Ruth La Ferla of the New York Times published an extensive write-up yesterday all about how virtual fashion is surviving and thriving in the recession, clocking in at over 1,400 words.
It's a real shame that La Ferla failed to cover any real news in her story. At least she succeeded in inflating the estimated earnings of virtual worlds from the currently-accepted $1 billion mark to a totally unscientific, Bear-Stearns-in-the-sky estimate of $2 billion.
Pixels and Policy explains why La Ferla's article does nothing to advance the cause of virtual worlds, and quite a bit to hold it back.
Second Life: All Thigh-Highs and Frock Coats?
While La Ferla's article is great publicity for Linden Lab and Second Life, it failed to do much besides playing into the common misconception that Second Life is little more than a high-end fashion simulator. From the article:
A proliferation of new sites, games and the release of films like
“Surrogates,” about avatarlike robots who boast wardrobes and ripped
physiques that their operators in the movie could never hope to attain,
have piqued a new wave of interest in virtual worlds.
In them visitors
can fashion a fancy identity, rub shoulders with other virtual
glitterati and snap up temptations in a marketplace made entirely of
We wrote about how movies like Gamer and Surrogates were likely to draw hundreds of thousands of first-time gamers into the Metaverse, but it isn't because of the clothing the avatars are wearing. La Ferla boils virtual worlds down to a soulless consumerist glaze, and while there is definitely an element of consumer pressure in Second Life, most users don't aspire to join the "virtual glitterati."
Articles detailing the fashion culture of Second Life are easy ways to grab the attention of readers who haven't heard of the Metaverse, but that's like talking about Japan and only mentioning the robot trash cans. It's intellectually lazy journalism, and trivializes virtual worlds as a place where, as La Ferla says, avatars show off "caviar tastes.
Whatever Happened to Art?
If Second Life allows itself to be repeatedly portrayed as a virtual world focused on high fashion and the worship of Ms. La Ferla's "butterscotch-skinned" avatars, Linden Lab risks losing the innovators and offbeat content developers that continue to give the world life.
Non-fashion content is widely produced across Second Life, in addition to art and music that provide solid incomes for a few major performers. One is even cutting his own album based entirely off Second Life fame. None of this made it into the Arts Section or into Ms. La Ferla's style piece – but who will argue with the style of some of the installations at Burning Life?