Quote; Unquote

“The problem with creating an immersive 3-D experience is that it is just too involved, and so it’s hard to get people to engage. Smart people in rural areas, the handicapped, people looking for companionship, they love it. But you have to be highly motivated to get on and learn to use it.” 

Now, read that again and tell me what you think is being said here.

That particular quote comes from none other than one Philip Rosedale, aka Philip Linden, aka the person who created Second Life – i’m not entirely sure what i make of it. On the one hand, it could be viewed as highly insightful, alternatively you might consider it to be highly insulting, then again, it could also be taken as a back-handed compliment! If you consider it from a public relations point of view, at first reading, it’s a bit of a disaster – perhaps PR should steer clear of PR and confine himself to coming up with new and innovative methods of collaborative networking, which seems to be an area he’s pretty good in!

What are we to make of this statement? Is Mr R. seriously suggesting that sl is firmly aimed at a niche market: The socially disadvantaged, who have nothing better to occupy their time than to hang around in a virtual world that makes up for all the niceties of the real world that those less isolated by circumstance are able to enjoy? Are the most successful and engaged people in sl really those who have so little going for them in rl and therefore throw themselves wholeheartedly into the online community as a means of living a full and meaningful life that they would otherwise be denied? This is certainly one impression that you might form from what he says and i can’t help feeling that, if it is the intended thrust of his words, it’s rather a generalisation in terms; i’d certainly hesitate to say that people in rural areas, the handicapped and those looking for companionship are getting any less from their lives than those not in that position.

Maybe i’m reading it the wrong way? Perhaps he’s saying that those who find themselves in some way disadvantaged tend to be more motivated than their more fortunate peers; in which case, does this mean that those whose lives are not afflicted in some way that challenges them to raise the bar beyond the norm are lazy, unsuccessful and lacking in the skills that sl brings to the fore? If that is the case, then Philip has again done a disservice to a very large swathe of society and tarred a great many people with the same, rather undesirable and derogatory brush!

Could it be possible that i haven’t grasped his argument at all and that his intention is not to be judgmental with regard to any particular segment of society, but rather he’s making a general observation on the peculiar demands of sl itself – although this isn’t something that suggests itself immediately from his phrasing! There’s no doubt that there are elements of sl that require us to be engaged every bit as much as rl itself demands; it’s also true that those who wish to ‘get on’ in sl and who want to take advantage of the vast array of opportunities sl provides really do need to be motivated and pretty dedicated if they are to learn how to use those opportunities to their advantage. Nobody, for example, becomes a scripter overnight, and certainly not without a fair investment of time, effort and determination often with the only motivation to succeed coming from within – there’s little financial inducement and any kudos that comes with mastering such a discipline has little, if any value outside the virtual community.

What about the rest of us, though… The teeming millions who are not particularly experts in any aspect of sl and could perhaps best be termed as ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ – where do we fit in to this interesting take on the virtual world – because, if Philip really is commentating on the nature of sl, rather than having a dig at the people who use it, then i imagine many of us might struggle to put ourselves up there with the high achievers and super-involved, so does it follow that we can’t engage with sl? Surely that can’t be the case, because we certainly feel, act and behave as if we’re very much engaged!

The key to unlocking this dilemma lies in understanding exactly what role we are fulfilling in sl – we tend to see ourselves as ‘residents’. The current incumbents at Linden Lab would prefer that we saw ourselves leaning more towards  being ‘players’, but the truth is that both terms are really misnomers. Phil hits the nail squarely on the head in his very first sentence – maybe if i slightly alter the wording you’ll see it – ‘It’s hard to get people to engage with creating an immersive 3-D experience. It’s just too involved.’

Yep, however deeply immersed we may perceive ourselves to be and whether we see ourselves as experts or enthusiastic amateurs, residents or players, every single time that we log in we become ‘creators’… our actions, interactions and activities work together, in concert with those of others, to collectively and individually create ‘an immersive 3-D experience’.

So often we labour under the misapprehension that Linden Lab creates sl, when any Linden worth their salt will be more than happy to point out that they only provide the platform – it is ourselves who populate it, build upon it, develop it and create the world of sl, each one of us contributing our own little bit to the extraordinary whole. To us, it might seem like we’re having fun, enjoying ourselves or doing nothing remarkable at all, but every conversation we have, every prim we build and every single thing that we do is part of the process that creates the virtual world that we are part of.

That takes a certain mindset and attitude – it takes the kind of person who is able to suspend belief, explore their imagination, let go of the real world and – most importantly – contribute and give selflessly of themselves as part of the process. Perhaps this is why Linden Lab can sometimes seem to be so at odds with us residents – neither party has really grasped this fundamental tenet of sl existence. We, the residents, keep making demands of the Lindens, complaining about their mismanagement and generally apportioning blame their way, when really we should be getting on with the job of working with what we have. Sure sl has its problems, but we’re a smart bunch and there’s always a way around them and maybe, rather than expect solutions to be handed to us on a plate, we should be creating solutions ourselves. Similarly, the Lab’s failure to understand this basic point sends it off on advertising campaigns that entice people into sl for what it can offer to them… whether it’s free Lindens for crystals or the chance to jump on the vampire bandwagon. What they should be selling to new signups is not what they can get from sl, but rather how they can contribute to sl to make it even better.

i’m not sure that i particularly like Philip’s tone, or particularly agree with some of the points he’s trying to make but i can’t help thinking that the visionary whose ideas first conceived sl has managed to sum up everything there is that’s both good and bad about sl in just a single sentence… Perhaps we should all take note?

s. x

It’s my own design
It’s my own remorse
Help me to decide
Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure
Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World 

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10 Responses to Quote; Unquote

  1. This is probably my all time favorite quote about SL — from anyone! The fact that Philip should have more insight than most anyone else into the nature of the Second Life community just adds credence.
    I find myself going back to it again and again. My understanding has evolved.
    Taking his points very broadly I have come to see this quote as insightful.
    1- “Smart people in rural areas”: I would rather he had said – Creative people with limited RL outlets for their creativity; but he is on the right track. Engineers, graphic artists, etc. who work in a cubical implementing someone else’s visions or who make a living in non-creative jobs find a natural home in SL. Rural is not the only factor that can limit your creative outlets.
    2- “the handicapped”: Aren’t we all handicapped in some way? Physically, emotionally, or by the circumstances of life? Second Life provides an accessible outlet to anyone with the appropriate hardware and the will to use it.
    3- “people looking for companionship”: Very true, but then “looking for companionship” is as good a description as any of the human condition. Just listen to the radio, most songs are about looking for companionship, or, having found it, keeping it.

    Perhaps someone with more poetic skill than me could rework:
    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
    -from the Statue of Liberty

    • Thanks for this, Shug. Eloquently and thoughtfully put – thanks for your inworld IM too – i’m sure that you’re right that this is an insightful observation by Philip, it’s just a pity that as a communicator he is, shall we say, a ‘little blunt’? Perhaps that’s the way to get on in a cut-throat industry when you’re at the cutting edge of creativity, however it can cause a wealth of misunderstanding, even outrage, and that can hide the message being conveyed.
      s. x

  2. Shauna says:

    Boots, I agree with you 100% on this one. I took Philip’s statement EXACTLY the same way you did. You’re also right about another thing: The Lindens provide the platform, but Second Life itself is a world created by its residents. And it’s no wonder some new people come to SL disappointed. The advertising the Lindens put out try to attract “gamers” when Second Life is a virtual world. They should really be reaching out to creative types, social types, and those who would like a “3D Internet” — i.e. a virtual world. Instead they come out with a mediocre game to promote, and jump on a vampire bandwagon.

    • i do think that the Lab is missing out on a myriad of golden opportunities to entice in exactly the sort of people that sl relies upon to make it the vibrant, vital and inspiring virtual space that it is. SL is primarily content-based; it doesn’t have a structured game environment that narrows the focus and flow of ideas – it’s open-ended and, for that reason, is precisely the type of environment that creative types can run amok in! If they don’t know what’s there for the taking, they’re certainly not going to take the time to look, particularly when sl is being touted as some pop-culture version of The Sims!

      s.x

  3. Inara Pey says:

    It’s a quote I come back to time and again and mull from a variety of angles. However, you do initially pick-up on something that did strike me almost immediately at the time, which has a potentially broader resonance where some at the board level of Linden Research are concerned. You ask:

    “What are we to make of this statement? Is Mr R. seriously suggesting that sl is firmly aimed at a niche market: The socially disadvantaged, who have nothing better to occupy their time than to hang around in a virtual world that makes up for all the niceties of the real world that those less isolated by circumstance are able to enjoy?”

    I focused on this – and still do when having cause to read PR’s words – because, while the wording is different, the underlying interpretation is very, very similar to Mitch Kapor’s tone in his infamous SL5B speech, in which he implied that those engaged in SL are somewhat socially inept.

    Of course, the difference here is that Rosedale’s view is more implied from without than possibly meant, which Kapor’s statement was pretty unmistakable at the time. However, taken together, the two tend to suggest that there was / is / has been an attitude within the board that it is perhaps the user community that are holding SL back, simply because we are a “niche” market, and as such, we contribute to SL remaining niche and our presence has (at least in the past) not been seen in the most beneficial of light by the board as a whole – and that view may still persist to a certain degree.

    Obviously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being niche – and that is the point that some in LR (and certain commentators who write about SL) don’t actually seem to appreciate. Many companies enjoy comfortable success and revenues simply because they are niche. Some even capitalise on that fact and achieve far more than simply being “comfortable” without striving for mass appeal.

    However one does view PR’s words – and I very much agree with your analysis – thanks for a post that again sets one’s mind cogitating around the entire issue, and that of the LR board’s relationship with its primary product. For my part, I do also find myself reading PR’s words and wishing those that repeatedly get the mallet out even today and bash Mark Kingdon for perceived wrongs would take a moment to reflect on from whom Kingdon took his orders while in office. After all, he wasn’t working in isolation from the same board PR and Mitch Kapor sit upon…

    • Niche is not necessarily naff – creative cultures are often those that occupy a particular niche or hover on the edges of polite society… The romantic poets and Impressionists were hardly mainstream, even at their height and were no doubt considered by their peers to be a little peculiar and, of course, those of us who may feel marginalised by society because of the particular niche we prefer to occupy, or pursuits that we enjoy, are naturally drawn towards sympathetic environments and company.

      Where i do have to bite my tongue is on the numerous occasions that LL seems to equate niche with ‘plebs’ – i can’t shake the feeling that sometimes they view their user base, much as a rather pompous and condescending uncle views a precocious child. Occasionally that surfaces as downright contempt. Perhaps i’m just super-sensitive, or maybe LL are as bad at PR as they are at promotion – i hope that’s the case, because if they really are looking at us with a nasty, cynical sneer, it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

      s. x

  4. The flagship person for a company should never be handing out statements about his product that can be so easily read in a bad light.

    Even Dungeons and Dragon’s developers never said “Our game is just for freaks and geeks” – even if it was true. 😀
    PR coming out and saying “my game if for redneck social retards living in trailer parks” is not good PR…

    (Even if the Ron Paul thread on the SL forums is making me think that the above would be accurate… you don’t say that if you’re the icon for a product…)

    • Even if it was true – which i don’t believe for a minute – it’s surely corporate suicide to insult your target demographic, even if that was never the intention.

      i can’t shake the conviction that if those speaking for the Lab just got somebody to sanity check everything before they hit the ‘publish’ button, we’d see a lot less angst and at least a little more understanding.

      s. x

  5. The world is far too PC and judgmental. MetaReality’s recent podcast on the Wackadoodles comes to mind. It is impossible to anticipate how people will perceive or what they will read into what anyone says. There is little point arguing or debating with Wackadoodles.

    It is the political season in the US and it is blatantly obvious anything can be spun to suit one’s agenda.

    It is really nice to see people exploring and thinking beyond their initial take and inference.

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