Welcome to the real world

Virtual insanity
By MIKE MILIARD  |  January 24, 2007

When it comes to Second Life (SL), the immersive “metaverse” that’s gotten reams of breathless media coverage over the past six months (the Phoenix was among the first), hard numbers are hard to come by. There are as many as two million discrete registrants — SL calls them “residents” — but many of those were only curious drop-ins, and only a fraction have stuck around. Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of Linden Lab, which created Second Life, estimates about 10 percent of registered users still log on weekly, three months after initially signing up.

Plus, those users who do stick around are spending an awful lot of time — and money — in this eldritch otherworld. Fortune Magazine reports that user hours per month grew from about 3.5 million in June to 7.5 million in December. And as much as $500,000 changes hands among tens of thousands of residents every day. Predictably, nonresidents in “meatspace” are noticing. Corporations like Adidas-Reebok, Vodafone, and IBM are building virtual stores in Second Life, in an effort to build real-world brand awareness. Some companies have even recruited employees via SL, interviewing them in virtual reality.

And if it makes some sense that Gnarls Barkley and Bloc Party would play to virtual fans there, it’s perhaps more surprising that US Court of Appeals judge Richard A. Posner “spoke” to Second Life residents about online-property rights last month, or that erstwhile presidential candidate Mark Warner dropped by in August for a virtual chat. Meanwhile, the BBC has announced plans to launch a “Second Life for Kids,” even as it’s been reported this month that 22-year-old Brian Barrett was shot dead in his truck — with real bullets — as a result, purportedly, of a Second Life love triangle.

It’s all getting a bit much for Vancouver writer/technologist/marketer Darren Barefoot. So last Saturday he launched a one-page SL satire called Get a First Life. “America’s teens, your First Life dream world awaits,” he exhorts. “Hang out at the mall! Embarrass yourself in gym class! Get acne! Experiment with mind-altering recreational drugs! The First Life world is your oyster.” The mock site offers a helpful FAQ (Are five senses enough? Why can’t I build a dirigible with my mind?) as well as some tips on things to do in this “3D analog world where server lag does not exist.” Our favorite: “Fornicate using your actual genitals.”

It’s not necessarily that he’s against the Second Life concept. After all, Barefoot says, “we’ve been immersing ourselves in fantasy worlds since the invention of the novel.” He’s just sick of the hype, the attention from the media and the corporate suits. It’s also that Barefoot, who’s plenty familiar with online gaming, thinks Second Life still has a lot of kinks. “Just a few weeks ago, I watched a colleague try to attend an industry event [in SL], and it took her five minutes just to figure out how to sit down.”

But he’s also somewhat concerned about the potential for abuse. “If someone is an introvert and antisocial and finds that the only way they can socialize and have a full human experience is in the game, then I think that’s fine. But on the other hand, I think that most people should balance their life inside a game like that with their real life outside.”

Y’know, with the other six and a half billion First Life residents who are logged on 24 hours a day.

On the Web
Get a First Life: http://www.getafirstlife.com/

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