Thursday, April 24, 2008

Adventures in Second Life

As I have stated previously, I was in a technology class this past Fall so I was already slightly familiar with Second Life. However, I never really explored Second Life on my own; I simply followed the structure of the class, going to the islands that my professor advised us to go to. So this assignment gave me the opportunity to go to the places that I wanted to, and to see what was out there in this virtual world.

My initial plan was to go to various islands, but I would not change my appearance. Instead, I made my character, Britt Larkham, dress in a fairly provocative way, and I wanted to go to places that would stereotypically accept or reject my appearance in real life. For example, I thought about going to a dance club, where normally my appearance would be accepted. Then, perhaps, I would go to a government island, where my provocative appearance would stand out like a sore thumb in real life.

So, I started my adventures with Sexy Island. On this island, there are nude beaches, dance clubs, places to lie in the sun, cocktail lounges, you name it. When I landed on the island, I had my character fly around the perimeter to get a feel for what was on the island, before interacting with all of the people there. The first place I went to was a dance club. There were a ton of people dancing all over the place and my local chat was out of control. I finally took a step back and just observed all of the people. I decided to make Britt dance, thinking this is what would make me fit in better. Sure enough, as soon as I started dancing, people began talking to me, asking me if I was having fun, and how often I go to the island to dance. A lot of the people either looked like strippers or were animal characters, but nonetheless, my appearance was acceptable. I stepped outside the dance club and found a strip club near by. As expected, girls were dancing on poles and lying on the ground thrusting their bodies, while men dressed in suits (how clever) were surrounding them sipping on cocktails. I thought Id join in on the fun, so I climbed up on a stage, grabbed a pole and began dancing. I was definitely the least popular dancer, considering I actually had decent clothing on, but I did attract some attention from men. I got off the pole and decided to chat with one of the guys who was standing near my stage. Right away, he began to flirt with me and was clearly a regular at the strip club. I think it pissed him off when I told him that I was just exploring Second Life and that I just wanted to have a little fun, that I was not actually a stripper.

Since our conversation dwindled, I decided to see if there was anything else that would be interesting on the island. Then I saw it: “Nude Beach -->” I knew this could get interesting. Surprisingly, there weren’t too many people there besides the occasional naked couples caressing each other on the beach with lips and hearts surrounding them (literally). As I approached a dock that had beach chairs and umbrellas at the end of it, I noticed the stark naked male in the water near me. So, naturally, I took a picture. He continued to stand there, with his hands on his hips for the remainder of my stay. As I stepped up on the dock, a male character in swim trunks approached me. We began chatting, and I asked him how he enjoyed Second Life and how long he had been a resident. He had only been a resident for a month but admitted that he was addicted to it. Apparently my 20 questions were a little too boring because all of sudden, he said, “I really like that shirt :),” happy face and all. I told him thanks, and that I liked his swim trunks, which was awkward but I really didn’t know what to say back to him. He proceeded to tell me that he was from Australia, and found it fascinating that I was from California. We discussed the time difference and how we thought it was cool that no matter what time it was in either of our real life homes, we could control the sun on Second Life. Then, I had to break it to him that I needed to continue exploring other islands but that I enjoyed chatting with him. I thought this would be the last that I would see of him, but then he asked to be my friend, which I accepted. It’s funny to think that people may actually find love in Second Life, even on a nude beach on Sexy Island.

As I was trying to decide which island I would go to next, I realized I wanted to change my initial plans for exploring. I thought it would even more interesting if I went to islands that represented aspects of my real life. I wanted to see if there would be a change in if I was accepted or rejected in places that I identify with on a daily basis in real life. I chose three aspects of my real life identity that also had islands on Second Life: and island for Republicans, an island for Catholics, and Florence, the city I will be studying abroad in this coming fall.

Of the three islands, the one that was the most fascinating was the first island that I visited, Republican Party of Second Life. This island was fantastic. There were signs with the Elephant emblem hanging all over, there was the Washington Monument surrounding by international flags, and there was a building that resembled the Supreme Court Building.
It was here that I met two girls, who I will refrain from naming. One was dressed conservatively, and appeared to be a “normal” woman as you would see in real life. The other had a feline body, but wore appropriate clothing that was not too revealing. Although my character was a little more scandalous, it didn’t seem to bother the two females. I immediately asked the girls if they were Republican, a seemingly obvious question, but they actually told me that they were both Libertarians and/or Socialists. I told them that I was a Republican and that I thought it was really neat that an island was dedicated to the political party. The feline character admitted that it was her first time identifying with a political party on Second Life, which was interesting because we had just met. We found out that we were the same age, and that the coming election would be our first Presidential Election. The three of us proceeded to discuss the war, the candidates, abortion, and taxes. This was really interesting for me, because I am always surrounded my Liberals and feel like my opinions are never listened to. In this virtual world, of all places, I could finally discuss my opinions, receive support for them, and learn what other young Republicans had to say about similar issues. The two characters were also very interested when I told them I was exploring for a class. I told them what our class consisted of, and how Second Life was a huge aspect of the class because of our continuous discussion of participation as a form of communication. I left the two characters to continue on with their discussions while I moved on to my next adventure.

The second island that I visited was called Basilica Cardinal. There were only a few islands that revolved around the Catholic Church but this one seemed the most interesting. When I arrived, it was raining, something I had never seen on Second Life. I landed in front of two large oak doors, and when I walked in, I realized I was inside of a church. The church was enormous, but it was unlike any real life church. It floated in the clouds, rather than on an island surrounded by water, and the floors had cutouts that one could fall through, although you could just fly back up. I walked around the church and saw several rows of pews facing a gold altar. People were kneeling at the pews in prayer, lighting prayer candles on the side aisles, and there were even spots where people could pray the rosary. While I was there, I picked up a free rosary at a stand in the back of the church. To the side of the main part of the church, there were places to buy religious artwork and jewelry, and even priest and nun vestments. I thought this was not only funny, but actually really fascinating. The Church gets a lot of criticism for its lack of female priests, but in this virtual life, a female was able to wear priestly vestments. On the opposite side, there were rooms for confession, complete with kneelers, a screen to sit behind, and a place for the priest to sit. It was really weird to see all the elements of real life church in the realms of virtual world. There weren’t many people at the church, so I decided to move on.

The last place that I visited was Florence, my home for four months beginning in September. I have been to Florence before so I wanted to see how realistic the island was compared to the actual city. It was absolutely incredible. The streets were cobblestone, small shops lined the streets, and even the architecture resembled Florence. There was even the statue of David, with the Florentine and Italian flag flying behind it. I walked the streets and went in the shops, and even stopped to mop the floors in one of the shops. Again, there were not a lot of people there, but I enjoyed exploring on my own. I walked across one of the bridges and when I stopped to observe the view, I noticed that the Ponte Vecchio was the next bridge over from me. I walked across the Ponte Vecchio and found a private beach below it. I sat in one of the chairs just to look around, and it got me really excited for my future in the real life Florence. After walking around a little bit more, I decided to end my exploration. Going over all the places I had been, I found that it was comforting to find places and things that I identify with in real life, available in Second Life. In this way, Second Life is valuable because you can go to places where you will be accepted, and can share your thoughts and opinions with people who you know identify with the same things. I think I may explore a little more on my own to see what fabulous islands I will find next!

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Your venture onto the Republican island made me wonder if Second Life will ever be used in the future to campaign for or against a candidate in an election. It's neat that your experience was positive, with people willing to listen to your opinion, but I could also see this kind of forum as one where people would try to "sell" their candidate or go to an island to bash another candidate.