The Value of Community in Social VR and Virtual Worlds: Why Fostering Community Is Such a Critical Task for the Newer Virtual Worlds and Social VR Platforms

Chatting around the campfire at the weekly Morning Buzzz event in Sinespace

Today, I did something that I have never done before: I attended the regular Wednesday Morning Buzzz event, which is hosted by Mimi Marie and held in the Greenela world in Sinespace. I was told that I should attend at least one of these meetings (which normally I don’t go to, because they usually fall during my workday in my local time zone up here in Winnipeg), because it was one of the best ways to get the pulse of what was going on in Sinespace, and glean ideas for future blogposts.

(Working in self-isolation from home during the coronavirus pandemic gives me a bit more flexibility to be able to attend those events which I normally would have to miss, which is a rather unexpected perk of the pandemic! But it also means that I find myself responding to work emails and editing collections spreadsheets on Sunday mornings, so obviously, this cuts both ways.)

Anyways, back to the topic of this editorial. As my friend had suggested, it was well worth my time to attend this morning’s events (in addition to Morning Buzzz, the Technical Office Hours was held this morning, another in-world event that I had never attended in person before today).

Technical Office Hours in Sinespace

I had quite wonderful, wide-ranging, and very informative conversations with a number of different people, whom I had not gotten to know nearly as well as I should have by now (especially since I am the embedded reporter for Sinespace!). In fact, my whole experience today in Sinespace was highly instructive, and it got me to thinking.

And I was reminded, yet again, of a universal truth: that the success and longevity of any social VR platform or virtual world lies in its ability to foster, build, sustain and enhance community. The connections made between avatars, and the communities that form around those bonds, are what bring people back, time and again, to particular virtual worlds. In fact, I would suggest that community-building is absolutely critical to the long-term success of social VR and virtual worlds.

One of the reasons that Second Life’s user community has been so resistant to even contemplate a move to another virtual world, is that in all the years that they have spent in SL, many people have made a sizable investment, not so much in the number of items in their inventory (although that is certainly a consideration), but in the number and quality of their in-world relationships.

Think of all the vibrant Second Life role-play communities that have proved to be perennially popular, for example. Think of popular in-world gathering places in SL like Frank’s Jazz Club, Muddy’s Music Café, and FogBound Blues, for example. These are places where people meet each other, friendships are formed, and community is forged. And people tend to tell each other about these places and these communities, always bringing more people into the fold.

Sometimes, I think that the various companies that are busily building various incarnations of the metaverse focus too much on the technical features, at the expense of something more important to any platform’s success: the ability for people to form common communities of interest, and create virtual spaces that meet their community needs, goals, and dreams. This is why such community-building features as text and voice chat, user profiles, and user groups and notices, are so vitally important. (Remember the unholy fuss that erupted when Linden Lab wanted to cut the number of groups that Basic account members could subscribe to? They quickly backtracked from that particular corporate decision.)

What I do find interesting is that, even on platforms that have sometimes struggled to get higher concurrent user figures (e.g. Sansar, High Fidelity), there are still small but stubbornly committed groups of people who continue to plan events and promote them. Witness the tireless work of the volunteer COMETS team in Sansar, who are behind many of the events in the Sansar Events calendar.

Community is critically important. Never forget that!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
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Question for My Second Life Readers: Where Are All the LGBTQ Meeting Places in Second Life?

Second Life has seen a resurgence of returning users in recent months, as a result of the imposition of social distancing policies, lockdowns, and quarantines in the face of the ongoing public health crisis that is the coronavirus pandemic.

I recently received an inquiry from someone returning to Second Life after an absence, who asked me:

You seem nice and knowledgeable here: I have been on SL 15 years ago or so, and would now like to return and find gay places, ideally catering to bears and chubs. But that’s not a mandatory at all.

I just wondered whether you know a place that’s a little busy – all places I went to were deserted.

Thank you so very much in advance!

Now, this is a puzzler for me. When I first set foot into SL fourteen years ago, I used to frequent any number of gay bars, fun places that were packed full of avatars. Over time, many of those places had closed down.

When I replied that there used to be a couple of spots for bears (i.e. chubby or overweight gay men, usually but not always bearded and/or hairy, hence the name “bears”), but that they had long since shut down, he replied:

Thank you very very much, you’re my star – not easy finding one’s way here nowadays with so many places deserted!

Are there any other places where simply a lot of gay guys go, also non-bears?

Any help is greatly appreciated!

So, I thought I would broaden the question to include spaces welcoming to all LGBTQ folks in Second Life, and throw the question out to you, my faithful readers:

Where are the places in Second Life where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people can gather and meet each other? Please note that I am not talking about the places where you go to have hookups or sex (God knows, those are easy enough to find!).

I will compile all the responses received as updates to this blogpost, and I will keep this blogpost updated as new information comes in about community spots, since they tend to change over time.

Please feel free to submit a comment. Thanks in advance for your help!

Editorial: How Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds and Social VR Platforms Can Reduce Isolation During a Potential SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic

O.K. it’s time to inject a little levity (thanks, Neobela!):

It’s so funny because it’s true. Second Life users make friends and build communities not based on physical proximity, but on mental and emotional connections between their avatars. That very basic fact, common to all virtual worlds and social VR platforms, may be a life-saver to those people who, either by choice or by circumstance, are forced to self-isolate in their homes because of quarantines and the imposition of social distancing policies by their governments.

And it’s not just Second Life. It’s any virtual world, and the concept applies to the newer social VR platforms like Sansar, too.

I am one of those depressed people who often walks away from a real-world interaction with a friend or acquaintance with an uplift in my mood. And I know that I often can replicate that response, when I interact with other people in a virtual world, too. My brain literally does not know the difference between a real-world interaction and a virtual-world one, and it responds the same way.

Of course, this works both ways: someone in my real life or or in virtual one can just as easily bring me down and depress me further. But the fact remains that social VR platforms and virtual worlds are built on the foundation of human communication. It literally doesn’t matter if those humans are living right next door or at the other end of the globe in our modern era of information technology. We can find our own community, people who share our thoughts, goals, and dreams, and literally build new worlds!

So, while the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 outbreak continues, don’t forget to sign into your favourite social VR/virtual world platform(s) from time to time, to reconnect with your communities.

Sansar Already Has a Strong Sense of Community

My father, Hugo Schultz, was a machinist for the Canadian National Railway, and I grew up in the eastern Winnipeg neighbourhood of Transcona, home to the CNR Transcona Shops where he worked almost all his life. At the time of Transcona’s Centennial, CBC Manitoba reported:

Transcona was founded as the site of the repair shops for the Grand Trunk Pacific and National Transcontinental Railways. The name “Transcona” is an amalgam of Transcontinental and Strathcona, the latter from Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, a former Manitoban who was instrumental in building Canada’s first railway. It was Lord Strathcona who drove the last spike into the CPR railway in 1885.

The CNR Transcona Shops opened in 1913, and during the First World War, the shops were used for the manufacture of munitions.

Transcona attained city status in 1961, and in 1972, it amalgamated with the City of Winnipeg, along with 11 other communities.

On the block where I grew up, there was a very strong sense of community. All the neighbours knew each other. Every summer the block got a permit from the City, and threw a weekend block party. Our house was in the middle of the block, so during the block party, people tended to bring over their lawn chairs and congregate there. We even had an annual North Side versus South Side volleyball game!

This all seemed so normal that it wasn’t until I grew up and moved away that I realized that this sense of community was not the norm. Many people nowadays feel isolated, even in the midst of bustling neighbourhoods.

114 Harvest 1 July 2018.png

The reason I am telling you all this is that today, for the first time in a long while, I had an opportunity to explore the 114 Harvest experience. Drax recently gave the houses lining Harvest Street to other Sansar residents to use, and people have lovingly decorated their virtual homes.

Here’s a glimpse inside Strawberry Singh’s tastefully decorated home:

114 Harvest 2 1 July 2018.png

(Note that in Sansar, just as in Second Life, it’s quite acceptable to explore other people’s houses when they are not there! In SL, sometimes people set up security orbs to turf trespassers, but most people don’t bother.)

And while I was exploring it struck me that, even though Sansar has been open to the public for less than a year, it already has an amazingly strong community. It may not be a very large community (yet), but it is robust, wildly creative and quite active.

114 Harvest 3 1 July 2018.png

A virtual world is not a success based on what features and tools it can offer; it is a success based on its sense of community, of belonging. This is what keeps people coming back again and again, to meet friends old and new and build something wonderful together. This is the secret to the success of Second Life, still going strong after 15 years.

Given its small but strong community, Sansar can already be seen as a success at this early stage in its development.