At their cathedral on Epiphany Island, the Anglicans of Second Life summon rolling thunder on Good Friday, or a sudden sunrise at the moment in the Easter service when the pastor pronounces, “He is risen.” As one Second Life handbook puts it: “From your point of view, SL works as if you were a god.”In truth, in the years since its peak in the mid‑2000s, Second Life has become something more like a magnet for mockery.
When I told friends that I was working on a story about it, their faces almost always followed the same trajectory of reactions: a blank expression, a brief flash of recognition, and then a mildly bemused look. Second Life is no longer the thing you joke about; it’s the thing you haven’t bothered to joke about for years.
But each morning, before all that—before getting the kids ready for school and putting in eight hours at the call center, before getting dinner on the table or keeping peace during the meal, before giving baths and collapsing into bed—Bridgette spends an hour and a half on the online platform Second Life, where she lives in a sleek paradise of her own devising. I’m slow moving, trying to get out of bed this morning.And as our actual world keeps delivering weekly horrors—another mass shooting, another hurricane, another tweet from the president threatening nuclear war—the appeal of that alternate world keeps deepening, along with our doubts about what it means to find ourselves drawn to it.F an anthropologist named Tom Boellstorff inhabited Second Life as an embedded ethnographer, naming his avatar Tom Bukowski and building himself a home and office called Ethnographia.His immersive approach was anchored by the premise that the world of Second Life is just as “real” as any other, and that he was justified in studying Second Life on “its own terms” rather than feeling obligated to understand people’s virtual identities primarily in terms of their offline lives.His book Coming of Age in Second Life, titled in homage to Margaret Mead’s classic, documents the texture of the platform’s digital culture.