Second Life, Pac Man, and Computer Chess

Recently, I was asked my professional opinion about Second Life, and this is one answer.

When I give periodic talks about Google, I demo Google Gadgets and show the variety of them, including ones that are games such as Space Invaders or Pac Man. Usually I make a joke about how great this is, because now I don’t have to be bored at work anymore, that I’m ranked in the top 100 of Space Invaders, but with another slow semester I’ll probably make the top 10. It usually gets at least a chuckle from the audience. I made the joke in a talk to the university community, and some of my colleagues then claimed I’d told a hundred university employees that I sit around all day playing Space Invaders instead of working, thus making librarians look bad. One colleague actually asked me if I sat in my office all day playing Space Invaders. With as straight a face as I could muster, I told her that no, I usually played Asteroids instead. The irony is I don’t even like computer games.

However, I do play a lot of games with my computer, though rarely at work. I especially like abstract strategy board games and know how to play many different ones, though I also play backgammon and cribbage. A few years ago I was trying to play games with my daughter and yet escape the living hell that is Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders, so I started researching games we could play together with no chance involved. She was a bit young for chess, but I taught her some. However, I’ve also taught her checkers, reversi, go, gomoku, ninuki-renju, mancala, Cathedral, Blokus, connect 4, fox and hounds, nine men’s morris, chinese checkers, alquerque, tafl, surakarta, and probably a few more I’ve forgotton. The last three were so obscure I had to make the boards myself. (By the way, I highly recommend surakarta for small children; it’s a checkers-like game where one captures by moving pieces around big loops on the corner of the board.) I have computer programs that play almost all of these games, and I rely upon Fritz 10 and Hoyle Backgammon as ways to relax of an evening. I find these applications invaluable for playing, practicing, and even learning the games. I taught myself to play chess with the Chessmaster. But I don’t like computer games.

Okay, so what am I talking about and how is it relevant to Second Life or librarianship? For my purposes here, I’m considering computer games to be games that one couldn’t play without a computer, games that were born in a computerized environment. This would include such relatively simple games as Asteroids or Pacman to such complex games as World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs. I don’t like them. I never liked them. I gave away my Atari as a child. I didn’t hang out in arcades. I just found them all boring. However, I love computer chess because the computer program allows me to do better something I like to do in real life. I don’t like World of Warcraft because exploring strange worlds and fighting monsters isn’t something I want to do in real life, and even if it was, this game wouldn’t make me any better at it. Wielding a virtual sword just isn’t the same as wielding a real one, and I should know since I just bought a sword, the primary purpose of which is to give my wife something to look at me and shake her head about.

This is how I at least relate to various kinds of social software. I like the ones that help me do something more efficiently that I was already doing. Recently, I set up a wiki for our reference department because I was trying to capture in one accessible shared place all the information we had in files folders or post it notes or hard drives or email folders that we need to do reference work. We were already keeping this sort of information, just not in a convenient form. Thus, I like this wiki. It makes real life easier, and I consider this the best reason to persuade people to use it.

But so far, I don’t see how Second Life helps me do anything better that I’d ever want to do away from the computer. This may change in the future, and I’m open to development, but so far it bores me. From what I’ve read, virtual shopping and virtual pornography are the most popular things in Second Life. I do almost all of my shopping online, but that’s because I can shop for real things more efficiently. I don’t want to do any virtual shopping. I don’t like to shop at all. I’ve also visited a lot of islands that might be of interest to me, but I couldn’t find anyone there, including the chess island. I wouldn’t go to Second Life to hang out with my friends, because none of my friends visit there.

Thus, while I realize that there may be academic uses to Second Life, so far I’m skeptical of its usefulness. It still seems more like a computer game to me, something that one does mainly for fun and can only do with a computer. It doesn’t seem to build on real life so much as provide a fun alternative to it. It is purposeless, like games and even perhaps like the humanities themselves. I don’t consider this a criticism. Reading a poem is purposeless, yet nonetheless valuable and enjoyable, at least if it’s a good poem. Second Like, like a game, provides an end in itself, but so far it’s just not an end I value. If I found it more utilitarian, I’d have a higher professional opinion of it.

6 thoughts on “Second Life, Pac Man, and Computer Chess

  1. I suppose that if one has access to Second Life, or other virtual games like it – and these allow you to “do” something that you might not be able to do in real life (because of time, money, location, circumstances, etc.) – and this kind of thing that you would be “doing” might also have value in the real world if you ever were to get a chance to really do it – it might be worth investing some time in, taking part in, learning with, practicing with, etc…

  2. Some ScienceBloggers gave some poster sessions in Second Life that seemed like an interesting application. The SciFoo Lives On group seems to have a lot of activities there. I haven’t visited any of them yet so I can’t say how successful they are.
    BTW, for online chess you might want to try It’s a turn-based system that lets you play games over several days or weeks so it’s easy to fit in 5 minutes here and there during the day. My handle is john_d if you want to give it a go.

  3. Nathan, I agree. I’m willing to change my opinion on Second Life, and I keep trying it to find something to like about it, but so far I just haven’t. Perhaps I’m just missing something, but I still don’t see its usefulness either personally or professionally.
    John, I might give that a try. I used to play email chess at chessworld, but for some reason let it drop after a couple of years of doing it. I’ll look you up, but warn you in advance. I like to play chess, but I’m not very good at it, so if you’re good I probably won’t give you much of a game.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Playing chess online is life enhancing. These skills certainly can be used across a chess board in real life and can enhance other areas of real life as well. Through the medium of chess, individuals learn disciplined thinking skills which are applicable in other intellectual endeavors. Chess involves all levels of critical thinking: knowledge, comprehension, analysis, and evaluation. It requires forethought and cultivates visualization skills: it improves problem solving skills. Chess teaches concentration and self-discipline, enables individuals to assume responsibility for their decisions;rewards determination and perseverance; and raises self-esteem. Chess promotes good sportmanship; encourages socialization skills that extend across cultures and generations and it provides opportunities to learn how to cope with defeat in a positive manner. All of these skills can be honed while playing chess online. My favorite site is where you will certainly find an exciting and truely fierce battle across the board. Of course, none of which is true of Warcraft.

  5. Hello,
    I sit down for 2.5 years apart with Second Life. Since February 2010 I work for the Missing Children Initiative in Second Life. We were on 25 May, the first time to perform the world to this day in a virtual world. I myself have, during the period of the project found out a lot about project management and was able to even improve my personal skills in team work. Strangely, I have many ideas when I’m in Second Life. Also it is expected that many innovative impulses emanating from a cultural and creative industries. But the production with a limited budget and the effective linkage with social media such as Facebook brings out a lot of synergies. It is certainly always on the user perspective on it, but that makes Second Life is as varied and beautiful.
    Best regards, Anneli Ulrik (my avatar name in Second Life)
    many greetings from Berlin, Germany

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