Thursday, April 24, 2008

From Sex Empire to Venice Beach: Adventures in Second Life

Paris City

We decided to begin our adventures in Second Life by visiting Paris City. Though we viewed the beautiful Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, no other avatars were present. Perhaps the time difference made our late afternoon visit west-coast time too early for the early-risers à Paris. On the lower left hand corner of the screen, we received an invitation to explore Sex Empire, so we ventured into this unknown world.

Sex Empire

Most of Sex Empire’s inhabitants were naked and performing quite explicit sexual acts, one reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower we had just visited in Paris. Being unfamiliar with the environment, we watched a couple of “performances” for a few minutes, one involving a man who acknowledged our staring. The people here all had incredibly toned and shaped bodies, sharp, beautiful features and a confident air. In contrast, we kept our dresses on during our stay here, though, as we were both unfamiliar and uncomfortable with how we would respond to any propositions. We shyly greeted one clothed man admiring some artwork on the walls, but he did not continue the conversation past, “Hello.” Though this island was fascinating from an anthropological perspective, no one wanted to join in any meaningful conversations with us. We thereafter teleported to Seattle to see if others were enjoying Seattle’s Space Needle.


Upon entering Seattle, we were again dismayed to find very few avatars walking around. We flew around the Needle, and then discovered the map within Seattle that locates other avatars. We teleported to a couple of green dots on the map to find ourselves face to face with a dog named Apple. Apple greeted us with a pleasant, “Greetings,” but did not respond to our questioning him about life as a dog. We decided to journey to a less conventional place once more, in search of more interesting characters and in hopes of questioning them about their respective Second Lives.

Sexy Beach: Tikki Beach Mall & Club Erotica

Having heard that Sexy Beach offers interesting sites and friendly people, we stepped into the sunlit Tikki Beach Mall and Club Erotica with more hope than we had when departing from dreary Seattle. We greeted Mr. Bob Merryman, an attractive, tan and chiseled man standing near the bar, and he responded with a genial, “Hi, how are you?” In order to spice things up a bit, we decided to remove our shirts and see his reaction; he did not react. We chit-chatted for a while about where everyone was, people’s favorite islands, and he expressed his amusement at the torch we were holding. We then removed our skirt, as well, in an attempt to elicit a reaction. He did not respond. We discovered that Mr. Bob Merryman has led a second life for about six months, and he enjoys Sexy Beach because “the people are pretty nice.” He helped us figure out how to sit on the bar’s benches, and then offered us a drink of Absynthe, which we accepted. At this point, we discovered the “spank” button and spanked him on his rear. We apologized, saying it was our first time on the island and therefore attempting to excuse our behavior. He laughed, saying, “It’s called a spanker. Ppl like to do that here.” The ocean waves and seagulls whisper in the background as two more avatars appear at the bar, Xandria and Mick. The three avatars seem to know one another, briefly exchanging greetings before discussing how another of their friend had banned another avatar, and the possible reasons behind this action. Xandria and Mick greet us as we begin dancing on the bar in order to join the conversation. We discover that Mick’s Real Life takes place in England – he says we would not like it there if we lived there, after we praised England. Xandria hails from New York, and Mr. Bob Merryman is from Florida; we say we are from San Francisco. Xandria has a beautiful, exotic appearance, with dark skin, kinky hair and a slim body. Mick’s physique ripples with muscles and his diamond stud earring glistens in the setting sun’s light. I wonder how much he paid for the earring… During a lull in the amiable conversation we decide to visit another sunny location, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles: Venice Beach

Though no one appears to be around when we first teleport into L.A., we soon see a young man skateboarding across the streets. Franky Cosmos wears baggy “skater” clothing and a baseball cap on his head. We greet one another and, feeling more confident in our Second Life identities, ask him how long he has led a second life. He laughs and says so much that his Second Life has now become more Real than his other life. This statement initially troubles me before we discover that he is intricately involved with the Second Life business and technology. When we asked him what he does on Second Life, he said, “I used to do what you guys are doing; explore, chat. But now I earn a living through it.” We discover that he “creates weird things to sell” (for Real money, apparently) and now builds “big projects. Like sims, like this city.” When we further questioned him, we learn that he builds virtual power-plants and similar projects for companies who employ E-learning in order to train their employees. I asked him if he likes his job; his response: “Yeah! It’s like graphic design with an extra dimension.” Not knowing if one is supposed to or allowed to ask more detailed questions about avatars’ Real Life, I ask him if it’s okay for me to ask him how old he is, where he is from. He lives in the Netherlands and is 24 years old. He tells us that people of all ages lead Second Lives, and that we are bound to see some “crazy weird stuff” in our travels. Before he skates away, I ask him a final question, “Where are some neat places for us to visit?” His favorite island is “Greenies,” where, according to Franky, you feel as if you are in the movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” We will have to visit this island on our next Second Life adventure! Before we return to the real world, we attempt to ride the motor cycle and airplane that stand idly on L.A.’s streets; the vehicles inform us that we cannot ride them because we are not the owners. I wonder who owns them…

My Real Life Thoughts

I must admit, the prospect of adventuring into Second Life did not excite me as much as embracing adventures in my Real Life. I find it sad that people around the world find refuge in a virtual world because they do not feel comfortable in their own skin, in the Real World. I am skeptical about the purported benefits of Second Life in one’s Real Life. For example, I do not believe a shy person may develop strong communication skills and greater confidence in a Virtual World, which is dictated by a screen, fictional characters, fictional places and typed words, and translate these skills into the Real World. The perspectives regarding Second Life contradict one another; on the one hand, some people follow the motto, “What happens in Second Life stays in Second Life,” and on the other hand, others extort the great virtues of Second Life and how one can apply the skills one gains in the Virtual World to their Real World lives. The fact that many “players” hold the former attitude undermines the notion that one may reasonably apply their new skills to the Real World.

The prospect of interacting with other people from around the world is one aspect of Second Life that I appreciate and may compel me to venture further into this virtual world. It is mind-blowing to know that I am conversing with a young man from the Netherlands, another from England and another across the country in New York. The Second Life premise provides a common ground for different people from around the world to converse and share ideas. However, if the people behind the avatars truly wish to separate their Real Lives from their Second Lives, as Franky Cosmos of the Netherlands explained some avatars do, one no longer has the unique opportunity to learn about others’ “Lives” in their respective countries and cultures. Sure, one can form friends in Second Life, but what are these “friendships” based on if each pretends he or she has no Real background?

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