Yesterday, Peter Ludlow opened the second week of the 2009 Compass Interdisciplinary Virtual Conference with a riveting presentation on virtual communities, cultures and governance. This year’s conference is titled ‘Breaking Down Barriers.’ Accordingly, Ludlow takes us into the virtual world of Second Life and provides a glimpse of how individuals, from a standpoint of anonymity, nonetheless construct communities, cultures, and even forms of governance that resolve inevitable conflicts.
Second Life is the height of embedded social networking. It is a platform where people can assume any identity they wish by constructing a highly customizable avatar. The content of the virtual world is also completely user designed. Players construct objects, buildings, business establishments, and much more. Each player travels through the virtual world as his avatar, and can engage with, modify, and construct, various objects, and most importantly can interact with the avatars of other players.
These interactions create various communities. Ludlow defines a virtual community as a group of individuals spatially separated but engaged in a broad range of shared social activities through non-face-to-face forms of communication. A community might form around a virtual night-club; regularly meeting at the same spot and intensively interacting. Or, a community might form around a business venture, for example, constructing a new virtual night-club. The opportunities for interaction within Second Life are plenty. And, as in the real world, these interactions provide the basis for enduring relationships, friendships, alliances, but also enmities.