Andy Arnold, the Tech Geek at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network (http://elcaymnet.org/_blog/Tech_Geek) recently asked if I might write about Second Life (SL) for his blog. I'm a total newbie on SL (my avatar is now fourteen days old), but I already know the perfect (Johannine) thing to say to readers of my own blog, as well as readers of his:
"Come and see."
The thing about Second Life is that if you haven't been on it, you'll think it is a game. It's not. You'll develop a whole bunch of opinions and ideas about what Second Life is or isn't, all based on your experience of living in Real Life (RL). But this isn't Real Life, it's Second Life, and there's no better way to discover the theological, philosophical, existential, sociological, anthropological, and cultural implications of Second Life than to simply go there.
If you had asked me, "What is Antarctica like?" and I replied, "Come and see," you could, rightfully, challenge me and point out that it's cost prohibitive and time-consuming. And you would be right. But Second Life is free, the software to view SL is free, and anyone reading this blog already has access to a computer. So what's holding you back?
I think what holds us back is actually what keeps non-church goers from visiting a church for the first time. It's intimidating. You wonder how you should dress, how to talk to people, where to go, whether you know the right time, etc. So if you visit Second Life, consider it an exercise in experiencing what everyone who has trouble visiting church feels when they get invited to church. Echoing that famous title of Marcus Borg, it will be liking meeting church again for the first time.
Then, once you've created an avatar and logged into SL for the first time, let me suggest that you find a friend or companion for your journey. Visit the Anglican Cathedral on Second Life, or St. Matthew's by the Sea, both of which offer regularly scheduled worship services and the daily prayer offices. Or attend the Lutheran bible study on SL, 7 p.m. Second Life Time, at Seaside Haven. You can teleport to this location by searching for it through the search tool. My avatar is MiroslavTweedy. You can search for me and send a message.
At this point, you'll begin to discover the huge potential platforms like SL offer for community and worship. Don't have access to a community for daily prayer where you live in RL? No problem. Just log in at the right time and you're praying compline! Looking for a bible study that meets at a time when you can stay in your pajamas by the fire after putting the kids to bed? Voila! This is one major mission frontier, and I'd like to engage as many youth leaders and church leaders as I can in imagining what ministry looks like in the virtual world. We have not even begun to tap into the possibilities.
No, Second Life isn't the only game in town. There are many other virtual worlds, and the scene is constantly changing. Five years from now the technology will be more robust, and who knows what possibilities will exist. The point is, this is what's happening now, and it is an immense opportunity to either augment what you are currently doing in RL ministries, or be a missional leader creating community in a place where real frontier ministry is happening (literally, in one case, because I've met a lay monastic who leads worship in a Western-themed sim on SL!).
I imagine some readers spend time in other virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Everquest. If you do, I'd love to hear how you are imagining building Christian community there.
A Lutheran friend I've met on SL provides her RL class participants with basic instructions on how to get started on Second Life. Follow these instructions and you'll do great.
Comments: A basic Second Life account is free. You do not have to spend any money in SL unless you want to. You will be given ample opportunity to shop for hair, clothes, skin, and accessories for your avatar, as well as homes, cars, etc. (none of which you need). You can ignore all of them. If you want new hair or clothes, there are a lot of free things available. I am willing to help you find them. However, changing your appearance takes time and is neither required nor necessary; the starter avatar works fine.
To begin using Second Life (SL henceforth), go to www.secondlife.com and click on one of the big, orange, “join now” buttons. You will first be asked to choose a name and a starter avatar.
– Your user name and password: You cannot change your user name, so choose carefully! (My advice: Choose a name that is easy to type.
– Your starter avatar: You can choose from any of 12 starter avatars—six male and six female. You will be able to change your avatar’s appearance and clothing after you start using SL, but you don’t have to.
– You will have to supply a valid email address and your birth date in order to create an account. Messages sent within SL will default to your email if you are not in-world when the message is sent.
Once you’ve created an account, you will probably be taken to a download page. You will have to download and install the SL software, referred to as the SL “viewer”. The current version is “Viewer 2”. Please download this version.
Getting Started in SL
The first time you launch SL your avatar will be at a location known as “Welcome Island”. There, you will find signboards with directions for basic skills (walking, turning, flying) and you will be given the opportunity to practice them. You can learn enough about SL to get started in about ten minutes, though you’ll eventually want to know a bit more than the basics. You might prefer to start with one or more of the links below.
– http://secondlife.com/whatis/?lang=en-US#Welcome: This is a video (called a “machinima” because it was created in a virtual world) about Welcome Island. It is short and will give you a very good idea of what to expect when you get there.
– http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Viewer_2_Video_Tutorials: You can watch video tutorials here. “Moving around”, “finding places”, and “chatting” are important. “Making friends” and “customizing your avatar” may be of helpful but are not necessary. “Shopping” and “land basics” can be watched if you decide you want to spend money.
– http://secondlife.com/support/quickstart/basic/Interface_overview: This is a written quickstart guide. All of the directions are written and illustrated with pictures and diagrams. It is focused on the interface that you see on the screen. I recommend you spend a little time in SL and then come back to this when or if you want to learn more.
– Getting started is where the learning curve for SL is the steepest, but most people get past it. Those who don’t have typically skipped Welcome Island! If you become too frustrated, let me know and we’ll arrange for a time when I can help you.
– If you decide to do this with a friend or classmate, you should be aware that there are numerous, identical, Welcome Islands. You will almost certainly end up on different Welcome Islands. There are ways to do the orientation together, but it is probably simpler to do it separately and then join up later. You can follow the link below to meet.