Second Life turns 17 as a shelter for its residents

You have probably read all the guides out there to SL17B, Second Life’s 17th anniversary event, which opened yesterday, June 19 – so let’s go for a different approach here. I dare say this year’s celebration, more than other recent ones, reflects a tendency, which I will lazily call here “the idealistic familiarization of SL” and that converged in 2020, with results still uncertain, with the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences to SL’s user base. This is what these rumbling thoughts are about, and I hope I can easily explain my point, but if you’d like to find useful links to SL17B’s regions and events, don’t worry: I will share some during the text and at the end of the post. The party runs until June 28, but the regions will remain open until July 12, the same date as the Shop and Hop event closes.

The Welcome Area in SL17B
The Auditorium, where one can attend the annual event Meet the Lindens

When I first landed on SL17B’s Welcome Area, I felt that the mood of the decoration and landscaping this year was different from what I saw in previous celebrations, be them the ones organized by Linden Lab or those that were run by Second Life residents’ community. That impression was confirmed when I started exploring around. This year’s theme is vacations and road trips and, by the way it was conceived, it looks like the 23 regions dedicated to the event could be contiguous to the newest residential areas for premium users in SL. Why is it singular in comparison to what we saw before? Because, intentionally or not, it combines with a project that seems to have been successful for the Lab: the one that led to the creation of the Bellisseria, the youngest continent on Second Life’s map. By doing that, it draws from such a project and reinforces it – something that I can’t remember having seen in the last few years.

The Dinosaur Park in SL17B

It is interesting to notice that it happens in a very particular moment. As a result of the COVID-19 health crisis, Linden Lab has seen “an increase in new registrations and returning residents” in Second Life, the Lab’s CEO Ebbe Altberg underlined last March in a message to the community. Later, in May, the company announced that it had “experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for new Second Life regions” to the point that its available inventory of full regions and homesteads was over at the time.

The Main Stage

The Lab knew that likely part of those regions would soon be returned. Also, when people’s lives start getting back to their normal state (whatever the updated normal state is), probably a number of new and returning residents will stop logging on so often. Still LL has an opportunity to show how Second Life is now – and to show it especially to those who still have an image of SL as it was in the old hype days.

The Gift Boardwalk and, behind it, Tapestry of Time

In this context, since every group of new homes released to premium members tends to soon be fully claimed and become unavailable – which shows how the Bellisseria project has been successful – it feels natural that the youngest continent convert into Linden Lab’s beloved child. It should not be surprising, then, if it looks like Bellisseria is the inspiration (again, intentionally or not) for the decoration and landscaping of SL17B.

DJ Stage at night

It is curious that Bellisseria seems to incarnate a somewhat comfortable ideal of (second) life for many. Its different areas feel more or less like some American suburbs, sometimes a bit more rural than most, but still organized as a suburban community. This could be surprising in SL, where one can build space stations, floating islands, houses that would be impossible in the atomic world. Yet, it has long been noticed that, in a place where people can create anything, many choose to reproduce a reality of the atomic world – idealized, of course, but still deeply rooted in the references of a possible version of what people tend to call “real world”.

Exhibitions by Second Life residents

This is what I’m referring to as the idealistic familiarization of SL: the trend in landscaping and decoration that we’ve been seeing in Bellisseria and, now, in the SL17B regions. Both represent our middle class dreams: not a distant (and unrealistic for most) aspiration to become a millionaire, not a fantasy (for the vast majority) of being an astronaut in a space station or a scientist in a base near the South Pole, but just the enactment of a desire that one feels they could reach if only they could stretch their arms a bit longer. For, actually, it’s just the representation of a happy life in a beautifully organized community, where no one is poor even though they are not rich (there are no beggars on the streets in Bellisseria, but no mansions such as the Silicon Valley ones either) and whose residents can, from time to time, go on a road trip to the countryside or to some beach during the summer (in the northern hemisphere), which is when SLB happens.

Randy’s exhibition: Bears Gone Wild

Of course, SL17B has its more unconventional parts, where one can see all kinds of creations, some artistic installations, some buildings that beat gravity, some amazingly crazy stuff (and some other important initiatives as well). Yes, I mean the regions dedicated to residents’ exhibitions. They are SL17B’s wild mainland (though they are more controlled than mainland continents that are not Bellisseria). And they are very worth visiting.

This year, as in 2019, Randy Firebrand, my husband, is among the exhibitors there. His project is a second edition of last year’s Bears Gone Wild, in which he photographed Linden Bears doing Linden Bears’ stuff in some iconic Second Life places. By clicking on each image, visitors receive a copy of the picture and a landmark to go visit the region where the picture was taken. It’s a great way to be introduced to or to revisit some of the most emblematic sites in SL’s history.

More exhibitions by residents celebrating SL’s 17th anniversary

Since I draw a parallel between most of SL17B and residents’ exhibitions, on the one hand, and Bellisseria and other SL continents, on the other hand, let me underline something here: it seems that Bellisseria is fully controlled and allows no imagination, and that all creativity resides in the other continents. It’s not true. One can be creative in Bellisseria, both in the way they express themselves in their homes and in their interactions with the community – for Bellisserians do form a community, and people there can plan games, artistic meetings, poetry reading sessions and other stuff. Also, even if creativity in other continents may sometimes be great, it’s good to know that your neighbor won’t suddenly fill their parcel with a giant glowing green box that will hurt your eyes every time you look at it and that will remain there for years.

A motel in SL17B

It is also comforting to see that, in tough times, when all seems so unpredictable, one can count on a shelter where they will feel safe and happy. It seems that we need it now that some idealistic familiarization may actually help us mentally recover from tensions we have been experiencing and may be what we need to go ahead.

In order to close this post, here’s a list of useful links for event schedules and other information about SL17B, as well as some SLURLs for visiting the regions in world:

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