Art and Exploration, Education in Virtual Worlds, Second Life

Major Media Gets Glow in Second Life

Two major pieces this week give glowing coverage to Second Life: one for art, and one for education.

The New York Times magazine gives in-depth coverage to artists in Second Life. Unfortunately, the piece now seems to be pass code protected, but registration is relatively painless (or, even better, pick up a copy of the Times tomorrow!)

In “Portrait of an Avatar” the Times article gives a nice summary of Second Life before launching into a review of how it is increasingly being used as a platform for artists:

“What is not possible in real life, it would seem, becomes irresistible in virtual life. “In Second Life, you are art; everybody’s an artist,” says Richard Minsky, a studio artist based in Hudson, N.Y., and the founder of The ArtWorld Market Report, a magazine focused on virtual art and culture. “That’s what’s so interesting about the whole thing. It’s an art world unto itself.””

It makes note of the problems with Second Life, but puts them in the context of this as being a frontier (you listening, Mitch?):

“Second Life, and indeed much of virtual technology to date, remains highly flawed. Lag times can be significant, servers crash regularly and it is easy for a newcomer to feel entirely creeped out by the hard-core lovers of fantasy who settled there first. But technology is full of transitional neighborhoods, places where the everyday has not yet caught up with the promise of someday. And it is usually the most creative and aspirational among us who stake out these places early.”

Seconding my notion that prim hair is one of the most critical things to the new user experience, the article notes that while virtual, Second Life evokes real feelings:

“People who spend a lot of time in virtual worlds will tell you that, despite the veneer of escape and anonymity provided by an avatar, virtual experiences nonetheless provoke emotions that are deeply felt, which may explain my mortification at losing my virtual hair.”

The key paragraph to the article, however, is in the moment of “conversion” – to read about how someone suddenly sees beyond, and starts to “get it”:

“It is both easy and also confounding to imagine why an artist might be attracted to the virtual world. A number of artists I spoke with described it as uniquely liberating to work in a 3-D space where every last detail — from color and texture to sound and light —is readily configurable, where pixels are always cheap and in abundance and where laws concerning gravity and other matters of physics simply don’t apply. On the November evening I sat in on a Brooklyn Is Watching session in Williamsburg, Van Buren maneuvered the site’s avatar — an unblinking, disembodied eyeball known as Monet Destiny, who, in a nod to neighborhood hipsterism, wears a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap — through an elaborate sculpture made of concentric, overlapping metallic loops. The sculpture, from Monet’s point of view, was at least 300 feet wide and maybe twice as tall and sat floating over a piece of ocean. Using a keyboard propped on his lap, Van Buren zoomed in and out of the sculpture’s wiry ribs, not unlike a bird dipping in and out of treetops. In a matter of about three minutes, we’d examined the piece from maybe 20 different perspectives, including from hundreds of feet away and from deep inside its interior. The experience was both rapid and thrilling and unlike anything, in my years of traipsing through museums, galleries and sculpture gardens, I’d done before.”

National Public Radio
Meanwhile, over on NPR, Scott Simon “looks for coffee in Second Life”. Here’s a clip from a more extended interview:

“Dr. Michael DeMers is a geography professor at New Mexico State University. While he does teach in a traditional classroom, he also invites his students to join him in an online virtual world called Second Life. At least once a week, their avatars (digital versions of people) head to an island in this virtual terrain to review class notes. Host Scott Simon’s avatar paid a visit to this online virtual island to meet with Dr. DeMers, our Second Life guide. While there, Scott asked for a cup of coffee, but what he opened was a can of worms instead:”


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