I joined Second Life last Saturday as ‘MollyBloom7’. It was an isolating and unsettling experience. I found ‘myself’/my avatar on a virtual beach, the sound of waves was unexpected, as was the presence of other avatars around me. I was reminded of ‘Lost’.
The interface was confusing at first and I didn’t know what to do or how to interact with the ‘Others’ on the shore. It was not a pleasant birth; I would have preferred to have been born into a closed white space where I could have learned how to interact before deciding to go out and join my Second Life.
Via Moodle, I followed the link to Holyrood Park/Vue South and felt immediately different. There was nobody there but that was fine. The space felt structured and familiar; the virtual (v.) objects helped: there was a v.noticeboard, a v.bench, a v.fountain: familiar items which suggested civilisation and which connoted safe public places. The sound of the fountain was also calming, much more so than the waves on a bleak beach. There was a cat there too – Nora. Given my own Joycean name choice, this felt reassuring and serendipitous. A gift had also been left for me – a welcome pack: I put on the t-shirt which was in it. This was an agreeable and ordered place to ‘be’.
Before the orientation session the following day, I decided to change my avatar; having read about harassment in SL, I decided that I wanted to adopt a gender-neutral name and a male avatar. Like others in the group, I was also underwhelmed by the limited, limiting and sexualised range of female avatars.
So Ariel McBloom was – almost – born. Unfortunately, he appeared only as red mist which wouldn’t form or bake. So I spent the session – somewhat appropriately – as a disembodied swirl of crimson cloud.
The orientation was such good fun. I was genuinely excited to see the others from the course arrive: a ragbag collection of monsters and weirdly adapted avatars: ‘misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!’*
We learned to fly, to take photos, to interact and to use the maps. Some others also went on to learn how to dance to. I found it an engaging, playful experience: I was fully present within the virtual arena. I was ‘there’.
This playfulness of SL is what has captivated me this week; I was surprised that some others didn’t respond in the same way:
But a number of us did:
It will be interesting to see if we actually learn through play: I suspect that the ice-cream van full of treats which has arrived in Holyrood Park will have something to do with that:
*Romeo and Juliet, I.i.169