I started the Romantic Picnic project to learn more about what works and what does not work in a virtual world like Second Life. I started out with an idea of making a SIM where someone could have a romantic picnic. This was based on:
- I had attended several classes where items used on picnics were being created.
- Several SIMs had areas for picnics.
- Picnics were seen as romantic and there was a population in Second Life looking for romance.
So with the help of the SIM 2.0 group I received a small parcel of land. I created walls around the SIM for privacy. A waterfall was added as the main focus. The SIM was near the edge of the Island so I added plants along the walls leading to the ocean. At the edge of the ocean I placed a picnic blanket with poses for a couple and added a fire pit at the edge of the beach. It was a simple design with several of the key items being purchased instead of being created from scratch. What is funny is that I never received any negative comments about the final design. I have gone there at different times only to have to leave my own SIM because others were using it and I did not want to interrupt their privacy. I had successfully created a place for couples to have a romantic picnic.
That part went as I expected. However, I learned very little from it. Where learning took place was in the Discussion groups that I either attended in Second Life or hosted at my SIM. Here is what I learned.
- Appearance matters as much in Second Life as it does in real life. I have found that in my professional life people commonly judge me by the clothing I wear and how I carry myself. Coming to work in cloths that look like you slept in them can tend to make people think less of you. Well, in Second Life the same holds true. I traveled in Second Life as a Furry. I had a human body with a cartoon animal head and a stripped tail. What I found from talking to people was that when I hosted a discussion people would see the furry newbie and leave. Because of my appearance people judged my discussion as having little value. I know this because several people who showed up and left told me why when I followed up and asked them later.
- Layout of the SIM matters. The design of my SIM was fine for a couple having a romantic picnic. It used a small space and provided privacy without being within a building. However, for holding discussions it did not meet expectations. Asking people to sit on the ground near a fire pit failed. It was another reason people did showed up and left discussions. If you attend discussions in Second Life you will generally find that special places are built that provide structured places to sit and maybe some type of display board or presentation screen. Asking people to sit at random around a fire did not live up to their expectations. Again this was confirmed by following up with people who left.
- Second Life is a chunky soap. What I mean by this is that people have many reasons for being there and many things that they do there. Getting attention can be very hard. You can post a discussion easy enough. However, getting people to show up is quit another thing. If you wish to host discussions it helps to attend other discussions and establish yourself as someone who is worth listening to. This is not always an easy task. Sometimes it is hard to get a word in. And you have to choose your words carefully in many instances when there are competing ideas. It is not uncommon for discussions to turn into debates and moderators to fight to maintain control of the discussion. As you build your reputation by attending discussions you also build your links to communities. The successful discussions have regulars and repeat attendees. They create their own community of people interested in the subjects that they offer for discussion. The concept of creating a community can’t be overstressed. This is the heart of Second Life.
- As I talked with people and walked the world of Second Life looking like a cartoon raccoon in clothing, I found people seeking solitude. Second Life offered the opportunity to create virtual areas of outstanding natural beauty. There are great beaches, tropical jungles, etc. I explored many of these seeking places for romantic picnics. I found romantic picnics happening with couples. I also found a lot of individuals who went to these places to be alone. People were coming to these places to unwind, meditate, deal with the stress of work, etc. Doing a little research I discovered that some people have a need for a certain amount of solitude. What I never expected was that it could be obtained in a computer screen. In my research I found where video games have be used to reduce stress by distracting one from the real world. I also found a lot of examples of images and pictures being used to help relieve stress. Due to the immersive nature of 3-D it makes sense that one can go beyond just mentally imaging a happy place. They can go there as an avatar. The avatar becomes an extension of them.
- I had the preconceived idea that a romantic place had to be private. Second Life quickly changed that idea. Some of the most romantic places to a lot of people where dance clubs. It was a combination of romantic music, dancing, and being seen. For some people being able to show themselves off was an important part of their concept of romance. When I started I never considered the value of being the center of attention. Thinking back I should have known better. I still remember sending my wife flowers at work when we were dating just because I knew it would make her the center of attention at work for that day and win me more points then if I just sent some flowers to her home.
So the romantic picnic experiment is now over. I have traded my furry avatar for what passed as popular in Second Life. My avatar IB WISE now looks like many of the other human avatars that I have seen attending discussions. Where I go from here I do not know. I believe that 3-D will be an important part of the future of the Internet in years to come. So I will continue to travel the world of Second Life learning as I travel.
For those of you who took the time to read my blogs, I would like to thank you. If you are ever in Second Life look for IB WISE.