Agent 002?.

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2006
Agent 002?.
How would you like to escape this world to one where you're as good-looking as you want to be, can create things out of thin air, and more importantly-fly? Since 2003, Linden Labs' Second Life has been offering its users just that. It enjoyed its low profile for around two years, but this year saw a tremendous jump both in user count and coverage in the media-so much so that you even have reporters interviewing each other about it! The reporters in question, incidentally, are CNET's Daniel Terdiman and Reuters' Adam Pasick-both responsible for the news desks that their respective employers have set up inside Second Life.

What Is It?
Second Life (SL) is exactly what its name suggests-an alternative life. It lets you do pretty much what you would do in your real life-meet people, work to earn money, buy land, build homes on land, sell said homes for profit-a detailed 3D simulation of society itself, only more controlled.

The internal currency is the Linden dollar, which you can either earn in-game by providing services, or by buying Linden dollars in exchange for real US dollars-the exchange rate as of this writing is 271 Linden dollars to the US dollar, and this gap is slowly bridging. Technology companies, with their keen abilities to go where the people are, have also seen the potential of this universe, and big names like Sun, IBM, and Dell have already set up shop and are spending considerable time and effort spreading their propaganda. You can even cough up Linden dollars for your spanking new Dell laptop (the kind you use in real life).

Following the insane levels of hype, I decided to give this alternate existence a spin, only to find that unless you've got at least a 768 kbps connection, your experience is going to be underwhelming. This is going to take a while to get popular in India. Still, braving my broad(?)band connection, I plonked myself right in the middle of all the…

Shiny Happy People
Everyone looks like a medium-polygon movie star, with the occasional furry creature here and there. The buildings-even though they're half-rendered on my connection-are beautiful, and people are being bizarrely civil to each other. It's like living in Huxley's Brave New World-almost sickeningly Utopian. Take this for example:

I registered for SL after the press conference itself, but I did manage to catch a few videos of Sun Microsystems' SL event for promoting their Darkstar project. In real life, of course, I'd probably be nodding off in a badly lit corner of the auditorium. In a virtual world, one which I had then assumed had no consequences, I'd probably have bunged a giant virtual tomato at Sun's Chief Researcher John Gage. Nothing personal of course, but if you can, you should, right? And yet, people just sit there listening.

I find out later that SL is well policed by Big Brother Linden Labs-they have community standards that every SL user must stick to-simplified, it means "be nice or I'll kick you out". There's the "Big Six"-six crimes that if committed in Second Life, will result in the suspension and subsequent banning of the offender (you can find them at the site). You can be reported for a violation with just a click, the charges investigated in a few more clicks, and kicked out of SL faster than you can think of your next profanity.

Now that's something we need in real life, or even other multiplayer games. Linden, however, passionately insists that SL is not the Massively Multiplayer Online Game that people bill it as, but the idea really doesn't leave one that easy. Or does it?

Second Life And The MMOG
Despite it being online for three years, there have been no reports of sweatshops in China (and other Asian countries) devoted to making Linden dollars à la World of Warcraft (WoW)-encouraging, but quite puzzling. Why isn't Second Life having the same negative impact as EverQuest and WoW?

For whatever reason, the obvious incentive to huddle in front of your PC and go about doing crazy things to make virtual (and real) cash, buying islands and building whatever you please, doesn't seem to drive people to skip meals or contemplate (even commit) suicide when disconnected. Clearly this is why nobody decries it the way they do MMOGs.

Perhaps this world is occupied by more sensible people-those who realise that their lives aren't empty without it after all.

Your average Second-Lifer doesn't fit the same profile as your average {pick your MMO}er-for the simple reason that unlike MMO games, SL has no purpose. There are no demons to kill, no quests to fulfil. There is money to make, and the odd maiden that requires wooing (and unlike MMOs, she may actually be a maiden in real life as well), though.

Think of SL as something like MySpace, Orkut and The Sims thrown into a cauldron, brought to boil, and seasoned with some questionable substances. It doesn't offer you new and wonderful activities that MMOGs do-instead, it gives you the freedom and tools to create those fun activities for yourself.

The initial experience thus tends to be rather dull-you don't know what you can do once you land on Orientation Island, and get quickly bored. However, if you read the help screens (you do need to read those things, unfortunately) and, of course, the obscene volume of coverage on what people are doing in there, curiosity, if nothing else, lets you go to the sandbox and building things.

People have created lucrative side businesses with the things they make and peddle in SL; some have even found them to be more profitable than their day jobs.

Ultimately, giving people the incentive to sit at home and live out their existences in a virtual world rather than the real is not really a palatable idea, but it's happening. However, in moderation, SL can be quite a lot of fun as long as you don't take it too seriously.

A majority of the people I spoke to logged on for two, maybe three hours a day, just to unwind after a boring day at work.

It's a concept that can appeal to a much wider audience than any game, and gives everyone the freedom to do what they want-as long as they have a good graphics card and a 1 Mbps line, of course.

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