In Second Life, players must learn to adapt to their environment and coexist with many other players. Players must have a mastery of the game controls and rules. This virtual world does not have a pre-defined set of activities. Players must define their own goals through open play. Players interact in a 3-D virtual world that is built and owned by its residents. Second Life is composed of 9,297,221 residents. Players can customize an avatar, build materials, and own their own land. They must use real-life money in order to buy Linden dollars, the currency within the virtual world (deWinter & Vie, 2008).
According to deWinter and Vie (2008), media literacy requires that students be savvy about their online representations of self. Many students do not understand how many different people use the Internet. They also state that students are oblivious to the fact that their personal information online can be used without their consent. DeWinter and Vie (2008) stated that students should have an understanding of how issues of privacy, intellectual property, and other concerns have shifted as a result of the increased participation in computerized environments. Second Life can be used to help students understand these complexities.
Every Second Life player is represented by an avatar that can be customized. Players can give their avatar a hair color, eye color, shape, facial features, clothing, and clothing accessories. Bugeja (2007) explained that avatars are projects of one’s own self, because they represent people’s deepest wishes, aspirations, virtues, and vices. Avatars are complex and dynamic constructions because some users may fashion avatars to mirror their real-life personae, while others make their avatar different from their real-life self. Since avatars both reflect and deviate from players’ offline identities, student can be asked to discuss how those representations connect with their identifications with race, class, age, gender, sexuality, and other personal markers. DeWinter and Vie (2008) developed a list of questions that an instructor could ask:
- How does your avatar look and dress? Did you pay for extra features or for branded clothes? Why did you decide to create the “look” that you did?
- What gender and sexual orientation is your avatar and how does your gender and orientation affect your interactions within Second Life?
- What systems limit your actions, movements, thoughts, and expressions? What have you wanted to do or convey in Second Life?
- What is the relationship between what you want to say and the technologies that allow you to “speak” in the game environment? How does typing or using voice-enabled capabilities make communication easier or difficult and why?
- What labor did you have to engage in to play in the environment as you wanted to? Did you purchase items with Linden dollars or script any of your objects for use in Second Life?
(deWinter & Vie, 2008, p. 317)
DeWinter and Vie (2008) stated that Second Life does not necessarily provide students with a safe haven where they can experiment with their own identity. The boundaries between controlled educational spaces and sexualized content in the virtual world can be blurry, and educators have raised concerns about their legal liabilities if anything happens to their students while participating in Second Life for educational purposes. Anyone can be harassed in a virtual world. Bugeja (2007) argued by stating that instructors are legally obligated to highlight possibilities of risks of playing in a virtual world, because educators are taking their students on a field trip to Second Life; thus, they are forcing students to agree to terms of service (deWinter & Vie, 2008).
Adult communities have thrived in Second Life. Nearly thirty percent of all avatars and land in the world are tied to some adult-oriented business, which means that students could potentially be exposed to pornographic material. DeWinter and Vie (2008) suggested that instructors can require students not to visit mature locations during class time.
Bugeja, Michael J. (2007). Second thoughts about Second Life. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Available: http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2007/09/2007091401c/careers.html.
deWinter, J., Vie, S. (2008). Press enter to “say”: using Second Life to teach critical media literacy. Computers and Composition (25) 313-322.