Second Life is celebrating now, until July 6th, its 18th anniversary — an event also known as SL18B. As SL reaches the age of majority, fantasy has been chosen as the theme for the party, which, following tradition, includes a set of regions that can be explored from the Welcome Area. The main party zone integrates the exhibitions prepared by residents (which can be directly accessed by means of the SL18B Community Experiences category in the SL18B Destination Guide), a preview area for the new Linden Homes, stages for presentations and dances and an auditorium (where both Meet the Lindens and Meet the Moles conversation sessions with Saffia Widdershins will be held). A separate group of regions is dedicated to the Shop and Hop event. As always, Inara Pey has prepared a detailed guide for the celebrations, which I strongly recommend. My intention here is just to underline some aspects of the festivities and to commemorate Second Life’s endurance in the fast changing world of technology — which has recently been underlined on a tweet by Loki Eliot that I will use as my starting point for some reflections.
As Loki stated, the world was a very different place when SL appeared. There was no Facebook, no iPhone nor Minecraft. In 2003, when Second Life was released, the general public met Safari web browser and Skype for the first time. It was also when Eve Online MMORPG was launched. Back then, SL was actually one of the most immersive experiences one could have in a computer generated 3D environment that was not exactly a game, in a traditional sense (even if in the early days of its conception, before its public release, what would come to be known as Second Life was more game-like than it is today).
Out of my experience, it seems to me that Second Life’s longevity cannot be explained by a single factor, but by a mix of elements that the platform managed to combine. One of those elements is the idea of community that it has built over time and that Linden Lab has been reinforcing again since the creation of the continent of Bellisseria. It doesn’t really matter if people actually gather in regular community events: it has more to do with participating in an imagined community. Even if most SL residents will never meet each other, we potentially hold the idea that we all share the same world — and not only a computer platform.
SL also incorporated user generated content as one of its essential features. That characteristic helped to foster the idea that we, ourselves, are building our (virtual) world. Even if that feeling could be stronger back in the days when everyone would build items with prims, it survives today in the fact that we can still terraform, landscape our parcels and regions and decorate our homes.
User generated content combines with monetization, for SL has developed a market for goods created by residents. Certainly, SL has a market for land, too, and though it involves significant sums of money, it only makes sense because it connects with our ability of developing our parcels by placing items in it that we ourselves build or that we buy from other Second Life residents.
SL’s anniversary celebrations actually reflect all those aspects. To start with, the party itself fosters community by promoting musical presentations and dances, by encouraging exhibitors to offer gifts to visitors, by bringing the Lindens and Moles closer to the general public.
Of course, underlining the history of SL also reinforces the bonds that unite residents around the feeling of commonality. That’s why one of the highlights of SL’s birthdays has been the Tapestry of Time, where an exhibition that depicts some important milestones in Second Life’s trajectory. This year’s exhibition in the Tapestry of Time is especially moving, for it has been built around a memorial dedicated to Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab’s CEO who has boosted Second Life since 2014 and who has recently died.
Residents’ exhibitions have also been one of the main aspects of SLB celebrations — and they seem to have been reinforced in SL18B, for the regions with user exhibitions feel more integrated to the rest of the main party areas.
I haven’t had time to visit all the exhibitions yet, but I would not miss the opportunity to check the current edition of Bears Gone Wild, by Randy Firebrand, my husband. As in past years, Randy took photos of Linden bears in some iconic SL places. By clicking on the pictures, visitors can collect landmarks for those places and explore them personally.
Among other interesting exhibitions that I have been to, I enjoyed Huckleberry Hax’s Stömol, which displays one of the apartments used in the feature-length machinima of the same name, directed by him and released in 2020. I could also list Catznip Viewer’s set and the one by Safe Waters Foundation, that are also worth checking — but these mentions are far from exhausting the list of exhibitions that deserve a visit.
Finally, the marketable aspect of Second Life is present in the Shop and Hop event. It is not my focus here, but it certainly reflects one of the main characteristics of SL. Together with the other components of the party, it helps SLB to reverberate some of the most important features of Second Life.
May Linden Lab keep reinforcing the most successful aspects of Second Life for years to come. At the age of majority, SL still has potential. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have lasted for such a long time.