Second Life – First Impressions

August 17, 2006

Sometimes I like to pretend that I don’t have a million unfinished projects that need my attention. It’s during times like this that I think up new ideas, thus perpetuating the cycle of incompletion. I’ve been interested in machinima for a long time now, and I’d heard that the MMORPG Second Life was a promising platform for this new type of filmmaking/animation. So during one of those moments where I was pretending I had nothing more pressing to attend to, I downloaded the Second Life (or SL for short) client, signed up for a free starter account, and started exploring.

I didn’t know what to expect. The idea of a persistent online “mirror-world”, complete with its own internal economy, political system and geography, has been around for a while, but each implementation I’ve seen has been somewhat underwhelming. Popular MMORPGs like World of Warcraft have always struck me as being, well, a little boring — run across the mountains, collect an item, bring it back to a specific place to collect a reward, etc. Such classical adventure-based MMORPGs are only as interesting as their individual adventures, and the social and creative aspect seems to always take a back seat to the sword and sorcery stuff. Second Life is very much the opposite. There are almost no built-in “adventures” or game narratives; everything that happens in the virtual world is created by its participants. As one might expect, much of what happens consequently has to do with sex.

My first experience took place while I was reinstalling the operating system on my Mac. To while away the minutes, I put the SL client on my laptop and started flying around. A few minutes later, Stephanie joined me, and once Tiger was on the Mac, we put SL on there, too, and flew around together (everyone can fly in the SL world). Here’s some of what we saw:

  • A woman building a small chapel for her upcoming wedding. I asked her how long she’d been engaged, and she said only a month (and that even included a recent breakup). She told us she and her virtual lover hadn’t yet met in “RL” (real life). “Hopefully someday,” she said through the text-messaging client. “A lot of marriages in SL work out in RL, too,” she added. We wanted to ask more questions, but her sister appeared and they needed to talk details about the design for the wedding dress.
  • An amorous couple engaged in various sex acts. These two had customized their avatars to look like porn stars, complete with huge boobs on the woman and a giant erection on the man. They had sex right in front of us, and seemed to like the company. “Looks like we have an audience,” the man said as he entered his partner from behind.
  • Several more amorous couples, some of whom did not appreciate our voyeurism.
  • A group of furries, all dressed as horses, gathered in a barn on the outskirts of a more populated area. They were all standing still, staring up at the barn wall. I looked at what they were staring at. It was a slide show of line-art anthropomorphic horse porn. I watched for a few minutes as the group’s leader clicked through the slides. “Wow, that’s hot,” said one. “I’ve already got that one,” said another. It was disturbing but intriguing.
  • A friendly avatar took us to a park for a ride down a river on inner-tubes. We chatted with him as we floated down the river. He said he was from Tucson and introduced us to his friend (perhaps his girlfriend, we weren’t sure), who said she was from Pittsburgh. She later took us back to her private garden where we danced for a while to some 80s pop music. It was a relaxing end to the day.

Perhaps the most exciting thing I discovered while in Second Life was what it offers to filmmakers who want to experiment with machinima. The number of potential sets is basically endless, and there seems to be no shortage of people who could be employed as virtual actors and technicians. And the best part is, you could pay them all scale with virtual cash — “Linden dollars” — which currently exchange at a rate of about 250 game dollars to 1 US dollar.

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