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Bernd Biege

Fáilte Second Ireland

By November 5, 2007

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Trinity College on Second LifeYeah, well ... Second Life is, undoubtedly, a phenomenon we have to accept these days. Obviously there is a demand for a virtual reality where you can pretend to be an African-American gangsta-rapper hanging out with his homies on Hawaii. From the safety of your trailer home. Where your neighbors know you (if they know you at all) as the skinny acne-ridden white boy who works "in IT".

As you might have gathered ... I am not a fan of Second Life. In fact I've been known to answer invitations to join with the observation that some people should get a (first) life.

Which made my reaction to an official Irish presence on Second Life understandable. In cyberspace no one can hear you scream - but trust me, "piercing" does not start to describe it.

Apparently Fáilte Ireland, the official tourism body, has sunk a bucketload of money into a virtual Dublin on Second Life. In a bid to attract real-life visitors. The reasoning going something like "if people like Ireland on Second Life they'll be soon visiting Ireland in reality". Okay, I know people are keen to visit Irish movie locations, but I have some doubts that a trend to visit virtual locations will follow suit. But maybe I am wrong and it is a case of "build it and they will come"? Or maybe visitors in Second Life are those who would like to visit the real Ireland anyway? Armchair cyber-travelers.

So what does "Second Ireland" offer? The usual stuff, glimpses of Georgian Dublin for instance, only rendered in typical Second Life style. Which means quite realistic, but ultimately very artificial-looking. And it shows you Ireland as any glossy brochure would - keeping in mind that Fáilte Ireland is behind this venture should make this obvious. But it is worth reminding yourself that what you see in Second Life will more than likely not be what you get in Real Life (Version 1.0). There are no homeless people spoiling your view of the GPO, you don't step into chewing gum, the price of a visit does not even come up.

Dublin's GPO on Second LifeYou get a stereotyped and sanitized version of Ireland - the "Pixel Paddy" version. Complete with pub sessions if you like ... and as far as I can gather, the ultimate zenith (or nadir) of Second Life Irishness (or paddywhackery, take your pick) will be, wait for it ... a virtual Saint Patrick's Parade on March 17th.

I simply don't get it, sorry. Do people really think that this will bring visitors to Ireland? I doubt it. Any websearch will bring you tons of information and images from Ireland. Without going through the rigmarole of pretending you are interacting in a virtual reality. And with real views, not CGI.

As to the CGI rendering of Dublin ... well, it is not so great. Trinity College (top) looks like a rather stumped version of the original and the GPO (bottom) is a few columns short of a landmark. And any tourist actually wanting to retrace his Second Life steps will be very (VERY!) surprised as to the real life distance between Ha'penny Bridge and the Guinness brewery.

On the other hand the dynamics of Second Life may make the whole venture interesting enough in the long run - if you can have cyber-rape and cyber-crime there (so I gather), why not cyber-sectarianism? An Orange Parade on Second Life perhaps? I suppose Fáilte Ireland might have to create cyber-gardai at one point ...

Illustrations are screenshots from www.dublinsl.com
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