Friday, 31 August 2007

If at First You Don't Succeed...

‘Get a (New) Life’ read the headline of the feature tagged as ‘virtual living’ in the September issue of Marie Claire. The avatars placed underneath the photographs of their real life owners, they had a remote resemblance to, captured my attention first. Leafing through the four pages of the article, reading the captions underneath the photos, I was incredulous to find out that there were so many people whom one would consider as ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’ living ‘extraordinary’ and sometimes ‘abnormal’ lives on cyberspace.

Then I read on… about this bizarre world hidden beyond the keyboards and cables, with its population of 7,5 million people, its own currency of Linden dollars, its own high-profile celebrities like Anshe Chung (Ailin Graef to us in the real world) who has become a real life millionaire last November from her business, developing, renting and selling virtual land. Virtual Land, I hear you ask…So did I… alongside a hundred other questions about this bizarre world. And before long, I was a new resident of Orientation Island, Second Life.

Second Life is a rapidly growing computer generated, three-dimensional, virtual universe. Once you visit the website to register your details for a free account and download the programme, you’re given a basic avatar of your choice which you can upgrade within an hour of arriving at Orientation Island. According to Marie Claire, half the Second Life population is female, and the typical user is aged between 25 and 34, with a full time job. Not the game for your average geek then!

As I arrive at Orientation Island, I stumble past other new arrivals, all trying to figure out the finer art of flying in all directions. It takes me about twenty minutes to figure out how to modify my avatar and within minutes, I realise I am surrounded by numerous half-naked avatars in quest of the perfect form: bulging biceps, thinning waist lines, gravity-defying double D boobs abound – mere proof that in second life, you can be everything you wished you were and aren’t in your first. So I saunter off with a sleek bob, razor sharp cheekbones, turquoise eyes, boobs I can only dream of and a bootylicious Beyonce derriere.

Within minutes, I am chased down the steps by Nikolai, a butt naked avatar which seems to showcase the sleazy darker side of this virtual world the MC article focuses on (In May a German TV programme revealed that paedophiles were buying and selling child porn in Second Life and adult avatars were paying to have sex with child avatars which resulted in the expulsion of a 54 year old man and a 27 year old woman.). Since I do not yet own Matrix type moves, available for a decent amount of Linden dollars, I ward off my unwelcome admirer by flying off in another direction. Up up and away…

Two hours on. I have so far had random chats with a Slovakian girl, a 26 year old from Argentina whose avatar goes by the name of Franco and another male avatar, whose owner from Bangladesh seems really keen to chat me up. Franco sounds decent and is easy on the eye with his well-defined muscles; for all I know he might be a lanky, spotty fifteen year in real life, for all I know. Another two hours of brainless exploration and I finally find the way out to Help Island, the ticket to the real LaLa Land of Second Life where all the fun begins. Marie Claire says, and I quote, ‘you can visit New York’s Time Square or the Louvre in Paris, and see bands like Gnarls Barkley and Razorlight playing live, all in one evening.’ No such luck as yet, but I do bump into Franco again who is quick on his game and asks me for my e-mail and pictures. Oh, men are all the same after all, even in Second Life!

I then hit the dance floor for a bit, go to the Freebie Island to adorn myself with numerous frocks, get some more body parts, including a set of nipples, and gestures for my avatar, furniture for a house I do not yet own, and a house for a land I have not yet purchased (Land prices start from L$ 2250, equivalent of $5), blag a freebie yacht and a Lamborghini. Following the other half’s suggestion I should check out the seedy part of town, I land with a thud into a sex shop where I meet Kenshin, an avatar clad all in black, who then teleports me (Yup, levitation and teleportation are no alien concepts in Second Life) to Winged Isle where he takes roughly an hour to pick the perfect pair of wings and pays for them. Genrous as he is, he offers to buy me a pair as well which I kindly decline. He says he will then buy a six-pack – no he is not going to Tesco’s to stock up on booze, it’s for chest definition, as I stare, wide-eyed.

I depart, with a promise from Kenshin he will give me a house once he buys his land on the condition I help him find tenants for the other houses. Well, well, making cash in Second Life may not just be a dream after all! I may one day join the ranks of Simone Stern, the 45 year old Second Life fashion designer from Indianapolis who owns a clothing shop in Second Life where she sells anything from 200 to 550L$ (35-90p) and who made more than £30,000 last year from selling her collection.

As I leave Second Life, after ten hours, on and off, of exploration and a taste of what (second) life has to offer and I can see why it can become addictive. What is scary about Second Life is the vast world of possibilities it offers for its residents. You can own your own land, get on the property ladder, have the coolest, richest, best-looking set of friends, go out clubbing every night with no hangovers to fight off the next morning, go out on the pull and have cyber-sex with stranger without any scruples or the shadow of an STI, you can be/become anything you want to be, you wished you were, you aren’t. Isn’t it uncanny that there are only good-looking avatars in Second Life, like a new race of tall, well-sculpted, irresistibly sexy superhumans?

Second Life defies real life, in doing so it defies reality. The dreamscape Second Life would offer the dorky loner next door whose life revolves around his monitor or the shy chubby girl in the office whom no one invites out to the pub on a Friday is far too immense – the number of emotionally incompetent or socially ostracised people dependent on the computers for survival and stimulation is high as it is, and the possibility of becoming a spot-free, muscular or curvaceous, charming, intelligent individual who is attractive to the other sex, with copious amounts of riches can only tie them more tightly to their computer and pull them further into a world of make-believe.

Sex offered and exchanged in Second Life that is free and readily available, is the allure for some married women who do not see anything wrong or amoral about a sizzling encounter with a cyber stranger. How healthy is it to think that some extra-marital dalliance is good for you just because it is a computer-generated image of yourself going on the pull and exchanging bodily fluids with random strangers? How many cyber-men is too many before a woman can admit she is running away into a dreamscape rather than tackling the problems in her real relationship with a real man in the real world?

As fun as it is for a while to flaunt one’s Beyonce curves with a sexy avatar strut, lounging on a tropical beach watching the sunset, cutting some smooth moves on the floor as the heart and soul of the party, there are times one has to log off and get back to real life when the day is dreary, and your bank account is in the red, and your boss wants that all important report by tomorrow, and your booty has already succumbed to gravity. Then again, if at first you don’t succeed…


Fatoumatta said...

coooool am first...k lemme go back

Queen of My Castle said...

Very interesting post. I think it is somewhat sad that real people are more satisified in a virtual world than they are in reality because the are considered outcasts. This post makes one think about how he/she really treats people in the real world.

LMAO @ the purchasing nipples for your avatar bit.

The Life of a Stranger called me said...

cinn, gosh, I admire how you are able to investigate stuff out for us and report back. Its interesting to see the weird latest fads that people join in the name of boredom, exploration or whatever.

Obinwanne said...

very interesting post, it teaches one about life as well

Fatoumatta said...

hummm....took me long to come back i knw,had some tech...a world were i cld be all u want and not...interesting but cld lead to a whole LOT of damages...whts the site for it...just to have some fun *wink

30+ said...

Shup o Cinnamon you did not go to second life, wow you have gone to the dark side I hope you have not got to the point of no return sha :o(.

The only reason I have not explored too much is cos of the addictiveness. I think I registered but purposely stopped the whole thing.

@QOC you are so right, heard os some lady who hardly leaves her house all because of second life, it can cause damage to your social skills / human relationship in real life

Aijay said...

Hmm...amazing discovery!
Why this second life business?
Is it for curiousity, excitement or the quest for adventure?
This is very interesting.