Sunday, November 26, 2006

Welcome to Second Life

While I've kept an eye on Second Life, the metaverse created by Linden Lab, up until now I haven't been motivated to blog about it. However, as lawsuits started popping up, the subject became more interesting to me.

Today and tomorrow, we'll start by describing the world of Second Life. Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll talk about the growing unrest in its virtual world, and the implications its issues have for those of us in the real world--in particular, the very intriguing copyright issues being raised. On Thursday, we'll talk about the recent interest the U.S. Congress is taking in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

If you're unfamiliar with Second Life, it is--as I said--a metaverse, or a universe within the universe of the Internet. It is also a MMOG or a massively multiplayer online game. According to Wikipedia, Second Life is:

a privately owned, partly subscription-based 3-D virtual world, made publicly available in 2003 by San Francisco-based Linden Lab . . . The Second Life "world" resides in a large array of servers that are owned and maintained by Linden Lab, known collectively as "the grid". The Second Life client program provides its users (referred to as Residents) with tools to view and modify the SL world and participate in its virtual economy, which concurrently has begun to operate as a "real" market. At precisely 8:05:45 AM PDT, October 18, 2006, the population of Second Life hit 1 million Residents.

I checked a few minutes ago and, only a month after October 18th, Second Life now has 1.6 million residents. Linden Lab claims Second Life's population is increasing by 38% every month. There were 14,192 residents logged on when I looked.

Think about that for just a second. There are now over a million and a half people who have signed up to "play" Second Life with more arriving every day. This is a huge example of a social networking site, similar to other enormously popular online games or sites like MySpace.

The SL residents select an online name and avatar (an online representation of the resident) and begin to participate in life in virtual reality. Unlike the garden-variety computer game, no one "wins" because it is not set up that way. Instead, as an article in said back in 2003:

Ostensibly a game, its players control avatars in a world with few overriding rules, and where almost nothing was pre-planned. In short, play in Second Life is a perfect example of emergence, where things evolve not by design but by happenstance, and where a never-ending stream of the unexpected is the rationale for shelling out $15 a month.

It's the same reason kids play together on a playground ... because a playful environment is set up to give you the flexibility to do different things," said Amy Jo Kim . . . "One of the notable things is that you don't actually win the game. And that means, since humans tend to be goal-oriented, that people come up with their own goals, such as building the biggest building on the block.

Second Life mimics real life, including the economy. Real dollars can be exchanged for Linden Dollars (the exchange rate varies, but was approximately L$270 for US$1 earlier this month). There is even a secondary market in the real world to buy and sell Linden Dollars. Check out this eBay auction here.

Residents can use their Linden Dollars to buy and sell goods and services. They can purchase land from Linden Lab (or from other residents) and build houses, which they can then furnish. They can buy new clothing (skins) or hairdos for their avatars. They can open their own stores in which they can sell goods and services. They can throw parties, listen to music or join groups with like interests (as an example, some avatars are furries--animals).

There is an active group of World War II gamers in SL who purchased an island, which they then separated with the Jessie Wall. On one side of the Wall, they are safe from physical harm; on the other side--The Outlands--they face harm.

In the article on, Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab's CEO, described the arrival of the World War II gamers in Second Life:

They all came in to check us out. They took over ... about 16 acres and said, 'You come in here, we'll kill you,'" Rosedale said. "This one guy who built and sold guns had this little gun shop in the hinterlands.... And the WWII Onliners got on their little island, which happened to be next to this guy's gun shop. In one week, he made $100,000 (in game currency) selling guns to these guys. That was just the coolest thing.

The same article talked about Second Life's flexibility:

"Every time someone does something great, we say, let's see how we can help you," designer Aaron Brashears said. He pointed to things in Second Life like trivia games as examples. A player wanted to host a trivia game, an idea the designers liked. So they gave her some extra money to distribute as prizes and built in features allowing for a Jeopardy-like set, replete with buzzers to hit to answer questions.

Second Life mimics life's hardships and pleasures, including residents who hook up for virtual sex. Because young people were signing on with false birthdates and being exposed to mature content, Second Life launched Teen Second Life in 2005 for young people from 13 to 17. Content in Teen Second Life is monitored for the protection of the youngest residents of the virtual world.

Tomorrow we'll begin to talk about the side effects in the real world from virtual reality in Second Life. In the meantime, if you want to visit the website, here's the link. Or, you can check out New World Notes, the blog of Wagner James Au, a Second Life journalist who writes about life in this virtual world.

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