Strippers and cocktails

Last night I discovered the seedy underside of the simulated world of Second Life. There I was, minding my own business, when a stranger walked up and handed me the directions to a club. Alright, I thought. Why not check it out?

As it turns out, it’s a strip club. That’s right, someone built a strip club in the Second Life world, in a region known as “DaBoom” (sigh). You can walk into this simulated club and watch simulated women take off simulated clothes. The whole concept is bizarre. Certainly, in SL your character, or “avatar”, can be dressed any way you want, and you can even remove the clothes entirely. Underneath the clothing, however, the avatar is about as anatomically correct as Barbie and Ken dolls. Because the club was empty when I showed up, I spoke to someone who worked there. She told me that people payed SL cash to see them dance. I honestly didn’t know what to say to that. The idea of paying money to watch a manniquin-like figure prance around baffles me.

That’s not all. On a different occasion, someone handed me a drink. It wasn’t literally a liquid, of course, because it’s a simulation. However, the object, which looked like a cocktail glass, contained a script that made my avatar wobble and fall down a lot. Drunk, basically. Are there drug-scripts too?

So. Yes, the simulated world has a sex and alcohol problem. I shouldn’t be surprised–after all, SL is an open-ended simulator in which the users create all the content. People inevitably bring their vices with them from the real world.

This will be my last entry about Second Life, I swear… mainly because my free trial account is expiring soon, and I don’t think I want to pay money for this. It’s all too weird.

Acknowledging my addiction

As I mentioned last Friday, I’m totally addicted to the virtual-reality game, Second Life, to the point where I’m neglecting my first life. I know it’s pointless, but it’s utterly engrossing, despite the fact that the Second Life software crashes frequently on my computer.

One SL “resident” commented that the whole thing is completely futile, and that it’s just a glorified chat program. Well, in one respect, yes, SL is an extremely social game. It’s more than that, however. By providing a simulated world and simulated bodies, it allows people around the world to interact in ways that mimic the physical world. For example, on the weekend, I attended a lecture. The instructor stood at a podium in front of the class, and talked about creating images in Photoshop. She showed us examples in a slideshow on a simulated screen behind her. The instructor could see us–our avatars, actually–and we could see her. A computer file can be exchanged simply by reaching out and handing it to someone–or leaving a copy in a convenient spot, like on a table or something.

I also cooperated with other people as we designed buildings and other objects. We walked with our avatars around the objects and moved 3-D primitives (basic polygons) into place like a colossal building toy. When it’s done, the residents with scripting skills can make the objects come to life. I took a ride on an airplane that someone else built. Then I played laser tag in an arena that someone built and scripted. I lost badly.

This kind of interaction is nothing new. It happens in the real world every day. People meet, chat, exchange money, build things, interact socially, and do everything that makes human society go. But until computers came along, these activities were limited by physical location. Simulations like this one escape the contraints of the real.

There’s also an element of the surreal in SL. Anything can be built, and the SL residents obviously have an immense amount of imagination and creativity. On one occasion, I found myself standing on the shoulder of a 20-meter-tall glowing monkey. I’ve got a photo to prove it too. Shortly afterwards, the monkey’s creator gave me a copy of the monkey, which I shrunk to teddy-bear size and placed on my shoulder. Inside SL, residents can build anything they can imagine.

Another time, I explored the interior of a gothic cathedral… as the Hulk. No kidding, I was big and green and I had purple pants too.

I’ll probably get tired of it after another week or so when the novelty wears off and when Second Life crashes one too many times in an evening. Until then, you can find me hanging out near the stage in Dore.

It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it

My avatar in Second LifeLife can be complicated. It’s more so if you start a second one. The other day, I began my free trial of Second Life.

Is it a game? Is it a chat room? Is it a 3-D design tool? Maybe all of the above–maybe none. The first thing you learn when you’re dropped into the Second Life virtual world is that you navigate the world using an avatar: a character that you create to interact with the world and its inhabitants. Your avatar isn’t you–it’s merely your eyes, ears, and hands in the SL world.

After spending an hour or so exploring, I met several other SL users and chatted with them. Some were scripters making games within Second Life, like sumo, for example. Others were builders, creating elaborate architectural masterpieces or vehicles. At one point, I borrowed someone’s dune buggy and tore across the landscape.

Later, several people gathered in a small amphitheatre for “show and tell”. People took turns on the stage conjuring their latest and most interesting objects. One person produced a 30-foot tall skeleton. Another showed his airplane and even did a couple of loops and rolls.

I’m not sure what to think of this… thing, but I’m hooked. It’s a shame that it crashes every ten minutes though.