April 15, 2007

Second Life: My New Life in Pixels, Part 1

After hearing about it on Daily Show and on the web, I decided to join the online community known as "Second Life".

Second Life (also called "SL") is a virtual world in which apparently millions (!) of online citizens live virtual lives, interacting with each other in a variety of 3D landscapes. I think that some citizens even buy "real estate", build "homes" and run "businesses". I placed quotes around those words because, like the characters, objects and effects in The Matrix, none of those things have any reality in the physical world. At least I don't think they do.

Second Life is a 3D simulation that offers a great escape: an alternate existence in a virtual world using a custom-designed character ("Avatar"). Second Life could be considered a form of social networking, but with significant differences: In social networks like LinkedIn, you can sort of see who you are networked with. You can often read their names and who their contacts are.

In Second Life, you will likely run into other citizens, but unless you chat with them (or interact in some other way), they might just ignore you or act in some slightly anti-social way. You know - like hanging out at the mall or any other public space. I think that in SL, you probably get out what you put in.

After signing up, I picked my character and name. I was born into my Second Life as a cartooney, fox-like character named 'Earnest Oh'. Initially, simply wandering around the world, admiring the scenery and inspecting nearby objects was enough to keep me interested. I also spent a few fruitless moments trying to talk to a rat on the street in front of me. Someone must have created the rats and bits of garbage on the streets, but who, and why?

Looking around me, I began to notice the rats on the street, graffiti and something that resembled trash on the ground. Why did my first corner of town have to resemble a ghetto?

After reading some instructional signs, I drove an abandoned car around the block a couple of times, and then headed out to explore the rest of the world.

I learned that in Second Life is comprised of various islands and regions. Some regions are rated PG and some are rated Adult. The run-down little city block I had been exploring was actually part of a tutorial island on which I was beginning my new existence in pixels. There are multiple such newcomers tutorial islands in Second Life, and many other regions to explore once you're ready.

Characters can "talk" to each other by text chat, and you can see their chatting on the screen when you're close enough - rather like overhearing a spoken conversation. Soon enough, I did "hear" two women characters talking about me as I watched them for a moment ("He must be new", etc). Surprisingly, I hadn't expected even this natural sort of human behaviour in SL.

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