P2008: Field Report From Second Life UPDATED
This item in the Cleveland Plain Dealer blog Openers tipped me off that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) is pursuing his presidential ambition in the virtual world known as Second Life as well as the real world. (Kucinich's virtual campaign has been noted here, here, and here as well.) Second Life is a massive 3D virtual reality realm visited by some 30,000 to 40,000 people worldwide every day. (It claims to have over 9 million members, based on how many accounts have been created, but it is unclear how many of those are duplicates and how many are inactive.) Second Life is sort of a game, but without a specific goal or way of "winning." Players can buy, sell, and rent things in Second Life using a currency called Lindens, which are worth about $0.0045 each.
I figured it was no less than my duty as a political blogger to go check out presidential election activities in Second Life and file this field report. My avatar, pictured above, is named "YellowDog Szondi." (When you start an account you have to select from a list of available surnames, and "Sammy" wasn't on it.) Using the search function for places, it wasn't hard to find the Kucinich for President 2008 headquarters in Maximus (a Second Life region), coordinates 84, 151, 31.
In the center of Kucinich's open-air headquarters is a sort of two-story Roman-style pavilion. In the photo above I'm standing at the end of a wall mounted with campaign photographs, looking out over an empty amphitheater. (There were no other avatars around when I stopped by any of the locations mentioned in this report.) It looked like the amphitheater is set up for speeches or meetings.
Pictured above is part of the set-up on the first floor of the pavilion. I downloaded a notecard (which welcomed me to the headquarters and gave instructions for becoming a Second Life volunteer, as well as noting that there is a beach to the west of the location) and saw that one could buy a Kucinich t-shirt or hat for your avatar for 10 or 20 Lindens, respectively. Additional materials like statements on issues and links to web sites are also available.
I next searched for the terms "Hillary Clinton" and instantly located Hillary Clinton 2008 SL Campaign Headquarters, pictured above, in Platon at 132, 111, 24. This location is rather more elaborate and decorative than Kucinich headquarters, with tropical architecture and a curving beach along a sort of lagoon brimming with brightly colored fish and leaping dolphins. I noted that Second Life campaign flags were available for free.
My next stop was called Grassroots Barack Obama Headquarters in Blacktail Ridge at 24, 137, 149. This consists of a huge, square glassed-in structure. As depicted in the photograph, free SL t-shirts can be obtained by clicking on the small white sign, and the device on the right is intended to help with real-world voter registration. I noticed that one can join a Second Life social group appropriately called "Obama for President."
In the virtual world of Second Life, stupefying visual effects are easily achieved. Outside of the Obama building is the mural shown above, which is gargantuan in (apparent) scale. You can see my avatar on the plaza at left.
Continuing with Democratic candidates, my next stop was Edwards Campaign Central in Laguna at 219, 113, 23. This location features an outdoor boardwalk with images and downloadable information organized by issue or subject. At Edwards headquarters the signs, shirts, and campaign buttons are free.
I could not find any Second Life location for Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, or Joe Biden, but I had success with long-shot contender Mike Gravel. His headquarters are in Isle of Intrigue2 at 143, 211, 701. Unlike the other candidates, Gravel designed his headquarters to take advantage of the fact that Second Life avatars can fly or teleport to platforms suspended in the air. Position statements on various issues can be obtained by visiting the platforms.
The most interesting part of Gravel's headquarters, however, is the "Choose a Candidate" display pictured above. Visitors are asked to select a candidate (from either party), answer a questionnaire about how they chose, and then identify their state of residence.
As a reward for choosing a candidate, visitors receive a little gift. I chose a Democratic candidate and received the little shoulder-mounted blue donkey pictured above.
On the Republican side I had much less success finding campaign activity in Second Life. When I searched for Rudy Giuliani I found a listing for Giuliani headquarters in Port Victoria, 194, 122, 27, but upon teleporting to that location I found only the anti-Bush sign pictured above, mounted on a neoclassical edifice -- an apparent practical joke. I found nothing for McCain, Romney, Thompson, or Tancredo. With libertarian Ron Paul, however, I hit the jackpot.
Paul's headquarters in Soren at 226, 154, 31 are among the most elaborate I saw. An avatar who "sits" at the podium pictured above is animated to appear like he or she is giving a speech. The location makes extensive use of downloadable weblinks and notecards and is one of the more complex and interestingly designed sites I visited.
Apart from campaign sites I also visited a vendor of presidential campaign flags, yard signs, and t-shirts in Jeon at 34, 112, 79. I saw every actual candidate represented except Alan Keyes. Nothing for Al Gore or Newt Gingrich. So far as I could tell, the entire set-up is sheer piracy -- there is no indication that the sales are authorized by the candidates or that the proceeds go to their campaigns. Signs sell for 49 Lindens, flags go for 99 Lindens, and t-shirts for 29 Lindens. Lindens can be exchanged for real currency, so someone is making a real (although small) profit on this venture.
Equally audacious, the presidential campaign merchandise site also has an automatic leaderboard, showing which candidate is currently ahead in total merchandise sales. At the time of my visit, Ron Paul was ahead at 20.15%, with the major Democratic contenders following in second, third, fourth places (Obama 17.18%, Clinton 16.99%, and Edwards 14.97%).
I'm not exactly sure what to make of my visit to Second Life. Although Kucinich has been ridiculed in some quarters for his Second Life efforts, he is not the only candidate on the virtual scene. It is interesting that the Democrats overall are much mote interested in Second Life than the Republicans, and also that Ron Paul campaign is heavily involved.
UPDATE: A commenter points out that non-candidate Newt Gingrich (R) conducted a ground-breaking political workshop on Second Life, which was subsequently the subject of a video on YouTube. There are links to further information about the event in the comment.
Also, a reader emailed me to object to my omission of Ron Paul from "major Republican candidates" in the text:
"Ron Paul is a major Republican candidate and we need to make sure he is treated as such. He has about $5.3 million cash on hand from donations, twice that of McCain and almost 10 times as much as Romney.
Also - Ron has about 20,000 volunteers on meetup.com and the campaign doesn't pay for any of it! I am also never worried that Ron Paul is going to do something or say something ignominiously - much different when Rudy or Fred are speaking."