It can be a little unnerving to log in to SL only to find it’s not behaving in quite the way you’re used to. I don’t mean the usual weirdness and peculiarities that we expect and have grown used to in the virtual world, but rather the slightly offputting moments that cause us to question whether ‘something’ is going on… Moreover, something that everyone else, but us, appears to be privy to.
It’s that same feeling you get when someone has a birthday, or other celebration, and you appear to be the only person in your circle of friends who didn’t know anything about it.
On two days in a row this week, I’ve logged in to my home sim to find it suspiciously devoid of people. There’s a pretty vibrant collection of inmates residents at the Penny Lane sim, and at certain times of day, you can pretty much be assured of some company, whether in the local pub, playing games, or just hanging about in the street playing chicken with the cars or waiting for someone to mug! To find the place empty is just a bit weird, particularly when it stays that way all evening.
What’s more, none of my friends amongst whom I usually spend my time were logged in – and the one friend who did make an appearance was as bemused as myself about the situation. It could be that everyone had decided to take a couple of nights off, or perhaps it was just an odd coincidence; maybe, just maybe, I’d been the unsuspecting victim of some great conspiracy, or bizarre practical joke; or could it be that for the past few years I’ve been living in something of a bubble… A bubble that’s finally burst to reveal the shocking truth?
You see, my virtual hometown is distinctly atypical of the wider state of the cause throughout SL. A state that really should be pretty obvious to someone who spends as much time exploring the place as myself. The reality across the virtual world is that much of SL is incredibly sparsely populated and there are vast tracts of our world that, for much of the time, are almost completely devoid of any kind of life at all. Just open up the world map any time you like, and the reality is staring you in the face – you’ll find across whole continents those little green dots, signifying the presence of our inworld compatriots are most notable by their absence. There are, of course, pockets of activity, where avatars are stacked in veritable high rise agglomerations – invariably, these will be clubs, sex venues, large popular stores, and commercial events, but you’ll rarely come across any gatherings of avatars simply passing the time of day in each other’s company.
Perhaps I’ve been somewhat spoiled: The inworld community in which I live is vibrant, friendly, supportive and sociable, and it’s an unfortunate fact that many self-styled communities in SL are such in name only, with little activity to suggest otherwise. There are those, of course, who work extremely hard to build strong and active virtual communities, particularly amongst roleplayers – some would suggest that, on occasion this can go to extremes, but at least there’s an effort made to build those bonds. However, for a community to organically and naturally develop inworld, simply as a consequence of the right people gathering together in a way that mimics a proper RL community is, I’d suggest, pretty rare in a virtual setting and is probably something you’re unlikely to come across all that often.
Having been part of such a community for so long, it seems that I’ve assumed – probably wrongly – that it is the SL norm, when the reality is that whilst people do form like-minded groupings in SL, they tend to be far more nebulous and ethereal than what we might more usually consider to be a community. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I do think that we should have an appreciation of those natural communities that do occasionally emerge inworld, and do our bit to contribute when we are fortunate enough to be part of one.
As for my recent Marie Celeste experience, well this is SL after all… And far stranger things happen all the time!
Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
We danced and sang, and the music played in a de boomtown
The Specials – Ghost Town