Monday, October 31, 2005

Parallel Libraries

I've been playing around with Second Life, an online, massively multi-player non-game (although there are games available within) over the last couple weeks. I tried it more than a year ago, and the tech wasn't up to par with the current set of MMORPGs. I felt like if the owners/publishers couldn't get their act in gear and put their cyberworld at least within shouting distance of Everquest or World of Warcraft, the time was not ripe.
I read recently that it had been pretty massively upgraded last June, so gave it another go with a free-trial subscription and have been pleasantly surprised, at least in terms of the improvements in technology. This is all, at this point, just a curiosity from my point of view as a gamer/designer/game anthropologist of sorts.

But, while looking at various fansites for SL, I found a site that has also provided an in-game analog (can you have a "digital analog?") that tries, as much as possible, to precisely mimic a 3D, contructed, navigable structure that presents the same materials as are available on the web site. The site, and the virtual library, provide fiction and non-fiction works, art, music and "spaces" to chat and leave messages.

Very cool. Very weird. Very much something that I think we'll see more of. Real worlds and virtual worlds smack-dabbing each other in various ways. Another example I've encountered in SL already is art galleries where real-world (called "First World" in-game) artists scan and provide looks at their art to in-game residents. You can often buy in-game, SL copies of the art to put in your SL domain, and/or get in contact with the artist to obtain the real world version of the art, too.

If you haven't read Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash," now is a good time to do so. It's on my list of Top 10 Best Books of All Time, is the 2nd best cyberpunk novels ever -- bested only by the seminal "Neuromancer" by William Gibson -- and has one of the clearest, most compelling visions of how the real world and an online world (called the "Metaverse" in "Snow Crash") might interact and collide. Right now, Second Life is probably the closest thing to the Metaverse that's actually up and running.
One of the biggest players on Second Life, whose avatar is named Anshe Chung, earned over USD$100,000 last year by buying and selling "real estate" in Second Life. Yes, real estate. If you want a permanent house for your avatar, or a shop to sell your art, or a spot for your library, you need land. And buying it from the publishers of the game in big chunks is cheaper. And so selling it off in smaller chunks -- or renting it -- can make you money, using Linden Dollars, the in-game currency. And there is an exchange system, by which you can trade LD for USD. There are other folks making high 5-figure incomes designing clothes, bling, architecture, games and gestures for in-game use.

Oh brave new world wide web that has such people in/on/inside it.

Makes me wonder even more about the longevity of paper, when people are willing to pay real money to buy virtual clothes and virtual jewelry for their online personnae.

Then again, perhaps people would pay real money to interact with a librarian avatar who could help them find what they are looking for in a SL sim-library...

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