The virtual universe didn’t die from becoming unpopular in the mainstream, quite the opposite, in fact.
Avatars hanging out during a live radio show in Second Life. Photo by HyacintheLuynes via Wikimedia Commons
It’s probably been a long time since many people out in the real world thought about the virtual universe of Second Life. Developed in 2003 by Linden Lab, Second Life is a comprehensive, open-ended digital version of reality, tinged with the promise of making the impossible possible—from flying, to morphing into strange beasts, to owning your own utopian nation. Inspired by the Metaverse in Neil Stephenson’s 1992 seminal sci-fi hit Snow Crash, people had high hopes that Second Life would change the world. From 2006 to 2009, optimism about this new space reached a fever pitch, with dedicated reporters, travel guides, and hundreds of businesses clamoring to get in on the excitement of a whole new universe within our own. Researchers flooded into this alternate world as well, examining all the ways one could use Second Life to, say, help Asperger’s patients develop their social skills in a specially tailored, therapeutic safe space.