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Here’s how to dismiss Second Life as irrelevant and boring: first, create a new account. Be frustrated for a while at how much you have to learn just to get around in the virtual world. Set off in a random direction. Find lots of red tape, get-rich-quick-scheme virtual malls with half of their booths empty and no traffic, tacky clubs with no people dancing in them…move on and maybe get griefed, or stumble into a private conversation between friends and get snarked for wearing a box on your head, or not responding when people talk to you, or just for being a newbie.

And if your experience is like that, you might conclude that Second Life is “like a cross between being in some suburban shopping mall on the outskirts of Edmonton in the middle of winter and the worst day you ever spent in high school.” At least, that’s what William Gibson thought. And he’s not the only one. I hear story after story of someone coming to Second Life and having a that kind of experience. It wasn’t too different for me when I came to Second Life, except that I happened to wander into a club full of furries, and while furryism isn’t really my thing, they were wonderfully friendly, and from there I gradually started making friends and learning my way around.

I suspect that the most important thing that can happen – or not happen – to someone who comes into Second Life for the first time is meeting someone interesting to talk to. If you do, then suddenly you’re having a fascinating conversation with an enigmatic stranger. If you don’t, you feel like you’re at an abandoned shopping mall, or being snubbed by the in crowd, and you go home and try to forget the whole experience except for a sense of “Well, anyone who does that for fun is an idiot.”

Of course I’m leaving out the gamers. Maybe if you come into Second Life through the CSI portal or something, or proceed immediately to a role-playing sim to get into some titanium armor and strap on a laser sword, the experience is completely different. I can’t really say much about that, though, because I’m not a gamer. I’ll have to venture over to that kind of reality some day soon and bring back some impressions.

Only our wastelands are shopping malls. There seems to be no end to people who build a club, find a stream, and then wait for people to show up, or people who build a mall and offer space to rent and wait for people to show up, or people who build anything and then leave. Why we have so much empty space is another discussion, but the thing I wish newcomers knew was that there’s a lot of wasteland out there, and just because it isn’t cracked earth with nothing moving on it except scorpions, that doesn’t mean you’re anywhere in particular yet. You have to find places, and that can be difficult.

Really difficult, actually. A week or two ago a friend and I went looking for a club to go dance in. We used search and split up and teleported to one place after another, looking for a friendly place to dance and meet people other than the ones we already knew, which for one reason or another that night weren’t hopping. Most places were empty. Some had people, but they weren’t people who were interested in talking to newcomers: believe me, I tend to come into a room with witticisms blazing, so anyone looking to greet newcomers will have a chance to either laugh or tell me to stop very early on. What tends to happen when I go to a new dance club, if anyone’s there at all, is that the people there are talking to each other, either in small groups or all together if they know each other. My friend (Kit) and I finally found a place where people seemed to be having conversation, but we soon realized we couldn’t understand the conversation, because these were all 20-something hipsters using slang we had never heard.

People in Second Life aren’t unfriendly, but they’re not universally friendly, either. They’re just people, trying to enjoy themselves or serve some other purpose of theirs, and they’re not necessarily there to be interested in someone else. The great tragedy of Second Life, as I see it, is that at any given time there are hundreds or thousands of people who’d like to go somewhere and meet some friendly, new people, and tens of thousands more who would sign on if they knew they could do that, and these people have a really hard time finding each other.

Well, that probably explains to you why we started a socializing venue that continues to cost us money to run, and why I started the League of Friendly Hangouts, with its little kiosks full of friendly places to go. I want people to be able to go through orientation, find a fun place to go, and immediately go meet interesting people there, people who won’t reel back in horror at their non-prim hair or talk back and forth over their heads like 60’s-era parents at a cocktail party, but people who will want to dance and play games and make jokes and find out what makes that newcomer interesting and fun.

Fortunately, I’m not nearly the only one trying to make that happen. Hamlet Au‘s blog, New World Notes, has a feature called NWN’s True Community Search that spotlights a bunch of places like this, all of them with more traffic than our little Diversionarium. They’re out there if you look! And some of us are trying to make them easier to find.

But until we can make them so easy to find that even first-timers will easily be able to get to them, people will continue to flow through Second Life and come out the other side wondering what we who stay see in it. Those of us who stay, I guess, are the starry-eyed builders and the optimists, the gamers and the role-players, the stubborn and the compelled, the inquisitive and the driven, and the lucky goofballs who stumble into clubs full of friendly talking animals.

^^^\ Kate /^^^

PS – Thanks to everyone who’s taken the sex survey so far! If you’d consider mentioning it in your own blog or to your friends, or know ways I can get the word out to get more takers, I’d take it as a kindness!