Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An Average Jane Review of Second Life

An Average Joe Jane Review of Second Life

by Julie Benson (guest poster)

My SL Avatar, who shall remain nameless

First: What is Second Life? Here is the explanation from the website with my added interpretations and comments in bold:

“Second Life® is a 3-D virtual world created by its Residents (computer programming nerds and perverts). Since opening to the public in 2003 (with most of you just now hearing about it 5 years later, no thanks to the marketing staff), it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe (mainly horny, bored, and introverted men/boys).

From the moment (approx. 2 hours after downloading the software and creating your avatar) you enter the World you'll discover (stumble upon or accidentally teleport to) a vast digital continent (fake cities), teeming with people (men/boys), entertainment (porn and illegal gambling), experiences (to fly) and opportunity (to meet men/boys). Once you've explored a bit (an hour or so after restarting the crash heavy program a few times), perhaps you'll find a perfect parcel of land to build your house or business (if you're insane enough to decide to spend real money on fake 3D property).

You'll also be surrounded by (hounded, stalked, and chatted at) the Creations of your fellow Residents. Because Residents retain intellectual property rights in their digital creations (fake stuff), they can buy (not likely), sell (most definitely) and trade with other Residents.

The Marketplace (fake/imaginary online inventory) currently supports millions of US dollars (that’s real money people) in monthly transactions (mainly dealing with porn or slutty avatar costumes). This commerce is handled with the inworld unit of trade, the Linden™ dollar (that’s fake money people), which can be converted to US dollars (again, real money) at several thriving online Linden dollar exchanges (aka, idiot banks).

Welcome to the Second Life world (since you can’t socialize properly in the real one). We (evil computer programming geniuses) look forward to seeing you (spend real money) inworld (for fake stuff in a fake 3D online game).”

Before you take my snarky and sarcastic observations as complete distaste and disgust for such an online venture, keep reading...

About two years ago, I saw a news program was tutting the ridiculousness of this “new” online world, Second Life, and whether or not it could find a home in real corporate America and make a profit. Now, as someone who refuses to create a MySpace or Facebook page in fears it will either monopolize all of my remaining free time, allow people too much access to my already very vocal opinions on favorite music and movies, or the more likely reason, that the government will no doubt use it as some sort of tracking device, I was reluctant to download this 3D social networking program. However I threw caution to the wind and installed this newfangled memory eater on my laptop. The first indoctrinations of creating your user name and avatar were actually fun and entertaining, albeit, exhausting as I’m prone to indecision on such important choices. Finally my character was born and I realized I had only succeeded in creating a better, thinner, more blonde version of myself – the Julie 2.0 – down to the blue jeans and tank tops. Oh well, I was sure there had to be more of these generic LA specific avatars running around, I’d simply blend into the mix. I was finally ready to fly in SL, but only after repeated program crashes and update downloads. Now I was ready to fly in SL!

I wanted to chat with my fellow man, explore distant lands I couldn’t normally afford to visit, discover fresh new musical/artistic talents, and see how commerce could be rendered and rezed in a new way. Like Christmas morning, or receiving my first IM, this was going to be big and I was ready to join in. But where to go? OK, no problem, SL created a newbie island where one can practice their flying skills, learn how to chat with other users, and explore forward and back arrows navigating your avatar around trees and whatnot. Shockingly, when I arrived there were quite a few naked avatars trying on new wardrobes and hairstyles. Once some of the newbies saw the cooler potential their basic avatars could take on, the island had become a no modesty allowed dressing room of sorts. I averted my eyes and clicked the “fly” button immediately – finally, airborne after all these years of waiting for my flying car. Sure I had to deal with a few choppy graphics that seemingly took forever to load, but I was FLYING! Go ahead, laugh, I know we all saw that OFFICE episode where Dwight showed off his avatars flying prowess, but I was having fun. On the internet. In a new way. My landing was computer programmed, but I’m positive they knew it was me, as my avatar landed with an awkward face first thump and had to stand up and shake the dust off. It was eerie. Mixed in with us newbies were the practiced residents with cool stormtrooper, dragon ladies, you name it, avatars. Something they don’t tell you right away is HOW to wear a box of goodies someone gives you or you buy. So it was the norm to see us newbies running around wearing boxes on our bodies, as later we’d learn to unpack the box and wear the contents. Oh look, I just saved you some newbie humiliation, you’re welcome.

However, I was immediately humiliated when a nicely groomed woman (?) chatted to me that my hair was stupid and on wrong. I came to SL all the way from real life only to suffer the usual humiliation granted to me there on a daily basis, typical. Luckily, she was helpful and not just judgmental and gave me some stylish hair options to choose from, for free, mind you. With my new platinum plaits in order, I was ready to forget my former humiliation and socialize with the other newbies. Within 5 minutes I was hit on more than a blackjack table in Vegas with such courteous and gentlemanly lines like, “Your (yes spelled wrong) hot” and “Hey baby, nice boobs”. Nice boobs? I didn’t have anything to do with my boobs; they were as a computer nerd made them. Well I never! I tried to ignore the onslaught of, ahem, compliments, and decided that it was probably only teenage boys on this SL thing and I’d be better off in real life.

About a year later, I decided to give SL another chance. I had heard they made some improvements, by outlawing gambling (thanks Fed), and gave wrist slaps to programmers who sold genitalia and pornographic avatar moves (yes that means what you think it means). I thought, it can’t be only perverts and gambling addicts in SL, there has to be more to this potentially amazing world. Thanks to the SL blog and a SL Google search, I quickly found the fan built island coordinates for my nerdy secret pleasures – Doctor Who and Star Wars. I teleported my skinny blonde avatar to the Doctor Who site and found myself in geek heaven. Billboards touted the Doctor Who museum and the Sci-Fi shop where I immediately walked my avatar over to and started browsing. There was a perfect little K-9 I could buy that would follow me around, a Cyberman I could chat with, and best yet, a Tom Baker era long scarf I could purchase for a mere $10L for my avatar to wear. Having decided early on NOT to spend REAL money on FAKE items, I just stared at the plethora of costumes, weapons, and body types ready to be purchased that could turn my blonde bombshell into a Dalek or a Hobbit. There were other people here too, some dressed in Doctor Who attire, and some who looked like “normal” people browsing just like me. Notice how one’s idea of “normal” changes dependent on environment? I bravely walked up to one of the creators/builders of the site and peppered him with questions and chat’s that just said, “cool.” He was nice enough to show me the various Tardis consoles he had created (they took him 2 weeks to make) and gave me the nickel tour. Soon we were surrounded by a Dalek and a K-9, both were other people with nifty avatars who wanted in on the social outlet of nerdiness. The creator gave me my own package of Dalek avatars (for free) and my very own Tardis that would materialize around me anytime I teleported to a new world – just like the real one! Or, wait, the fake one on the TV show, but you know what I mean. Reality is relative in SL. Another person gave me “gestures” which were “cool” dance moves and music sound bites my avatar could now perform with the click of a button. My avatar was dancing to the FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR song and I was loving it!

Tipsy over the generous donations to my inventory I decided to call it a day for now, but come back and explore more worlds and give this SL a real chance to do what I believe it was always intended to: allow people to be imaginative and creative and share common interests in a social networking environment. I’m still not sold that I’ll make “real” friends in this fake world, or actually give much away about myself that isn’t already obvious as I run around dressed as a Dalek.

However, I’m waiting for the day I can visit the “Target” land and buy some Isaac Mizrahi clothes for both my avatar and myself (my real self) using real money in SL. Wouldn’t that be great? Just think of it, you could go to the store and walk down the virtual aisles instead of shopping in a 2 dimensional website with only text and pictures. That’s when I think SL will finally find its sea legs – when it can convince commerce of the huge 3D and real monetary potential. Listen up movie studios, go pay a programmer to make you a virtual studio lot where you can tout your latest movies, show SL specific special trailers, or house a virtual movie theater where guests can watch a film virtually. MTV – the opportunity to have REM play a concert in SL is real and happening with smaller indie bands as we speak – get in on the action early! The possibilities are endless and as long as SL continues to raise the bar in content and quality – it could have the potential to be bigger than the web. A real internet, in 3D with a more human element – scary or brilliant, you be the judge. For now, I’m content to fly around in my Dalek avatar costume over the Cherry Blossom trees of a virtual Washington D.C. Capitol Hill.

1 comment:

Cunningham said...

Maybe it's just the bastard in me, but I would rather drink, gamble, play with toys and talk to REAL WOMEN in REAL LIFE.

It's not Second life it's Faux Life.

Why not try to fly in real life? Why not try to make your dreams (as big or as small as they may be) come true HERE. IN THIS WORLD. WHERE IT MATTERS.

Great post Julie, but the internet is for sharing, not for living.