Imagine for a moment attending a university class. You see all of your classmates around you, the professor lectures everyone and displays notes for the students as he teaches. After class maybe you head to a mall to go shopping. Maybe you purchase a car, or clothes, get a new hairstyle, or that pair of new shoes all the while being bombarded with ads from various companies around the world. Then maybe you visit with some friends who are building a new style of home, working on a new design. After that, you and your friends go to the beach and listen to classic rock music and chat away enjoying a perfect sunset overlooking the ocean.
You would think that would be a relatively normal way to spend a day right? What you may not know is that all of this - can and is done every day without having to step foot outside by way of virtual worlds like Second Life.
According to gridsurvey.com, a Second Life statistics website, as of 03/10/13, over 33 million users have signed up for Second Life from all around the world. Every 30 days nearly a million unique users login at least once to Second Life. And Second Life isn't even a Game, it is solely a 3 dimensional virtual world with virtual spaces, filled 100% by user generated content.
Today, there are a growing number of people to fill these virtual worlds, creating economies that are literally in better shape than many 3rd world countries. Linden Dollars, which is the virtual currency of Second Life, can be purchased using real currency and can also be exchanged for real currency based on a relatively stable exchange rate. This has provided real world benefit to real world institutions. The American Cancer society, among other charities have held events in Second Life as an alternative way of raising funds. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner even based a political action committee (PAC) within Second Life.
The lure and draw of virtual worlds like Second Life is being noticed by businesses as well. Many businesses have virtual storefronts or their own spaces in games like Second Life, whether to test out the popularity of new designs or determine what price the market could potentially bare, or even use Second Life as an additional Marketing tool. Big name brands like American Apparel, Addidas/Reebok, Harvard Law School, IBM, and Mazda have all had a presence in Second Life, just to name a few. A number of schools have had virtual campuses built within Second Life where professors can teach things such as scripting or 3D modeling within the game allowing people to have hands on experience at the computer in a virtual world while creating virtual "stuff".
Being a member of the digital culture in a virtual world does not mean that one abandons reality, but it does mean they are able to understand how people can suspend disbelief and creatively accept new realities or virtual additions to reality in addition to the real world. Suspension of disbelief takes place every day, whether reading a book, watching a television series, or catching a movie. We all have at one time or another for even brief moments accepted new realities while remaining grounded in our own.
To its users, Second Life is more than just a virtual world, it is an alternate reality where disbelief can be suspended and anything you want can and will happen. Friends and riches are made and lost, love blooms and fades. I've spoken with people that have disabilities in Second Life that were in the world just to socialize and dance in virtual clubs while listening to music - something they cannot do in real life. I've also had conversations with people that have social disorders in real life that are able to overcome those disorders in such an environment. The impact of these virtual worlds has not and truly cannot be measured. At no time in the history of man has such a thing existed. Technology is truly a marvel, but we must remember - like Second Life, it is what we make of it. And everything in moderation.