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Hamlet Au recently posted some discussion of ideas put forward by Feldspar Epstein, Ignatius Onomatopoeia, and others that, in the quick and easy version, goes like this: Second Life is unstructured and requires resis to come up with things to do for themselves. People born before about 1980 are much more comfortable doing this than people born after, who are more used to being handed things to do by parents, teachers, mass media, game designers, and so on.

Feldspar Epstein

It’s a pretty fascinating theory, and might, as Hamlet mentions, help explain why Teen Second Life is…kinda quiet and sparsely populated.

By the way, I haven’t read all of Ms. Epstein’s piece yet, but the excerpts are wonderfully written and insightful, and I’ll be interested to get the whole story. The recommendation she makes is this: “The concept and practice of freeform or open-ended play was easier for Generation X, in a way… The Millennial Generation [that’s the Gen Yers, the post-1980’s crowd], however, needs now to be taught to play this way.”

Of course, that’s not true of *all* younger people, and I don’t think Ms. Epstein was suggesting it was. I’ve met some in Second Life who clearly get it. But if we’re talking about a large group of people who aren’t comfortable coming up with their own things to do – and that includes some Gen Xers too! – then the question comes up of how we would teach such a thing, or for that matter, *why* we would teach such a thing. Is open-ended play better somehow?

Well, in a lot of ways, yes! If you’re willing to come up with things by yourself, you can innovate, create, imagine, explore, invent and in other ways rock the world. If you’re not willing to come up with things by yourself and would rather play someone else’s way so you don’t have to work at it, then you’re apprenticing as a sheep. Not that sheep aren’t very neat animals in their way! But sometimes you need to be a goat or a horse or a mountain lion or a porcupine, and that’s what Second Life helps us do. Sometimes literally.

So here’s my suggestion: build more things to do in Second Life that you don’t have to think about, more already-defined types of play that will be familiar and easy to Gen Yers and other people who would like defined activities.

“But Kate, you just said…”

I know, I know. Here’s the thing: by its nature, Second Life offers lots of opportunities to use your imagination, create things, expand your horizons. It doesn’t offer a whole lot of predefined things to do, which makes it hard to get interested in and sometimes, if we’re calling a spade a spade, downright boring! If we have more defined things to do – I don’t know, scripted surfing contests or month-long treasure-hunting expeditions with monsters or fashion games or peakbagging or societies that require mastery of different skills to attain a higher status or *anything* structured, anything that would appeal to a vice principal with a little imagination, then that gives people who are used to being handed things to do something to do, and by the time they’re done doing it, they’ll know how to get around in Second Life and might be willing to try something a little more self-directed. Bring people in by offering them something they know, and let them venture into unfamiliar territory at their own pace, that’s what I say! I suspect that’s why the Shikamis’ Seven Seas Fishing is so popular, and Tiny Empires: they have structure! They have goals! And you can stop doing them at any time to go off and build a palace made entirely of feathers (in which case please send me a landmark. I’d love to see it!).

mer-Jen Shikami, who with her brother Seven created Seven Seas Fishing.
I’d post a picture of programmer extraordinaire Seven instead, but he doesn’t
look quite as fabulous with a fish tail (that I know of).

Tiny Empires

One last thought: it’s a little funny to me how many of us go straight from a discussion of what’s keeping people out of Second Life to a discussion of how to bring them in, as though it’s somehow our job to do that. What it means is that many of us are not just Second Life residents, but Second Life proselytes, people who feel driven to spread the good news of how great Second Life is. Because, you know, it really is something great. Even if it does need a little help getting that across sometimes.

^^^\ Kate /^^^