Second Life: musicians, business, politicians, John de Mol and the essence of life
Second Life is a virtual world that exists on the servers of Linden Lab, nothing is real except the value of real money. Players can open an account and chat with other avatars. The avatars start out naked after which you can shop for clothes at for instance Nike. The money that is exchanged is of the same value in the “real” world. Academics are at this time analyzing the influence of the interaction of a virtual economy with the real economy. Stock analysts are examining investment values of virtual property, the IRS is looking for legal ways to tax players/concerns, and criminals are studying new ways to commit virtual crime/theft.
Second Life has been continuously in the Dutch news this month. It all started with Duran Duran four weeks ago. This long forgotten band from the eighties figured it could make a come-back, a second career, and a virtual success by playing their music for half a million Second Life clients. The obvious reason for this is because the dinosaur aged band members can hide their wrinkled bold heads behind a virtual face lift, the 3D avatars of SL.
Two weeks later the Dutch press bureau Reuters opened a virtual channel in the game. Players can follow the in-game (virtual) and out-game (real) news reports from Reuters. Reuters reports about the in-game economic state and the fraud practices by Bank Ginko (some players accuse Bank Ginko of endorsing an illegal pyramid structured game). Reuters is not the first business concern that establishes itself in the game, Adidas currently sells clothes with the three stripe logo to Second Life players. An Italian travel agent opened a bureau in the game just last week. Travel agents can give you a tour through the game. Second Life has become a tourist attraction.
Even better yet, Second Life has become a platform for politicians to “sell” their party ideology. Since last friday Dutch politicians Arda Gerkens (SP), Zsolt Szabó (VVD) and Ad Koppejan (CDA) employ Second Life for their campaign (on the 22nd of November there will be elections in The Netherlands). Politicians using the internet as a means of reaching out to the mass are not new. Hyves is a virtual community that contains virtually all politicians (networking with little kids).
Anyway, today the inevitable happened, media-tycoon John de Mol, started a real-life soap in Second Life. The real-life soap is formulated similar to Big-Brother. A small number of players are isolated on a virtual island and have to follow certain rules to win the game. The winner gets to keep the island. Of course it was to be expected that the inventor of Big Brother would exploit this show in every way possible. At this time a TV show is being broadcast on de Mols own channel, Talpa, where a small group of people are isolated in a villa. By following certain rules one person will eventually win the game and therewith the villa. De Mol clearly figured that the popularity of Second Life will lead to investment value. Possibly the format will be a success and will be copied by other production companies (which will pay royalties to John de Mol), and its publicity will perhaps draw more people to Talpa.
Applying a Big Brother format to a virtual community is in my opinion a double reduction. Like writing a novel based on a cartoon or making a film based on a computer game. I mean it happens, but it just seems insignificant. Second Life is a computer game where people are digitally caged on a server. Other players can log on to this game-server and learn about the life of their neighbors. Second Life is a virtual Truman Show where anyone is a potential Big Brother watching a lot of Trumans. Starting an in-game game that follows the same format as the game itself (which in turn is a formatted according to the rules of the real world) is a clear reduction. John de Mol is the master of reduction.
Perhaps that is what we really want. De Mol has proven to have a sense for commercial success. His shows are a reflection of the poor taste that we have in Holland. De Mol has been accused of downgrading television and Dutch society. I believe we humans are incredibly complex being with a limited ability of contemplation. We are constantly searching for insight of ourselves and a better understanding of the other. By breaking down a complex design in smaller segments, one has a clearer overview of what is studied, life. Linden Lab reduced life to a simulated kind. By examining social interactions, structural developments, property exchange, trends, self presentation, etc, we get one step closer to essence what makes us human, our primary character, and our main desire, moreover what is the fundamental nature, the heart and spirit if you will, of life.
We constantly explore new ways to simplify the world we live in and John de Mol is just doing his part. He is reducing quality, thought, taste, the media, and the mass. You can blame John de Mol for downgrading cultural products, however I believe it’s in the nature of the mass to be fed with fast food, sound bytes and a book summary. We are reducing our lifes to a secondary level. We are reduced, we are second life.