November 17, 2008

It's a man's world. Not.

My friend Quaintly participated in the recent Blogger's Mix'n'Match as well and got the topic to investigate into ways of "keeping new male residents engaged in SL". Gender roles in SL have always been a topic close to my heart, so I more than willing gave her detailed feedback to her minisurvey. However due to the space constraints of the mix and match she could not get too much into detail, so - in accordance with her - I publish my full answers to her survey here:

1. How did you first hear/get into Second Life?

I am an avid read of the gadget/technology/lifestyle/humour blog BoingBoing.net. Throughout the course of 2006 there were a lot of articles about SL, especially about the events like concerts and lectures held in SL. When I first downloaded the client, membership came at a fee which I was not prepared to pay. In late 2006 I made a second attempt and subscribed. By that time I was much involved with industrial grade 3D development, so I also had a professional interest in SL.

2. What made you stay?

My first attempt at building was dreadful (I wish I had been more persistent back then), as I was used much better tools from my RL 3D application. I early was dragged into the BDSM subculture in which I only had a marginal interest. Both was a rather sobering experience. What made me stay where the friendships I found, and the interesting people I found mostly via their blogs.

3. How long have you been in SL?

A little over 2 years now.

4. When a resident first joins SL, everything is fascinating and new. Based on your own experience, do you think a male resident is more or less likely to remain in SL after this initial introduction period, compared to a female? Please explain your answer.

A male is less likely to stay. SL is more of a social platform than a game. In fact SL is not a game at all. It lives from social interactions between the residents, from forming relations, networks,
friendships and bonds. Males are usually not good in this. They want challenges, tasks and goals - all this is not apparent in SL. You need to find your own purpose in SL, make your own goals, find your own tasks. This makes SL less attractive compared to a kill-all-enemies-grab-all-gold type of game.

A second aspect is that SL is a very feminine world. Fashion and fashion related things take up a huge portion. Where a female resident can immediately relate to - dressing up dolls - male residents have a hard time. Not only are the offers for male residents spares, they also are likely to get into the stereotypes of Conan the Barbarian and thus ridicule themselves.

5. What might "encourage" a male resident to want to stay in SL?

I think a better appearance from the start might be a good encouragement, as male residents feel set back by the mostly ridiculous choices the get born with. As silly as it may sound, the lack of a male genital is also discouraging, as it is an important part for a male, and its not being there - not even as an option - feels like an injustice an disadvantage. With respect to the more prude new residents, a checkbox during signup whether the avatar should receive a genital or not might be good.

Finally, new male residents need a challenge, a purpose. Making the orientation station a kind of challenging game with a reward (L$ or equipment) might make a much better introduction. Also sending males to "typically male" locations (space/sci-fi, cars, weapons/combat) might be good. This void is filled by the SL red light district and is part for the bad reputation of SL. I would think that male residents who get involved in an immersive roleplay (post-apocalyptic or medieval/fantasy) early on are much more likely to stay than residents who get dumped into fashion- or striptease malls.

6. What kind of resources do you feel are lacking in-world for male residents compared to female residents?

Apart from what I said above, the mis-ratio between good female clothing and good male clothing is a big issue. Also goal driven activities. Its a stereotype, but give each new male resident a fishing rod and a shotgun, fill the Linden seas with fish and the forests with deer, reward each trophy with 1 L$ or status points or gadgets, and the crucial first days and weeks pass easier.

7. Do you feel that SL should be marketed differently to males and females? Please explain your answer.

Definitely, and I answered this in the questions above though. For women, SL is a natural environment of communication, networking, bonding and fashion. For males it is an alien place. Market the explorative aspects to the guys, the building, the gadgets, the programming, the geekiness. Maybe even market the sex appeal to them.

8. Have you ever had a female alt? Why or why not?

I have control over 3 female store alts, but they are strictly tied to a function and do not socialize (or if they do, the people know about them). I was tempted a lot to create a female alt and use it under disguise. Ultimately however it would mean I would deceive someone, most likely someone who I get close with, and I don't want to do this.
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