In general, you can lump Second Life avatars into two categories: hot or fantastic. Women are mostly busty, hourglass-figured, and sexy. Men tend to be buff and handsome. “More often than not, people have a picture in their head of what they look like at their best: very few people want to have their avatar look like they just woke up, haven’t shaved, [have] bad breath, and gained a few pounds after the wedding,” theorizes Andy Carvin. Otherwise, avatars tend to be surreal — think Snoopy, dragons, and “furries.”
"I think Second Life will be like the Web eventually," says Aimee Weber. "Almost everything cool will need to have a 3-d presence online."
Wagner James Au met about 100 real-life people usually shrouded by pixels at an SL convention held in New York last year. “You had people who looked like they were going to ask about Jean Luc Picard and you also had people who looked like they’re more interested in creating an S&M dungeon and doing tricks with juggling and fire,” Au says. “I would say, it was sort of a Star Trek convention meets Burning Man.”
A new art form
A few days after I’d been with Tripper Tapioca, I returned to Zephyr Heights to find a gang of spiky-haired delinquents riding bikes, attempting aerial stunts, and shooting guns in the skate park. (Tapioca and Gateaux weren’t around or they would have stopped the pistol-play.) Another time, I found Gateaux himself slumped over the area and levitating like an inverted vampire. Outfitted in a dark suit with a red-handkerchief-stuffed breast pocket and red tie, the lean, swarthy avatar eventually woke up, recognized me, and floated down to explain that even though he was logged into Second Life, in real-life he was neglecting his computer-powered chassis while he read an article.
I ask Gateaux if he’s still holding Russian roulette tomorrow night. “Oh yes we are,” he writes. “I think you’re gonna like it … And bring alot [sic] of cash.”
I hear different things about death in Second Life. Ever since I saw the Russian-roulette tables, I’ve been anxious to play. But that’s not until tomorrow.
In the meantime, Gateaux leads a guided tour of Zephyr Films Studios, a piece of land he and Tapioca have just begun turning into “a realistic movie studio.” We fly over to the studio back lot and land in a temporary office building, one of two boxy soundstages. There, Gateaux, who says he’s really a 19-year-old film student in Vancouver, types, “I can gain a lot of experience to use in my real life. Turning a script into a movie … it’s the same thing everywhere. And then editing, exactly the same.”
Gateaux is talking about “machinima,” a compound term for machine cinema, a filmmaking subgenre that describes the computer-generated imagery shot inside a 3-D mechanism. Thus far, machinima’s biggest crossover success has been Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles, a sitcom shot entirely inside the XBox multiplayer game Halo; the New York Times Magazine profiled its twentysomething creators last summer. Those same Red vs. Blue creators, Rooster Teeth Productions, have since produced a 17-part series using The Sims 2 called Strangerhood, which Gateaux uses to gauge how he can do better. “With machinima, your possibilities are endless,” he types, while standing on barren grass outside the soundstage. “If you ask me, you can do much better in SL cuz in SL you have the ability to make every animation or object that you want.” That includes props, sets, and characters who can change outfits, hairstyles, or gender with a few clicks.