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Andrew D. Todd

The Future of Second Life


Draft-in-progress of  March 18, 2009. NB. The bibliography is still more or less flawed, and the third section needs further development. 

Second Life is a Massively Multiplayer Online  Role Playing  Game (MMORPG), a kind of website crossed with a video game. It has special viewer software, and people use it, in effect to "play dolls" together over the internet.  There is a certain amount of debate going on in the "new media studies" community about what it all means. The basic incontrovertible fact is that there are at least some thousands of people, of a type not previously seen in gaming, engaged in playing Second Life, and at least some hundreds engaged in building additional software components for greater realism (costumes, make-up, scenery, "properties,' dance choreography scripts, the whole baggage of theatrical production).  Some of this is amateur, and some of it is in the form of a multitude of small businesses (The numbers are subject to debate, connected with commercial stock-pumping, and I have quoted deliberately conservative figures).

Second Life is the kind of program which represents the economic future of the computer industry--  if the computer industry has an economic future. That is, if one only wants to do word processing and internet surfing, one can always get a used $100 computer. To use up serious horsepower, costing a couple of thousand dollars, one has to get  involved with elaborate graphics. That  practically means programs of a type where the graphics are an essential part, rather than a pasted-on distraction. For example,  If one looks at flight simulator software, there are two kinds.  There is the kind of flight simulator  which is sold as a game (eg.  Microsoft  Flight Simulator), and there is the kind of flight simulator which is sold through pilot supply catalogs. The latter kind is bundled with about a thousand dollars worth of "mock-up" instrument panel (multiple throttle levers, flaps, landing gear,  etc.), and is viewed as a serious training aid.  In such a system, the area of the screen devoted to animation of the view out the windshield is only about a quarter of what it is in Microsoft Flight  Simulator.  Much more space is devoted to the  instruments than the view, because, of course, the whole point of a flight simulator is to teach flying by instrument reference. One does not need  a superfast computer simply to put dials on the screen.

The technological barriers to the adoption of virtual reality are  decreasing over time. The pattern is very similar to what happened  the last time around, with the adoption of the personal computer in the 1980's. In the same way that a better pointing device, the mouse, solved the navigation difficulties of early personal computers, three-dimensional pointing  devices will solve the user-interface difficulties of virtual reality. Just as better software development tools eased the burden of providing enough  software to make personal  computers useful, better CAD/CAM  systems will enable  the  production of the costumes,stage  properties, etc., which will enable  virtual reality users to act out exactly what they want to act out. The problem is not  in  the technology. The  problem is in the implications of the idea of virtual reality.  A considerable share of the early participants in virtual reality, especially artists and small businessmen, look to virtual reality as an escape from the fact that the rest of society does not take them at their own valuation. However, this escape is ultimately an escape to nowhere. In the end, virtual reality is really only useful to people who want to create psychological distance between  their play and their own lives, because they are playing with things which are  in the last analysis, better not done.

Antecedents and Technical Problems

The present technical difficulties with virtual reality programs, animation software, and games are not  really happening for the first time. They are actually a rerun of what happened in the 1980's. Back in the 1980's most of the people who were theoretically candidates to use personal computers and word processors were not in fact ready to  adopt them. The available word processors were not very good. The programming tools to make things like word processors were also flawed. These problems were eventually overcome in a messy "human wave" attack.

The development of programs like Second Life looks uniquely difficult to those whose computing experience does not go back very far, because  it is more difficult than the last major event, the spread of the internet. However, this is not a fair comparison.  Internet software, such as web browsers, is  not strikingly original. It essentially consists of pre-existing components, connected together to reduce the workload of retrieving, mailing, and  publishing documents over the  internet. For practical purposes, if one knew how to use a word  processor, one could take to the web like a duck to water. There was very little need for prolonged negotiation of design principles, or training of users. It had already been established what a word processor was supposed to look like, and the only thing required was a little incremental modification. The adoption of the internet was not a major change, only a consolidation of previous changes.

The situation regarding Second Life and other virtual reality programs is more nearly comparable to the general state of personal computing, circa 1980. It is hard to  remember now, but in 1980, not everyone could touch-type, even in  literary occupations. Of course, typing with a typewriter is  much harder than typing with a word processor. When word processors became available, there was a certain "learning curve." William Zinsser provides an  interesting contemporary account of what it was like to switch over from a typewriter to a word processor, complete with the  inevitable accidents along the way.Zin A lot of people bought computers which became expensive paperweights. Many of the buyers did not have a clear understanding of what they wanted to do with a computer, and therefore had no real incentive to learn to use the machine. Even in academic departments, a lot of people were not actively writing anything. It took a year or  so for a 5000-word article to make its way into print, and probably a more or less comparable time to set up a public lecture above the department colloquium level, let us say a talk  at a learned society meeting.  Academic culture was much more  "oral" than it is now, centered around discussions in department common rooms, local restaurants, etc. Most academics, once they got tenure, reverted to the more comfortable oral mode of communication. In a post-tenure review, a megabyte or so of unpublished fragments was bankable, at a level second only to a book, or five published articles (the conventional equivalent of a book).  What the committees knew was that once words are on paper, it is not all that difficult to edit and rewrite different fragments together  into larger chunks, until  the end result is a book. It was common to hear someone say "so-and-so hasn't published anything, but he really knows such-and-such a subject." Outside the groves of  academia,  in the hardscrabble world of Grub Street, where free-lance writers were paid so much per published word, the science-fiction writer L. Sprague De Camp not only pointed out that it was absolutely essential for a writer to learn to type, but also  warned writers against gathering to talk shop, after the fashion of academics, because doing so would reduce their compulsion to put words on paper.DeCamp This is a somewhat remote and alien way of thinking in a society where people commonly conduct their social life  on blogs. But we must remember that  the  context of the first PC's and word processors was a comparatively oral literary culture.

Early word processors were more or less deeply flawed, and they were not very easy to use. It was necessary to learn a dozen or  so special keys, just to move the cursor around  the screen.  Wordstar 3 was the best of the  lot, with its geometric   "control-key-diamond." Other word processors,  eg. Perfect Writer or Easy Writer, were considerably worse. At that date, word processors, personal computer operating systems, and kindred programs  were normally written in assembly language. RAM memory was still very expensive, and  small differences in code size mattered a lot. The software developer needed the precise control to choose just the right machine  language instruction which took up two bytes instead of three bytes, if he did not happen to need the additional features of the three-byte instruction. Working at this level of intimacy, it was not  practical to  spin out special user features with any speed. The Wordstar 3 user, like the owner of the  proverbial Model T Ford, could have any formatting style he liked-- as long as it was single-spaced block paragraphs. There were special different word processors for groups of people who had to conform to different stylistic conventions. It was only much later that  word processors would come to support the notion of a style sheet. Word processors had drivers for the various different printers and graphics displays. Here again, Wordstar was one of the best. As of version 5, circa 1988,  WordStar had a semi-open driver system, in which the user could enter byte strings in a table ("this is the code to go into subscript mode, this is the code to come out of subscript mode," etc.), and create a driver for nearly any printer for which he could obtain a technical reference manual. The different word processors did not  use compatible document file formats, so it  was difficult  to exchange documents back and forth. In  producing a composite document, written by  multiple  authors, there was  inevitably a point where the production method would revert back to photographic techniques, and "paste-up." This simply reflected the limitations of the early  word processors.

Something similar was happening in programming languages. Here, of course, little computers were repeating computer history. They were starting out at the level of 1950's mainframes, working  up to 1960's mainframes, and so on.  Personal computer programming finally caught up with mainframe programming sometime in the 1990's.  At the earlier  stages of programming, with languages like Fortran II, or even assembly language, the emphasis was on writing programs that made things happen, not programs which asserted propositions. The same thing happened with the earlier forms of BASIC on the personal computer. Programming was full of  tricks, or "hacks," bits of code which had useful effects, but which did not  mean what they  said. Programmers had their own private libraries of subroutines which implemented concepts found in standard handbooks of one kind or another-- for example, subroutines to compute sines and cosines.  Eventually, better programming  languages came along, with more  advanced facilities. With the right programing language, it was possible to radically simplify programs,  by dropping out all the tricks, and stating propositions in more or less  plain words. If more advanced programming languages were not quite proper supersets of the earlier programming languages they superseded, they were nonetheless close enough that large sections of the old programs could  be more or less mechanically translated, either by hand or  by translator program. Thus the cost of switching to a new and better language was a good deal less than that of starting from scratch. The process of conversion was mostly about editing out one's own imperfect solutions to standard problems, and replacing them with references to the newly standard methods for solving those standard problems. Thus, over the  long term, order was emerging out of  chaos.

The whole development  of personal computers in the 1980's was "beta-testing" on a grand scale. It was expensive. It was messy. But it was still better than manual copy-typing, and it went forward. Surveys indicated that in 1985 only about ten percent of households had computers at all, and, if truth be told, many  of those were de facto paperweights.Kom  It was only after fifteen years of continuous development  that personal computers began to escape from the community of enthusiasts and people with unusually urgent  needs.  Most of the general population never did learn to memorize command codes. Their first computers had mice and windowing  operating systems with  pulldown menus,  dialog boxes, slider bars, scalable fonts, and whatnot. Once one recognizes that virtual  reality programs are going through the same messy  process of development, the seeming setbacks do not mean very much. It does not matter whether the software is securing general adoption at this stage-- what  matters is merely that there be enough users to engage the software developers, and steer them towards a more  perfect  software. This condition seems to be amply met for Second Life.

A major element  of the difficulties faced by  Second Life, and every  other  animation or  virtual reality program,   is simply the problem of navigating in three dimensions instead of  two. A wide variety of programs besides Second Life are notoriously difficult to use on this account, eg.  Blender, Maya, the X-windows version of POV-RAY, etc.  Such programs are, for the time being, restricted to  people with either a lot of free time, or a more than usually urgent need to make the program work. Maya is proprietary and impossibly expensive, so it is not on the front line of this issue. However, the potential of the various open-source and consumer-priced software is considerably  blunted by the ease-of-use issue. The user interface difficulties arise fundamentally from using two-dimensional pointing devices, such as mice, to refer to the three or six axes of three-dimensional space. The result is that the user of one of these programs has to memorize a lot of mode-change codes, and sets of keys which function as additional arrow keys, without being labeled as such. In short, using a virtual reality  program today  is very much like using a word processor circa 1980. One must not forget that the mouse itself came along years after the idea of a cursor did. It took time for the hardware to catch up with the software.  The situation is the same now, only in more dimensions.

What is wanted, of course, is a three-dimensional (six-axis) pointing  device. The new Nintendo Wii-Mote inertial controller is designed  to do this kind of thing. Maybe a dataglove would  have been better, but that is as it  may be. The  important thing is that Nintendo has made the necessary manufacturing commitment, and the logic of mass production will take over. The Wii-Mote uses the standard Bluetooth wireless interconnect, and could be plugged into a typical desktop computers  (Windows and Linux PC's, Macintoshes). However, the  buttons on a Wii-Mote are naturally  tailored to the Nintendo game console system. Presumably modified inertial controllers will become available for the desktop computers, the way  the  mouse spread in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Presumably, these would incorporate a "thumb-mouse," such as is already  built into certain hand held devices (eg. laser pointers designed for giving  presentations with the aid of a laptop computer and a video  projector). #3-D-inferface

A device of this kind solves the relatively easy problem of hand-pointing. However, that still leaves the user in a state of virtual immobility. The most natural and instinctive way to explore a virtual environment is  to walk through  it. This has been done, of course, with datavisors, datagloves, and datasuits (data leotards). Such devices  have proved to be fragile, and expensive, inasmuch as  they have to be  individually  fitted. Also, there has to be a good deal of free space for the wearer to  move around in, and someone to  keep him from stumbling and falling  flat on  his face.

Fortunately, there is an alternative.  The  computer mouse  operates in displacement.  Think about what happens when one uses a mouse. One pushes the mouse an inch away from one  in a horizontal direction, and the mouse pointer  on the screen rises vertically for ten inches. Motion is  being translated both in scale and dimension, and one's brain is correcting for it without conscious thought. The mistake made by the designers of the  first pointing devices, such as light pens, was in  thinking that the  motion of  the  pointing device had to be "commensurate" with  motion  on  screen. However, the human brain, the primate brain, is organized around binocular vision, and it is broadly good at  solving all kinds of rate and distance problems.

Let us start with two pedals, and connect them up in some kind of spring-loaded framework, so that each pedal can travel several inches in any direction, or rotate ten degrees along any axis. The springing should be such that the same muscular force which would ordinarily move the user's foot for twenty inches will  only move it for two inches against the springs. In a more advanced model, the springs can be supplemented by solenoids, allowing  actual force feedback.  We build  the pedal  framework into the base of an adjustable-height stool, the seat of which is mounted on a flexible joint, again with springing. The user can walk in place, and shift his weight from one foot to the  other, or from his feet to his seat.  The  various moving parts are fitted with sensors, and physical motions (against the springs) are scaled up about tenfold to convert to virtual space motions. Shuffling one's feet would constitute virtual walking around, but more energetic moves would take one into the realm of virtual acrobatics or virtual  ballet.  Except for the sensors, which get cheaper at a Moore's law rate, this device is really no more  complicated than an exercise bicycle, and need not cost any more.  It just uses more springs, but fewer cranks and gears. A conventional exercise machine is essentially designed to  be boring, designed to reduce all human motion  into a speedometer/odometer reading. The designers of the  machine did  not expect  that anyone would enjoy cranking away at an exercise bicycle, so they put the odometer  there  "to keep the user  honest." The machine  described here would be the reverse of all that. It would extract as  much information from human motion as possible, and use  that to drive a computer program.

The additional information can be used to eliminate the  need for awkward features of the software the pointing device supports. The various dungeons and dragons-type video games rely on what they call  "skill,"  and  what one might more accurately call "pseudo-skill." That is, an avatar has an assigned property which causes it to win combats with other avatars, and this property can be built up by  the completion of routine tasks, or it can be purchased, overtly or covertly.#MMORPG  Hence there is something called "gold farming," the wholesale employment of people in third-world countries to complete such routine tasks on behalf of American players. Similarly, there is a concern that a player  might introduce a computer program, a "bot," on his own computer, and have it play for  him. However, there are games which are designed to be "bot-proof," such as Omar Syed's "Arimaa."#Arimaa They achieve this bot-proofness by avoiding  "decision tree pruning." For example, when a chess piece is taken, its further moves  need not be considered. In  chess,  there is the recognized phenomena of the  endgame, in which neither player has many pieces left. An Arimaa  piece is merely pushed aside, or dragged along, and remains in the  game. Suppose that we combine bot-proof game design with an improved "tactile  interface." The result is an online martial art in  which skill actually exists, and which is highly resistant to cribbing.  Of course, there would be some  kind of arrangement to limit  the rate of moves, equivalent to taking turns in a board game. That is, the avatar would only be allowed to move so fast, no matter how fast control signals were coming in from the user. However, this  would be a fairly simple problem. Likewise, the various tournament games and sports (chess, tennis, etc.) have worked up "seeding systems" which ensure that an advanced player cannot gain any great advantage by trouncing  beginners.  Such systems can easily be copied  over into a video game  once skill is no  longer being faked.

Thus, solving the user interface problem causes a seemingly  unrelated high-level problem in game design to go away. In theory, one could employ an offshore ghost writer to blog for one, but in practice, this eventuality does not seem to arise, at least on any scale. There  is none of the  "my Indian  ghostwriter is more articulate than your Indian  ghostwriter" stuff. Blog posters enjoy what they are doing, and feel no desire to "buy a  substitute." If a blog poster could put a name to the shortcomings in his writing, or  even recognize their existence,  fixing  them would be comparatively simple. Cheating usually occurs when people are required to do something which is at odds with what they want to do.

Of the various Art  Design problems which arise in Second Life, costume is one of the most formidable. Clothing, like the human body, is flexible, and it is therefore correspondingly difficult to  model. Difficult does not  mean impossible, of course. It does, however, mean that the game/video animator, in his quest for realism, will have to become the leading  developer of all kinds of software relating to clothing, to the point of solving nearly all the computer-related problems of all the other  people who take a professional interest  in clothing.  That is simply the unavoidable price of  "pushing the  envelope."

A point which one notes  in the course of going through a sizable collection of images derived from Second Life is that the costumes are rather unimaginative. Nearly all the "Avatars" are  wearing "standard-issue teenage mall-rat uniforms," only, rated R to X, instead of PG. There is very little on view which one could not buy at Wal-Mart. By way of comparison, one can look at a few encyclopedias and textbooks of world and historical costume.  Much more varied costumes turn up at a Society For  Creative Anachronism event than are found in the main areas of Second Life.#costume  One gathers that many of the people using Second Life do not, at least at first, have exemplary computer skills, especially in programming. In particular, they are likely to be weak  on "algorithms and data structures," abstract data types, etc.,that is, the techniques of writing extremely versatile code.#jensen  The design tools readily available for Second Life costumes are fairly rudimentary, and so is the underlying object model. This means that Second Life clothing designers work much harder than they need to work, and they do not have very much to show for their work. This produces a state of mind in which some of them, especially the aspiring  businessmen,  do not feel empowered, and they do not build in versatility which they could easily build in-- for example, setting the color of an object to be freely changeable by the user. The designer wants to sell a red object, and a blue object, because that way, he has more than one thing to sell, without having to go out and actually design something. Design beyond narrow limits is tacitly discouraged because such designs would have to be downloaded in the form of large numbers of "primitives," or animation commands, and such designs would therefore slow the system down to an  unacceptable degree. Judging by quoted prices, it would be seriously difficult to spend more than  $10 (USD, or ~3000 Lindens) per day on things like costumes-- at least the kind of costumes which are advertised for sale. Second Life users seem to have much less effective control over their clothing than actual teenagers at the mall.

I should  like to give an example of how computer-aided design is supposed  to work, from an area where   computer-aided design is most mature, that of the boundary  between computer programming and electrical engineering. There are certain low-level programing languages which span this boundary. One can  write a  program in such a language, and then, according to circumstances, once can either compile it into  machine language and distribute it as an executable program; or one can compile the program into etching  masks for an integrated circuit. Such a programming language customarily comes with a library of high-level components, so that the designer does not have to waste his time repeating the conventional orthodoxy. It is normal for a programming system to have a library of hundreds of different prefabricated components (functions, classes, or objects, etc.), described in a manual approximately the size of a dictionary or an encyclopedia. The developer only has to work very hard when he chooses to break the rules. It is sometimes even possible to "split the difference" between the two kinds of output,  that is, to compile part of the program into machine language, and part of the program into integrated circuit masks.  One  eventually plugs the manufactured integrated circuit representing one part of the program into a computer running the other part of the program.  This sort of "duality" is the  gold standard of computer-aided design.

For the most part, the  ancestral CAD-CAM community, as exemplified by electrical and mechanical engineers, is traditionally interested in areas where Second Life does not go. Second Life players do not show any identifiable tendency to represent their avatars as mechanics taking apart  engines, or anything of that nature. Google  image searches against an extraordinary number of terms, such as the names of common tools, parts, etc., yield little or no results. So Second Life does  not have any engagement with the core areas of CAD/CAM. If anything, the striking thing about Second Life images is how few  automobiles they contain, and that the developers and users of Second Life have not felt the need to model the activity of driving.  The Second Life space is a simulacrum of the corridors of a shopping mall. If people want to fly, the ultimate form of driving, they go get Microsoft Flight Simulator-- they don't try to synthesize it into their Second Life experience. The kind of goods which Second Life is interested in are  things like clothing and furniture, whose real-world equivalents are not very highly engineered.

In principle,  tools similar to those used in electrical and mechanical engineering can be made for other kinds of design. One gathers that  Second Life's available costume design software is still a good ways from reaching this standard of perfection. However, this is not a fundamental issue--  it is a solvable problem. The  viewer (or "client") program has, in effect, to capture an extensive knowledge of the ways in which clothing  is designed, assembled, and fitted. As a byproduct, the system would be able to run much faster. Far and away the scarcest resource in an online game is the internet connection, and to a lesser degree, the central server, and the higher the level of description used, the more efficient use the  system makes of the internet. In terms of efficient descriptions, and proper libraries, a thousand bytes is really a lot of data. In terms of the game of "twenty questions," it is eight-thousand successive questions, narrowing down to an answer. Much of the relevant software actually exists, but it is "stereotyped," sold at anything up to $20, 000 (USD) a copy to businesses which mass-produce garments. This is of course a recurrent  situation in software, and one of the major achievements of the  open-source movement has  been to break down the  conventional self-fulfilling definitions of use applied to things like high-end graphics software (eg. Photoshop). One of the striking characteristics of open-source software, vis-a-vis closed source software, is that it tends to have better authoring, programming, and design tools, built into the  main program, and available for free. Open source does not make unnecessary distinctions between author and audience. It is doubtful whether  there would have been anything like as many commercial website designers if everyone had been using Mozilla instead of Internet Explorer from the start. Mozilla came fitted with a reasonably serviceable HTML editor, for free, rather than making the editor an extra-cost option, as Microsoft did. By the same analogy, once Second Life adjusts to open-source norms, the average user will  be able to make just about any garment he has a picture of. Likewise, the improved Second Life authoring systems will become the first prototyping  tool for the designers of real-life clothing. The condition for this is of course that there has to be a common "development tree." The designer of real-world  objects cannot be asked  to do work which does not make its way into the  real product, meaning that he cannot be expected to mess around with animation primitives which have no real-world counterparts.

In the case of architecture and interior design, there is an outside community  of people already using CAD/CAM on a large scale. However, the  architects use CAD/CAM  to design things, such as buildings, which are practically rigid, and much heavier than anything else, and which do  not interact with the avatar's body in any very complicated way. The result is that the animation program does not need to  know very much of the underlying  "why" behind three-dimensional information about  buildings.  The animation program has to be able to ingest standard and generally prevailing file formats, but that is about as far as the requirement goes. The more advanced goals I have described for clothing design would of course be desirable for architecture as well, but they are not essential. Architectural design is not comparable to the challenge of clothing.

Let us take as a starting  point a  pleat. The pleat is a fairly basic element in clothing construction. There are variations,  such as the "slashing" found in 16th-17th century clothing, and there is a complementary process of padding. People trying to design virtual clothing inevitably encounter the pleat, and similar structural devices, and try to implement them in a hit-or-miss fashion.   The correct thing to do is to implement these devices as software "objects." First one has to provide a specification, taking account of all the possible variations. If this specification is good, then the job of the upstream designer immediately becomes a lot easier.  If the upstream designer finds himself trying to circumvent, or "hack,"  the specification, that is a sign that something important was left out, and the  specification needs to be fixed. Designers can create a collective "pattern-book" of, let us say, sleeve sections (eg. shoulder-joint, cuff), which can be  built up  into sleeves, which can be which can be selected for use in different garments. Now, we can have multiple downstream implementations  of this specification.  One might be a  graphics program which goes into  the game system viewer. This program would take  the high-level representation, and generate a much more detailed low-level model than the designer would have the patience to do. Another implementation of the specification, however, might be part of a program which transmits instructions directly  to the sewing machine. As I shall argue  later, one can have a whole suite of automatic tools designed to run under computer control, minimizing the requirement for human labor.

Once Second Life has resolved its CAD/CAM problems,   the available library of freely available objects,  bundled with the standard distribution, can be expected to grow to  thousands of items, in nested hierarchical layers, to the point that even knowing what was available in the library would be a significant barrier to use.  The casual user  would not have found the time to read the equivalent of a dozen descriptive books, and would simply not  know what  was out there to  be chosen from.

Just as  the  personal computer  eventually outgrew its teething  troubles, and became ready for a mass  audience, virtual reality can be expected to outgrow its own teething troubles. Given suitable input devices, and methods of programming which do not require artistic ideas to be backed up with massive financing, it will  be possible to discover  what virtual reality is good for. This is  the great  unknown. In 1980, no one really foresaw many of the ways in which the  internet could  be  used. 

Communities and Social Problems.

The real difficulties of Second Life, and of Virtual Reality in general, have to do with what people want to use Virtual Reality for. A  lot of the people who are interested in Second Life are  interested essentially because Second Life is new, because there are so  many essential things to be created. Others are  using Second Life as an ultimately futile form of  denial of the computer-driven  changes working through the real-world  economy.  In the last analysis, however, what virtual reality is good for is to do things which would  not be desirable if they were real.

As Henry Jenkins has noted,jenkins the most interesting feature of Second Life is that it supports a community of artists engaged in  building things. However, this contains its own  limitation. The artists are not committed to Second Life per se, that is, to  the game in which their creations are used. They are merely committed to Second Life by  way of expediency.  For the time being, Second Life offers them something that no one else is offering them: design tools of a type which they could not otherwise afford; the opportunity "to build from the ground up;" and a venue in which to display their work to a sympathetic audience. However, these are not conditions which can be expected to last forever. One probable byproduct of the production of better  design tools for Second Life is the incidental production of design tools which have effect in the real world. That is, the highly structured information produced by authoring software can be fed into  automatic machines which produce things.  Second Life will thus eventually be  in the position of competing  with the real world for artists.  At the same time, artistic work in Second Life will be reaching  limits posed by intellectual credibility.

Architecture is probably one of the fields of applied art most resistant to the use of computers, simply due to the extent to which actual building does not involve automatic machines. One can build software models of a building, but in the end, the building will be built by skilled craftsmen operating in the medieval tradition, who may very well redesign the building in  small respects as they build it. It is true that  architecture  has found a good deal  of scope within Second Life. One of the commentators on Clay Shirkey's "Second Life: What Are the  Real Numbers" was one Hrolf Engebretsen, an amateur architect ("not a real life building architect" as he put it) who wanted to use Second Life to try out  design ideas.#Engebretsen  This is of course an established tradition in Real Life architecture. Architects have commonly built models out  of balsa wood, cardboard, and cellophane. Second Life is just a  better  tool within this tradition. However, this proceeding has recognized limits. An  architect is ultimately supposed to be a "master builder," and as an architect reaches a certain level of ability, he becomes a de-facto civil engineer as well.  An architect who merely draws pictures is considered morally suspect in many quarters. See, for example, Tom Wolfe, _From Bauhaus to Our  House_, 1981. Here is a quotation from the noted architect Gordon Bunshaft, at a prize ceremony in 1980:

"I suppose this is something you don't see every day, an architect handing out money to artists.  But, then, a lot of things have changed. We used  to give prizes to architects for doing buildings. Now we give prizes to architects for drawing pictures." (Wolfe,  p. 117, pbk. ed.)

Many architecture schools encourage students to go out and actually build something,  anything, even  if it is only a small tool shed in a  public park. They send students out into the nearest slum to do things like  rehabilitating abandoned buildings as  low-income housing.#Metropolis  Then too, it is recognized that architecture  is experienced kinesthetically, in the sense of how  it feels to walk up a flight of stairs. There is a point at which the aspiring architect might decide that he would rather use CAD/CAM to make ephemeral structures, such as tents, rather than making purely imaginary structures. Even in a developed country, flesh-and-blood people actually do live in tents for short periods of time. Then there are requirements for temporary entertainment spaces, marquees, etc.

In the case of clothing design, effects of the real world are likely to be even more direct. When not in use, clothing, unlike  buildings, is easily stored in  a closet.  Cloth per se is very inexpensive, and certain types of clothlike paper are even more so. The latter would be suitable for experimentation and "design-play." This has of course been done in miniature (Barbie Fashion Designer), but that was limited by the capabilities of a standard computer printer, which could not take a sheet of material larger than 8-1/2X11 inches. Let us suppose that we have a computer controlled machine for making clothing which embodies the best practices in machine tool design. Cloth is mounted in large frames, similar in principle to an embroidery frame, but much larger, about four feet across, so that the machine can handle a large piece of cloth in  much the same way that a computer printer handles paper. The machine  has  a robotic mechanism which can pick up  various tools from a rack,  use them on the workpiece, and put them back again. The machine is  fitted with all the tools which can be used on a piece of cloth which is stretched on a frame. There is an  inkjet printer, of course, modified to apply dye. There is a sewing machine, for embroidery and for joining together, different layers of  cloth (mounted on multiple frames, which can be shifted during sewing in such a way as to  impart curvature to the combined sandwich). There is a mechanism to sew on cloth  tapes and elastic bands (with controlled tension) from a reel. There are  power scissors. There are  small specialized steam irons to put creases in cloth. There are  devices to attach and retrieve large numbers of small clamps, to hold cloth in place even after it is cut.  And there is a mechanism to  apply suitable machine-readable markings to the cloth, for use by further  automatic machines.  Finally, there  is an additional  automatic sewing machine to finish the assembly process. This all sounds very elaborate, of course, but, manufactured as a consumer  good, it  would probably cost less than a thousand dollars (US). Large sections of the  garment industry, and the associated retail sector, might have serious difficulties competing with such a machine. Likewise, using inexpensive  disposable materials, it would be  trivial to make  actual prototypes.  Faced with the  power of reality, Second Life would have some extremely difficult competition.

The provision of a large  library of artistic design components for Second Life would  involve a comparatively small amount of artistic labor, on the order of tens of man-years. Under a regime in which artists are talking effectively to programmers, they would  not do the same boring thing  over and over again, but instead, they would tell a programmer what their  problem was, and the  programmer  would  make  them a tool to eliminate that boring job. What would probably  happen would be that the artists would be able to supply design components as fast as the programmers could implement the language in which those design components were expressed. There would  be a "Wikipedia effect," similar to what happened with the famous open-source encyclopedia.

At a higher level, artistic design components are themselves a language, a way of expressing social, political,  economic, or religious  ideas. This produces a certain type of client, rather like a medieval churchman or a twentieth century Soviet official, who in essence wants the artist to produce a well defined object to order.  The Second Life artists are still at the stage of responding to clients who want recognizable real-world objects. These are perhaps not objects which the clients actually own, or have encountered personally in the sense of actually touching them, but least objects which actually exist somewhere, and of which the clients have seen pictures or films. This is heady stuff for the artist while it lasts, but there are limits. The artist tends over time to run out of objects to portray. There is a point in building a dictionary where one runs out of words, and this is also true for a visual dictionary.  If the artist were to simply invent something  out of his head,  it would not mean anything to the client,  not being an element of a shared common language. This process will happen somewhat faster in Second Life than it did in the real world, because animated design components, being software, are potentially re-usable. A more serious problem is that surges of pictorialism, often driven by a surge in technology of some kind, tend to generate waves of iconoclasm in reaction. For example, one of the more exciting  periods in art was immediately before the Protestant Reformation, when men like El Greco, Michaelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci, using the new perspective drawing, were working for the  Catholic church, producing ever more realistic paintings, which a naive viewer might confuse with reality. Eventually, the  sculptor Bernini, in the middle of the seventeenth century,  probably carried this technique to its highest level of perfection. But by  then, Martin Luther, and  John Calvin had come along.  Printing could have involved the  mass production of color images, in an extension of medieval illustration traditions along  lines analogous to those pursued by the  Japanese printmakers such as Hiroshige. One of the more upscale consumer goods  of the late middle ages was the "book of hours," a personal prayerbook  with large numbers of hand-painted illustrations.  From a technical  standpoint, there  was no very good reason why books of hours should not have been mass-produced. However, what happened was altogether different.  The actual form which printing   took was the mass production  of the  printed vernacular Bible, so that every man might be his own theologian, so that every man  might thumb through the bible, and cite chapter and verse in arguments about all  kinds of secular  issues.  The Calvinists methodically began removing all the illustrations from church walls, on the grounds that such images would delude the ignorant, and distract them from reading the Bible. Similar things are happening with computers and the internet. There are people like Edward Tufte, the anti-PowerPoint man, who commonly uses terms like "Stalinism" to describe the excesses of PowerPoint. At the same time, there is an explosion of blogs with every  man being his own political philosopher. 

When the dust settles, an animated model of every elemental design object which means anything will be readily available for free, built into the  animation system library.  Artists, applied or pure, will occupy approximately the same rather marginal position in Second Life that pure artists occupy  in the real world. The artists shade off into the business class of Second Life. The businessmen are  not actually there to make money-- they are engaged in a kind of ideological performance which makes them successors to the medieval churchman as art patron. For the businessmen, Second Life is a kind  of final retreat, an economic Custer's Last Stand.

Second Life started out as a competitive improvement on The Sims Online, an Electronic Arts product which was an improvement on the freestanding The Sims. The Sims Online provided avatars, and spaces for  them to  move around in, and a "chat" system, enabling the players to talk back and forth, but it did  not provide the full range of  design  tools which would eventually become the signature of Second Life. A large  number  of Second  Life players continued playing in  "Sims mode," not choosing to learn to use CAD/CAM software. In the short term, Second Life modified some of  the features of The Sims,  focusing around the things which worked, and cutting out those which did not. Linden Labs recognized that the play-style of  The Sims was not  inherently competitive, and chose to eliminate routine work for the sake of routine work, a concept which The Sims had presumably carried over from combat-oriented games. In Second Life, players could convert external money--  U.S. dollars-- into game  money-- Linden dollars.  Linden Labs managed the exchange rate so that the price of everything for which money changed  hands was about one hundredth of the price of  the real-world equivalent. Formally, players had to pay for objects, but practically, the prices were not such as to impinge on  their  decisionmaking. Game money was more a matter of keeping score than of telling people they couldn't do what they wanted to do. Second Life dropped an number of instrumental activities, activities which could be done better by a machine, and those which could not be made credibly realistic. For example, since Linden  Labs could not transmit the taste of food over the  internet, they simply dispensed with  any  attempt to  model eating.

Business, or commerce, can be considered as a religion. That is, there are large classes of people who take the act of engaging in business, and being successful at it, preferably in a visible way, as evidence of moral virtue. The pursuit of this virtue in the real world is already being frustrated by the  growth of the internet. An increasing  range of small stores are untenable in the face of internet shopping. The "sweet spot" of small retailing  was the sale of small, portable, highly differentiated  durable goods, of which the  archetype was the book. A merchant could easily  move into available business premises without having to rebuild them. Government regulations were minimal because he was not cooking or selling  food. He did  not have to compete for the most prime locations-- all he had to do was to get  within a reasonable distance. Having gotten  his premises, the merchant could focus on an esoteric market niche, with upscale, high-toned customers willing to visit on the off-chance of there being  something  interesting, and to turn the place into a clubhouse. The kinds of goods involved did not require special transportation arrangements-- the customer could visit at lunch hour, and carry away his purchase in a briefcase or backpack.  At this level, shopkeeping was not just a means of making money-- it was an honorable profession.#Lucie  It brought the  shopkeeper into  contact with intellectuals and  professionals of all kinds. This extended even as far as clothing. The professions were, as I have noted, more more oral than they are now, and professionals were likely to  have something of an actor's sense  of costume. Significantly, Ralph Johns, the Greensboro, N.C. haberdasher whose store became a clubhouse for the future participants in the  Civil Rights sit-ins, had been out to Hollywood as a bit-part actor.Johns Thus, one has a whole nexus of shopkeeping as theatrical performance, as an honorable profession, and as a higher form of citizenship. However, the  characteristics which put a class of goods in the sweet spot were very much those which made them suitable to be sold over the internet. The  limiting  factor of mail order had traditionally been the delay, of a month or so, circa 1980. This changed with computers and the internet. The result of the internet has been the rise of a class of frustrated merchants.  It is significant that one notable characteristic of Second Life is its sizable class of merchants, who are  likely to also own virtual land. Sometimes, the  roles merge, in the  person of the  real estate  developer. These  merchants perform a wide range of organizational tasks not rising to the  level of artwork.

As noted, the general level of prices in Second Life is about a hundredth of the Real World equivalent. This includes the capital cost of going into business in a visible way, that is, with a shopfront, display window, etc., rather than going into a business operated out of an automobile. For example, scavenging things  to resell on the internet is a fairly profitable business with negligible capital requirements, but it tends to involve a fair amount of  undignified scrambling to find goods whose owner simply wants them carted away (*). Going into business in a physical shopfront might cost tens of thousands of U.S. Dollars or more. The cost of the equivalent in Second Life is orders of magnitude smaller. Second Life  merchants are encouraged not to repatriate  more of their money into  real world currencies than they strictly have to. The money is a source of visible prestige when turned into parcels  of virtual real estate. In the outside world, it would just  be a small sum of money, comparable to the wages of a burger-flipper. The premier capitalist within Second Life, "Anshe Chung," who in real life is "a Chinese-born language teacher" in Germany, has a fortune of about seventy-five million Lindens, or  a paper value of $250,000 US. Given the well-documented liquidity problems of Second Life money, $100,000 might be a more realistic valuation. Ms. Chung, who is, after all, an exceptional case, has put in years of at least full-time work, and employs a "back office" in China to do her paperwork at rates commensurate with Second Life prices.hof, chung  Taking some rough estimates of prevailing prices, browsing time, etc., a virtual store would have to be visibly crowded for the proprietor to make a real-world minimum wage. If a proprietor were  to cash out his  Linden money  into hard currency,  that  would amount to an admission  that he had been working for free. On the contrary, the merchants are encouraged in the belief that their Second Life holdings, combined with Second Life's  rate of growth, will eventually  make them hard-currency millionaires. This seems unrealistic.  Even assuming that Second Life will continue to grow, it is likely that more prospective merchants will come along. Linden Labs can manage the exchange rate between the  Linden Dollar and the  U.S. Dollar in only one direction. It can devalue the  Linden Dollar, by selling them for U.S.  Dollars at a given  rate. Linden Labs can do this, because it has the right to print Linden Dollars. It does not, however, have the right  to print  U.S. Dollars. Linden Labs' ability to support its own currency is therefore very limited.  If the various national taxation authorities begin taxing Second Life profits, this would force many Second Lifers to cash out.  Linden Labs would be forced to either  institute its own taxation to mop up Linden Dollars, and reduce effective tax liability (a Second Life tax would presumably be viewed by the national  taxation authorities as a kind of brokerage fee), or to see the exchange rate plummet to some very low figure. The danger  is that this might  destroy the merchants' illusion that they are making  money.

(*) This would be something like what Joseph Conrad called "ability  in the abstract" in  Lord Jim.

There has been a persistent pattern of commercial infatuation with the computer, dating at least back to 1980. Computers are doubtless marvelous things, but a computer owner whose preoccupations are with making  money often insists  that computers should  be marvelous in that direction.#Weisbecker  However, since other, similarly situated people  also have  computers, this does not work  out in  practice. As early as the 1980's there was a persistent sense  of grievance around the "shareware" movement, because the shareware programmers felt they were being underpaid. This eventually resulted in the shareware programmers buying into copy protection schemes which merely hastened their decline.  In a continuation of this pattern, a large section of the Second Life business class seems to be antagonistic to the idea of Open Source. Open Source, and  business in the Second Life sense of the  word are competing moral values. The ideal of Open Source says that one should give away as much as one can reconcile with the necessity of a livelihood. Someone who is fourteen years old, and is given everything which it is good for him to have (ie., no motorcycles), ought to be able  to  devote himself to producing free goods without  mental reservation. Idealized business, for want of better  name, starts from the idea that  "distressed goods," goods which are defective in some respect, get sold at discount. Thus, the attitude of moral virtue is to take a hard line on selling price. Large aggressive firms, such as Wal-Mart and Microsoft  have never subscribed to this ideology. They are supremely ruthless about price-cutting when it  is to their advantage. However, we are referring to the mentality of the ideological small businessman, the practitioner of business as a religious system. The strictly astute small businessman, of course, would find something which the computer  could not do, and which Wal-Mart could therefore not manage.  However, the ideological  small businessman's approach to  computers over the last twenty or thirty years has been essentially backwards-looking, a form  of denial of  the ways in which the world is changing. Second Life business is ultimately an exercise in using a computer to deny that computers exist.

To a degree, real-world big business has expanded into Second Life, creating  employment for Second Lifers. By the standards  of business in  the real world, the cost of setting up in Second Life is trivial, of course. The Second Life operation does not have to make any money at all, but can be funded as  advertising. However, the caveat is that the business has to consider  Second Life as favorable  publicity  rather than unfavorable publicity. The  automakers are probably rather ambivalent on the subject. One can imagine the jokes: "Oh, make-believe cars! The only kind of cars those bozos can make!" Toyota has bought into Second Life, but  Toyota has the advantage of  a sterling reputation for engineering,  and its advertising is mostly focused in fighting the  "goddamn foreigners stealing our jobs" stigma. It does Toyota no harm to make public jokes at its own expense. This does not necessarily apply to lesser firms. In another  field, when American Apparel, a morally upscale real-world clothing manufacturer, set up shop  in Second Life, it refrained from behaving the way a chain store normally behaves, ie. cutting prices to destroy small shopkeepers. Instead, American  Apparel set its prices at just about the small shopkeeper status quo, presumably after private discussions with Linden Labs, and it  then created linkages to a website to buy the actual garments in Real Life as well. However, American Apparel's business  is not so  much in making clothes as it is in the business of  projecting moral  superiority by avoiding environmental damage,  use  of cheap labor, etc. The firms which move into Second Life  are self-selecting, for particular reasons having to do with their kinds of  market. The firms which are not early adopters of Second Life are not  simply being slow-- many of them have excellent  reasons for never doing  so.

Second Life has recently gone through a crisis with the "Copybot," a program installed by certain users which allows them to make copies of any costumes, properties, scenery, etc which they see  in the  game, and subsequently use them without paying. Faced with demands from frightened merchants that it  Do Something, Linden Labs took the occasion to announce  that it was taking Second Life into Open  Source. To a degree,  this was a recognition that the "Copybot" was not going to go away, but that  was simply a matter of timing. The more fundamental issue seems to  have been that the Linden Labs  staff  were getting snowed under with the work  of programming Second Life, and had come to the conclusion that they could no longer "go it alone." They had a long backlist of things they felt they ought to do, but had not  been able to do. The "copybot" episode was simply a convenient occasion to announce their considered decision. The result was further  hysteria from some merchants, but acceptance from others, especially the more artistic ones.#copybot

No doubt, Linden Labs can propitiate enough of the Second Life business class to  keep going for the time being, probably  by  judicious distribution of land grants, and by steering people into businesses which are not immediately affected by Copybot. However, many of the organizing functions of the  business class are ultimately susceptible to better software. Again, one must  reason by analogy,  but a good hierarchical blog server (eg. Slashdot) is much more tolerant of "flaming"  than the old "flat model" servers were. Two people who want to simply shout at each other  ad infinitum  can go and build their own branch in the course of  "exchanging compliments," and everyone  else  can simply ignore them.  Someone who has followed the disputants  for  a few rounds into their private branch tacitly agrees not to be shocked by what else  they might say. Second Life can evolve similar functions over time. In fantasy literature,  there is a body of "virtual spaces," more or less derived from Lewis Carrol's concept of "through the  looking glass." That is, one goes though a gate of some kind, and one finds oneself in a world which is infinitely  far away from the world one  has just left.  In the more  advanced forms of the fantasy genre,  people can, more or less at will, call  these  alternative spaces into  existence and walk off  into them.#jane_langton  More or less inevitably,  the Second Life program  is going to have to be refitted so that it can  manage and  manipulate multiple virtual worlds at the same level that a web browser manages and manipulates multiple  websites. That is, the user should  be  able to create a  private virtual world on his own computer, with its own distinctive ground  rules, visit it, build things in it, etc. He should then be able to  upload this world to an  internet server having no connection with Linden Labs, and  either open it for visits from the public, or make it available for download, so that people could run their own copies of the virtual world on their own machines. The program should have the ability to manage multiple accounts on different servers, and transfer animation objects between accounts, in  much the same way that an e-mail program can manage different mail accounts. There should be a provision for in-virtual-world linking, so that by mutual agreement between the operators of two virtual worlds, a user  could go through a gate from one to the other without having to create a new  avatar, etc.  These improvements would collectively allow the Second Life program to be used by people who could not agree on any nontechnical ground rules to speak of. Gigantic websites, such as Geocities, have faltered essentially because they could  not  satisfy the need for local control, by people on the spot. The same principle ultimately applies to  Second Life, and to things like YouTube.

  As has been noted, the long-term tendency of Second Life is to promote  internet shopping, and to promote high-tech do-it-yourself-ing. Internet shopping is expanding anyway, at a rapid pace. Every sizable  chainstore has an internet subsidiary, and sells as much merchandise as feasible over the internet. High-tech-do-it-yourself-ing is not generating that much activity at present, but it is on the verge of takeoff.  The effect of these is in any case to diminish the shopkeeper, to put  many shops out of business, and to reduce the visibility and prestige of shopkeepers. When people cease to believe that keeping shop is an intrinsically worthwhile activity, they will no longer be willing to pay to do it in Second Life. Summing up, when the dust of Second Life has settled, most of the artists and the  businessmen will have left. The businessmen were providing  the basis of enthusiasm, and creating the conditions under which  the  artists would feel wanted.

The sense of community will vanish as well. When personal computers were new, communities formed around the fact of their newness. The Homebrew Computer Club of the 1970's is famous, of course, but there were also local user groups  in the  1980's. To take one example known to me, Cincinnati, Ohio supported a personal computer group, the Acorn Greater Cincinnati Users Group,  which had a membership somewhere in  the low  hundreds, and met once a month in the lunchroom of a local vocational college. The group  was part of a  lecture circuit for the major technology companies; it distributed proprietary software in beta testing, sent out  by the  vendors; it copied and distributed  public domain/shareware software, the economic precursor of Open  Source; the eminent local computer consultants held court, and answered questions; and the group even managed to organize a small trade show,  on a one-time basis. It was pure bad  luck that there was a classic Midwestern thunderstorm on  the day of the  show, which drove down attendance, with the result that the show booked a loss of a couple of thousand dollars. The group enrolled, at least  vicariously, or by way of representation, practically everyone in the  area who was interested in personal computers.  Within several years, circa 1990, on-line communication had begun to spring up. This was not yet the  Internet. While the internet existed in the late 1980's, its access requirements were too  restrictive. However, there  were "bulletin board systems," the most  famous of which was the WELL. However, again, there were a lot of local BBS systems. These too promoted a sense of community, based on the common problems of connecting online. At this stage, most computer documentation was still  in paper form, and university  campus computer centers commonly maintained Document Rooms,  specialized little libraries catering to the special requirements of computer books (eg. rapid obsolescence, too scarce to lend out, except for a quick visit to the photocopy shop).  The result of course was that all the computer enthusiasts in an area knew each other across the  reading room table. However, this community was  based on shared difficulties. It faded away as the technology outran the requirements of most users,  the  level of effective usage reached a plateau, and computers became a commodity.

Very well, the  pattern seems to be repeating itself, with minor differences. There  has emerged an extensive structure of websites and blogs about Second Life, covering both the political/social aspects, and the technical aspects.  Websites and blogs are proven technology-- they Just Work. If one wants to explain, for example, how to  transfer a picture to a virtual T-shirt,  such knowledge is easier to explain in a blog, more or  less profusely illustrated with screenshots, than it would be in virtual reality. It is not virtual reality which is creating the community of Second Life-- it is the shared difficulties and aspirations.

If the merchant is the priest of a business religion, the shoppers are the congregation. Second Life, as experienced by the casual user (or "club rat")  has significant elements of the local shopping mall, Disney World, and a college campus, as experienced by the typical academically unambitious student ("frat rat").  Nearly all the things the casual user  might  want to buy within the game are ridiculously inexpensive,  yet not free. Money is ceremonially present, in much the same sense as when one is playing cards for penny stakes. The players are made symbolically rich, within the framework of the activities which the game simulates, in approximately the sense of being able to march into a shopping mall, and buy anything on offer, without thinking about the cost, but not necessarily being able to buy things which are not sold in the shopping mall. In short, the players are rich within the conceptual horizons of people who are not rich. But again, this bumps up against the reality that the technology of animation does not exist in isolation from the technology of robotic production. One way or another, clothing is likely to become so cheap that the symbolism of clothing as conspicuous consumption  will completely  break down. It  has already done so in places, of course,  notably fur coats.  If  an object can be readily manufactured  by a general-purpose computer-controlled machine, it is, for practical purposes, software. And  software  is in the process of going  Open Source. Very few manufactured objects approach  the sheer complexity of the major operating  systems. If one can make anything one wants, more or less at the flick of a  finger,  shopping is no longer a  fantasy. It is merely a chore.

At the "club rat" level, Second Life is essentially about a certain type of freedom without responsibility. It is about being nineteen years old, and having more  pocket money than one really knows how to spend, and not experiencing the kind of confusions  of identity which actual nineteen-year-olds suffer from.  In short,  the "club rat's" Second Life is an idealized version of being nineteen, as viewed from the perspective of either  fourteen or  thirty-five-- or, of course, from the perspective of a computer geek who was a young man at the age of fourteen, well on  the way to middle age at  nineteen,  and never really experienced late adolescence. Adolescence is a social construct, based on the premise that  young  people have no important role to play in the concerns of adults, and are therefore shoved somewhere out of the way. A whole class of teenagers has sprung up, who have essential technical skills, and who are regularly consulted by adults upon matters of importance. For them, the normal teenager is somewhat alien, something to be studied  under a microscope. Second  Life  may be their  microscope.

The  demographics of second life players' real identities seem to be somewhat unclear. Of course Second Life consists of multiple different populations, so it would be a fallacy to assume that Second Life is any one thing. It is a comparatively  open toolbox used for many purposes. However, the assumption of the fourteen-going-on-thirty-five demographic would account for the casual visitors to Second Life--  people who manage to operate  the Second Life user interface without any great difficulty, but  whom the established residents consider to have a poorly developed sense of etiquette, lack of social graces, etc. The average person  on the street  is not quite that good at learning computer interfaces.  Someone who can come  into Second Life, and operate the controls well enough to be considered a boor probably starts with the experience of  having operated many  other computer systems. This will have led  to an accumulated ability to figure out a new system ab initio (one of the expert "tricks of the trade" is to make and use "cheat sheets."). This would also   imply that a considerable proportion of the female avatars on Second Life are in fact young men (an authentic "geekette"  is generally the only girl in a roomful of boys, and her experience is radically different). More importantly, this explanation would tend to diminish the extent to which Second Life can be said to be breaking out of the traditional computer enthusiast demographics. It would also explain a proliferation of Second Life accounts. In one instance, the  proprietor of a Second Life  establishment complained that when he expelled people, they  just created new Second Life accounts, and came right  back; and he wondered whether Linden Labs could extend the system of  banning to cover actual internet (IP) addresses.#hiro_pendragon If one refuses to invest in the reputation of an online persona, there is no compelling reason not to spin out additional accounts. If Second Life is a bunch of young male ubergeeks getting in touch with their inner frat rat, or their inner (transgendered) sorority belle, then its growth potential is at best unproven while Second Life retains its present user interface. Why should new groups of users want to use an improved version of Second Life instead of doing things in Real  Life?

There  are no great technical difficulties in making Second Life work well, and making it  easier to use. The problem has to do with what that  would be useful for. Second Life attracted a group of people, such as artists, frustrated businessmen,  and aspiring  dandies, who were discontented with the  shape of the actual world. Their problem was that the world refused to take them at their own valuation. Going into Second  Life does not  solve the problem-- it simply causes Second Life to be  reputed to be the place where all the artists, frustrated businessmen, and aspiring dandies congregate. Their problem is now that the more enlightened sections of the world, those not overawed by technological tricks, will not  take Second Life at its own valuation. The  inevitable question becomes: Wherefore? 

The Stage.

The fundamental problem about role-playing games is that they are games; that is, they are not for real. Role playing games succeed only in those activities which are not better when done for real, or even, are better not done for real. All kinds of constructive activities are ultimately screened out  of the game. It is always possible to find a  way to do constructive  activities in such a way as to be preludes to action in the real world. Role Playing Games, on the other hand, are  about working to  create distance, via costumes, stage properties, etc., between the game and reality.  Even when the technical difficulties are  removed, there is still the burden of deciding what  kind of costume  one is going to wear, etc. It has been observed, most notably  by Clay Shirky, that in terms of actual  numbers of participants, Second Life is much less successful than the traditional combat-oriented games, "First Person  Shooters." Second Life's pretensions rest  almost entirely on its  purported ability to  recruit "nontraditional"  players. If it were to turn  out that the nontraditional  players were a mixture of special startup conditions and  mirage, what would be left of  Second Life? One thing that  Second Life has to contribute is  the idea that  the  most effective and direct method to create an aura of seriousness about a game is to allow the  players to gamble or wager money on the outcome. Second Life applies this to the buying and selling of virtual land,  after the manner of the game of Monopoly. However, gambling could easily be adapted to other  sets of rules by requiring each player to deposit money with a stakeholder in order to enter the space in which a  game is in play.  An unauthorized  departure, in the sense of just  pulling the  plug,  forfeits the stake, of course, and if a player wants to get part of his stake back, he has to cash in his chips, so to speak, according to  the  rules of the  game, whatever those  may be  decided to be. This may run foul of internet  gambling  laws, but one can resort to an  alternate type of gambling, such as requiring  the  loser to give money to charity, with no possibility of a net win.

It is an often-heard complaint that online video games are not able to break out of the first-person-shooter demographic, that is, appealing to the mentality of  teenage boys or people who think like teenage boys. There are periodic suggestions about how the rules could be tinkered with to make the game more attractive to nontraditional players, but these ultimately come to nothing. The truth is that blasting away at onscreen bogeymen ultimately becomes boring. The impetus for an ultimately  successful role playing game will ultimately be that of the game being  too dangerous to be real, being  transgressive in the sense that players craft  virtual identities for themselves whom they would not  be able to live with in actuality. What this consists in will depend on the level of the player's mentality

As Henry Jenkins and Jesse  Walker note, the idea of carnival is applicable to Second Life, but   one might   make a finer distinction,  between "light carnival," and "dark carnival." Light carnival is a release from rules in a nonsubversive direction.  Someone who merely wants to become publicly drunk can go someplace where the  authorities  make a business of catering to public drunkenness, the classic example being the college fraternity.  Such institutions  are therefore tolerant of  the excesses of drunks and make arrangements for the drunk to safely sleep off his drunkenness. However, there is a dark side in carnival. If one  looks at one of those contemporary pictures of medieval/renaissance carnivals (eg. Brueghel), one will notice that  nearly every man present has a knife at his belt, ranging from a Bowie-knife  to something like a machete.  The actuality of carnival was something like Dodge City or Laredo-- the American equivalent-- with a certain number of dead bodies in the street. Occasionally, of course, a carnival would evolve into a pogrom. More commonly, it would merely have the potential of doing so, and  the carnival's effect would derive in part from the widespread understanding that it could go out of control.

Dark carnival, or theater of blood, is about symbolically running amok. Robert Darnton's "Great Cat Massacre" would  be a classic example of dark carnival. There was a  group of workmen-- printers,  some of them apprentices, some  journeymen-- in eighteenth century Paris.  They  were  living under dormitory conditions in the employer's house with meals included, so they were inclined to resent the  mistress, because she was the one who economized on their food. One day, they staged  a charade of sorts which involved actually hunting down the mistress's pet cat and killing it. The cat was a symbolic extension or representation of the woman,  who felt immensely  threatened and became enraged.   Darnton  cautions the  reader against taking the episode too literally, as a prelude to the French Revolution. However, even if the  episode is not  viewed as a dress rehearsal for the public and quasi-official sex killing of the Princess de Lamballe, but it illustrated the tensions present in society. A modern example would be the  single player  game Grand Theft  Auto,  in which the player pretends to be a street gang  member,  drug dealer, carjacker, serial killer, pimp, etc. The game  provokes outraged reactions and attempts at censorship, in much the same way that "gangsta" rap singers do. That is  a clear demonstration of its threatening character. People who did not play Grand Theft Auto could be panicked into believing that little boys who played it would suddenly become hoodlums. The publishers responded by trying to tame the game down a bit, by manipulating the rules, riding a fine line between danger and tameness. The game publisher is a business. It cannot afford to take the risks that an individual author could take.

Second Life has not yet managed to achieve anything really rising to the level of dark carnival, partly because it bans "griefers" (depending on circumstances, a griefer can be a schoolyard bully, a political heckler, or a computer saboteur exploiting the bugginess of Second Life's new and untested systems). There are periodic  demonstrations against  marginal businesses and quasi-marginal political interests which attempt to set up shop in Second Life (American Apparel, John Edwards, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French right-winger). However, it is not possible to destroy actual property, or actually injure someone. No one confuses this kind of thing  with real life anarchists battling the police in Seattle in the late 1990's, let alone the more dangerous  possibilities of the  last several years.  There is a strong "rebel without a cause" quality to the Second Life demonstrations. Likewise, the  failed politicians in Second Life are ultimately meaningless. By setting up in Second Life, John Edwards had merely revealed  that he is the new Harold Stassen, retreating into make-believe to find what he cannot win in  reality, and no one much cared if someone caused a large mythological animal to void its bowels all  over the Edwards Second Life  campaign headquarters. There is no honor to be gained by pulling a Stassen's tail, and the act does not have much power to project fear either. Similarly, American Apparel  is a small, fairly obscure firm, selling comparatively expensive women's clothing of conventional type, which is untainted by cheap labor. That is a somewhat irrelevant  distinction, once the consumer-grade automated sewing machines get going. The  real action is in confronting Wal-Mart. One of Second Life's favorite celebrities, Anshe Chung, has been pelted, of course (what in English stage tradition is called "giving an actor the bird"), but in the last analysis, Anshe Chung is no more than a stage character played by anonymous actress. One can make a case that the extraordinary "liveness" of real-world politics in the last five years or so is a byproduct of Moore's  law breaking out into reality (eg. computer-driven offshoring), but the political movements in Second Life are remarkable for being  disconnected from what is happening in the real world, and of course in the blogosphere. Companies worry about being targeted by the  blogs with accusations which are at least plausible, and which are impossible to contain by  traditional methods. Alternatively, they worry that someone might come  up with a method to supersede their businesses by  open-source methods. Companies which are not internally sclerotic do  not worry very  much about  make-believe demonstrations in Second Life. They may prudently decide to stay out of Second Life, but they are not going to go into Second Life and then start publicly howling with rage because of the way they are treated.

In any event, carnival does not attract participants of the highest caliber.  The drama, on the other hand does. The action of great drama is mostly psychological, rather than physical. Drama's action depends mostly on one player's estimate of how another  player will react to a given circumstance. Treachery is the very stuff of tragedy, and preferably double and treble layers of treachery. For example, player A is not quite sure whether player  B intends to assassinate him, or to join with him in assassinating player C, or whether refusing to join player B in assassinating player C might cause player B to assassinate player A instead, or whether,  once player A and player B have assassinated player C, player  B  might decide to assassinate player A. In great tragedy,  the  major characters are generally of a type who have no significant unsatisfied material wants. The characters are all conventionally noble  types, kings and suchlike, with only the odd comic beggar on the sidelines. The players are far enough up the Maslow needs hierarchy that material considerations do not govern them. They do whatever it is they do, largely in order to establish an idea of  themselves. This is true, to a lesser extent, of the comedy, as well. The drama is about people trying to use the real  world as a psychodrama. Thus great drama  has a very close  fit to the economics of cyberspace.

There is a  distinction between the staged play and the active drama. The active drama is one in which players get to decide for themselves what value they place on other players' rhetoric, and to respond freely. This process might operate at much the same level as a blog.  There are a few cases,  notably the mob in Shakespeare's classical plays, where a voting machine might be necessary to supersede verbal action. Each member of the audience would have a switch he could set to "yes,"  "no," and the starting position,  "maybe." If a member of  the audience changed his mind,  he could change the switch again, until such time as "yes" or "no" got, say, seventy-five percent of the vote, approximately the point at which real-life members of a crowd would start to worry about getting lynched by the majority. However, this would be an exceptional case. In most cases, players can simply make their own decisions, and act on them.

 The weapons used by the players have to be limited in scope, so that they do not outrange the voice, or at least, the means of public communication. The historical Charlotte Corday got in to see Marat, got within knife range, by promising to inform on people, and being understandably reluctant to do it in public. That is somewhat similar to the way in which the historical Ramon Mercador took out Trotsky. He ostensibly needed to consult on the writing of propaganda. That was what happened to Julius Caesar, as well. A group of people clustered around him, arguing, turned out to be in a conspiracy with daggers. A successful assassination with daggers depends either on the target allowing someone to stand very close to him, or on a group of people surrounding the target from all directions. The weapons themselves are trivial. It is assumed that everyone has a knife, or can get one without much  fuss, and can  conceal it on his person. Elaborate game mechanics are not  required, as a rule. Most of the  problems are ones which have already been solved within the context of "dungeons and dragons" games. If anything, what is required is to recognize that the drama is not necessarily improved by the introduction of machine guns. Within the kind of game we are  talking about,  short of life and death, the only thing that counts is to gain the  respect, esteem,  goodwill, etc. of the other players and/or the audience. Someone who is primarily interested in purely interior mental goals, Maslow's highest stage, will  probably not  want to play a role-playing-game anyway, or at least, not enough to devote great effort to mastering it, in the sense of memorizing long  lists of rules, or to organizing everyone else to play along with him.  Rules to work out the comparative value of different kinds of material belongings are simply irrelevant. The scope for programming the rules of such games of drama is fairly limited, because the essential action is not taking place at that level.  Most of the code required already  exists, but is locked up in proprietary software and "hard coding," that is, programs which solve particular problems instead of treating problems as special cases of more universal problems  with  more universal solutions. Assuming that Second Life follows the pattern of other Open Source projects, much of this existing software will eventually be donated, and  rewritten. There was a point at which it became impossible to make a  much better word processor than already existed, because the users were  no  longer interested.  Once Second Life completes its "tidying up of loose ends," there may not be much more scope for further programming.

Second Life, is, or will be, when  its construction is completed, a very fine tool for the conducting of drama and theatrical performances. That is at once its virtue and its limitation. Most activities of life are not appropriately conducted as drama. Referring to someone as a dramatist is usually a term of derision. Drama is more or less synonymous with things going colossally wrong.

Home Index

The Context of the Personal Computer

William Zinsser, _Writing with a Word Processor_,  Harper and Row (Harper Colophon). New York,  1983.
     Zinsser was a professional journalist, even though he had done a stint teaching writing at Yale. His natural home, however, was the newsroom. One of the concerns Zinsser raised was the temptation for an editor with a networked word processor, and a looming deadline, to simply fix prose style defects in a reporter's story and pass it along to the printers, rather than red-penciling the story and rubbing the reporter's nose in these faults by making him rewrite the story.

L. Sprague De Camp and Catherine Crook De Camp,  _Science Fiction Handbook, Revised: How to  Write and  Sell Imaginative Stories_, McGraw-Hill, New York,  1975. See p.  83 for discussion of the importance of typing,  p. 194 for the importance of not talking.

Joe Weisbecker, _Home Computers Can Make You Rich_,  1980.
T. (Ted) G. Lewis, How to Profit from Your Personal Computer,  1978 
(both published by Hayden Book Company, Inc., Rochelle Park, N.J.)
     These are "self-help" books, with a remarkable turn of optimism. For example, there  is the suggestion that with a word processor, becoming an extensively  published author is routine. Alternatively, there is a superficial description of how to set up a computer system for a bank, with no discussion of the actual accounting/regulatory complexities involved.  These books are to be taken as an indication of the general level of euphoria prevailing at the time. 

Robert Kominski ,Computer Use In the United States: 1984, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census (Current Population Reports, Special Studies, Series P-23, No. 155), March 1988.
     In 1984, about eight  percent of households had  computers and something like three-quarters of those had been acquired in 1983 or 1984. The single most common use of home computers reported was "learning to use," followed by "video games," which at this date would have meant something like Pac-Man. The third category was  "household records." Now,  in theory, it is possible to set up a database maintaining  a count of the number of cans of soup on the  kitchen shelf,  but this use is so obviously impractical that it must have been at the level of aspiration rather than actuality. About a third of home users, two and a half million people, or one percent of the general population, claimed to use their home computers for word processing, one of the few productive computer uses which was really feasible. Median computer usage was two to three days a week.  In sum, the vast majority of people who had computers were still learning to  use them,  or had given up for the time  being.  Of course, when interviewed, they naturally claimed to be using their computers a little more effectively than they actually were. (pp. 9, 16)

Three Dimensional Interfaces and Ease of Use

Material on the Wi-Mote game controller: Slashdot Thread, 2007/02/04 ,  the Wikipedia entry, [wikipedia], and a documentation site, [harry.hchen]

Rita Street, _Computer Animation: A Whole New World_, Rockport Publishers, Inc., Glouster, Mass., 1998. A general sampler of animation practices at the major animation studios of the  time.  Includes a couple of photos of actors in datasuits, including  one of an actor with multiple devices pasted to his face in order to capture his expressions.

Slashdot thread:  The Wii's MEMS Inventor on Future Technology, [2007/03/02]. Summed up: make it smaller, cheaper, lighter, more ubiquitous. However, the inventor is still thinking in terms of putting it inside garments, etc. That is, he is not addressing the  question of how to accommodate energetic virtual movement without the  actual player  having the use of a gymnasium.

Mitch Wagner, Linden Lab Details Plans For Voice In Second Life, February 28, 2007.  Describes provision of VOIP, so that the users can talk to each  other  instead of typing messages. There  is  a mechanism to simulate distance, but there is apparently no mechanism for modifying voice tones. This, of course, would be easy to add, as would a mechanism for  computing stereo  sound channels. The article mentions underage users without giving any  indication of their numbers. [DDJ Feb 28 2007]  See also: Slashdot  Thread: Voice Chat Can Really Kill the Mood.  [2007/06/19] Some of the commentators raise  more subtle arguments, eg. that the greater freedom of communication gives the impostor more chances to give  himself away, etc.

Chris Kohler, "Snowboarding With A Homemade Wii 'Balance Board'"  [Wired, 2007/08] A step in the right direction, but still a good way to go.

The Major MMORPG games, as  measured by  hard-core participation.

EVE Online--  Another game, more or less  typical of the MMORPG type. It is  built on the  premise that players are all in their  own spaceships, which they cannot leave, which means the system does not have to do any very complex graphics. Note the definition of "skill," as something you buy, then activate, and it becomes complete a certain period later-- rather like installing a piece of software. The composite pattern is something like a cross between Chess and Monopoly. [eve-online][eve-online/faq_01], [eve-online/faq_02] , Slashdot Thread, [2007/02/22]  See also: Slashdot thread: EVE Online Answers Your Questions,  2007/03/15  in which a developer discusses the high-stakes nature of play in a certain type of combat game.

World of Warcraft: A player can belong to one of eight  races, and one of nine  classes (sets of numerical combat attributes), making about fifty combinations. A player can have two 2  primary professions out of ten possibilities, and  any number of secondary professions. Professions consist of the ability to make things, that is, to take the requisite quantities of raw materials from one's storage area, and likewise the  tools, and sometimes a plan-- the materials are used up, tools and plan conserved, and one  now has the thing in question in one's storage area, and can use or sell it. One  can give things (items) to other players, or sell them (by e-bay style auction, by terminal trading, or by e-mail ("COD")). World of Warcraft might be described as Chinese restaurant menu customization. People can select clothing, arms, and accouterments from a list, but cannot actually design them. [worldofwarcraft][images.google.com world+of+warcraft]

The Sims Online: wiki/The_Sims_Online]  [wiki/The_Sims]

Different Kinds of Game.

Omar Syed's "Arimaa." [wiki/Arimaa]. Here is an example of a martial art which runs along rather similar lines: [wiki/Pushing_hands]

Second Life Clothing, and its relation to Real-World Clothing

Paper books on Costume:

Braun & Schneider, Historic Costume in Pictures, Dover Books, 1975. A reprint of plates from Costumes of All Nations, 1907 [1861-1890]

Christabel Williams-Mitchell, Dressed For the Job: The Story of Occupational Costume, Blandford Books Ltd.,  Poole, Dorset, UK, 1982.

Doreen Yarwood, The Encyclopedia of World Costume, (Scribner) 1978, Bonanza Books, New  York, 1986.

Jack Cassin-Scot,  _Costume and Fashion in Color, 1760-1920_, The MacMillan Company, New York; Blandford Press,  Ltd., London,  UK, 1971

Carl Kohler, A History of Costume,  edited and augmented by Emma Von Sichert, trans. Alexander K. Dallas, 1928 [Dover reprint,1963, earliest versions, 1871, 1877]. Two of the  archetypal methodical German scholars (Von Ranke's "Als es eigentlich war.") who measure everything they can measure, examine surviving costumes, reproduce patterns, etc.

Douglas Gorsline, What People Wore, A Visual History of Dress, Bonanza Books, New York, orig. pub. (Viking) 1951, 1952. A collection of line drawings, derived by the author from a wide range of visual source material, ranging from book illustrations to paintings to collections of early photographs. For a book of this type  (artist's vade meccum), this work is somewhat unusual in that it has a bibliographic apparatus.

Michael and Ariane Batterberry,  Fashion: The Mirror of History, (Holt, Rinehart, Winston)1977, Greenwich  House/Crown Publishers,  New York, 1982. A major effort towards a social history of clothing.

I. T. Schick,, ed. (Introduction by  [Alun,] Lord Chalfont), Battledress: The Uniforms of the World's Great Armies-- 1700 to the Present, (Weidenfeld and Nicholson) 1978, Peerage  Books, London, 1983.

Here are two additional books of a  somewhat different type, which may be useful for gaining an understanding of the deeper nature of Second Life:

Kennedy Fraser, _The Fashionable Mind: Reflections on Fashion, 1970-1982_,  Nonpareil Books (David R. Godine), Boston,1985. A collection of essays, originally published in The  New  Yorker. Looks at fashion as a way of thinking about the world.

Mary Ellen  Roach and  Joanne Bubolz Eicher, eds., _Dress, Adornment, and the Social  Order_, John Wiley & Sons,  New York, 1965. An anthology, broadly covering the anthropological literature of clothing.

Craig Jensen,  _The Craft of Computer Programming: How to Write Quality Software in Any Language_, Warner Books, New York, 1985. A primer for those programmers who have never had occasion to study computer science systematically. Covers things like linked lists, B-trees, etc.

Internet Sources:

Some large assortments of images from Second Life:  [from google]  [sluniverse] (sluniverse/pics]) [2ndlook]
Gwyneth Llewelyn, A tool to aid designing clothes, [visual1layout] , see also,  [Beginners_Guide]

Natalia's Second Life Diary Blog-- hints about how to make things in Second Life. [slnatalia]
A Second Life Fashion Blog.  [lindenlifestyles]
Report by  Roland Piquepaille on a French research project in clothing design software. [emergingtech]

Report by an adopter of commercial software (industrial goods) [fashion-incubator]

A package of standard designs, geared to  home sewing:   [livingsoftnw]

A costumers' site:  [costumes]

Marco Cadioli, AMERICAN APPAREAL IN SECOND LIFE. An interview with Aimee Weber, the designer who set up the  American Apparel store. Emphasis on AA's not doing labor exploitation, etc. American Apparel  sells clothes of the simplest and most unremarkable kind, ie. jeans, T-shirts, etc., which carry moral cachet instead. They really do not pose any great design or animation problems. [digicult]  [Weber's site]  ,[http://www.myfirstsecondlife.com/]

SLBoutique. A search engine/Portal for selling items in Second Life. This would be the approximate equivalent of a Sears catalog. It may not be definitive, but it still gives a fairly good idea of what kinds of costumes and properties people use, and what they pay for them. [slboutique]

Henry Jenkins, "Get a (Second) Life!"  jenkins_get_a socond
------------,  "A Second Look at Second Life," jenkins_a_second_look


The Architectural Context of Second Life:

Hrolf Engebretsen, comment on uses of Second Life for design, in Clay Shirky,  "Second Life: What are the  Real Numbers?" Corante,  [second_life...numbers] (post 58)  [post 58]

Tom Wolfe, _From Bauhaus to Our  House_, 1981.

Metropolis magazine, October 1997, Theme Issue: "How to Educate an Architect." Various articles forming a  tour of significant tendencies in  architectural education. See especially: Robert Neuwirth, "the Sandlot Education";  Margie Borschke, "From Thinking to  Making"; Michael Webb, "An Established Experiment";  and Andrew Cocke, "Goodbye, Mr. Kahn."

Dick Eades, a bona fide architect (the kind who actually puts up buildings) contacted the Second Life people to talk about whether he could import stuff from a real CAD/CAM program into Second Life for purposes of prototyping.  importing models

Howard Hibbard, _Bernini_, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1965, ch. 3. See especially the coverage of the Cornaro Chapel (Ecstasy of  St. Teresa), in which groups of sculpted  figures look at each other over the heads of the human audience. This is an early form  of virtual reality.

Business and Second Life:

Slashdot thread:  Coldwell Banker To Sell Second Life Properties, [2007/03/24].  Discussion of the fictive character of Second Life property values.

Slashdot Thread:  Bank Run in Second Life. [07/08/08] An unregulated bank, which was run  by a single anonymous individual, and which was paying something like 100% interest, apparently in classic Ponzi fashion, had a bank run. Apparently, this man is still taking deposits, even while unable to pay withdrawals. Debatable suggestion that he may have been lending to the  SL casinos.

Edward Lucie-Smith, The First London Catalogue,  Paddington Press, Ltd, New  York, 1974. A rhapsodic catalog of the shops of London, those which sold various kinds of consumer goods, with excursions into  hobbies and various kinds of  valuable collectables. Does not cover objects of occupational  use in any very extended  way.

Greensboro Sit-ins: Launch of a Civil Rights Movement. [sitins];  John Shelton Reed, Southern Discomfort, Reason Magazine, January 1994. Review of a book containing material on Ralph Johns. [reason_94_05]

Jonathan V. Last, Get a (Second) Life!: The avatars are coming, The Weekly Standard,  10/01/2007, Volume 013, Issue 03.  [weeklystandard]   Information on Anshe  Chung under her true identity. Hat Tip


"The New Avatar In Town: Korea's Nexon and others are edging onto Second Life's turf, using simplified features," _Business Week_,  MARCH 26, 2007 [New_Avatar]   A cut-price competitor to Second Life, easier to use, but presumably less versatile.

Reena Jana, "Siemens' New Game Strategy: The German engineering giant's video-game-based modeling tool will allow companies to design factory equipment in a fraction of the time," _Business Week_, March 7, 2007, 10:47AM EST  [Jana]  Using video game technology as a "poor man's modeling" system for factory process design, with an emphasis on improving semi-manned production systems.

Robert D. Hof, "COVER STORY: My Virtual Life: A journey into a place in cyberspace where thousands of people have imaginary lives. Some even make a good living. Big advertisers are taking notice," _Business Week_, MAY 1, 2006  [Hof_2]; Robert D. Hof, interview with  Anshe Chung, "Virtual Land, Real Money: Second Life is an online world where a savvy avatar can make a bundle. Its best known "land" developer explains how," _Business Week_, MAY 1, 2006  [Hof_3] A focus on people who are making money in Second Life, most notably Anshe Chung. Rather uncritical about the extent to which they have transcended the minimum wage.

"INSIDE INNOVATION-- IN SIDE: Second Life Lessons: You may have heard the hype about popular 3D online universe Second Life, but setting up shop there presents unique challenges," _Business Week_, NOVEMBER 27, 2006 [Overview]
    Overview of Second Life.

Catherine Holahan, "News Analysis: The Dark Side of Second Life: Software that lets residents copy others' possessions is the latest reminder that this virtual world may need tougher law enforcement," _Business Week_,  November 21, 2006, 12:00AM EST [Holahan]  This article expresses a hope that Second Life will replicate the folly of the RIAA, that it will find  means-- somehow-- to prevent copying of  costumes, properties, etc. Of course, Linden Labs had realized the implications of Open Source, and were acting on it.

Olga Kharif, "News Analysis: Big Media Gets a Second Life: Wired magazine is just the latest in a string of media outlets staking their online claims in the popular virtual-world game," _Business Week_, October 17, 2006, 12:0AM EST [Kharif_2]  The gist is that all kinds of media outlets are setting up Second Life presences, meaning approximately the ability to go and interview people through Second Life's texting system, or to post content accessible from Second Life, with a bit of incidental decor. What the author does  not grasp is that this really does  not rise above the level of a file conversion system. All the big advertising agencies are doing the same thing, as  are some of their clients, but the author exaggerates the amount of commitment implied thereby. 

_Business Week_ Special Report April 16, 2007:

Robert Hof, "The Coming Virtual Web: In the future, the Internet is almost certain to look more realistic, interactive, and social—a lot like a virtual world," _Business Week_, April 16, 2007, 12:01AM EST [Hof_1]  Discussing the enthusiast claim that Virtual Reality will become the new standard for internet access.

Douglas MacMillan, "Big Spenders of Second Life: Virtual world residents shell out real dollars for nonexistent clothes, cars, and real estate. Will real-world luxury brands capitalize?" _Business Week_, April 16, 2007, 12:01AM EST [MacMillan]  A discussion of the difficulties of making objects of conspicuous consumption which cannot easily be copied, presumably by legitimate means, rather than by Copybot. With extreme difficulty, it is possible to get a status symbol costing up to $40 US.

Olga Kharif, "The Virtual Meeting Room: Intel, Raytheon, and other companies are dabbling in technology that enables 3D conferencing, but will employees take to avatar exchanges?," _Business Week_, April 16, 2007.  [Kharif_1]  Describes the use of virtual reality for business meetings, and then, gently, suggests that videoconferencing might be better.  Does not take the next step, of pointing out that in a properly functioning organization, people can proceed on the basis of the written  word.

E.C. Hoffman III, "Tip Sheet: When Griefers Attack: How to prevent virtual-world vandalism and what to do when your property comes under fire," _Business Week_, April 16, 2007. [Hoffman]  Sensible advice, which boils down to not taking Second Life too seriously.

Francesca Di Meglio, "I Was a Second Life B-School Student: Undergraduate programs already have a presence in this virtual world, but INSEAD is one of the first management programs to break ground," _Business Week_, April 16, 2007, 12:01AM EST [Di_Meglio] Brief description of Business School activities in Second Life. No reference to the  B-school core of accounting, economics, operations research, etc.

Reena Jana and Aili McConnon, "Digital Suburbia: Kaneva aims to bring social networking to a relatively cautious, upscale crowd more interested in making real-world connection than in building fantasies online," _Business Week_, April 16, 2007, 12:01AM EST [Jana]  An attempt to build a sanitized equivalent of Second Life which is attractive to admen, and which does not allow disruptions, etc. 

Open Sourcing of Second Life

Slashdot thread: First Technical Look at the Second Life Client [2007/03/29/1742254] links to:  Peter Seebach, "Second life client, Part 1: Hacking Second Life" [Seebach]

Slashdot thread: Second Life To Open Source Server Code, [2007/04/19]

Slashdot  Thread:  Standards for Interconnecting Virtual Worlds  [2007/09/19] Linden Labs deals with defining interfaces between  different virtual worlds on servers owned by different people.
A Second Life users' discussion of the  implications of open-sourcing:

Second Life and Open Source


[cory-lindens-town-hall-transcript]  in: [blog.secondlife]

The open source code documentation Wiki, at present in simply awful state, full of references to things which are not defined, or not cross referenced, etc. The first task will necessarily be just to document the code properly before anything else can be done. [secondlife  Documentation] See also: [secondlife.com/wiki]  [secondlife/developers]

Slashdot thread: Introduction to Linden Scripting Language, [2007/02/25], [ddj/197008520]  [can you cut out the session ID] Link to a Dr. Dobbs's article on the subject, which was rather severely critiqued for  stressing basic grammar, rather than the things which render LSL distinctive.

// end of sorted section

Kerry Howley, Michael Gerson Discovers Second Life (and Furries), Reason Hit&Run, July 6, 2007, 3:34pm [121252] cites

Slashdot Thread: Are Marketers Abandoning Second Life? [07/07/14/1732240]

Frank Rose, How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life, Wired,  (ISSUE 15.08,  07.24.07, 2:00 AM), [ff_sheep]  Deals with CocaCola's  blunders into Second Life, and how they operate on false analogies with  real life.

Michael Dobson, Let him be Caesar! London Review of Books, Vol. 29 No. 15 dated 2 August 2007,  review of: The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama and Death in 19th-Century America by Nigel Cliff · Random House, 312 pp, $26.95 [lrb] cited in: [hnn]
     Two rival Shakespearean actors with different poliitcs, playing in New York City in the year 1849, had working-class fan clubs (pit rather than peanut gallery). What would now be called a football riot ensued.
Techdirt thread: Second Life On Mission To Purge All The Fun [techdirt],  links to "Bestiality May Be Knackered In Second Life." [bestiality]

Slashdot thread:  Second Life & WoW Terrorist Training Camps?


Alice v2.0: Learn to Program Interactive 3D Graphics

Female impersonation tarts up online games

by   Reuters , CNET News.com  |  7/29/06

Slashdot Thread:   Rethinking the MMOG

Robert  Darnton,  The Great Cat Massacre and  Other  Episodes  in  French Cultural History, Vintage Books, 1985, orig. pub. 1984

See also,  George  Pernoud and Sabine  Flaissier, _History in the Making:  The  French Revolution_,  1960,  "The September Massacres." See the  record of  the judicial interrogation of  one Jacques-Charles Hervelin (pp. 154-160, pbk. ed.), about certain  things he had done on September 2-4, 1792. This interogation, took place on 7 Floreal An 3  (approx. April 27-29, 1795), two-and-a-half years later, after the Terror was safely over. At length,  the  magistrate  got  to the point, and swept aside Hervelin's evasions:

"Q:  Is not the real motive of his wife in refusing to  live with him the fact  that he took part in the  murder of the  ci-devant  Princesse de Lamballe, that he went around with  her  head and her  sexual organs and that he  ate her  heart, after  having roasted it on a cook-stove in a wine-shop?" (p. 159)
Wkipedia entry, Grand Theft Auto (series)

The Road to Ruin
David Kushner from Wired magazine Email 03.29.07 | 5:00 AM


A short history of Rockstar Games, the publisher of Grand Theft Auto. Mostly about the cumulative legal difficulties dumb kids  get into when they try to run a public company.
Alex Veiga(AP Business Writer), Virtual Designers Busy in Online Worlds, Feb 26  2007, 9:26 AM EST [Viega] (link may not be permanent). An article about  people who are making money as consultants by assisting  big businesses to set up their own Second Life areas. Two companies are cited in the text: [millionsofus]   [electricsheep]

Slashdot thread:  Game Profitability Under Threat, 2007/02/27 Mentions the need for things like better programming systems.

Slashdot thread: Looking Inside the Second Life Data Centers, 2007/03/11.  The number of simultaneous users is up to  36,000, and the server is experiencing growing pains.  There is no mention of redefining capabilities out to the  client, but slashdot comments  allude to the  need to  improve the scripting languages.

Slashdot thread: Online Higher Education in Second Life?



Ref: http://alphavilleherald.com/


Edward Castronova, Arden: The World of Shakespeare



Coelacanth Seurat (pseud?), Shakespeare Comes To Second Life.  An account of casting a Shakespeare play (Romeo and Juliet). This involved developing a program to automatically feed the text of the play through to a text window, and synchronize the flow to the avatars' motions. The effect is rather like a troupe of mimes acting out a silent play for subsequent  voice-dubbing. [slatenight]


Jesse Walker's summary Blog Note:


and his Hobbies in Cyberspace, Reason,  April, 2004,


Hiro Pendragon,  "Combat In SL: Is It Upon Us?," A plea for a combat system in which the land owner can write the rules from A to Z, according to  his lights, rather than having to conform to any standard system. [combat]
    Note: as second life is open-sourced, this objective can just as well be met by multiple independently owned Second Life universes (grids) at  different domain names.
Wagner James Au, "Feature: The Gamer s Rough Guide to Pwning Second Life.  "How to avoid the Parts of Second Life that "just seemed like The Sims Online in 3D, all these blinged-out club rats just standing around chatting. Like, WTF?"

Official Wiki Page: Combat

Pixeleen Mistral, Better Bashing in Gorean Sims Could Hurt Role Play,




Jane Langton,  "The Weak Place in the Cloth," in:   Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski,  Fantasists on Fantasy: A Collection of Critical Reflections By Eighteen Masters of the  Art, Avon Books,  New York, 1984. A discussion of the  mechanics of switching between levels of reality from the point of view of a writer.


Slashdot thread:  Radical Transparency at NASA Via Second Life [2007/04/10]. See comment by Eggy Lippmann [18684865] and his  Second Life history website: [slhistory].



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