One thing in particular strikes me as extraordinary about Second Life, the online community game that stretches the definitions of both community and gaming. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m most impressed with its demographics. Second Life’s 750,000+ “residents” are older than most online gamers, and much more evenly split in terms of gender. Their communities’ inhabitants are much closer demographically to the real world, and most would probably tell you they aren’t playing a game at all. They’re simply … living.
So it should not be too surprising that a real world recording artist has given a concert there (Suzanne Vega) and a real life presidential hopeful has campaigned there (former Virginia governor Mark Warner).
These online community firsts were reported in this week’s excellent On The Media podcast / NPR broadcast. And although they are impressive, I think you’ll agree that the online appearances of trailblazing musicians and politicians are a little too “fringey” to suggest further marketing possibilities.
Then, a few hours after hearing that podcast, I read more details about how Harvard is teaching a law course on an “island” that it has purchased on Second Life.
Yes, one way you can take CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion is in a virual Second Life classroom. The course description explains that it is, “A course in persuasive, empathic argument in the Internet space.” Students will be, “Studying many different media technologies to understand how their inherent characteristics and modes of distribution affect the arguments that are made using them.”
What separates this genuine taste of things to come from mere headline-grabbing gimmickry is the way the subject of study actually becomes the medium of discourse:
“Students will be immersed in this study through project-based assignments in which they will be using these technologies to make their own arguments.” [Emphasis is mine.]
Having learned about using this medium within the medium, these students will be ready to help the future Mark Warners win real votes in virtual spaces. And if you can sell policy, you can sell a heck of a lot of other things.
Instead of businesses spinning their wheels trying to set up things like MySpace profiles for their brands, perhaps they should start looking at creating Second Life avatars for their brand spokespeople to use to polish their online persuasion skills. If done right, these businesses could find prospects who are closer to the demographics of their customers, and much more willing to hear what they have to say.
NOTE: Another recent piece on Second Life is in the Wall Street Journal. Read about how clothing designers for this online world are creating and selling fashions designed to turn avatar heads.