A Comparative Review of Two Books on Second Life
I, avatar, the culture and consequences of having a Second Life – Marc Stephen Meadows
Published by: Voices that Matter € 23,09
Second Life: verhalen en reportages van een tweede leven – Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer
Published by: De Arbeiderspers € 14,95
Last year, Second Life seemed to be the hype in the media landscape. Renowned companies such as IBM, Randstad and ABN AMRO, were eager to buy and build virtual offices and hire virtual employees to work for them in Second Life. Although Second Life, with only a mere 30,000 active Dutch users turned out to be a poor tool for marketing purposes, these companies benefited greatly from the free publicity that was attached to being ‘the first’ in their branch to sink their teeth into Second Life. Meanwhile, the Dutch novelist Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer ran a column in the newspaper NRC.NEXT where he wrote about the experiences of his Second Life alter ego, the stunningly sexy female avatar (online persona) Lilith Lunardi, who was busy exploring, socializing and working as a pole dancer. Pfeiffer’s columns were bundled together and published later that same year in his book Second Life: verhalen en reportages uit een tweede leven.
Whereas Pfeiffer’s book is more of an entertaining, easy to digest literary exposition of a single virtual character, another author, Mark Stephen Meadows, has taken the writing about his virtual experiences up a notch further. In I, Avatar, the culture and consequence of having a second life Meadows, who also is an artist, computer engineer, and author of a book on his hitchhiking adventures in the Middle East, dives much deeper than Pfeiffer into the psychological issues concerned with having a ‘second life’. What drives people to spend hours and hours behind their computers screens, navigating avatars, mingling in virtual communities while one could just be talking on the phone or seeing each other in real life? Meadows delves into these issues and demonstrates how they are also intertwined with other online networks such as the increasingly popular Facebook and LinkedIn.
In the first part of the book, Meadows sketches the history and his personal participation in virtual worlds starting in 1992. Subsequently, four introductory chapters seek to define terms such as avatar from a multidisciplinary perspective. In these chapters the boundaries of virtual identities are explored. In contrast to Pfeiffer, Meadows’ sharp, cultural observations are set against accredited research. After these observations several peculiar cases in Second Life are elaborated on. For instance, the case of Gunid, a female avatar who becomes pregnant by at least five different men in second life, and hence mother to eleven babies. Or the stories about drinking virtual wine and sex slavery. The book ends by posing visionary questions about what the consequences of the great ‘migration’ to second life might signify in people’s daily lives, and the horizon for Second Life avatars.
All in all, Meadows’ clearly structured, well reasoned, and richly illustrated book is a must read for people curious to know more about Second Life. Meadows’ insightful exploration of what ‘an online personality’ means to its users is definitely worth the extra € 10 compared to Pfeiffer’s book. Future New Media PhDs should read this book as source of inspiration on interesting research topics on virtual worlds and digital culture.