Category Archives: Trend watch

On Second Life and national identity

One aspect about a virtual world like Second Life, where there is no common mythology imposed on residents by those running the world (literally:-), is that this clean slate offers some fascinating insights into the relative malleability of the many components that make up a person’s identity.

When people create avatars for anonymous use they will probably experiment with some aspects of their looks and their behavior. In terms of appearance, they might change their sex, size, skin color or dress code, and in terms of behavior, they may change sexual orientation and/or shed their inhibitions.

But some aspects of people’s identities seem to be harder to let go of. Not many people seem to switch nationality or religion. Come to think of it, not many people I know seem to change their ethnicity either.

There are several possible explanations for this. Maybe it’s harder to fake being Swedish or French if you’re not. Language is clearly a challenge: You can’t rummage about in your inventory for Swahili and try it on.

But even in the case of religious affiliation and ethnicity, these identity traits don’t seem malleable. I suspect it is because the real-world common mythologies that underpin these identity components are so strong that they bleed into Second Life.

One way to judge the relative strengths of identity components is to look at which ones people spontaneously choose to organize themselves by in Second Life. We’re not just talking folksonomy here, but auto-folksonomy — those attributes we spontaneously pick to describe ourselves to ourselves.

Here, it’s clear that nationality is one of the most persistent self-organizing principles in Second Life. There are national “watering holes” for a good number of countries — Sweden has Second Sweden, of course, but also the Belgians, the Dutch, the French, and many more have a place to fraternize.

And in many a conversation with new Second Life acquaintances, my avatar has been asked where I’m from — and never if I am actually a tall white bald well-built male (all except one of those attributes is true:-). The nationality question, in Second Life as in real life, seems designed to get a quick fix on people, because the answer is hard to fake for long, and because there seems to be so little interest in faking it.

3D import tools for Second Life – when? And then what?

Right now, almost everything you see in Second Life has been built in-world with the Second Life client’s own tools. There’s been some speculation about what will happen when/if conversion tools start appearing that can bring existing libraries of 3D objects into Second Life — not just toasters and cars, but entire buildings — have a look at what’s available in Google’s own 3D Warehouse, aimed at Sketchup and Google Earth.

The Arch alerts me to an upcoming meeting in SL on March 22 at Architecture Island that will discuss precisely this topic. I hope to be there.

Personally, I think such a tool would result in a big bang for Second Life, and radically change what is cheap and expensive in-world, because the creativity and time that is in scarce supply could then focus on constructing more Second-Life specific experiences — which involves mainly scripting. In other words, the supply of static virtual buildings will go up and their production will be commodified, but scripting will become more popular and in demand as all these new imported objects now have to be given something to do.

I think many people are pining after such a conversion tool. An entry on IBM’s Second Life developer blog Eightbar from September 2006 on efforts to create one still sends traffic everyday to this post on Ogle Earth (about converting SketchUp files to Blender, an open source 3D authoring tool).

Finally, Google Earth CTO Michael Jones recently commented here that creating such a tool for SketchUp should be feasible via a script using SketchUp’s built-in support for Ruby. All we need then is for somebody to actually do it:-)