Second Life and the problem with “Online Sandboxes”
When I was a kid, my grandpa knew I was into the computer thing and all (He was a cool guy, probably one of the family members I was the closest to in life). He’d get me this magazine called PC Magazine and would give me issues to read every day, and it was interesting, covering all the newest trends in tech as soon as they hit the market. There was one memorable article that stuck out however, and it was about something that one might barely consider a game. It was about this new “virtual world” called Second Life, and how it was changing the face of technology, and it was talking about how it was this bold new thing that was going to change technology, as big companies set up shop there, holding conferences, and it was being hailed as the “3d internet”, the game changer that was going to change how the internet was used. Of course, that was a lot of hot air and a sign that maybe tech mags and websites that proclaim something to be the next big thing are full of shit, because that same year the original iPhone came out, paving the way for the cell phone market of the next 10 years and acting as another Eternal September, putting people who had no clue how to operate Fox Fire on a Windows XP without getting viruses on the internet.
Of course, as time went on tech companies realized that wait a minute, this is just a fad, just like those quiz clickers your school bought, used once, and then never used again the entire school year. The most telling use case is about someone at a college who set up an office in the game, was addicted for a week, taught class, and then at one point once the shine of an overhyped fad wore off realized they were merely just chatting. Second Life was eating up all those 3d resources to do something that MSN or Skype could do in 2007: Chat. It was a flash in the pan, as companies likely came to the same conclusion and dumped it once it fizzled out, leaving Second Life to become a weird relic of the past in internet history, an idea that was marketed as a game changer but completely bombed as the market decided it was a waste of money. By 2009, the last company to obsessively use it, IBM, decided to pull out of using Second Life. In 2012, someone wrote an article about how much of a pile of shit Second Life was for conferencing, further giving insight into how it failed.
But at the same time, if something has a userbase online and running the servers don’t dent the power bill too much, someone is gonna keep using it. After all, “games” like Second Life didn’t just die out as soon as companies realized the next big thing was mobile and eventually moved on, oh no. Instead, games like Second Life, Roblox, and Garry’s Mod to an extent found their niche: A niche among the biggest losers on the internet who got sucked into the internet, with nothing at all to do in their real lives, or “first life” as you might as well jokingly call it. No, I’m not talking about sandbox games, because in a game like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row, you have missions and something to do even if you can play the game blowing police cars up and robbing 7/11 stores, with features like the older GTAs unlocking islands or upgrading your character encouraging you to play more. Hell, even in those games if you just start a new game and punch in cheat codes from IGN you still have something to do.
In games like Roblox, Second Life, and Garry’s Mod you basically have nothing to do. While you can play gametypes in Roblox and Garry’s Mod that feel crude as hell due to engine limitations, you’re still playing something. It’s like a buggier, worse looking version of some Forge maps from Halo 3/Reach with a matching gametype, and those were a lot more fun because of how the engine was designed (and the fact they were a mode for the game, not the core game itself while in Roblox and GMod it’s vice versa in a way). On the other hand, Second Life is the worst offender of these because it fails in every way you could imagine. It has a buggy engine that’s a resource hog, you’re loading assets left and right, the UI is clunky as hell, it’s easy to “crash” the engine, and perhaps worst of all, Second Life has no gameplay, or even anything remotely resembling gameplay. Second Life tried to be a lot of things, yet in the end there is nothing at all to do in Second Life. This means Second Life is mostly just a roleplay playground for some of the most broken people on the internet. Even with other games that attract lonely losers like World of Warcraft, there’s actually something to do in those games, even if those games became known as timesinks that sucked away the life of unemployed losers.
There is nothing to do on Second Life except uh, pay money for an avatar, walk around, and talk to people. There is nothing in Second Life resembling gameplay, unless you consider walking around the lobby of an MMO to be immersive. Sure you can talk to people, oh wait isn’t that what chat clients are for? This means that Second Life attracts an audience who uses the game to roleplay, oftentimes sexually, with the crudest 3d graphics around. There is one thing you can do in Second Life, and only one thing to do, and that is grief. Second Life griefing videos can be quality entertainment because it’s on the same level of messing with roleplayers: You’re messing with nerds who take the internet too seriously, and this leads to premium quality entertainment with less effort required than installing a video card. The same applies with other games like GMod, except the userbase is a tad younger.
Even then, it’s better to watch videos because Second Life is a mess to get into, and not only because of its clunky UI or the fact it’ll eat up your computers resources while looking like an original Xbox game running at 20fps. See, Second Life might be a barren wasteland showcasing the worst of humanity, and playing it can be quite depressing. Hell, when you’re not getting kicked out of places after making the land owner mad online from the comfort of your gaming chair, it’s just depressing and the opposite of fun. From furries with no personality besides pretending to be a talking animal on the internet, to angry women who pretend to be cybersluts online, it’s like you’re walking into the wastebin of humanity. The people who failed hard in real life, the people who grew up in front of their computer, who don’t want to try to improve their first life, who want to live out their entire life in front of a video game. The people who talk about how video games changed their life, acting as if it’s the only thing to live for instead of you know, trying to build a life outside the game.
In other words, it’s a video game filled with those people who do nothing but roleplay on the internet. Chances are their lives and discussion topics are thin outside of roleplaying, because that’s all they have. They have a fictional character to roleplay as, but what’s their life outside the internet? Well chances are its nonexistent. Maybe it’s a result of absent parents; maybe it’s a result of mental illness, but whatever the cause is for it the end result is always the same. A shallow, boring person, who sits in front of the computer for hours and hours living out a life in a video game as their body deteriorates around them, as they become yet another leech on the welfare system, or being that weird guy at your entry level job who never talks to anyone and goes home to roleplay on the internet. You can look at these people, and simultaneously feel pity for them while you laugh at the fact that’s what they do with their free time/life.
It just seems so surreal to look back 10 years ago, and think that tech magazines were saying Second Life was going to change the world. Well it did, for lonely losers who wanted to drop out of life when they got home from their mediocre job (or who live on welfare/mom’s money), and who had to take the roleplaying to the next level. Now if you look at Second Life, it’s like the worst of humanity. Or more fittingly, something one would compare to the last days of the Roman Empire or Weimar Germany.
After all, to the normal person, Second Life offered nothing new to the table; it was just something straight out of a plot device/setting from a cyberpunk movie or novel, except without the sick light up neon aesthetics. It took up numerous resources to do something that a chat client that could run on even your old PDP-11 could do, and the market moved towards webcam chatting instead to the point where even cell phones have front cameras, along with your laptop. But to a loser online with zero standards or friends, it was a dream come true, and as anyone who lurks around the internet knows, fetishists online have extremely low standards to the point where they’d also masturbate to Microsoft Paint level drawings if it was of their fetish.