life’s heat death piqued my interest. A massive virtual world abandoned with vast collections of corporate property and whimsical user creations lying about unused? Cyberspace depopulated by all but virtuafurries and corporate shillbots? I was too young to fly Aeroflot in to watch the groaning death spasms of Soviet planned economies in real life so getting to watch the decline and fall of a virtual economy seemed to be a hot ticket. The burning question was “what would a virtual market utopia look like without customers?”
The immediate answer was Pretty Vacant. And sorta tending towards goth. Basically like how I remembered the internet back in the AOL/Geocities days of wiggly flashing GIFs and Welcome pages, just 3-D and spacial. Little flashing paywalls mark forcefields on various islands, letting you know that merely standing on certain properties is a rental arrangement.
I will say, when trolling through the virtual construction of other people’s fantasies, it is nice to be able to fly.
Here’s me as a bald Egyptian teenager (the form I was born in) aiming headfirst at a tower of vaguely pornographic glamour faces. It reminds me a lot of walls in the all-porn version of Wolfenstein 3D my friend made back in middle school.
On the depopulated islands cheap thrills can be purchased in attendant-less shops, virtual trinkets or new skins, assless chaps and all that. I pretty quickly ditched everything I could easily ditch, ending up looking like the Silver Surfer with neon seams. In a land where the point for your time and money is to assemble prettiness on your avatar and land and castles to keep people off of, having nothing and wearing nothing seemed to be the only natural punk thing thing to do.
(Then again, using that word, how much do bondage pants cost in real life these days and how long does it take to sculpt a nice set of liberty spikes? Is being punk like being in Second Life in real life? Discuss.)
Evetually I just started seeing what was possible to do. So here I am sitting on an elk.
This struck me as something of a flaw in the Second Life ideal. There’s no quest, no mission, no point beyond those you make yourself. While this is freedom, it’s the freedom of a Sunday afternoon in which all your plans have been canceled and no one’s picking up the phone. There was a big word out there for someone with endless patience or Linden dollars, but showing up with no motivating purpose or idea of what to do beyond sitting on wildlife, it gets kind of boring. This is where I think the appeal dies for the casual user, making one’s First Life appear much more charming in comparison.
I’m ready to be proved wrong, though. On the Second life blog, they say business in booming with around 750,000 unique repeat users in a month. I personally never saw more than seven users on the same island in my travels. As for digital ruins, my quest was stymied by the inability of virtual places to decay, a somewhat uncanny idea.
I’m pretty sure I’ll dip back in to the Metaverse but only after I figure out why.