It gets even more surreal. There are at least two community newspapers that cover in-world news, one of which prints avatar wedding announcements, sports updates, and a comic strip starring residents. There are also real-world author signings, “live” musical performances, and short movies filmed entirely in-world. Plus, Second Life has its own independently hosted version of Flickr (a photo-sharing site of avatar shots called Snapzilla ), its own resident-managed MySpace , and even its own avatar-equivalent of “Am I Hot or Not?”
Second Life has been labeled “an emerging online society” for a reason: the possibilities within this 3-D framework are open-ended and therefore difficult to articulate. “I say SL is a mash-up of MySpace, Friendster, all these social-networking community sites,” says David Fleck, Linden Lab’s vice-president of marketing. “Plus, add to that your favorite [instant-messenger] client, add to that your favorite context-creation tools — such as PhotoShop or 3-D Studio — add to that a little bit of eBay and Amazon and, ultimately, out of that comes something called Second Life.”
“If someone’s comfortable with technology and gaming, I’ll just say [Second Life is] ‘World of Warcraft, but all user-created,’ ” says Wagner James Au, a Second Life blogger and consultant who was paid by Linden Lab for three years to cover Second Life from the inside as an “embedded” journalist. “For the Web 2.0 crowd, I’ll say, ‘It’s MySpace meets YouTube.com meets World of Warcraft.’ ” Or better yet, Au adds, “Sometimes I’ll just say, ‘It’s like Legos on acid.’ ”
At first, my Second Life sucked. First, I downloaded the SL software and my computer kept burping up error messages. When I finally got access to a computer capable of handling Second Life, I logged in with the avatar name “Lily Pixie” and found myself on Orientation Island, a tropical parcel where information booths teach newcomers how to control their avatars. Then I was unceremoniously dropped into the Welcome Center , an outdoor park-like quad of reception-area benches and leafy planters where avatars are essentially born. Not long after, a Snoopy-shaped avatar descended on the Welcome Center and activated a physical attachment: a stubby human penis. I still didn’t have my SL sea legs and accidentally ran straight for the dog’s schlong. The other avatars mocked me in textual laughter: “hahahahaha.”
As in a chat room, contributors communicate by exchanging text messages either through a public chat or one-on-one instant-messenging (avatars awkwardly air-type while they’re talking, their fingers tapping invisible keyboards). If avatars are conversing, but not instant-messaging, their communiqués pop up as you pass. That same first day, I overhear a fellow new citizen in the Welcome Center looking for guidance:
Alycia Bradley: ok so . . . this is my first ti[m]e and day here . . . what is here to do.
Jrdan DarkeS: you could always suck my penis
Alycia Bradley: nice mouth