Sure, Second Life has its weird side — what with spiky-haired avatars wielding swords in cellphone stores and whatnot — but it has a serious side too. There are conferences, for example, held by prestigious groups such as the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard. And increasingly, educators are using it as a tool to assist them in reaching new audiences and teaching in new ways (pdf link).
In a recent post, Rebecca McKinnon — a research fellow at the Berkman Center and former TV journalist who co-founded Global Voices Online — mentioned that she has gotten involved in Second Life in order to take part in an educational exercise set up by Charles Nesson, founder of the Berkman Center : a class called Law in the Court of Public Opinion. Rebecca has some interesting thoughts about how Second Life reflects some of the world’s existing prejudices, despite the fact that there are very few boundaries the way there are in RL (real life).
Henry Jenkins, the director of the comparative media program at MIT, has a (rather lengthy) excerpt from the thesis written by one of his students, Ilya Vedrashko, which is well worth reading. It’s about the evolution of the relationship between advertising and games, including Second Life. The complete thesis is available in PDF format from Mr. Vedrashko’s website here.