Last night I downloaded and checked out the public beta for the new Playstation Home, Sony's online community hub for the Playstation 3. Basically, it's a system much like Second Life (or LucasArts' old "Habitat" for that matter) where you create an online avatar and then wander around "town" talking to other people's avatars, playing games, or shopping at the Mall.
I've never played any MMOs, or online multiplayer games like Team Fortress, Halo, or Counterstrike. As such, this was my first real experience with any kind of online community socialization since the days of AOL chat rooms. It's weird. Very weird. The addition of human avatars hasn't actually changed much, if any, of the strange anonymous online behavior that exists.
There are still people who will meet, chat, interact civilly, and then move on whenever they feel the need. I spent some time talking to a high school English teacher and we chatted all about how they are finding that teens are typing text speak like "OMG" or "lol" into English papers they turn in. Fairly interesting.
Then there are still the trolls who will run around like hormonal 13 year-olds (probably because they're hormonal 13 year-olds) and pester any of the female avatars, threaten to beat up any of the male avatars, and yell things like "I SMELL PUSSY!!" over voice chat.
It also took about one full minute before I saw one avatar walk up to another and say "Hi there, I'm from Sony Online Technical Assistance and there's a problem with your account. I need you to give me your password so that Sony IT can fix it." When the person they were talking to said "There's no problem with my account," Sony IT then proceeded to say "ROTFL ROTFL ROTFL" and started dancing.
Speaking of dancing, there also seems to be an odd way of acting like a jerk in Home. Lots of people were running up to other people, standing directly right in front of the other person nose-to-nose, and then making their avatar dance. Trying to imagine this in real life is ridiculous. If I were ever at a real park where groups of people ran through yelling "I SMELL PUSSY!" and then started to dance in my personal space, I'd never go back there again.
Thinking of it in those terms, I makes me wonder if I ever really want/need to go back to Home again. Should the promise of online communities be held hostage by douche bags? At least the AOL model presented people with the ability to hang out with other people with similar interests. I wonder if things like avatar book clubs, avatar theater troupes, or avatar bands will eventually evolve in Home as they have in Second Life.