Thursday, April 24, 2008

Second Life World Traveler

This has been my first experience exploring the world of Second Life. For the first half hour or so I had a really hard time figuring out where to go to actually find people. I would look at the map and teleport to the islands where there seemed to be a lot of people based on the green dot but when I arrived there, I was all alone. One of the first places that I went was a place called Miami Island. I meet some avatars who were from France, they were all speaking to each other in French and I felt very awkward, as if I was interrupting a private conversation. I tried to start some discussion on our on by it didn’t work to well. From there I teleported to a place called Platinum world which is an island that sells “skins” and body types. These are the types of islands, from what I could understand, that had some of the most users online. Again it was hard to find anyone to talk to or start a conversation. During this time, my avatar was short and pretty thick with a large chin and short blond hair. While I was on one of the deserted islands, I modified my appearance. Instead of having a traditionally unattractive face, I have changed to the typical idea of pretty, that is a small nose, perfect proportions with all my feature, and a longer and leaner body type (with much more provocative clothing as well.)

Again I attempted to find some places to meet new people but just by searching through looking at a map, I didn’t have any success, so I searched on Google places to visit in second life. The first recommended place I visited was called Miso’s Hillside Tap. Although it seemed like it was a “cool place” there was again no one there! After this, Mackai, and her avatar meet up with me. We found some places to go to by using the search function at the top of the screen rather than the map search, which I had been using. With our avatars decked out back in their sexy bodies and clothes, we made our way over to a dance party island. This is the first place that I had visited where there was a significant amount of people. We made our way out to the dance floor and quickly discovered how to get our groove on. We were quickly surrounded by lots of other people and started to have conversations with some of them. For me, it was strange trying to start up a conversation, not being used to talking to people in Second Life. One thing that struck me a strange is how people in second life want to get to know how you live in your real life. One of the most common conversation starters was asking where you are from. On various accounts I lied and said that I was from Tulsa, Denver, and Tampa Bay. At one point, Mackai and I were talking to one guy avatar (about ten minutes apart from each other) and after we each said where we were from, he answered the same place, or somewhere near. This leads me to question, when it is so easy and tempting to lie about one’s real life, why even bother asking someone in second life about their first life? Is it just natural to wonder who we are really talking with, something which represents that inherent concern for protecting ourselves and being aware of our surroundings??

After our first experience in the club, we decided to change our appearances, for me, again. I modified my avatar to have “Asian” skin, to be short and to have dreadlocks with large hips and shoulders. I also modified my face to have those traditionally beautiful features, but exaggerated. Mackai modified by changing from the X-Men Storm like character to a fat and large woman. Then, we teleported to another dance island to test out our new looks. This time although there were also a lot of people there, there were significantly less people coming up to talk to us. We decided to be a little more aggressive and approach people and talk to them. This worked for a few people, but there were also quite a few who suddenly disappeared during our conversation.

After we had our fun at the dance club, we searched for another place to go. Again using the search feature, we moved to a formal dance island. Here, everyone’s avatar was dressed up in formal gowns and dress attire. We were still looking as we did in the last dance club, dressed pretty inappropriate especially considering the extra flab we had added… In this location I again felt pretty uncomfortable. Not only did our appearance seem out of place, but also Mackai and I made a point to talk to people using only very slang and ghetto diction. In some cases, I could feel that people were turned off by our informal way of speaking and were quick to leave as the people in the dance club were. This was the case especially when it came to people who said they were from a country outside of America. On the other hand, I did notice that a few people I talked to started to adopt some of my linguistic nuances. In these cases, even though I still felt out of place (the general use of second life) I felt a little more comfortable. I wasn’t being who I was, but from what I could understand, neither was the person who I was talking to.

This instance helped me, in a small way, to understand part of the appeal of being someone else. The ability to frequently and completely alter your appearance made me wonder about what role this appearance plays to begin with. It seems like such a superficial thing, however it seems to play such an important role. What makes people choose to look the way they do? Also I wonder if people in second life are actually changing their appearances’ often or if they become attached to one type of look, do they identify with their avatars appearance because that seems to be the best way to express yourself in Second Life. Also I was surprised at how many places there were where you could buy body parts, skin, perfect hair, genitals, and body shapes. It is hard to tell if the pressure to look good is stronger in the real world (where one must work or pay to have the ideal body) or in the virtual world where essentially everyone can have it. It seems like one of the appealing factors of second life is the essential freedom to do whatever you want, but I see just another society with its traditions, taboos, and expectations
Overall my experience in second life frustrated me and did not really help me to understand the appeal. I guess that a lot of my hesitation is from being new to the program, but while using second life, I at no time had any real desire to get to know anyone. This seems so strange and unnatural to me. I frequently felt as if I was interrupting personal conversations and when I was approached, I was always wondering what the person’s intentions were (although do I doubt all were bad.) It also took me so long to find a place where there were people to talk to, that when I finally did find a place is was irritated and less eager to talk to people. Although second life is entertaining for a while, and I can understand how people spend hours on it, I don’t think that it is anything that I could ever see myself becoming addicted to.

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