The Virtual World of Second Life Becomes Real for Politics

This week I gave the strangest talk I have ever given, and it had nothing to do with what I said. It had to do with where I was. I was inside a virtual three-dimensional world, in the online game called Second Life.

The gathered group was made up of Netroots activists from all over the country who were gathering in this virtual setting, on the edge of a grassy hilly, on an island. They each were represented by an avatar, which can look like a person, but can also be made to look like animal-like beings too. There was a billboard with an agenda, and stumps to sit on, and free tee-shirts to wear. But it was all inside an interactive game. The talk was done through typing like in a chat room, with my words coming out line by line and others chiming in over my central narrative.

It this all seems like too much, then brace yourself. It probably will start to get more traction in politics in the coming years. After all, the private sector business world is going ga-ga over Second Life right now. There has been a flurry of mainstream news stories, several prominent ones in the New York Times, the cover of BusinessWeek, and the Reuters newswire has assigned a permanent reporter to cover what is going on in there.

The reason for all the attention is that Second Life now has more than 1.3 members and as much as $400,000 a day in real money changing hands through buying and selling in this virtual world. In fact, any of you can join for free and try it out in no time at all. Just go there and sign up.

And so, like the other media tools that have been pioneered and developed in the private sector, politics will follow into these virtual worlds too. In fact, I think gaming will become a significant area for politics in the next couple years, following in the footsteps of viral video, mobile media, and social networking. But more about that later. For now, go check it out.

Peter Leyden