Virtual Worlds: Second Life

Second Life is the best known and largest of the Internet-based virtual worlds. Users, or Residents as they are called, download software, which allows them to interact with each other through avatars, virtual representations of themselves. Residents can explore the world, through walking and flying, chat and meet with other Residents, participate in activities and create and trade items and services for an in-world currency. In short, a complete virtual reality world.

Real-world companies and organizations have set up offices in Second Life. Residents can drive around in a Nissan on the company’s own island; or they can buy Adidas sneakers and other gear from the official store.

There are numerous examples of non-profit and cause marketing: in 2007, a flood covered virtual replicas of cities like London, Tokyo and Amsterdam “as part of a campaign to illustrate the potential environmental and financial impacts of climate change.”

One of the most impressive cultural examples is the Old Masters Picture Gallery of the Dresden State Art Collections. A detailed and complete replica occupies a large stretch of virtual land. Residents can browse high resolution images of some of the most famous Old Master paintings in a museum environment.

Classical music has not stayed behind. In September 2007, the Liverpool Philharmonic organized one of the first Second Life orchestral concerts. Widely reported in newspapers such as The Telegraph, The Guardian and the New York Times, the concert was, if anything, mostly a public relations success:

“From a PR standpoint, the virtual concert idea was an unprecedented triumph – can you remember another time when an otherwise routine concert announcement made the news pages of the all the main UK dailies?”

According to an article in the New York Times, covering the event, this wasn’t the only classical music endeavor into Second Life: Universal Classics had built an online island with an exhibition about mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran, promoting Cecilia Bartoli’s Malibran-themed album; pianist Lang Lang had given a concert in avatar-form; and the Sinfonia Leeds and Red {an orchestra} had given concerts.

Guy Dammann of The Guardian continued in his article:

“It was the much-vaunted community feel of Second Life, whereby an event is marked more by its fostering of a kind of virtual being-together than by the actual quality of what is currently on offer, that was in many respects the main victor on the night.”

There usually isn’t much discussion among total strangers after a real-life concert, unless it is maybe gently forced upon patrons by a post concert activity. In Second Life, however, spontaneous discussion erupted immediately after the concert.

Opportunities galore, but there are some serious obstacles and limitations. Concert halls can only serve a limited, albeit world-wide, audience of 50 to 100 Residents due to technical limitations. One solution is to broadcast on multiple screens throughout the Second Life world, spreading the coverage. But the more apparent obstacles are budgeting and musician contracts: Liverpool paid $6,000 for its real estate in Second Life and another $10,000 on production costs. Musicians’ media contracts would likely need to be updated to accommodate live broadcasts through Second Life.

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