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January 2014

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So, you know, this game has been getting a lot of hype lately. I dismissed it out of hand a long time ago due to the horrific late-90's era graphics and the general consensus that it was a flaming pile, but having mostly burned out on WoW and not finding much else that runs on my Mac I decided to be fair and give it a shot.

First thoughts - the graphics look vaguely EQ-ish, and the performance is atrocious. Character models have a bit more detail than the environment, but are still crap by today's standards.

I can forgive some of this, though, given the nature of the product. Second Life is more of a framework than an actual game - it's basically a way to create, script, and interact with virtual objects.

From a technological standpoint, the backend is intriguing - the world runs on a cluster of Debian boxes, and supposedly they're planning to move to mono. The client is open source and cross platform (which is pretty much the only reason I even tried the game), and the protocol is documented (if not originally openly documented by Linden, it was reverse engineered).

In some ways I do want to like this project, and it's unfortunate then that I really can't. Despite the interesting design philosophy, when it comes to actual interaction with the world two thoughts come to mind - the fist being that all you can do in SL is explore user generated content, and the second being that user generated content sucks.

At the end of the day, SL feels like a pale clone of Stephenson's Metaverse, but unlike that fictional virtual world SL seems to exist just because it can exist, and not because it brings anything of value with it.

Stephenson's vision represents a future where the virtual world has as much to offer as the real world, where you could really lose yourself in an alternate reality that feels as real as your own but allows you far more freedom than you could ever really have. Above and beyond that, though, the Metaverse was the legitimate medium by which information was exchanged in useful ways, allowing you to experience knowledge visually - it is not only a virtual playground, but it's also a tool.

In contrast, SL may give you the freedom to create whatever you want, but it'll invariably suck due to the limitations of the engine, and it'll have no value over its real world or web counterparts which are either much more engaging or much easier to use. There's nothing to even do in Second Life, unless you like to fly around in a low poly universe with furries and cross dressers, and then click on a ball to start performing some action. It doesn't even have a legitimate reason for existing, like the Metaverse does - we don't even have tools to create content like what Stephenson envisioned, and what we do have (generally video, audio, text, and images) is just not suited for a free-form 3d environment.

So while SL is an interesting experiment, it's not really a game, and it doesn't have any real value as a way of sharing knowledge. Sorry guys - I guess the Metaverse will just have to wait.

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