How It Works

“Every day thousands of people log on to Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORGs), or ‘virtual worlds’, where they not only consume creative products by playing the game, but also produce such products by independently creating content that then becomes a part of the MMORG. Other gaming companies encourage their end-users to modify, or ‘mod’, the core elements of their games, resulting in consumers using the developer’s original game as a baseline to create what are essentially entirely new gaming experiences.”1

In Second Life residents are able to create or manipulate nearly all types of content that make up the world around them, and create they do. The former CTO of Linden Lab, Cory Ondrejka, claimed that “as of June 2007, residents were adding over 300 gigabytes of data to the world every day, one million distinct items had been bought or sold in the preceding month, and tens of millions of scripts were running at all times within the Second Life grid.”2 There are very few things one can’t change, for example the Moon and stars cannot be customised. Apart from these few exceptions, everything; the landscape, oceans, atmosphere, length of day, buildings, vehicles, clothing, flora, fauna and one’s own avatar can be made in any image one can imagine. This freedom is Second Life’s most attractive feature3.

Second Life facilitates content creation by including inworld building tools within the viewer client software. This provides instant gratification. One can immediately see the things one is creating in the context in which they will be ordinarily used, or displayed, and can interact with one’s creations immediately. Moreover, other residents can see what one is building, and collaborative building is possible. While the possibilities for inworld content creation are expansive, external applications are still necessary for creating some types of content, for example, textures and sounds.

Objects can contain other objects of various types, for example, if an object plays a sound, the sound file needs to be placed inside the object. Every item within an object has its permissions set independently of the parent object. Unfortunately, even when one does take care to set the permissions of each object and its child objects, the permissions system often fails, for no discernible reason, resulting in objects with permissions set contrary to the creator’s desires. This has serious implications for collaborative building.

If two or more residents wish to collaborate in the creation of objects each resident must grant their collaborators permission to edit their objects, or give full permission copies of their objects to their collaborators (remembering to set the permissions of all child objects correctly), who will then work with those objects independently, but a single resident must do final assembly. This leads to a high level of frustration when doing cooperative building, as Wadley and Ducheneaut found when participants in their study complained that “the permissions system was not conducive to collaboration”4. My experience is that very often, despite having correctly set these permissions, residents will still be unable to edit others’ objects because the permissions system is buggy and unreliable.

Another obstacle to collaborative building when using the Linden Lab Second Life viewer, is the difficulty residents have in knowing what other residents are looking at, which lessens their ability to collaborate5. The problem is predominantly one of reference points combined with dislocation from one’s avatar when building. Second Life has the capability to decouple one’s view from one’s avatar’s, which is very useful when building in 3D as it allows one to examine all sides of an object. However the Second Life viewer does not presently offer an option to allow one to determine where another is looking, though this feature was introduced in the third party Emerald viewer6 and remains in its successor, the Phoenix Viewer. Because of the ability to decouple one’s view from the avatar’s, one’s building partner is almost certainly not looking at the world from the same point of view, and because, in the absence of data regarding the other’s point of view, the tendency is to imagine that each person is viewing the world from the avatar’s location, giving instructions to each other can be a confusing business. Wadley and Ducheneaut7 found that the more experienced a Second Life user is, the more likely they are to detach their view. Combined with the increased awareness of disparity of views that comes with experience in Second Life, this problem should therefore be less prevalent in experienced users.

  1. Reuveni, E. (2007), “Authorship in the Age of the Conducer”, Copyright Society of the USA, Vol. 54, Issue 218,, Accessed 31/01/2014. ↩︎
  2. Ondrejka, C., (2007), “Collapsing Geography (Second Life, Innovation, and the Future of National Power)”, Innovations, Vol. 2, No. 3, p. 35. ↩︎
  3. Harambam, J., Aupers, S., Goutman, D., (2009), “The Quest for the Ultimate Game: World of Warcraft, Second Life and the Commercialization of Virtual Game Worlds”, Sociologie, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 7. ↩︎
  4. Wadley, G., Ducheneaut, N., (2009), “The ‘out-of-avatar experience’: object-focused collaboration in Second Life”, ECSCW’09: Proceedings of the 11th European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 7-11 September 2009. Vienna, Austria, p. 335,, Accessed 08/02/2014. ↩︎
  5. Hindmarsh, J., Fraser, M., Heath, C., Benford, S., Greenhalgh, C., (1998), “Fragmented Interaction: Establishing Mutual Orientation in Virtual Environments”, Proceedings of the 1998 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, New York, NY, pp. 217-226. ↩︎
  6. Modular Systems, Emerald Viewer,, No longer online. ↩︎
  7. Wadley, G., Ducheneaut, N., (2009), “The ‘out-of-avatar experience’: object-focused collaboration in Second Life”, ECSCW’09: Proceedings of the 11th European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 7-11 September 2009. Vienna, Austria, p. 332,, Accessed 08/02/2014. ↩︎

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