Over the last year, the virtual world Second Life has grown from a niche activity into a major phenomenon. Thousands are making money from it, and corporations are taking an interest. The distinction between real and virtual worlds is becoming increasingly hazyby Victor Keegan / April 29, 2007 / Leave a comment
I am sitting on my patio without a care in the world, contemplating the water as it falls softly down the rocks before splashing into a swirling pool beneath, watched over by gently swaying palm trees. It is an idyllic scene, and it is a shame that not everyone can enjoy it.
Well, actually, they can. This is not the real world, but a three-dimensional simulation created by millions of “residents” in Second Life, the phenomenon that may be taking the internet in a whole new direction. Some say it will be a nine-month wonder, others that it will gradually take over much of the time we spend watching television and eventually become a major economy in its own right, generating jobs and income for millions.
How does it work? Second Life (SL) is not a game: it is what it says it is on the label—a second life, running parallel to, and overlapping with, your “first” life. To envisage it, imagine you are watching a film on television—only instead of actors walking around, there is a three-dimensional representation of you (an “avatar,” who may or may not bear a physical resemblance to you), whose movements you control using your computer keyboard. As you walk—or fly—around, you can go shopping, listen to music, attend political meetings, take university classes, start a business or visit a strip joint. You can start building houses or objects on your own, by manipulating basic building blocks (cubes, spheres and so on) in various ways. Most importantly, you can talk, hang out, flirt or fight with your fellow inhabitants. (In some respects, SL resembles a more interactive version of The Sims, the bestselling computer game in history.)
It doesn’t cost anything to acquire an avatar if you simply want to explore what Second Life is all about, or attend some of its many events, from pop concerts to poetry readings. But if you want to build on it, you have to pay Linden Lab—which created and maintains Second Life from its base in San Francisco—a monthly fee, in addition to the initial cost of the land. Although my first purchase of a tract of 512 square metres came cheaply as part of the membership deal, subsequent ones cost around $L10,000 (about US$40). Then you need somewhere to live. You can build a home from scratch using the building blocks described above. But I decided…