Originally Published December 11, 2008 – Red Pulse Magazine

Sometimes the black hand of genetics gives us a raw deal—maybe too many freckles, an excessively hairy back or even a grotesque collection of moles covering the entire body. Luckily, the good folks at Linden Labs have created Second Life, a virtual real-world online simulation that allows players to create an entirely new identity.

After reading about how a woman divorced her husband for “cheating” on her in SL, I became intrigued and decided to check it out.

The game, if you can call it that, is so complicated that there is a little bit of a learning curve. I spent my first three hours looking like a poor man’s Dick York, but after acquiring a Death Row Records T-shirt and a blingin’ L.A. neck chain I was finally ready to tear it up.

The most noticeable aspect of SL is how friendly everyone is. Unlike the basement denizens that populate most online play, SL residents are typically a peaceful bunch and always willing to welcome a noob (an online gaming term for new user). I met my first friend, Traci, at a nightclub in Amsterdam. Upon learning I was new to the scene, she took it upon herself to show me what SL had to offer.

Traci took me to a beach where we hopped on her surfboard and rode some serious waves, the likes of which I have never seen in real life. Then it was on to a large model Japanese garden with autumn-hued trees, charming Japanese architecture and the kind of atmosphere people fly around the world to find. Traci told me that places like this help her escape from the monotony of regular living.

The Vietnam Memorial in Second Life

An exact replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Second Life, people come and leave flowers for deceased friends and family on the wall.

“There are places that are just so beautiful and I just go there to look and sit and think,” she said.

The magic of SL began to take shape in 1999, when Philip Rosedale formed Linden Labs in the hopes of creating a virtual reality that he had dreamed about since he was a physics student at University of California-San Diego. After a few failed attempts, SL was finally launched in 2003. Rosedale eventually chose to make the world entirely driven by user content, a decision that eventually ensured the growing popularity of the virtual universe, because all of the participants have a vested interest in its creation and growth.

In SL, the possibilities are only limited to what its users are able to create. A player can be a snowboarding, 1,000-foot tall robot with bear arms if he or she wants to be. Fortunately for those of us who aren’t adept at scripting or 3-D design (although I hear it’s not too hard to learn in SL), users can purchase everything from clothes to cars to houses using Linden dollars.

Linden dollars drive an actual functioning economy within SL. There are a million different ways to make money in SL, but the easiest way is to just purchase Linden dollars directly using real money. In the same respect, Linden dollars can be exchanged for real money, making it a vehicle for profit.

Anshe Chung recently became the first real-life millionaire after becoming a ruthless real estate mogul in SL. It is free to play, but with a little bit of cash investment and hard work the potential for profit is just as large as the potential for content creation.

However, it isn’t all squeaky-clean fun and games. A dark side lurks in the bowels of this virtual paradise, just as in the regular world. An English woman divorced her husband because she caught him having virtual sex with an escort in SL. As easy as designers are able to design clothes and costumes, they are also able to design what’s underneath them.

Unfortunately, this translates into the ability to act out sexual fantasies that reach far beyond the normal bedroom play. I was having a conversation with my dark elf friend, Victoria, when I inquired about whether or not furries existed in SL. After she became visibly upset and refused to talk any further about the subject, I set out to find out for myself. Within minutes I found a furry club inhabited by about 20 insanely perverse characters dressed as foxes, wolves, rabbits—you name it. The whole scene was hilarious until a guy dressed as a frog asked me if I wanted to don a turtle costume and hang out. I left, feeling both disgusted and amused.

My first and last time in a furry club.

My first and last time in a furry club.

Despite some of the seedier aspects of SL, the universe as a whole is an incredible place to express creativity and make new friendships with people all over the world. I stumbled upon an entire area dedicated to friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, complete with a temple and tabernacle. Although I had originally planned on messing with them, I found many of them to be smart, funny and full of interesting conversations. Our fireside chats have been one of my favorite experiences in SL. It just goes to show that you never know where the magic dwells in this virtual world.

I started this project as an attempt to find out what this alternate universe was all about, and within hours it became clear that Finals Week was the worst time to try this. Hours of my life and more than $20 of my real money later, I am only on the verge of breaking into everything that the world has to offer. You’ve been warned, because even if you have a satisfying first life, you might be surprised at what can be found in your second. I’m glad that this article is done, because I need to go play some more SL.

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