Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Second Life: Hung Up On an Idea

Russ Pitts | 24 Oct 2006 10:30
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I've been poking around Second Life a bit lately. Mainly out of curiosity, partly on business and partly because I secretly want to grow up to be just like Jim Rossignol.

A lot has been written about Second Life already, and I've been there myself a few times. I think though, like with a number of my failed relationships, what's most attractive about Second Life is the idea of it. The concept of the MMOG as the burgeoning third world melting pot of the game industry - nay, the internet itself, is an attractive one. Yet I don't think Second Life, in spite of its one million registered users has hit the mark quite yet.

imageThe one thing that strikes me almost everywhere I go in Second Life is how few people there are there. I mean, I'm already aware of the semantic disconnect between what's "hot" in most places and what's "hot" out here on the lunatic fringe, but nowhere is this more apparent than in Second Life. The default sound effect of a gentle wind whispering over nothing is perfectly apt, and as the game takes it's usual five-forever minutes to load a scene, you find yourself staring at blankness, feeling alone. Then, after the scene renders, and you discover that you are alone, it's almost a relief.

For all of the talk of a growing society, an impending metaverse boom, it's not really being reflected here on the ground. At least not where I've been poking my head. I took a quick tour of a half-dozen or so "hot spots" yesterday and all-told probably ran into a dozen other people. I found lots of places where people "had" been (including a cool castle on an island, complete with crashing waves and a yacht), but I got the feeling I was always a few steps behind.

Thankfully there was plenty of Second Life to explore. I don't think I've yet to see a small fraction of what's in there. And maybe that's the problem (one of several), there's a lot of Second Life to go around. Perhaps too much right now. And maybe that's not a bad thing. Now that SL has hit a million registered users, I can easily see how the race will eventually be on to find those out-of-the-way empty spaces where a virtual body can just "be alone." But for now that's all there is. It's a frontier without a "back east," a new world without the press of the old, driving the lost souls westward. Imagine a biker bar with no county line to remind you of when to ditch your pot, or a school yard that's all "behind the gym."

What's also maybe not a bad thing (but certainly striking) is how much of Second Life is devoted to sex and fetishism. The few people I did run into yesterday were almost all engaging in cybersex, or watching virtual strippers dance. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it did make for an interesting afternoon at the office. Take Utopia, for example, where I captured this picture of myself - or rather, my Second Life self - hanging on a cross, waiting to be used.

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The makers of this "dungeon" (accessible by teleporting through an honest-to-god trapdoor) were also kind enough to supply pink dildo (presumably with which to pleasure someone) and a vibrating "tongue" (ostensibly for the same purpose). The detail with which the various sexual "torture" devices were rendered is absolutely stunning and, I have to admit, a little creepy. It's like something out of a movie. The kind they keep behind the curtain.

Walking around in there, I could easily imagine a throng of lustful avatars poking, prodding and pleasuring each other, and that's when the genius of Second Life hit me full in the face, so to speak. An online world where anything one can imagine can be rendered, and anything anyone desires to do can be done ... it's an intoxicating concept, and one with which almost anyone can fall in love. Now if only there were someone else around to help hold the reins, as it were, we'd be all set.

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