3:37 PM

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Second Life

Virtual World Madness

After hearing a short report about Virtual Worlds on NPR (This American Life, I think), I decided to check out the much touted SECOND LIFE virtual world system by Linden Labs, since it's free. Well, most of them are free, come to think on it, but they were pimping this one heavily, so that was where I went first. What impressed me was that outside world (what the Second Life community calls "First Life") entities are starting to wake up to the real world profit potential of the booming virtual economy that is for-real taking place in virtual space. Corey Doctrow recently gave a lecture there (not for profit; he's too cool for that-- but that's the subject of another posting). Circuit City has opened up a virtual Outlet in Second Life. Some Asian guy is now a real world millionaire based upon money made in virtual space on Second Life. That sounded intriguing to me. So I downloaded the client (for free), set up a Basic Account (for free), and 'jacked in'.

What's it like?

Pretty amazing. For one thing, you, the user, are in control of your own destiny. There is no "game" there, no end-game strategy, no rules (beyond the obvious ones dictated by group dynamics and the limits of technology). You're not "playing" anything in Second Life. You just exist. And you can be almost anything you want to be, within the limits of technology. Want to fly around on Angel or Demon wings? You can, very easily. Want to dress like a cowboy? A hobo? A Koala Bear? Anything you can envision, it can be done. You can edit your respresentation in Second Life, called an Avatar, to look like pretty much anything you like.
Two things amaze me about Second Life... the clustering effect, where all the avatars come together to socialize and interact together (2L is not an environment for loners). The virtual environment has the same mores, foibles, gaffes and pitfalls as the "Meatworld". I found myself just as shy and unobtrusive in Second Life as I am in real life.. ain't that a bitch? The other element that is astonishing is the breadth of the virtual economies floating around 2L. It's free, sure... but much of what you might want to have for day to day use comes with a cost.. people create things that are useful and then they have the option of selling them. And sell them they do, all over the place in virtually every little subsection of the vast virtual world (called the Grid in 2L parlance). You can just guess what element of our nature this kind of economy might pander too, if you think on it for a second. Virtual Guns, lap dances, even genitalia, are all "extras"...

Now, much of 2L is free, don't get me wrong. There are even groups within the world that celebrate a possesionless lifestyle by making stuff and giving it away. You might, if you decide to try this out and visit, find me in there, as "Hotspur", living among a tribe of the virtual anarchists, called "The Hobos". My Top Hat with feathers, hornrim glasses, and bicycle zeppelin built out of rags is distintive and (dare I say it) eye catching. Drop on by and say hello. My "Avatar" is always travelling, but the Hobos are my home. One of my favorite things to do is to take my "extraction belt", fly up to 5000 feet, and deploy a parachute, drifting along for miles and miles and ending up... somewhere, in this vast virtual landscape. I'm not sure what the future holds for this technology, nor am I clever enough to become a virtual millionaire, but for the nonce, this thing is great fun and as addictive as black tar heroin....