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Free for All: Old Second Life documentary still highlights truths


So I was working on this week's Free for All last night when a buddy of mine asked me if I had seen a certain older Second Life documentary. I didn't think I had before, but it turns out that my usual record of consuming everything MMO still stands, and it was fun to re-watch the older documentary again for several reasons.

One of the most important things I noticed about the film was just how universal to MMO gaming the documentary was. The issues it brought up are still issues, the problems with virtual worlds are still problems, and the fact that any technology older than six months looks laughable on film is still true. It was also encouraging to see how well Second Life has aged since 2007, but it's slightly depressing to see just how horrible MMO documentaries can be at showing the entire picture.

Philip Rosedale interview screenshot
The documentary is called You Only Live Twice. Hosted by Four Corners, it can viewed below or on YouTube. NSFW warning: The video contains virtual sex. Do yourself a favor and see if you can spot the part where the reporter seems to be repeatedly pressing an arrow key to move forward instead of holding it down. It's a good chuckle moment.

The video introduces us to the infamous Anshe Chung, a land baron to the nth degree who has ruled Second Life quite a while. She seems pleasant enough, and I imagine that she's no worse than any other successful person. I have heard such horrible things said about her that I often wondered what she looked like. She's actually quite unassuming. I've chalked the negativity up to people being upset with anyone who obtains power in any form, virtual or not. It's human nature.

Of course, the video plays scary music and talks about the virtual sex and adult content that we have heard about so much over the years. Yes, there is virtual sex in Second Life. There has been virtual sex in chat rooms for as long as there have been chat rooms. Before that, the phone provided all the thrills, and before that, people wrote really long letters to each other. Again, it's human nature. As with almost every single piece of documentary or serious reporting I have seen about Second Life, the drama gets most of the spotlight. For the life of me, I cannot remember a single moment in this film that talks about how vibrant the art community is in the game. Name the last MMO documentary that featured art and positive social interaction more than virtual sex or gaming addiction and I'll buy you a hot dog.

In the film the officials from Linden Lab talk about their "hands off" policy concerning adult material in Second Life, but they have stepped in quite a few times. Any illicit activities that feature kids have been routinely shut down (although I am not as familiar with cases from the last year or so), and adult and general areas have been mostly separated. I couldn't be happier simply because the cheesiest thing in the world to me is virtual sex. The documentary shows just how important sex has been to shaping Second Life's public image. If you asked any person on the street what he thought happened in a virtual world, he would tell you "sex."

The interviews with people who have made their living from Second Life transactions always entertain me. Not only does it take a lot of work to make an entire month's pay from a virtual world, but it's not that common. Even then, those who choose to do so are no worse than someone who works in an office 10-14 hours a day. Both parties are sitting on their butts, but only one of them can show up in his pajamas.

"Interestingly the host asks whether Second Life will ever reach the massive success of World of Warcraft and its (then) eight million paying players, a spin on words as well."

The most interesting part of the documentary shines light on the criticism of Second Life as a company that inflates numbers to impress those who might not understand how to interpret them. Linden Lab doesn't lie in the documentary, although some of the critics seem to claim that. Linden Lab blatantly talks about the mere 10% or so of players who make it past the three-month mark in the game; the company has always been forthcoming about its sign-up numbers. Sure, there's clever wording, but it's no lie. Interestingly the host asks whether Second Life will ever reach the massive success of World of Warcraft and its (then) eight million paying players, a spin on words as well.

The fact is that the bulk of World of Warcraft's millions of players are paying from rented machines or in chunks measured in minutes or hours. I'm not claiming that this means that there is no profit being made, but it should be noted just how all companies provide a bit of spin about their product. Blizzard refers to any currently paying player as a subscriber, and it's common to see non-gaming media talk about World of Warcraft as though each player is paying $15 a month.

It's also interesting to note that of the perhaps tens of thousands of people who might be in Second Life at one time, they will all be doing something pretty much different from everyone else. Each one might be building something, dancing, attending a concert, having virtual sex, reading a book, watching a movie, fighting, playing a game, roleplaying or any number of other unique activities. Now, of the thousands of people are in World of Warcraft at one time, how many can say that they are doing much more than fighting monsters, participating in linear questing, crafting, or socializing? What's more impressive -- 20,000 unique activities or 500,000 of the same two or three activities?

If you haven't seen the documentary, watch it. It's fun to see. If you have seen it before, watch it again to see just how much Second Life has changed... and also stayed the same. Will virtual worlds eventually invade all of our lives as is predicted in the documentary? I actually think so. Technology will become fast enough, and the internet will become cheap enough -- barring the apocalypse -- that one day we probably will all interact virtually. It will be fun to watch old documentaries then as well.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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