Why live a Second Life

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Jesper Nielsen
4. term, Humanistic Informatics - Multimedia (Master Programme)
In 2003 Linden Lab launched their online 3d inhabited virtual world, Second Life. It was very different from other 3d worlds, because it was the first 3d world to allow its users to build things directly in the 3d world. In late 2006 and early 2007, the media coverage grew enormously and the users flocked to Second Life. Quickly the number of users grew to over six millions. Why was Second Life so popular? Was it because it was so different from other 3d worlds, or should you rather look at changes in society to explain the users’ interest in Second Life? This thesis’ research question is “Why do the users use Second Life?”, but as the question is very wide, I have formulated three hypotheses to narrow it down: - The users use Second Life as a place of refuge from a complicated everyday life. - The users use Second Life to create digital art. - The users use Second Life because it is hype. To support the first hypothesis I use Lars Qvortrup’s theory of the hypercomplex society. He argues that our society is evolving from a complex society into a hypercomplex society. The characteristic of the hypercomplex society is that you can’t survey it from one standpoint in or outside the society. The society has developed a large amount of subsystems, such as economic, political and scientific systems, which communicate according to their own codes and create their own outside world. My hypothesis is that Second Life is a less complicated society and that users therefore use it as a refuge from the hypercomplex society. To support the second hypothesis I use another theory from Lars Qvortrup about what digital art is. He argues that the characteristics of digital art are, that it uses multimedia, it is ubiquitous and that the audience is invited to create their own work of art in a room of possibilities. I also use Mette Sandbye’s theory of what digital art is. She argues that social interaction is the centre of the work of art and that it gives room for intimacy and exchange of experience. She also argues, like Qvortrup, that the audience becomes co-creators of the work of art. I find Second Life to have the same characteristics, as Qvortrup and Sandbye argues, when you build something in the virtual world. Therefore my hypothesis is supported by these theories. To support the third hypothesis I use the consulting company Gartner’s hype cycle. Gartner argues that every new technology follows a curve, where it first becomes widely popular, but after reaching the top, the technology doesn’t live up to the expectations and the popularity falls drastically, until it reaches its bottom. Here companies begin to experiment with the technology and find advantages and disadvantages and the curve goes up again. At last the curve flattens, when the companies understand the practical application of the technology and the benefits are widely accepted. I argue that Second Life has followed this hype cycle and my hypothesis is that it has influence on why the users use Second Life. I argue that users have started using Second Life because of its fast growing popularity. To confirm or deny my three hypotheses I have conducted qualitative interviews with users and former users of Second Life. I believe that you won’t get reliable results until you test hypotheses empirically, because the theories are only simplified models of an area of reality. After analysing the interviews I could confirm all three hypotheses. The respondents confirmed that Second Life is less complex than the real society, and that they have used it to create digital art, or seen or heard of others who have, and most of them started using it because of its popularity.
Publication date2008
Number of pages77
Publishing institutionAalborg Universitet
ID: 14380674