The taste of rhubarb

How do you explain Second Life to someone who has no knowledge or understanding of it?

I don’t mean in simple terms, but in the sense of the complexities of how it makes us feel, the way it influences our real lives, and the relationships, interactions and transactions that are all part and parcel of our virtual lives?

I suppose you could take the approach of finding common ground and extrapolating from there – maybe employing a multiplayer game, social media, even church by way of comparison? But that doesn’t address the fundamental point that SL is none of these things, and whilst it may share similar characteristics, when you depart from those shared areas of understanding, confusion tends to set in.

Maybe you take the more selective approach, focusing on a single angle, or just a few aspects of SL that are easy to grasp, but that always seems to me a bit like getting the proverbial three blind guys to describe an elephant by touch alone. SL is far too complex to render down into a few easily understood points. The trouble is, I would argue, that SL is not only complex, but unique – two qualities that can cause difficulties in translation in their own right, but together in combination are capable of stumping the most erudite communicator.

Explaining SL to the uninitiated is like explaining the taste of rhubarb to someone who had never tried it.

The only way you can possibly get to grips with it, is to try it; and, like rhubarb, your own experience is going to vary wildly compared to that of others. You may love it, or hate it; you may be unsure and want to wait until your palate becomes accustomed to the taste, or you might be unimpressed right from the first mouthful and not want to bother should it ever come your way in the future.

This is one of the problems that Linden Lab faces when it comes to promoting SL. We’re constantly griping that they don’t do enough to sell the virtual world, but seriously, with something as complex and unique as SL, how the hell do you do that anyway? Do we really imagine it’s possible to explain to anyone about the subtle complexities of the unique taste of rhubarb in a way that will appeal to anyone, no matter what their tastes? Yet that’s precisely what we expect the Lab to do when it comes to promotional activities related to SL.

Whether we are drawn to, or appalled, by the infamous vampire adverts of a few years back, the allure or otherwise of Linden Homes, new avatars or inworld games, will depend massively on what sort of things appeal to you personally, and to a very much smaller extent, on the quality of the advertising… And neither will have much at all that can give you any sort of idea of what SL is really about – it’s just not possible, it’s far too complex.

With that line of reasoning, you have to wonder whether any sort of investment is marketing for SL is even worthwhile, and my feeling is that it really isn’t. The vast majority of people for whom SL plays an everyday part in their lives, (that is, the sort of people that any advertising campaign worth its salt would wish to attract), are there often completely by accident, or through association. Many who joined up in the early years may have been caught up in the whole ‘virtual worlds are the future’ hype, others would have followed the evolutionary geekist progression from Usenet to MUDS and MMORPGS, and onwards and upwards. Still others will have been introduced by friends, family, pop groups, and even guitar and car manufacturers. Then there are those – like myself – whose curiosity was was sparked, maybe through reading Snowcrash, Ready Player One, Otherland, Neuromancer, seeing magazine articles, reviews or glimpses of SL on TV and elsewhere; but very few – if any – would have logged in to SL that first time with any real idea about what to expect.

I imagine that some of us are still finding ourselves in that position, even after years inworld!

We’re used to periodically passing through times of doom and gloom, when SL is supposedly on the decline and will soon find itself on the scrapheap of virtual failure and most of the time, we unthinkingly and happily lay the blame squarely upon the Lab’s inability to promote SL to the masses. However, as I’ve explained, that’s not a easy thing to do, if it’s indeed possible and – if it was such a deal breaker – how come SL is still going strong, even though Linden Lab has done little in real terms over the years to market it in any significant way?

I’m pretty certain that it’s those very qualities that make SL so hard to sell – its uniqueness and complexity – that are its biggest selling points and greatest assets. People who sign up to SL and stay, are precisely the sort of people that find this mix intriguing and captivating and it is exploring this environment and seeking what appeals to them that keeps them interested.

Just like rhubarb, the only way you’re ever going to find out what it’s really like is to try it.

And the same is true of Second Life.

s. x

This is my world today
and I couldn’t have it
any other way
in my world…
Secret Affair – My World

This entry was posted in Linden Love, Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL. Bookmark the permalink.

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