February 8, 2012: Donna Davis, Virtual Worlds and Second Life

Melodie Seble, @Melodie_

Mike Lilly, @MikeLilly1

Shannon August, @ShanAug

February 8, 2012

The first guest lecture of the term was a very interesting experience. Donna Davis, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon Turnbull Center in Portland, visited to teach us about virtual worlds and demonstrate Second Life, one of the most prominent web-based virtual worlds.

Second Life is a digital world where players, or “residents,” create avatars to represent themselves. Players can interact in the game much like they can in real life, and may participate in many activities that also exist in real life. Some players use Second Life as an extension of their real lives, but some immerse themselves completely in the virtual world.

According to Davis, the three keys to keeping people engaged in virtual worlds are presence, interactivity and immersion. She shared a quote from Marcos Novak, that “cyberspace is a habitat for the imagination.”

Davis described Second Life and its success over the past few years. In 2007, the site averaged 17,000 daily registrations, and in 2011 that number grew to 20,000. In 2010 and 2011, users spent $30 million US per quarter in-game. According to Davis, video games are the fastest-growing US retail category.

The highlight of the lecture was when Davis logged into her Second Life account and gave us a tour of the game. Her avatar, Tredi Felissimo, started out at the University of Oregon’s virtual land. Objects on the island included a classroom (conveniently located in a treehouse), a beach and a mathematical project involving floating spheres.

Davis demonstrated how some locations in-game are nearly identical to those in real life, such as classrooms, but some places such as a space city are completely invented. Interestingly, Second Life can be used as a type of virtual classroom, with avatars sitting in an amphitheater and watching a screen that contains a PowerPoint presentation or a webcam-facilitated lecture. Many real musicians also perform in Second Life, earning enough “tips” for their work that they can earn a living.

Second Life can be used to fulfill many different needs. Some people use the game for social reasons, such as philosophers and academics networking and exchanging ideas, or people with disabilities talking and interacting normally. Others use it as an escape from their lives. For example, a couple living in a trailer in New Orleans pays for the right to vacation in Costa Rica in the game. The mere act of relaxing in-game allows them to feel more relaxed in real life.

This idea, that people can perceive their actions and surroundings in a virtual world as real, raised some debate on Twitter. Most classmates said they would not be able to believe they were actually on a beach in Costa Rica.

By the end of the lecture, we all had a much better idea about what Second Life is and how it is valuable to the social media landscape.

Tweet highlights:

@plandsem : Talking virtual worlds today in #J412ssm w/ @dzdavis. Love this idea: “Cyberspace is a habitat for the imagination” (Novak, 2001).

@ShanAug : “Virtual Worlds- synchronous, persistent network of people, represented as avatars, facilitated by networked computers.” -Bell #j412ssm

@kmatthews : Hype Cycle: tech trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightment, plateau of productivity #J412ssm

@MitchEarnshaw : 183 million gamers in U.S. spending an avg. of 13 hrs/week playing computer or video games, but China STILL beats them w/ 200 mil. #J412SSM

@MikeLilly1 : Unlike gamers, people involved with Second Life will tell you that these relationships with their avatars are “real” #J412SSM

@Jewel_Myers : So are people logging onto Second Life to “live” their dreams, rather than go out and try to make them happen? #j412ssm

@plandsem : Amazed at how much real money is spent on virtual goods: $30 mil (US dollars) per quarter in 2010 & 2011. #J412ssm

@NBeschle : Trying to grasp the concept of buying virtual goods. I can barely afford the real things I need in my real life! #j412ssm #brokecollegekid

@AshleyAronson : I wish our UO campus looked like is does on @SecondLife. I’m sure all Journalism students would love to fly to Agate Hall. #J412ssm

@Melodie_ : #J412SSM Would any of you go to a virtual class lecture via Second Life?

@MitchEarnshaw  : @Melodie_ I think I’d be the one to drop the first garbage truck : P #J412ssm

@allykuhle  : @ShanAug I have so much to do in my real life i don’t think i would be able to handle a virtual life on top of that #j412ssm

@MikeLilly1 : Could you make that leap from believing you’re on a Costa Rican beach when you aren’t? I couldn’t #Travelisthebestteacher #j412ssm

In-depth log of tweets:


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