A comment, somewhere out in the blogosphere, recently caught my eye, deriding those who pursue activities like motorsports in SL. The argument posited was that such things are a complete waste of time: SL is too slow, laggy and ill-suited to this kind of activity and people with those sorts of interests would be better off playing on dedicated gaming platforms.
To me, that entirely misses the point.
SL is chock-full of activities and pursuits that could be done so much better on alternative platforms… racing, sailing, roller derby, biking, and a whole host of other diversions that can not only be done better elsewhere, but are in many cases severely hampered by being tied to SL. Even so, they all have a loyal and enthusiastic following, who often have little interest in leaving the confines of SL to enjoy the possibilities and improved performance that is readily available elsewhere, and that’s very much an illustration of what makes our virtual world so unique and different to games and the more mainstream types of platform.
I’m guessing here, but I reckon that the primary reason anyone would consider playing GTA, WoW, LoZ or any other GFWAAAWS (Game For Which An Acronym Alone Will Suffice), is that they want to enjoy the particular scenario that the game is geared towards, be it racing, questing, or building cities. That isn’t why most people sign up for SL. Reasons for joining our virtual community are many and varied and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them fit into the category of ‘just curious’ or ‘a friend told me to try it’. What happens next is different for all of us, but it’s quite likely that at some point we’ll find a niche that we find appealing or a group of people that we connect with. It’s at this point that many will settle down, whilst others will start to explore that niche further, developing skills and building on interests that complement it – often it will become a significant part of their virtual lives, be it DJ-ing, motorsport, commerce or art.
Even so, for all but the most committed to their cause, this niche remains just a part of the bigger picture. Virtual biking might well become the big draw for you inworld, but around this there will still be shopping, socialising, exploring and a thousand and one other activities to indulge in. Compare that with an MMO or game and you’ll see a big difference in more ways than one: Certainly the game will be the bee’s knees when it comes to pursuing your given activity; faster, superior content and a broader following, but it’ll have little else ancillary to that central concept. Maybe there’ll be a virtual market place, mods and options, but they will all be focussed on one thing – enhancing gameplay, and other than message boards and similar communities outside the platform, social interaction is also pretty limited. I can be a biker in SL as much as I want, but I can also do pretty much anything else I want too, at my leisure, and all within the same virtual environment.
Then there’s the flexibility that SL offers. A dedicated game is just that – dedicated – and if you don’t particularly fancy slaying orcs because today you feel like having a picnic instead, there’s nothing stopping you from doing just that; few other platforms allow you the freedom to break the rules in the way SL does. In the same way, few other platforms give their users the freedom and the tools to adapt the world around them in the way that SL does. Whilst a gaming platform might be capable of modding, SL does it par excellence – and again, we don’t have to follow the rules, just our own imaginations and purpose.
Above all, it’s SL’s propensity for building communities that makes it so different from other platforms – communities of everything from tinies to vampires, steampunks to cyberpunks and builders to buyers… we come into the virtual world looking for something that will catch our imagination, we find like-minded people, and together we build our clubs, our games and our exploits. In a game, it’s already there for us – polished and perfect, maybe but it takes nothing on our part to make it happen. In SL, we create our amusements and indulge ourselves – it’s a very different picture.
And it’s why we stay put, braving glitchy graphics and living with lag – because it’s ours – the rest of the world can have their shiny, superfast games, but we’re quite happy where we are, thank you very much.
I had a vision I could turn you right
a stupid mission and a lethal fight
I should have seen it when my hope was new
my heart is black and my body is blue
The Cardigans – My Favourite Game