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Second Life

July 29, 2010

Second Life as a Disruptive Technology

In this imaginative and creative environment, visiting Second Life is akin to stepping into a Dali or Magritte painting in 3D. Second Life is disruptive in the sense that you do not know what or who you will meet considering the fully textured high-resolution avatars that are customizable to the nth degree with numerous sliders to change every pixel of the avatar’s shape, size, color, and identity. As Christensen illustrated the arrival of microcomputers as disruptive to the mini-computers that were the main products manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). In real life, when we introduce ourselves to another human in a social gathering, we may smile and shake one’s hand in a Western culture. In Second Life, the unexpected is, as some “Lifers” (the preferred nickname of Second Life citizens) like to call it, fun!

Second Lifer’s experience with banking was a disastrous meltdown. David Talbot reported Linden Lab’s decision to close virtual banks since participants’ steep losses in real money, in some cases, exceeded $700, 000. In real life, citizens have recourse in that the Federal Government insures most individual accounts up to $250,000. The disruptive nature of Second Life has a negative side in that it has changed participants play games, conduct business, engage in learning, involve themselves in social endeavors, modify cultural norms, initiate mutually acceptable social etiquette, and negotiate numerous other scenarios all of which are non-negotiable in the real world. Second Life, as a disruptive technology, has forced established educational and commercial institutions to change how they operated (See Keith Nuthall’s analysis). Its concepts are unfamiliar and dissimilar to traditional educational paradigms. However, using it one can create student-centered teaching strategies, role-playing, simulations, discussions, and authentic learning experiences.

Technology that Second Life Displaced

Second Life is a virtual world environment with heightened experiences that mirror real-world ones. Nintendo, GameBoy, Play Station 2, Wii, and the Xbox 360 provide remarkable virtual experiences. It appears that Second Life could displace all of these virtual reality platforms, educational, training classrooms, office meeting, work collaboration areas, a streaming server, and even Skype (disruptive telephony; see also Virtual World News) with comparable, and in some cases, superior audio and visual 3D experiences. Additionally, metaverse is emerging through the increased use of these virtual world technologies (OpenSim, Open Croquet, Activeworlds, Open Source Metaverse, and Open Wonderland) as platforms for users to create, develop, and interact expanding the realm of human cooperation and creativity.

Second Life’s Extended Life

Rosedale described how consistent feedback from users helps to improve various aspects of Second Life. His futuristic mindset and drive to push this technology forward causes one to speculate that he may obsolete his own creation and replace it with another generation of Second Life. While Second Life has its unique advantages, the technological limitations, human interests, diversity of values, multifarious cultural vicissitudes, and changing social norms, are substantial challenges that are harder to predict than to overcome. Consequently, its life expectancy would depend on these factors and the ingenuity of developers to change with the times or until they are unable to rise above the level of their incompetence (the Peter Principle).

Second Life’s Social Benefits

Second Life provides selected social benefits in the fields of education and sociology. Using virtual gaming concepts, individuals can use online lessons to learn English and Spanish. The benefits of education include the existence of numerous learning institutions, it provides an engaging learning environment (rather than reading about the Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel, why not walk through it), collaborate with other learning organizations, reach more students, and learn “green.” The virtual world is emerging as the next generation for instructional delivery as illustrated by this video of Ohio University’s Second Life campus (see Patricia Deubel’s article). Online social interaction enhances the real-life social skills where people communicate through their avatars using chat-like features, meet at dance clubs, join special interest groups, and conduct rewarding business ventures. The Federal Government has begun focusing on how the FDA-regulated products should use social media and Second Life for health-related communications thus providing unique benefits for the public.

While the positive aspects of Second Life are distinct, its negative experiences are significant as well. The playing of massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) affects the attitudes, feelings, and experiences of online players. Hussain and Griffiths (2009) in their qualitative analysis studied 71 online gamers from 11 different countries and found that the online gaming affects day-to-day lives, promotes gaming addiction, presents negative psychosocial behavior, players redefine the value of time and mood states, and provides temporary relief from real-world negative feelings. Additionally, motivations for online users to engage in a virtual world experience are as unique as they are varied. Yee (2006) noted that users who experienced isolation in the real world sought immersive and interactive engagement in the virtual world. Rosedale’s youthful reasons to do things that he always wanted to but could not in the real world appears to be true for most Second Life gamers. Yee observed that demographic variables of age, gender, and usage patterns reflected the modified real world users’ values that aligned with the answer to Rosedale’s “what if I could” question.


Hussain, Z. & Griffiths, M. D. (2009, December). The attitudes, feelings, and experiences of online gamers: A qualitative analysis. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(6), 747-743. Doi: 10.1089/cpb.2009.0059. International Gaming Research Unit. Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom. Retrieved from  

Yee, N. (2006, December). Motivations for play in online games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9(6), 772-775. Doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9.772. International Gaming Research Unit. Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom. Retrieved from

Helpful Supplemental Resources

Annotated Bibliography of Second Life Educational Online Resources at

Breaking the Stereotype: The Case of Online Gaming at

Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking at

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research at  

The Daedalus Gateway – Survey of 35,000 MMORPG players over the past five years at

The International Journal of Computer Game Research at

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cynthia permalink
    August 1, 2010 10:44 am

    Wow, David!

    You have definitely done some research!

    I agree and disagree with different aspects of your post. The learning experiences and various other educational opportunities are great in Second Life.

    I wasn’t aware of the banking failure. That was very enlightening. I will say that you can make “real” money in Second Life. You can set up a store and you can sell items that you have created. They are purchased in Linden money, but it does convert to real money. One of my friends worked for a while for a lady who sold French recipes. He translated and edited the recipes for her. Another friend sold artwork and floral arrangements they had designed. Although it takes a lot to actually survive off of the money you would make in Second Life, it does have some monetary benefits if you choose to go that route.

    The role playing does warn you when you enter their sites. At first, when I was looking for virtual schools, I did not realize some were of the role playing type, but I soon learned to read before I teleported!

    I think we will see more isolated levels of Second Life for the games and role playing activities and more widely used areas for educational and business purposes. I have attended several lectures and conferences in Second Life and just the gathering of all the different avatars is awesome to see!

    Thanks for sharing all the great information!


    • edutechtalks permalink*
      August 1, 2010 2:05 pm


      Thank you for your comments. Obviously your firsthand experience with Second Life, its features, and its Lifers positions you to understand its subtleties and implications better.

      I wonder what your thoughts are regarding the uncertainty aspect of an avatar’s (Sanskrit transliteration for ‘incarnation’) identity?



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