Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My first steps

I’m really not sure where to begin with SecondLife. My adventures in SecondLife started on the tutorial island, though I hadn’t spent much time there as we were teleported to Santa Clara’s virtual space. It took me a few minutes to get a handle on things in SecondLife, to learn my way around my avatar, movement, and appearance customization. I had expected everything in SecondLife to cost money, and was pleasantly surprised when I learned I could change my avatar as I wanted, when I wanted.

In the beginning, I was most surprised by the different avatars available. I understood them, mostly, though I was confused by the “Furry” model. I spend a significant amount of time perusing the web, various forums, etc. and so “Furry” jokes are not uncommon to me, but I was a little taken aback when I realized people chose these as their avatars, and made a significant investment with them. I’m not a stranger to the idea of being a goof on the internet, but things in SecondLife cost Lindens, which translate into dollars, or whatever currency you normally use. I guess you could say I was at a loss when it came to making these choices.

After I had finished exploring the avatar customization, I decided to explore the rest of SecondLife. I opened my “Search” tab and began to look for popular places. Some of the locations I noticed offered free things to new players, so I narrowed my search and began to look around in the new player venues—the amount of material was astounding. These places were entire islands, covered in one giant megaplex mall of clickable free stuff. So naturally, I took everything I could. I found wings, outfits, vehicles, hats, shoulder monkeys, weapons, and animations. The size of these “malls” made it hard to navigate at times, because it loaded slowly and I didn’t want to miss anything.

The first real effort I made at changing my avatar was with a pirate outfit, I even found a parrot for my shoulder and a cigar. I had begun to treat SecondLife as more of a game than a social experiment at this point, so this outfit didn’t last long. I had soon tried angel, devil, and ninja as well. Currently, my avatar is wearing a Stormtrooper costume, and I haven’t changed it yet, though mostly because I haven’t found anything else quite as interesting. Among the vehicles I found a free beta-trial of this script called “Elemental.” Elemental is a morphing and changeable vehicle avatar. I had a lot of fun zooming around different places with this, as it could take the form of a car, plane, jet, flying saucer, blimp, battle-tank, and several other things.

I had a lot of reactions to the Elemental vehicle. I would land in the middle of groups, or fire cannonballs at them from the battle-tank. After my entrance, I would leap out of the vehicle in my Stormtrooper costume and strike a pose. I can’t say whether I had more positive or negative reactions to my activities in SecondLife. Some groups of people were extremely unhappy I had disrupted their virtual discussions. Others seemed to have a good laugh at my goofy antics. To be honest, I was a little surprised that people actually got upset about this kind of thing—dropping into the center of a group with a UFO, that is. “Griefing” is present in SecondLife, but not to the extent it can be in other games, I believe.

The angry internet-goers got me thinking, as I mulled over the concept of griefing in SecondLife. My introduction to SecondLife has been through a class. We were assigned to explore and look around. Many of us had heard of SecondLife, but no one actually used it (possibly due in part to the fact that we’re poor college students, with no money to spend on virtual real estate). My introduction to SecondLife has stuck me with the relatively permanent perception that it’s a game. Because of this, my opinions about other games, and internet fun-related activities are inextricably linked to SecondLife. It doesn’t seem to me that you can seriously affect another person’s avatar. Using mouse-look to fire bullets, lasers, or slice with a sword doesn’t actually hurt them, so I didn’t see how real griefing was possible. As far as my experience goes, griefing can be stopped by just flying a few meters into the air, which doesn’t seem like a big deal if all you’re doing is chatting.

Eventually, I became bored with the denizens of SecondLife, and decided to explore more of my avatar. I hadn’t spent much time looking through the animations available to my character. I had seen various note card messages asking if it was OK for an object to affect my character, but beyond that I had no experience. I began to look for free animation “shops,” and the majority I found were for dancing. Most of the dance shops also had large, central dance floors where numbers of avatars tried out their new animations. Frankly, some of the animations people had made were bad—unfortunately bad is really the only way to describe it. Some however, were actually extremely well done. I had a feeling the free, good dances were a form of viral marketing, but it didn’t matter because I got to take advantage of more free stuff.

I regret looking further into the animations of SecondLife. I noticed, as I searched, that a large majority of search results (tame search tags or not) retrieved extremely sexual locations. I had mostly glossed over the extra little “additions” in the previous megaplex stores, ie: The Woody Section in the Male Free Stuff stores. I like to think my avatar’s costume (still a Stormtrooper at this point) protected me some. I don’t believe people were scared or dissuaded by said outfit, but I think it was less inviting, as I went virtually un-harassed (no pun intended). This fact left me somewhat of a free pass to explore the areas in SecondLife. I was astounded by the amount of material offered. There were animations, vehicles, outfits, new avatars, hair-styles, and even wings that pertained to the sex scene in SecondLife.

Beyond just the avatar additions, the sex scene extended into various island hang-outs. I found virtual strip clubs, sex clubs, furry hangouts (probably the strangest thing I’ve ever seen), and an enormous number of varied sex hangouts with different themes (ranging from fairytales to comic book characters). I’m still a little surprised at all of this on SecondLife. I’m sure there’s a fair amount of “normal” interaction (however that’s classified) that happens, but it seems like SecondLife is overrun by the same thing as the internet: Porn.

No comments: