It’s also a tough question. There is a vast diversity of residents, all with completely different goals, needs, and interests. They are so diverse, in fact, that it seems impossible to find one thing in common. Even when looking at your friends list — and assuming that you keep it properly pruned (I don’t!) — how much do you have in common with all of them? In some extreme cases, they might belong all to the same community. But I’d be hard pressed to believe that everybody just adds friends from their own community. There will be a few who aren’t in any of your communities. You might just have found them by chance, under a completely different context, but still keep in touch regularly — even though apparently you don’t share anything in common with them.
Since there are so many variables to account for, the question seems to be impossible to answer, and I have for long wracked my brains to find it. Perhaps I was trying too hard. It would have to be something simple, and yet universal. It couldn’t be related to age, education, culture, background — because all of those active residents come from quite different ones. It couldn’t be related to jobs, hobbies, interests, causes, or anything like that — again, the spread seems to cover pretty much all possibilities. It doesn’t have to do with religion, or philosophy, ethics, politics, and so forth. In fact, even more so than in real life (where I have the oddest friends!), in SL I befriended people from all religions, philosophies, and political stances. And it even cannot be related to intelligence (both intellectual and emotional).
Some fun articles (like this one from Lum) tend to create stereotypes about SL’s residents, and assume that for some reason, all of us actually are some kind of strange weirdoes who have a special affinity with SL because it allows us some sort of escapism. Of course, most of those articles are really not written by active residents (but just casual visitors). Although I don’t know all RL lives of all my friends, it’s really, really hard to fit a “stereotype” that applies to all of them. Yes, some are overweight men pretending to be fashionistas — but others are really RL fashion designers having fun in SL. Some are really top models in RL, and some are retired beauties, finding SL fun to relive their days on the runway or on stage. For a time, there seemed to be an overabundance of 50-year-old moms who had nothing to do at home (as their kids went away) and just happened to have fun in SL; but this stereotype quickly crumbled to dust. We really get all sorts, from poor homeless who run their SL business from public Internet terminals on schools or libraries, to super-rich wealthy corporate CEOs who have fun singing jazz in SL. Some are indeed escapists, other merely immersionists, others are utterly shocked that people would wish to “escape” their real lives (nevertheless, they still have fun in SL!). Some still look upon virtual worlds as a way to shatter the limitations of the real one — and this happens in politics and arts! — others, by contrast, utterly reject that notion and want a SL that recreates RL as faithfully as possible. Some look upon SL as providing a replica of a friendly, familiar environment where they can discuss “important” issues, or use it to promote some RL causes, raise funds, etc — while others just see SL as the ultimate platform for role-playing. And finally, some people from all ages and countries just log in to have some fun on parties and events, while others just see SL as a money-making platform and their notion of “fun” is to make a living out of SL. So, the more we try to fit a “stereotype resident” that applies to all those cases, the harder it seems to be — if not impossible.
Strangely enough, it was Philip’s new motto for SL that gave me a clue (and if you paid attention to the previous paragraph, you’ll get a hint!): “Fast, Easy, Fun”. Well, SL is not fast (unless you have a supercomputer under your desk and unlimited bandwidth). It certainly is not easy, even for highly-trained computer professionals — it takes some time to learn. And it’s not just the user interface that you have to learn — it’s the whole immersive experience that requires some learning, and that takes way, way longer.
But… there is fun to be had in SL, there’s no question about it. Oh, Philip is right, there are things that should be more fun (and often, because they’re neither fast nor easy, the fun is missed). Nevertheless, SL is fun. That’s why I log in to it every day.
Suddenly I realised that I was not different from the other residents. Hey, it’s fun for them too! Prokofy Neva, Ann Otoole, or Morgaine Dinova might complain about SL and LL all the time (all with their quite different personal styles, of course — and disagreeing with each other), but they log in frequently. All have fun — in their own way. In my recent interview with Terran Magic (which I’m not sure if it’s published already 🙂 ), he told me one of the secrets of his success with Crystalwood (an advertising agency in and for SL): treat everybody (customers and employees) as a big family, and, most important, make sure that everybody has fun. Terran Magic might be running a business, but he’s having fun doing so. I’m sure that Anshe Chung has fun, too — and nobody could embody the spirit of doing-business-is-great-fun as Desmond Shang with Caledon in SL and Caledonia in Blue Mars. He might be a ruthless, very astute businessperson, but he positively oozes fun from all pores — and makes sure that every single one of his customers is having fun, too.
Now, “having fun” seems not to be such a huge requirement really. I mean, except for your work, and perhaps the house chores, one assumes that most of what you do on your leisure is to have fun. And this is universally true for all users of all virtual worlds or online communities; if they stop having fun, they leave. So why did Facebook grow to half a billion users while SL just has a million active ones?