[This student blog entry is part of a PWR 2 assignment that is discussed at greater length here]
For my research, I will be investigating consumerism in the virtual world of Second Life. For those unfamiliar with Second Life, users from across the world can through avatars in a virtual grid that is similar to Earth. The realm of Second Life has many features of the reality that we live in: an economy which is built on the Linden dollar, communities with shared interests, relationships amongst users, and most impressively and endless array of things to buy and sell—from wardrobes to houses, to actions and even body transformations.
Second Life is such a new innovation—it was released in 2003, but only recently gained substantial commercial success in 2006—that there is a lack of research and data available. Thus, much of my investigation will be based on consumer research. I decided to start off with an interview of a randomly selected user. I met Ayca Shan at Avatar Island, usually the first destination on the grid for new users. Avatar Island is composed of a main building which houses education rooms for users to learn the functionality of Second Life. I found Ayca at a booth where users could submit a photo and have their avatar transform to look strikingly similar to the photo—for a fee of course. Ayca’s first statement to me was “Are you going to buy a new face?”—a rather uncommon way to start a conversation.
I learned a little about both Ayca the avatar and Ayca the user during my interview through the Chat feature. Real Ayca is a 22-year-old student in Europe, who splits her time between schoolwork, shopping, friends, and work at a retail store. Virtual Ayca has been a resident of Second Life for 3 months, now owns a property on West Coast, and is waiting for real Ayca to purchase more Linden dollars in order to being building a house. She was visiting Avatar Island to pick up a new face for herself—one that looks more similar to the real Ayca. When asked why she wanted a change, Ayca replied “i like this face but i wanna look at it and kno it is me…i wanna see me in this world.” I spent the next few minutes asking her about shopping in the virtual world, what she owned, what she wanted to purchase, and if she could compare shopping in this world to shopping in the real world. “i luuv shopping for anything” she replied. “[In this world] evrythings sooooo cheap! i can buy anything and pay nothing…its like a free shopping spree!”
Ayca was able to give me great insight into her reasons for joining Second Life, her desired experience, and why she is so drawn to shopping in the virtual world. It seems that she really loves the ability to basically buy anything she wants for very little money—something she is unable to do in the real world. She makes a conscious choice to escape into a world of materialism and consumerism when she logs on. I hope to conduct interviews with many more users. I know that each user has a unique experience and set of goals, and everyone has an interesting set of stories—virtual and real—to tell.