Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My walking tour of SL

Imagine a place where you can spend literally the entire day doing what you enjoy because you do not have to eat or sleep. Imagine that in this place you can also fly to get great heights. Here, no matter what you do, you cannot get hurt. You can travel anywhere nearly at the speed of thought. Now realize that it is not you who are in this place, but an avatar that you control and the world is in the computer. It kind of loses some of its appeal doesn’t it? It just does not sound as enticing anymore, well to me it doesn’t, but to a lot of people, this is not the case.

Second Life, or SL, as fans call it is all of these things that I have described and more, but exists solely online. People from all over the world are on it all of the time. It has truly become a home in cyber space for countless individuals where you can do most of the things that you do in real life. One thing that you cannot accomplish as well in “RL” (which is what Second Life people call real life) as you can in SL is choose exactly how you appear. Now of course as you wander the countless islands of SL you are bound to find exceptions to this rule, but overall, most avatars that you encounter conform to a certain image that has swept across SL. For men, it is tall and muscular. For women it is shorter, yet still tall, slender, large breasts, and long flowing hair. You may come across a short and robust character here and there, but chances are slim. Somehow I doubt that every user is accurately representing them in SL, but, that’s the point. But when you have an online community where everyone looks “attractive” isn’t that a problem? Doesn’t that just reinforce a negative self image? If you do not look like you’re avatar, then there is something wrong with you.

I made my SL avatar look kind of like myself. I’m not very tall, about average height, and I do not have herculean muscles, and that is how I look in SL. As I toured around SL, I encountered a female avatar. I said hi and we struck up a “conversation.” She asked if I was new to SL and I said yes. Then she immediately started giving me tips on how to look good. She told me that I was very short and that I needed to grow, she also said that I needed to get some muscles. To do this, I would have to either find or purchase a new body type, but as she had “taken me in” under her wing and considered me her brother, she told me that she could help. She thought that I was cute from the way that I talked to her, though I lied about almost everything, including my age and where I was from, but for all that I know, “she” was a 45 year old man. Apparently, you can also buy, pre-fab women’s bodies to, complete with all of the ideals that I have mentioned before. My new sister was exceedingly interested in getting me a girl in SL, and to do this, apparently I needed to look hotter.

One of the reasons that my “sister” wanted me to get a girl was due to her “profession” on SL. She was an escort. Yes, that is the same in SL as RL; she slept with other avatars for money. Her rate was 2000l (that’s Linden Dollars) per hour. (The exchange rate is at about 260-280l to the US dollar, though it goes up and down, a lot like the stock market). I asked her about online sex and she told me a great deal. Apparently, in her opinion, it is amazing with absolutely spectacular visuals. When I asked her what it was like, she told me that it was just like having sex in RL. A bit wary of this, I then enquired how it could be at all like sex in “RL” if you can’t feel anything. She then went back to how great it looks. Apparently to most SL addicts, the sensation of touch has lost its appeal, and sight and sound are all that really matter.

I met my sister on “Main St.” where I randomly teleported after I was threatened to get kicked out of SL while walking around in some island called Paris because access was restricted. She was trying to buy a house apparently. She was very friendly as most people in SL are. If you say hi, they will usually respond. Often times if you walk into their store, or anywhere near someone they will greet you very kindly. Though there are some very rude people too, so I guess in this way, SL is like RL.

Another part of my travels took me to the Adventure Lust Island. Here, SL became more like an adventure video game. You could carry a gun and shoot avatars (they of course don’t die but pass out for a while) then you can also explore the area and find gold coins which you can then turn into Linden dollars, though I could never figure out how, even though the people there were very nice and tried to help me out a lot. As I traveled through this island I grew to like it and hate it. It was pretty cool, with large mountains and castles, it even had I pirate ship. The one problem is that unless you buy a helmet for 200l, you will die if you go in the water. Yet truth be told I wanted to get to that pirate ship, so I did. I made my way over mountains and steep slopes. When I got there I was very surprised to find that it was a sex club, apparently this is where the “lust” part of Adventure Lust Island was. There were semi explicit pictures up on the walls of women and men. There were also beds with action orbs on them. Till now, all of the orbs that I had seen usually made your avatar dance or something like that, but these were entitled other things, all of which included forms of foreplay or sexual positions. I also came across a “couple” in the act before I teleported myself the hell out of there. It was a disturbing image, too computer characters “having sex” but hey, to each their own.

After this, just for curiosities sake I typed into the search menu sex, and all of these sex clubs and strip clubs and places to buy sex furniture and physical attachments that made the online sex look more realistic and not just like a Barbie and a Ken doll. I was astonished to see how many places popped up. Apparently my “sister” was not the only advocate of SL sex, far from it.

Another thing that I noticed on SL was the consumerism that was present. There were countless stores wherever you went that sold you clothes, furniture, perfect bodies and sex organs. I went to “London” and was shocked to find one of these stores. But if you do not have Linden Dollars, fear not, because you can still get things for free. There are countless places for people new to SL which give away free everything. I was able to get many costumes for my avatar, from a box entitled “free avatars” including Darth Vader, a baseball player and a “sexy nurse.” I was also able to get houses, vehicles, furniture, and wings for my avatar. I even got a dragon that if I put him in the world follows me wherever I go. Sadly he is incapable of following me if I teleport, but if you touch him he talks to you, and if you say hi to me, he will say hi to you without me doing anything. He is almost an online pet, but he’s better, because you don’t have to feed him. (Of course I am being a bit sarcastic here, I would take any sort of live pet any day to a virtual one, though it would be cool to actually own a real dragon that could follow me everywhere.

SL is truly an experience. If you take it to be no more than a chat room where every user has a character associated with them, it is pretty interesting. That is what I consider it, seeing as I just went around talking to random people. But, when you start turning SL into you second life, then the implications get a bit darker. I worry for our world if people are having virtual sex here, and are selling their virtual bodies to make a living. It is a bit disturbing, especially since some of the people who do this sound very nice, like my “sister” she just wanted to help me. I guess I just don’t fully understand, and probably never will. But for SL fanatics, SL is truly an amazing place. There you do not do everything that you do in RL; you do everything you wish you could do in RL.

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