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Second Life ladies

November 13, 2006 ・ Blog

A bit over a year ago, Dazed and Confused commissioned me to write a piece on how MMO worlds were attracting more than games usual quotient of women. I took the opportunity to bang on about Second Life, and Dazed and Confused decided not to publish it. Lord knows why - I mean, it couldn’t be because it’s crap, could it?

Well, gentle reader, it’s up to you to judge, because here, exclusively (and probably not entirely legally - D+C, give me a shout if you want me to take it down) it is, public for the first time.

The testosterone-soaked guns and goblins image of online virtual worlds is changing. New freeform virtual worlds based on social and creative play rather than combat and statistics are attracting new groups of people to their esoteric delights. Most significantly, they’re attracting women.

Second Life is the most expansive of these new virtual worlds. Its residents can do pretty much what they like. They can look however they want, communicate together, play games, design and build clothes, buildings and artefacts, and sell them, along with virtual land. Much of what’s possible in the “real world” is possible to some degree in Second Life.

“I don’t know how many people in real life manage to experience the life of a huntress, geisha, queen, commander, cult leader, fashion designer, businesswoman, millionaire and celebrity,” says Anshe Chung, one of its residents. “I’ve experienced all these and more.”

Around 30% of Second Life’s 56,000-odd strong population is female – in most online worlds female involvement is just 10%.

In the “real world”, Chung is married, in her early thirties and has two children, but in Second Life she buys and sells virtual land, and makes a considerable amount of real-world money out of it (though she’s reluctant to reveal exactly how much).

So – apart from the money – what is it about Second Life and worlds like it? “Female games are drawn to more abstract puzzle games like Tetris and relish problem solving and communication above simplified violent encounters,” says Paul Jackson of technology research firm Forrester Research.

Chung agrees: “I only know very few female players who get a kick from killing ten thousand orcs in a row only for earning some bragging rights about getting some magic sword. Most of the women that I meet playing in combat-centred online worlds focus on social aspects like role-playing, trade skills, guild life or doing things with friends.”

Aimee Weber is a web designer in her late twenties and lives in New York City. In Second Life she has a business designing and selling clothes. “Every woman is different but generally women are attracted to games with strong creative and social elements,” she says. “Establishing emotional connections and expressing ourselves is far more rewarding than shooting at monsters – not that it isn’t fun to get some aggression out sometimes!”

As Second Life grows, its community and range of activities are becoming richer. “I’ve seen large-scale charity events for Katrina Relief and the American Cancer Society to raise funds or awareness,” says Annabeth Robinson, who outside Second Life is a lecturer in visual communication at Leeds University. “These kind of events really demonstrate you are interacting with a community of real worth, rather than partaking in a game.”

With mobile phones becoming more powerful and new handheld consoles like the DS and PSP having wireless internet access, such virtual worlds are set to become even more pervasive. Habbo Hotel is a web browser-based communication game with eBoy-style graphics, and the forthcoming Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS, a cute collection and role-playing game, promises to allow players to visit each other’s villages via the internet.

And as far as the women that play these games feel, this growth is extremely positive: “Virtual worlds have given me a certain amount of courage to express myself in real life. It’s almost as if Second Life is a social testing ground where I can feel safe experimenting with the way I interact with other people,” says Weber. “It’s ironic: you wouldn’t think locking myself in my room with a computer would help me to be more daring socially, but that’s exactly what it has done.”