Just Me

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Feminine Mindset of Second Life

I have never found a game before that was quite like Second Life. (I imagine that The Sims would be the closest thing I would find outside of it, but I just never got around to playing that.)

After spending a few weeks here, I’ve noticed that the designers have taken a much more feminine approach to this MMO versus the male-dominated reasoning that underlies many other popular MMOs such as CoH or EQ or WoW.

Most MMOs are typically male-oriented, which means achievement-based. They possess some type of leveling system that rewards players by strengthening their powers and abilities, and the more competent players are able to exploit what they gain in order to level even more quickly.

All characters eventually “cap out,” or reach the level where they are as powerful as they are going to be, and after they become bored playing at that level, players retire their current character and start over with a new one.

While it is true that these MMOs can be utilized for other purposes (such as socializing, exploring, or role-playing), the rewards offered and the ways in which the software is designed provide the most benefit to players who emphasize active achievement – defeating monsters or completing missions in order to gain experience so as to level one’s character. Even though you can sometimes get rewards for discovering new locations and items in-game, or you can increase another player’s reputation for good role-playing, these seem to be “tacked on” to the overall idea of defeating things in order to grow more powerful.

It’s to be expected. Designers are predominately male, as are the players, and the male mind-frame is geared towards the reaffirmation of his ability and adequacy.

Second Life is different on a very basic level, for it focuses more on “being” than “doing.”

For one, there are no arbitrary limitations placed upon participants. In a normal MMO, a “first-level” character can in no way compete with a “high-level” character in terms of what she can accomplish, but a first-day Second Life player has the option of doing the same things as a years-long player, as long as she possesses the knowledge necessary for doing it. My avatar can do whatever I can do.

In fact, the link between the player and her Second Life character (or “avatar”) is much more direct than in many MMOs. In most virtual worlds, my avatar has skills that I do not possess, whether it be casting magic or waving a sword around or creating potions, and even when my avatar becomes proficient in these things, I do not. Likewise, I have skills that my avatar does not. My avatar’s knowledge and ability remains distinct from mine, and success is based on not what I do but by achieving a certain result dependent upon my skill levels and random numbers generated by the software.

In Second Life, however, my avatar is literally me. It knows nothing more than I do… and nothing less. It can do whatever I can do and nothing that I cannot do. And there is no “probability” of success: Either I do whatever I set out to do, or I do not. I can just keep trying until I get it right.

In Second Life, rather than jumping through hoops as a way to barter for power, I create my own opportunities and express my creativity directly. I can spend my time making things (whether clothes, or furniture, or homes, or behaviors, or other in-world items) or relating to other people (by socializing, or teaching a class, or interacting somehow with them). The emphasis is on creating, not conquering, and the things I produce are more a revelation of who I am at this very moment rather than one step along the way towards changing who I am into someone more powerful.

There is less ambition in some ways, more revelation of who people actually are at the present moment. And we are encouraged to create -- pull life out of nothingness and nurture it into full flower.

So Second Life is designed specifically to reward players for expressing their creativity and for relating well to others.

Yes, there can be some competition in the realm of economic savvy (you can actually make money in SL, and so the normal rules of free trade apply), but in general the world is more about interrelating with others in the present moment rather than ambitiously working to increase my power or ability for its own sake.

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