Review of mixed reality environments
Second life is essentially a virtual community, a completely immersive online world where people create avatars to represent their virtual self and go about exploring the virtual landscape, having adventures and meeting and interacting with other ‘residents’ in an anonymous and often ambiguous social experiment. It is an example of an Augmented Reality.
It is not a game, although you can certainly play all kinds of games in Second Life, rather it is a simulation, or experience with no manufactured conflict and no set objectives. I find the idea of a constructed self in this context really fascinating, and I wanted to explore the intersection between people’s real and virtual identities in Second Life.
I found the nature of interactions between people in Second Life really interesting. I have seen a lot of instances of ‘trolling’ where users behave in a way which rouses unnecessary or uninvited conflict or aggravation purely for the purpose of getting a reaction out of people, as well as witnessed a more serious and involved approach where users are committed to their online identities and are as emotionally and psychologically invested as you would expect in real life, engaging in meaningful and honest relationships.
I think the whole thing provides an interesting insight into the nature of perception and how people choose to present themselves. For instance, for some reason a large percentage of users, males in particular, choose an avatar which is of the opposite sex. Reasons behind this would make for an interesting psycho-analytical investigation, and I believe this simply reinforces the idea that in Second Life anything is possible and anything goes. As an example of an augmented reality, Second Life gives users the opportunity to construct their own identity and do things they would never do in the real world.
I find it a remarkable paradigm of human behaviour patterns which we commonly experience in the real physical world. Where lots of behavioural tendencies are evidently echoed and in a lot of cases amplified. Obviously the anonymity of the internet provides the mechanism for lots of otherwise unacceptable or questionable behaviours to be indulged in and this is nothing new.
Interestingly instances of censorship by Linden Lab (the creators of Second Life) do occur and it seems that even in such an open and un-mediated virtual experience such as SL, mediation of sorts will inevitably still occur. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a matter of subjective speculation. I mention here the controversial Woodbury University’s School of Media, Culture and Design, which was apparently deleted because it was becoming a haven for troublemakers in the virtual world and not what the original creators had envisaged as an institute of learning. This issue would prove an interesting article for examination and further investigation of itself, but I will simply make the point that just like in the real world, agendas and politics will always play a role with regard to institutions, and the flow and control of information and knowledge.
The National Portrait Gallery’s doppelganger exhibition is displayed on Portrait Island, which is a virtual exhibition space in Second Life, owned and constructed by users themselves. The focus of this exhibition is exploring concepts of identity and the self, whilst drawing attention to the central ideas of truth and illusion in a virtual environment such as SL. The exhibition explores contemporary notions of portraiture in the online environment.
The artists involved in the exhibition also explore the notion of digital data as forming part of your identity, an interesting idea which is echoed in our own real physical existence, and the way in which we put together our own identity through a careful selection of personal experience, memory and desire.
The reality of truth and illusion in the digital realm makes for an interesting general discussion about the pitfalls of online anonymity and deception. The option to conceal ones true identity is one of security as much as privacy, especially in an environment where nothing is quite what it seems. The notion of tumbling down the rabbit hole alluded to in the film; The Matrix is an apt one in relation to the journey into Second Life and the inherent boundaries between real and imagined, virtual and physical.
- Copyright and You: Ethical issues in Second Life by Hope R. Botterbusch and R.S. Talab. Published in TechTrends January/February 2009.
- Constructions and reconstructions of slef in virtual reality: Playing in the MUDs by Sherry Turkle. Published in Mind, Culture and Activity (1994).
- Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community by Judith Donath. Published by ResearchGate in 1996.
 “If Second Life isn’t a game, what is it? – Technology & science – Games – On the Level”. NBC News. 2007-12-03. Retrieved 2015 – Oct 29th.
 Raymond, Gillian. http://portrait.gov.au/magazines/34/virtually-human