Archive for the Technology Category

My dream is to fly – Second Life

Posted in Second Life, Technology on September 11, 2008 by Fax

Guys, in the past few days I’ve been exploring Second Life (SL). Bear with me here.

“You’re not so new here” is a sentence I’ve heard a lot from people in there. In fact, I created my SL account back in January 2007, to figure out what the hype was all about. To be honest, I didn’t like it back then.

First, the name itself felt like a really bad choice, for me. Second Life, what do you mean, Second Life, the first thing you have to realise to be able to live your life to the fullest is that there’s only one life, the First one. Wasting precious First-and-only Life time on a Second Life sounded awkward to me.

Then, well, my computer was too slow to render everything in agreeable time. So basically I must have played around with it for less than an hour.

Last week though, while I was cleaning up my e-mail box, I noticed a message I had marked as interesting but totally forgot about afterwards. It was a business competition developed by McKinsey, inside SL. I checked if there were plans for new editions, but nothing so far. Then I kept browsing the subject, and ended up on the download page for SL. Hey, they’ve got a Linux version. Why not give it a try? It’s a social waste of time, but I’m all for new business ventures, I find it stimulating. Let’s see what it’s all about, on a computer that can handle it.

After using the “Forgot your passord?” form (obviously), I was in. I got used to the controls, and after a few minutes I realised I was hooked on flying. For those who don’t know, your character (or rather, your avatar, the character you present to the fantasy world) can fly. I wouldn’t just walk from place to place. Apart from being much faster, although a bit harder to control, it makes me feel totally free. Well, maybe that’s just me, everytime they ask me which super-hero power I’d rather have I don’t hesitate.

Then I started noticing the social aspect of SL. Some people call it 3D-IRC (that would be three-dimensional Internet Relay Chat, not a Star Wars robot), and I totally understand why. If you see someone passing by, just say hello, either to everyone in a short radius around you (although you can shout to those who are farther) or just strike a private conversation with them. If you think you might like to see each other again, you can just exchange calling cards. These are like your business card with your contact, so that you don’t need to meet again to catch up – if you let them go, you may never see them again, this SL world seems bigger than the Real Life (RL) one. If you guys get to appreciate each other’s company, then you can become friends, with other options such as knowing if the other is on-line, current location, etc.

I met a lot of strange people. Yeah, I’ll give you that, there’s some weird stuff going on. But that’s in terms of image and role-playing, and that’s fine. I mean there’s people walking around looking like fairies or cartoon characters, or armed with swords, or with tails, or with wings… or sometimes with all of the above… and then some more. But that’s the outlook they chose to reflect their personality – that’s more than fine, that’s healthy. There’s enough social conditioning in RL, SL should be a place for nurturing fantasies. Above all, and overall, people have seemed to be very nice. Of course there are not so nice people around. But I think the frame of the game – a place where you go to express yourself in ways you can’t for some reason in your RL – naturally tends to attract nice RL people.

An example. In my second day inside, I was laying on the beach (in fact I was being paid for that, can you believe it?) and I noticed this woman nearby. Anyone who knows me in RL knows I’ve got this thing for red hair (*grins*) so I strike conversation (obviously). We talk, and eventually she says I look like Fred Flinstone. What she meant was that I had only used SL’s basic tools to create my avatar, when there was a lot of stuff for sale that would make me look more real. Skins, better clothes, hair… Guess what – she takes me shopping! She took me to places where I could find stuff for free, mainly lower quality demo versions of products. Yes, usually you need money (L$, Linden dollars), which you can get by buying it with real money (1 US$ = 270-300 L$, which is enough to buy you… umm… maybe a fairly good outfit, don’t quote me on that one) or by working somewhere doing some thing (like I did, getting paid for suntanning – obviously, the pay for that one sucks), or by building something and then selling it. But I’ll talk about business later. When I look a little bit less like cookie monster, I decide to show her a Zen retreat I had found while exploring the day before, as a token of my appreciation. The place is really nice, Japanese-inspired, and people gather there for 20 minutes at a set time everyday for a meditation session. The owner actually has that activity in RL, and wrote a few educational notes for newcomers. After being there for a while, me and her realise we have a favorite place in common, and decide to go there together.

The Lost Gardens of Apollo. If you have a SL account, go there. It’s an absolutely marvelous place. No, I don’t use these words often *grins*. It was exactly what I needed to see on the first day to be convinced to stay. It is beautiful, magic, and has the kind of fantasy that makes you wish there was a place like that in RL. She tells me we shouldn’t be there in casual outfits, and she gets into a princess-like dress. Well, I only have jeans… but I’m an engineer so I painted them black matte and put on a shirt, and I was ready to go. We went up (well, flew, obviously, no elevators here) to the dance floor, where (streamed) cuban slow music was playing, with hanging vases of pink and white flowers, letting petals fly around the dancers, with a fantastic view over the island and the sunset. Sorry guys – SL seems to bring up the romance in me. We danced, and had a really nice conversation, from experiences in SL to music taste in RL. In the end, after several hours spent together, being in so many different places and settings, I felt really comfortable with this person.

Now isn’t that completely brilliant! Virtual friendship is something I had never thought of, and believe me, I had my share of IRC back then. This is different. This provides different experiences – hell, I’ve surfed, went hang-gliding (not that I needed it to fly, but hey), went on several types of boats, played hang-man… I was even shot off a cannon! Always accompanied by at least one person, friends or strangers at the moment. As such, it stimulates many more sensations – whereas IRC would just be chatting back and forth, with text coming up on your screen, SL provides sounds and images, which are enough to ease a connection between social beings. Now, I already have a decent group of friends, and all have a very particular story of how we met and how we connected, and I learn from them and share experiences however virtual they are. People try to keep SL separate from RL, but as the connection forms we tend to get more comfortable, and the line dividing them becomes fuzzy. Heh, for example, I met a SL little girl, yesterday, daughter of a couple I know through a friend, who wanted to be friends with me because I have bunnies in my RL backyard :-)

Now in what concerns business. There really are opportunities in there. Brazilians seem to have seized them well, you can see a lot of Brazilian products around the place, especially in fashion. It is also known that companies like IBM have a presence there, and so do other organisations (University of Porto is one of them, for example). There’s a whole economy to it. But what surprises me is the amount of really talented and creative people in that world. There’s a lot of fantastic stuff, from clothing to buildings. I really am impressed. But anyway, I was (and still am) looking for something new to create, and have more than just a social presence here. I have realised, though, that to make that kind of effort you need to take more time from your RL, which I’m not so eager to do. The perfect thing would be to have something in both worlds… and I’ve got some ideas, but… well maybe I’ll write another post on them eventually, that would be a good sign!

There’s a lot more to say. It all boils down to this: SL can be a waste of RL time if you go in too deep, and I’m sure it is easy to let that happen. There were a couple of times I felt I should pay attention. But as an extension, as a place to live experiences that are not so regular in RL, not possible in RL or you just lost hope that they could happen in RL, Second Life can be a place where you can express yourself completely free from social conditioning. That and flying :-) oh man, the flying…

Virtual me, at the Lost Gardens of Apollo

Virtual me, at the Lost Gardens of Apollo