After months of people talking about it in conferences, etc. I finally decided to give Second Life a go. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a virtual online world where you can go around in the form of an avatar and interact with other people from all over the world. That was a very, very simplified explanation, I’m sure the site itself can tell you a lot more. what I personally find so interesting about SL is that it is at once possibly one of the most advanced things on the Internet today (prompting people to start calling it Web 3.0) and yet the whole concept is basically a tarted up version of the real early days of the Internet where anonymity was king and everywhere was full of sci-fi and fantasy freaks with too much time on their hands. I must admit that being on there gave me the same sense of wonder I got when I was 16 and tried chat for the first time. It’s new, totally surreal and very, very strange (also, not entirely unlike Snow crash).
It took me a couple of goes to actually understand how to work even the basic things like search for places and events. Up until that point I pretty much thought it totally sucked. The second time I went in was with a friend, who immediately went on to discover SL Amsterdam with its virtual prostitues and drug shops, sending us on a slippery slope of virtual drugs, seedy nightlcubs ( sadly lacking in people and really quite lame, but then again, they are clubs inside a virtual world so how cool could they possibly be?) and, apparently, dragon sex. We caused a bit of an awkward hush at a place I gather was some sort of adult dragon sex playground when we came in looking like humans, rather than customised human-dragon hybrids (are you beginning to get a feel for the sort of people who tend to hang out in Second Life? Someone actually used to words “What’s with the humans?” It was not the first time I’ve raised eyebrows at a club with an unusual choice of outfit, but it was definitely the strangest! )
I am slightly worried by the sudden urge I have to learn more about the place and how to create things in it (I think you need to learn some difficult scripting language or something). When I go around the place being represented by the only slightly modified ,crude, basic avatar and run into “people” who look like they just stepped out of a manga film, I begin to feel quite deficient and want to make myself better. But that is evil, because as I well know from my own sad past as a chatroom addict, the more prominent someone’s persona is online, the less likely that person is to have a life offline. I actually quite like the less computery parts of my life, thank you. But it’s oh. So. Tempting!
Of course, if I do it for research then it’s basically work and then it’s OK.
Ironically enough, I found that just like characters from crime dramas on TV, who constantly find themselves in the midst of some mystery or other even while on holiday, my “calling” also follows me around like a nasty stalker. Yes, even in Second Life I seem to attract daters and providers of dating services. I’m sure I’ll be setting up my little dating and relationship advice stall soon enough and offering help to people pretending to be giant rabbits. I was only in the place for 10 minutes or so when I somehow got myself signed up to a very naff-sounding “singles club”. To my dismay, I found out that the club’s name is now attached to my own name as some sort of title. As embarrassing as that is, it did give me an idea and I have now vowed to return to SL wearing my intrepid researcher hat and explore the dating habits of its denizens. I am curious to see how online dating would work in a place where anyone could pretend to be anyone or anything else. Does it work? Do people actually meet up in real life or does it fulfil a completely different function altogether? Apparently there are over 2 million users on there and they can’t all be furry-loving freaks, right? Right?!
I’ll keep you posted.