Second Life – from addiction to improvements

It has been a while since I have blogged about the virtual world that is Second Life. This has been for a number of reasons but I’ll be up front and say here that includes addiction as well as not really having anything burning on my mind that I wanted to share. I’m also mindful that my blog has accumulated followers who found their way here because of the topics I write most about, and perhaps don’t have as much interest in reading about something that they’re not a part of, if they don’t use Second Life, although perhaps you can relate a little either way.

Anyway, today I received an e-mail from Linden Lab, who launched Second Life way back in 2003, informing me of “15 exciting improvements and features that make Second Life better than ever in 2018 and beyond!” I don’t share their enthusiasm but what better way to finally post a new topic on the thing I have been participating in/playing/logging into for over five years?!

I’ve decided to make this topic about both my sense of addiction, my personal improvements regarding that, and will share my views on some of those improvements Linden Lab are harking on about.

I suppose I’m quite self-aware and self-conscious (I don’t know which) about inadvertently promoting things that I consider to be unhealthy, and Second Life for me has been one of those things for a while, therefore if I’ve often avoiding accidentally suggesting someone tries out Second Life by way of mentioning it, because I don’t want to get them hooked too. Sure, I enjoyed Second Life a lot when I was new to it; meeting people from all over the world and socialising, just as I always have from my early days when the internet was new to me (and before then when I had some pen pals), I’ve found myself in romantic relationships, and thus experienced the heart-ache, I’ve also enjoyed exploring virtual places, just like I enjoy exploring real world places, and I enjoy finding free, or low cost clothes to dress up my avatar with, or as I should say, avatars, because I have more than one.

As I’ve come to learn, all this makes for a bunch of stimulation, especially if I make myself a cup off coffee at the same time, and before I knew it I was routinely logging in for hours at a time. Not only is it not healthy to be sat in front of a computer for that amount of time (especially when work can require the same) but I would get little else done. It has been a long slow road to change my habits and even now I have to admit days of “defeat” where I grant myself a day off from other stuff and then try and make up for that on other days (my To Do Lists / Monthly Challenge Charts have assisted me in this). Getting down on myself about this isn’t a helpful approach; that’s like turning to chocolate (or coffee) when you’re having a bad day.

The result is that I have been logging in to Second Life less and less, and not staying logged in for too long at a time. This has made maintaining friendships there a challenge, but it helps me to also keep my electricity usage to a minimum through the summer months, which is good news for this upcoming Earth Day event. This is not good news for Linden Lab though, who would no doubt prefer me to be a more regular and persistent (and dare I say it, addicted) user.

I’m not even a paid up member of Second Life, I’ve never put money into it. The service is free to use but there are premium features plus the option to transfer in real money to convert to the virtual currency used there. This means that a over half of the fifteen Improvements aren’t or don’t appear to be relevant to me, nor concern me, such as “1. Lower Mainland costs, 2. Double Mainland tier, 3. More Value for Premium Members, 5 … More exclusive games and experience, 9. Land Auctions, 10. Linden Home improvements.” Playing games in Second Life makes for another layer of addiction, and this includes such things as “Lucky Chairs” which give out free things at random; random rewards = addiction; even friends who log in at random can have a similar effect. I’ve learned how lab rats can become addicts through random rewards, so to discover that the human brain can be trained in a similar, and simple fashion is something to be aware of in life.

Lets look at the remaining Improvements and Features, in no particular order, which may be of interest to me (for a full explanation of them you can find out more [here]):

4. Environment Enhancements.

“Code name: EEP!” gotta love that! This will bring about new Windlight features, and the ability for people to create, sell, and buy settings. For those with an interest in cashing in on such things I’m sure they have been waiting for as long as Windlight settings have been a feature, so a very long time coming.

6. Themed Learning Islands. Since I was new I have been interested in using Second Life as a learning platform. Many schools, colleges and universities from around the world have created in-world facilities and campuses to offer online courses in a virtual environment or classroom. The result though has been like a fart in the wind, either that or every time I have visited such a place everyone involved has been sleeping, or on holiday. In most cases it seems that such things have been created to showcase what can be built, but there is very little real-world interest or those so-called people of education are addicts just like me. With other online learning services and websites, and lessons available for free on Youtube, I think Second Life isn’t a good platform in this regard; there are too many virtual distractions for one thing. Some have tried the simple task of sharing books in-world, but certain websites make the browsing of these and downloading and reading far easier.

11. Marketplace updates.

This is probably my main area of interest regarding Improvements to Second Life. Often this place to search for, browse, and purchase clothing for my avatars, and other things besides, has felt clunky and cluttered with junk that people created 10+ years ago that has virtually (no pun intended) no place in Second Life today. Also, for someone who likes to find free things, the Marketplace has always made this challenging because  a lot of free things are simply demos and the way to filter out these is to include “NOT demo” in the search box… that’s not very intuitive. I think what remains on Marketplace should be those things that receive a minimum number of sales per given time period.

12. Improved performance.

The performance of Second Life viewers (for which I use Firestorm) has always been hampered by my slow internet connection. This has been made worse by “improvements” that have brought about mesh and the high level of detail that these things include. Unless Linden Lab give me an option to not download graphics at such high resolution, and give me more control in general over what my viewer downloads, because the “improvement” that was Jelly Dolls only brought about the option to display less detail; the intensive graphics were still downloaded so the feature is pointless and annoying to me. For those that want improved performance in this area, and are regular users, then they should consider using a computer that is up for it. For me to improve my performance I would have to spend twice this amount on my broadband connection, something I can’t justify when I’m trying to cut down. Beyond this, I don’t find my experience in Second Life to be particularly buggy, in fact things have become increasingly stable over time.

One area where I have noticed particularly sluggish performance, however, is actually with the Second Life website. I often use that to see which friends are online, rather than logging into the virtual world throughout the day, and then logging back out again if it is a quiet time. Perhaps the Cloud Migration mentioned below will improve this.

13. Animesh.

I’ve been vaguely aware of this, but I’m finding the improvements in avatars, such as “Bento” and the ‘clever’ ability to animate things like fingers and facial features to be somewhat tiresome. Perhaps due to my desire to cut down on my time in Second Life and manage my addiction I’ve unconsciously found irritations, and through this I’ve found these such improvements to be counter-productive to how Second Life used to be fun and enjoyable, namely the ability to have deep and meaningful conversations. Maybe this isn’t cause and effect, but it seems that the more people focus on the avatars (especially their own) they engage less with others on any meaningful level. Or, as the case may be, the more I try and avoid Second Life, the less I seek meaningful attachments.

14. Bakes on Mesh.

From what I understand, this will be a return to the ability to wear textures, as how it was/is with old “system avatars”. Mesh avatars have relied on appliers and HUDs for this, making the whole process of changing clothes even more clunky.

15. Migration to the Cloud.

As with everything online it seems, things are moving to the “Cloud”. Generally I find this term annoying because muggles don’t really get it, but for Second Life, from what I’ve read briefly, the systems will move away from dedicated servers which provide the best performance to those closest to them to being spread about the “Cloud”; this should therefore bring about improvements to everyone else, and also make the platform more resistant.

7. The return of Last Names.

So ‘everyone’ complained about the move away from the last name thing that used to be in place upon sign-up. How bringing this feature back will affect current users unless they ones to create new accounts, I don’t know, or maybe there will be an option to change an existing user name to include a last name. Like the Windlight feature (4) it seems very belated to bring back/out this feature now when it was called for since many years ago.

And there we have it. My brief review of the 15 Reasons to Celebrate (or not) 15 Years of Second Life!

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