Virtually deserted — uni campuses on Second Life

In The Last of Us a large section of the action focuses on getting to, and then exploring, the abandoned (fictional) University of East Colorado. For someone who spends a lot of time in similar settings it’s pretty haunting to walk with Ellie and Joel through classrooms, quads and student halls all long forgotten. It’s a place put on pause when the cordecyps disaster blew through, one day the students were studying, partying, living and breathing and the next… Gone. But for a more haunting post-apocalyptic experience of higher education we need to go not to our PlayStations, but to Second Life.

Less than a decade ago people were investing serious money and time in Second Life, including universities who built surreal simulacra of themselves on the virtual world’s servers. Today the last few of these campuses can still be accessed, and they make the imagined University of East Colorado look thriving and welcoming:

Most of these virtual universities are gone –– it costs almost $300 per month to host your own island –– but it turns out a handful remain as ghost towns. I decided to travel through several of the campuses, to see what’s happening in Second Life college-world in 2015

a tour of the abandoned college campuses of Second Life

I’d love us all to keep the Internet weird, I’m nostalgic for lots of dumb web ideas, but Second Life was always the wrong kind of weird for me. Truth be told though I didn’t mind people doing it as it meant I knew what corner of the web they were on and I could ignore them.

I guess someone going back and digging these marketing follies up (I’m not prepared to engage with the notion that they were serious ed tech) is a bit unfair on the organisations, as it’s a bit like getting up someone’s MySpace or Live Journal and laughing at them 10 years later but on the plus side: ha ha ha ha pirate ship class rooms? What?

I posted a version of this post on Facebook and very quickly friends pointed out that local authorities — well Birmingham City Council — were very keen on Second Life too. Firstly they created a (now canned) Birmingham Island and made some pretty utopian claims for it and then they had another go, with a Virtual Library of Birmingham (which may or not be open on Sundays).

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: