In my recent editorial about the representation of aging in virtual worlds and social VR, I wrote:
Unfortunately, there’s an absolutely dire shortage of virtual places in Second Life where senior (and senior-appearing) avatars can meet and chat…Where in the fresh hell are the spaces where the age and accumulated wisdom of our elders are welcomed and celebrated?
Joining the group is easy. Just teleport here to the New Resident Island orientation sim and freebie store, and click on this board:
The sign reads:
Did you know that there are many older people who join the virtual world of Second Life?
If you are age 40 or older in real life, you can join our mature residents group to chat and share information about cool places with others who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, or older!
Left click here to join the Silver Tigers group
While the sign below it says that you have to contact Valet Parx to join the group, I found that I was able to join immediately, without an intermediary. There is no cost to join the Silver Tigers group, and it currently has a little over 700 members. The group description reads as follows:
It is a fact – There are MANY mature residents in Second Life. This group is for those residents who are around 40 years and older, to chat, share SL experiences and socialise with people of a similar mature age range. Welcome!
You can also copy and paste the following URI into the chat box in your Second Life viewer, then click on the link it forms to join the Silver Tigers group:
I have received so many comments and responses via Discord to my original editorial about aging in the metaverse, that I suspect I will be writing more about this topic in future! I’ve also heard some wonderful stories of people in their fifties, sixties, and even seventies who are active participants in social VR and virtual worlds. The metaverse is not just for the young!
UPDATE February 23, 2022: I also stumbled across a Flickr group dedicated to those who are (or who roleplay) senior citizens in Second Life! The group is called Second Life Senior Citizens and here are a few pictures from their photo pool:
I’ve been active in the virtual world of Second Life for almost 15 years now (since 2007), and one of the things I have learned (which also applies to the newer crop of social VR apps and the suddenly-ubiquitous NFT metaverse platforms) is the following lesson: people are willing to invest a significant amount of time, energy, and money in their avatars!
But what I do find extremely interesting about Second Life (which has a userbase which skews significantly older than, say, VRChat or Rec Room) is that people almost uniformly confirm to looking as young as possible! In my peregrinations and perambulations across the grid, I can often go for weeks at a time before I see another avatar who appears middle-aged, or (God forbid!) a senior citizen. SL is full of clubs and nightspots where everybody seems to be young, pert, taut, and beautiful (even the men!). Why is that? Why does nobody question the status quo?
Well, I think that what happens in virtual worlds is a reflection of what happens in real life, with all its distortions and biases. Modern society does not treat aging well, especially the aging of women, who are often seen as undesirable as the grey hairs and wrinkles accumulate over time. The entire beauty industry is built upon the irresistible allure of keeping aging at bay: cosmetics, hair dyes, plastic surgery procedures. I could write an entire separate blogpost about how Instagram filters are impacting real-world beauty standards in a sort of endless, soul-less feedback loop.
But what if we were to use the metaverse as a fresh opportunity to restore some balance and some much-needed sanity to modern society’s obsessive worship of youth, and disdain of aging? Previous societies (and Indigenous cultures) valued their elders instead of dismissing, disrespecting, and discarding them.
Second Life, with its multi-year head-start over the many newer metaverse platforms, has seen a small but growing movement of products to allow for the more visible avatar representation of seniors, as can be seen by the portraits of three avatars which I share with you today: Grace, Mr. Read. and (one of my favourites!) Rose Queen.
Grace is a proud senior citizen whose glorious grey hair and wrinkles make her stand out in any SL crowd of twentysomethings, and whose profile reads in part:
I visit various places to show that, even in a place like Second Life, where everybody seems to be young and beautiful, old age can (and should) be represented as well.
Grace is wearing:
Mesh Head and Body: the Clodet three-ages mesh body by Altamura comes in three versions in one package: young, middle-aged, and older as shown here (I believe you can buy the various ages separately).
Hair: the Brenda hair from Alli&Ali comes in a greyscale (white/grey/black) fatpack with a variety of beautiful ombre tones such as the one I used for these pictures.
Eyes: the perfect finishing touch, these grey eyes are a current free unisex group gift from Gloom called the Hercules collection, which you can pick up if you join the L’Homme Magazine group for free (they come in four different colours and three different sizes, in system/Bakes on Mesh, Omega, and LeLutka versions)
Shoes: Deborah flats by Baby Monkey (warning: store is on an adult sim!)
Jewelry: the Daphne choker, earrings, and bracelet from Beloved Jewelry were prizes from a long-ago hunt I participated in, and include an extensive HUD to change the metals and gemstones
I admit that once I saw this completely free outfit from Kauna, I knew I was going to create this look! To me, the book and the pipe are the perfect finishing touches (yes, I admit, there’s a little bit of Hugh Hefner in the mix, as well as The Most Interesting Man in the World advertising campaign!).
Mr. Read is wearing:
Mesh Head, Eyes, and Skin: the Victor head from LOGO allows you to adjust the level of wrinkles from young to old, and anywhere in-between! Very versatile if you’re going for an older gentleman look, and highly recommended.
Hair: this part was easy; it’s the free hair from the Leonard starter avatar, already in your inventory!
Outfit: the entire outfit—smoking jacket and shirt, trousers, socks, and shoes—is available for free from the tiny Kauna menswear store on Jo Yardley’s Time Portal sim! Kauna is one of the hidden gems of menswear in SL, and includes retro styles from the 1920s, 1930, and 1940s as well as a wide variety of more modern suits and tuxedos. You’ll have to buy everything in bundles for L$0 from the vendor panels and then unpack it all, but it’s worth the effort!
Book: the Everybook comes with a HUD with 5 different Bento hand poses, and was a free 10th anniversary gift from Contraption, home to all kinds of weird and wonderful steampunk accessories!
Pipe: this wonderful pipe with its particle smoke effects was an old gacha prize from Kauna
Rose Queen (yes, that is her honest-to-God, legacy Second Life name!) is the avatar I use for Victorian/steampunk roleplay purposes. You can usually find her strolling through steampunk neighbourhoods like the Caledon, Mieville, and New Babbage sims, exchanging pleasantries with the other residents. I first wrote about Rose back in 2018, when I upgraded her from a classic, system avatar to the all-mesh look you now see here.
Rose Queen is wearing:
Mesh Head and Skin: Vivien Bento mesh head by LAQ (you can adjust the wrinkles on this as well)
Outfit: the Respectable dress comes from HotDog, one of my absolute favourite period/vintage/gothic/horror stores on the grid! I would buy out the whole store if I could afford it! I bought the entire fatpack of this glorious dress at their last Black Friday sale, just so I could mix and match all the different colours of the top, skirt, and lace detail to my heart’s delight. I call this particular combination Rose’s “Victorian widow weeds” 😉
Hair: this is another Alli&Ali hairstyle, called Lucille
For more pictures of Rose, please see my earlier blogpost, which includes full styling credits.
Now, I don’t want to paint a picture that Second Life is some perfect nirvana for seniors. Unfortunately, there’s an absolutely dire shortage of virtual places in Second Life where senior (and senior-appearing) avatars can meet and chat (and NO, I am NOT talking about the small number of adult-rated sims which cater to the dirty-old-grandpa crowd). Where in the fresh hell are the spaces where the age and accumulated wisdom of our elders are welcomed and celebrated, instead of just treated as a sexual fetish?
Forgive me; I just turned 58 a couple of weeks ago, and I fear I am rapidly becoming a cranky old man myself! If you’re into fetishes like findom (link is safe for work), well, there’s a place for you in Second Life, too (far, far away from the rest of us!). After all, it is your Second Life; you do you, boo. 😉
So the (im)pertinent question this old man would pose to all the metaverse newcomers is this: how well will your worlds support the older users who want to see themselves represented? Or are your worlds going to be only for the uniformly young?
UPDATE February 17th, 2022: Wow, this blogpost has received more comments—and I have received more feedback from people via Reddit—than any other recent blogpost which I can remember. I clearly have struck a nerve!
And I want to make it very clear that I am NOT advocating that people who use Second Life must have an avatar that looks like them in real life, if they happen to be older. As I always say: it’s your Second Life; be whoever (or whatever) you wish. Follow your fantasy and your desire!
And one person on the AltspaceVR Discord server, named Wookie Picard, had this absolutely wonderful comment, which I got permission to share in full with you here:
Thanks for posting this. I’ve been doing virtual worlds for about 20 years, first Second Life and now Altspace. I’m almost 70. My hair in Altspace has plenty of gray. I get called granny. I get told him too old to be in there. But mostly I get ignored. I’ve done a test. When I change my hair to a more youthful color, more people talk to me. I’m proud to represent “my people .” The funny comments include “Who bought you the headset?” “Who taught you how to use it?” I have some snarky replies. I tell them that every morning my nurse gets me out of bed and wheels my wheelchair over to the desk and puts the headset on my head. When I tell them my age and they say “Good for You!!!” I reply, “Yeah, good for me! I’ve managed not to die yet.” Yes. Representation matters. I’ve heard people say they like avatars because they can look younger. I say, come out of the closet! We deserve to be in virtual worlds and we deserve to be respected for our experience. Our people created all this stuff!
This evening, I carefully wrapped up my fully-charged Oculus Quest VR headset in one of my old black T-shirts, and packed it into a carry-on bag along with my Oculus Touch hand controllers, the Quest charging cable and a couple of spare AA batteries (just in case!), and took all of it over to my mother and stepfather’s home for our regular Sunday dinner.
I still can’t get my mother to try virtual reality yet (she cites her bad neck arthritis and not wanting to mess up her hair), but my stepfather has taken to it like a duck to water! At first, I started him off slow, with a few stationary scenes from the Nature Treks VR relaxation app: a sandy tropical beach, a mountain forest glade, etc. Then I started up the Titans of Space Plus app, which has just been released for the Oculus Quest, and let him drive his own spaceship through the solar system, exploring the planets and their moons, which he enjoyed tremendously! I think I may have made a new convert.
Which has got me thinking: are seniors an overlooked market segment when it comes to virtual reality? Obviously, most VR games and apps currently in release are targeted to younger audiences, but you might be interested to note that specific VR applications for seniors are being developed.
For example, I have already written about Alcove VR, who has partnered with the AARP to release a beta app for the Oculus Go VR headset, which allows family members to connect in a virtual living room, share videos and games, and help combat the isolation experienced by some seniors.
Rendever has installed its virtual reality platform in over one hundred senior living communities in North America over the past three years, helping those seniors who may be experiencing cognitive decline or mobility restrictions through such techniques as customized reminiscence therapy (allowing them to virtually revisit their childhood home, their wedding site, or another location from their past).
Likewise, many existing consumer apps (like Nature Treks VR and Google Earth VR) can empower seniors to experience new places and do things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because of cost, time or mobility constraints.
It is obvious that seniors’ use of virtual reality is increasing (along with the rest of the general population), and that more and more research and development work is starting to take place on the practical and therapeutic use of VR in settings such as seniors’ communities. And, of course, the non-practical but still essential recreational and fun uses!
So the next time you pay a visit to your grandma or grandpa, pack your Oculus Quest along. You never know what might happen!