There goes the neighborhood: Second Life to join Steam gaming platform

Linden Lab recently announced that Second Life will soon be available on the Steam gaming platform, potentially making it available to the 40 million+  Steam customers.

Not being much of a gamer, I have tried my best to figure out exactly what Steam is.Mostly, I just gave myself a headache.Best I can tell, the Steam network was created by Valve, and they describe it like this:

Steam guarantees instant access to more than 1,800 game titles and connects its 35 million active users to each other—and to us. Through Steam, fans can easily buy, play, share, modify, and build communities around Valve products as well as titles from other independent game studios. Steam is available in 237 countries and 21 different languages.

My first impression was “Facebook for gamers”. You can chat with other members, form groups and, for a price, play a multitude of games. There are hundreds of titles, including some of the most popular games on the market. This is hardcore gaming. Steam also plans to add both creative and productivity software to its lineup

So, how will SL fit into all of this? Well, lets here from some steam members:

“This is dangerous stuff, I’d rather get outta the house and find real friends rather than socializing with 50yr old people acting to be in their 20s.”  – XDeepS

“The biggest surprise to me is that Second Life is still going! Is it not full of douche bags like PlayStation Home?” – Phill Watts

As you can see, they are really excited! It will be interesting to see how many Steam members are going to be willing to actually journey into Second Life. If they do come in, will they stay? Currently, Second Life does not have the graphics or the interface offered by most of the games you will find on Steam.Perhaps this is why LL has announced plans to upgrade the graphics ability very soon.

One interesting thing I noticed was that, although games are rated, there did not seem to be much in the way of age verification. It will be interesting to see what happens when Little Johnny logs in and decides to check out the Sexy Nude Beach sim. Do SL users automatically become Steam members? Can Steam members use a TPV? This venture raises so many questions, and there is, as usual with LL, not much in the way of answers.

Criticism and sarcasm aside, this could, possibly, turn out to be a good thing. I certainly like this direction than the previous attempt to turn SL into some sort of Facebook offshoot. Gamers who are interested in creating games and testing them could find SL quite advantageous. Also, from what I have read, connecting to steam will have no impact on how those of us who are already here login or go about our business. Every venture has risks, but at least LL seems to have a vision for keeping Sl relevant and viable in the years ahead. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Steam at Wikipedia

Steam home page

Snow Crash, the book that imagined a metaverse, turns twenty years old

In 1992, Neal Stephenson published a book entitled “Snow Crash” that in many ways predicted a virtual world like Second Life. While Stephenson’s ideas for a virtual world were much more dramatic, his terminology and vision shaped the virtual world we know as Second Life.

Terms we use every day, such as “metaverse” or “grid” or even the word “avatar” stem directly from this book. Every time you talk about “rezzing”, thank Mr. Stephenson.

Set in the distant future, the book introduces us to “Hiro Protagonist”. Hiro, a pizza delivery boy for the mafia by day,  is also a hacker/ninja warrior in the virtual world, aka the metaverse. In Stephenson’s metaverse, folks like Hiro log into a three dimensional world using a digital representation of them self,  called an avatar, to navigate through a virtual setting where information and data is stored in buildings instead of a flat webpage. Snowcrash also features a digital atlas called “Earth” that has an amazing resemblance to what is now “Google Earth”

Sound familiar? Second life creator Philip Rosedale acknowledged that some of his ideas for Second Life came from the book. A 2010 broadcast on NPR includes  Rosedale talking about how the book, a gift by his wife, inspired Second Life.

In Snow Crash, Hiro is asked by an ex girlfriend to help figure out how an online virus, called Snow Crash, is causing hackers to die in real life. Along the way, we meet bionic guard dogs that move at the speed of sound, a United States that is broken into corporations, a scateboarding delivery girl named YT (short for “Yours Truly”) and a media evangelist, L. Bob Rife, who has founded a religion (L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology?) that is housed on a floating city that consists of the former USS Enterpise aircraft carrier and 100’s of attached floating rafts and boats.

The book described how a language based on early sumarian can work as “code” for the human brain and what can happen when that code falls in the wrong person’s hands. (Go ahead and laugh, then watch somone “speaking in tougues”.)

I first read the book in 2000 and have read it about five times since. Not only is it my favorite science fiction novel, it would definitely rank high on my list of best books that I have ever read. Time magazine listed Snow Crash in its list of 100 all-time best English-language novel

Having read the book and loved it, I guess it should not have been a surprise to me that when I would eventually stumble up Second Life, I would become immediately fascinated with it.  One of my avatars is based highly on one of the books main characters, YT. All of this came back to me today when I read that Paramount Pictures has announced that it intends to make the book, now 20-years old, into a movie with Joe Cornish (Attack The Block) directing. If you have never read Snow Crash, I urge you to give it a try, espeically if you enjoy Second Life. Meanwhile, you can get a taste of Snow Crash in world at an exhibit sponsored by the University of Texas San Antonio. The exhibit, developed by Igor Ballyhoo in collaboration with Rebeca Bashly, uses a setting from the book as a way to display works by some works by prominent SL artist. The setting is the aircraft carrier owned by the Rife with dozens of attached rafts showing various works of art.

More about Snow Crash here

The UTSA exhibit “Snow Crash”

A machinima project reminds me of what we are capable of in Second Life.

Sometimes we think we have seen it all in Second Life. Then someone comes along like KabukFarshore who presents something to us that, at least for me, is a reminder that Second Life is limited only by our imaginations. The film is entitled “echo quietes serenata” and I wanted to share it with you because frankly, I can’t stop watching it. For me, this is so well done that there are moments I forget I am watching something created in Second Life. I found it to be both melancholy and uplifting. (I also love when the music stops and you just hear clapping!) Take a look for yourself:

According to her blog, this work was done as part of the University of Western Australia’s 5th Short Animated Film Festival: “See Wisdom”. The UWA is one of the few reaming universities maintaining a  presence in Second Life.

In her video post, Farshore says the piece is  “a film essentially about how we learn. To me, wisdom is a combination of how we handle things beyond our control (in this case, a small… apocalypse), and how we respond to the situations that we ourselves create.”

See this and more of Farshor’s work here.

The University of Western Australia in Second Life

Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble asks how to make new visitors stick

This is interesting.

While surfing through the user-run SLUniverse online forum I found a series of posts by none other than Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble. A lot of us, me included, often complain that the owners of Second Life never pay attention to the users of Second Life, so it was a treat to see Humble not just posting, but talking back and forth about what can be done to make new users opt to stick around in Second Life. Here is a bit of the question he posed:

Actually I do have a question for folks here. Assuming SL improved performance enormously, from region crossings to lag to render times. (big assumption I know but roll with me here) What would you do to insure new users “stuck”?

Right now after performance our biggest issue is not getting new signups or even people to experience SL for a bit, its turning them into long term users.

Any thoughts on what you would do? We have some ideas but before pulling the trigger I would be curious what folks thoughts are here. The more varied the better.

The responses, as you can imagine, were varied and Humble took the time to reply to several. For me personally, the thing that made me “stick” into second life was mainly meeting someone and talking with them. I think the sooner a new resident is able to talk with other residents, the better.

I really do like the fact that Humble does seem to understand that, despite our bitching, most of us love what SL offers and only complain because we want to see it at its best.  In short, Humble gets it:

With SL, I fully recognise LL has a long way to become liked or even trusted, I do get the sense that almost all criticism I read can usually have the line put in front of it “I love this world and I want it to do well, here is how you can do that .”

Can SL break the bonds that RL sometimes places on us?

Meet my long time friend, Rick Aurotharius.

In Second Life, Rick is not very hard to miss. He is the ladies man with long flowing hair, chiseled and defined abs, and a keen way of being wicked and flirty, yet sweet anda gentleman at the same time. You can usually find him DJing at some of the better clubs in SL, spinning the latest metal or dance hits, or even rockin’ out some country music. There is almost always at least one attractive young lady nearby when Rick is around.

Rick Aurotharius also has cancer.

It is no secret really. Rick notes right there in his profile that he is a 60 year old guy battling stage 4 rectal cancer. He doesn’t mention that he has been fighting for a long time now, including a long stay in a nursing home. You can bet that while there, one true asset was his computer that let him come in to SL and do what he loves doing. He was kind enough to give me permission to discuss his illness in this posts, because that is the kind of guy he is.

Rick is not alone. I have a good friend in Second Life who is wracked by headaches and constant fatigue and is currently trying with the help of neurologists to find the cause of an ailment that has severely limited what she can do in real life. In Second Life, she has no such limitations.

The use of Second Life as a coping mechanism for real life medical limitations has been an interest of mine that blossomed with a real life experience of mine when, due to some poor behavior in my youth, I landed in a hospital facing not one, but two very invasive surgeries. All went well but the recovery left me severely limited for longer than I expected. Things all of us normally took for granted such as riding a bike, going for a walk or just hanging out in a social setting with friends, suddenly were taken away. In a word, it kind of sucked.Second Life was my way around my restrictions that health had placed on me.

At about that same time, I was given a notecard  from a friend in world. It has circulated a bit, maybe you have even read it yourself. It is an account of someone who meets an interesting man who is fascinated with sailing in Second Life. After initially perceiving a slow response from this person as a lack of interest, the writer of the notem who was using voice, discovered that the man was deaf. A lover of sailing in real life for years, the man now enjoyed sailing in Second Life.

I truly feel that one of the real missed benefits of Second Life is its ability to assist those who are coping with illness or handicap in real life. We hear and read a lot in  the media these days about the dangers of too much logged onto the net, buried in Facebook or texting  and video games. Some of the concern is surely warranted, but I have often wondered, and perhaps one day we will see, if Second Life could not be a tool used by physical therapists or even psychologists in treating real life handicaps.