Thursday, March 1, 2007

Voice in Second Life

Written 1 March, 2007

Voice in Second Life

Linden Lab has announced that sometime during the second quarter, Second Life residents will have the option of speech.

Real speech.

We will be able to speak, and our voices will be projected onto the grid, and we will (if we want) be able to hear others.

The Linden blog explains speech will be an option (i.e., residents can turn it off) and that it will not significantly affect grid performance, as it will apparently be streamed from other servers—nor, Linden says, will it significantly affect the performance of residents’ ISP stream or their client-side SL performance.

Speech will be localized, meaning it will be located in three dimensional space, which means it will vary with distance. The speech of an avatar to your left will come from your left, and if she is far away, her voice will be faint (although she can shout).

To me, this seems a tremendous benefit, especially since there will almost certainly be an option to turn speech off. It will open worlds of new possibilities.

Just think. Second Life karaoke.

Better yet, DON’T think about it.

A reading of the some five hundred responses on the Linden blog reveals many residents are dead set against speech, prophesizing a splitting of the community and disenfranchisement of avatars who choose not to speak (and a real shakeup of the escort business!). Some are on the verge of hysterial.

I’m quite sure those who choose not to speak will find themselves ignored or even ridiculed. And I’m sure many of those who are playing opposite-sex avatars, those who have speech impediments, those with heavy accents, non-English speakers, and people who just communicate better in writing will have a heavy go of it.

But there’s a flip side.

Those who DON’T write well—those with dyslexia, those who are unable to translate their thoughts into coherent written sentences, and those who are just plain poor spellers are already discriminated against.

In real life, I have a friend who is so severely dyslexic her e-mails and bulletin board posts bring her ridicule and scorn from those who ordinarily never knowingly discriminate. I don’t think they even realize they ARE discriminating. I’m sure the same occurs in SL. In fact, it may account for a significant proportion of those who try and quickly drop SL.

I say bravo, Linen Lab.

And for those who are worried, I imagine this will sort itself out.


Véronique Lalonde said...

Yes, it will sort itself out. And no doubt there are those for whom voice communication is a distinct advantage over written. You cited a good example.

Unfortunately, there is no way that voice can avoid having an impact on the imaginative aspects of Second Life. Voice brings advantages, but at a terrible price, at least for some.

I personally need SL to be a place for my imagination, a place where I am a character in a novel with as many authors as there are characters. I hear the voices in my head. If I suddenly hear them with my ears, it's like watching a film of a novel. It might be a very good film, and some might prefer it to the book, but as much as I love film, I love the richness of the novel even more. I like the voices in my head, and in my imagination. I don't want to deprive anyone, but I can't give that up.

Cheyenne Palisades said...

Veronique, as a reader I quite understand how much better the imagination can fill in voices and visuals. I've been disappointed in many movies.

I don't know what we can do about the differing needs of those for whom Second Life is a fantasy and those for whom it is an extension of their real life. I fall squarely into the second category. I play my avatar as I am in real life (except she's thinner, younger, sexier, and better looking. I expect voice to enhance my SL experience.

I don't know if it will be possible to accommodate both groups. And I don't know yet if voice will permanently divide or even destroy the SL community or if it will case only a few ripples.

I an analog to the introduction of sound in motion pictures. It cost more than a few stars and starlets their careers, but it ultimately made motion pictures more captivating and nuanced. But I also see an analog to the use of cochlear implants in non-hearing people. Many feel they rob the individual by depriving her of deaf culture.

My best guess is that voice change technology is advanced enough and voice change gadgets inexpensive enough and undetectable enough for voice to ultimately add to the fantasy life in SL. I hope so.

Certainly, will will cause privacy issues at home for many Second Lifers. "What is Dad doing in there with the doors closed?" When Dad is talking in Second Life, he may well be overheard.

One last thought-- in the many, many postings about the Linden Blog announcement aboud voice, someone (I disremember who) said that voice adds a layer of intimacy to relationships. She can handle being an escort in chat, but voice would be to "real" for her.

At any rate, it's big news, isn't it?

Véronique Lalonde said...

Well, at this point, it's a big discussion point. :) It'll be big news if it actually works and gets released!

Yep, I am firmly in the "SL as an alternate to RL" camp, because I like RL quite a lot. I just like having two lives, each different from the other, and one at least a bit fantastical. Hopefully, I can continue to have that in SL. If not, I bet there will be somewhere else to go.

Not sure about voice morphing. I don't think that will help me, at least in some aspects. It's that intimacy thing. Patrice and I type some very intimate stuff to each other. That is just not going to happen out loud.

There is also the aspect of immersion. Someone in one of the many blogs on this mentioned that voice takes you right out of the illusion. It's just too much reality. I'm not going to let that happen to me. If I want reality, as someone else said, I can just get up from my computer chair.

There is already a divide between the fantasy second lifers and the real life extenders. It will become more obvious with voice, but it's there already. Maybe making it more obvious will do everyone a favour. I just hate the thought of losing friends who are still friends despite a difference in approach.

This topic makes for lengthy comments, eh? :) One last thing. The fantasy for me isn't a whim. It has become vital, whether that's healthy or not (in my case, I think it is). If I don't have it here, I'll need to get it by some other means. So this is not a trivial matter.

Cala, Wired Faerie said...

... and of course, as with any topic that has a black and a white side - those who need fantasy (immersionist) versus those who want more "reality and honesty" (extensionist)- there are those of us in the centre, left alone, where *our* reality, that we're finally living, is seen by everyone else as a lie or a fantasy. And losing our Second Lives - which have become our real lives, finally, well the impacts of that are very very real.

comments welcomed.

Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

The dyslexic have their problems for all interactions with the computer, not just SL--and there are already systems for voice-to-text and vice versa.

Also, one has a chance to think a bit before and during typing. How much of SL interaction will become "uh", "you know," and, like, "like"?