For this week’s lecture on digital ethnography, we were asked to create a free account in Second Life (SL), a virtual community with almost 37 million residents. “Second Life offers a totally new experience for humans,” said SL’s creator, Philip Rosedale, in PBS’ Digital Nation documentary. And that’s exactly what SL was like for me — a totally new experience.
My Initial Reaction
I’m as far from a video gamer as they come. The closest I’ve come to regularly playing a video game was when I used to play the puzzle video game Chip’s Challenge on my first PC back in elementary school. But let me assure you that that did little to prepare me for SL.
Signing up for SL was pretty straightforward. I went to secondlife.com and signed up for a free account. I was asked to create a unique username for my avatar, so I chose “linnyz” because I didn’t feel comfortable using my actual name. It seems most people pick something other than their real name, so I wasn’t alone.
Once I was signed in to SL, I began creating my avatar. I had trouble deciding on an avatar because I wanted to present an integrated self, but none of the girls looked like me. Ultimately, I decided based off of which one’s outfit I liked best (such a girl thing to do, I know). I initially chose the avatar pictured left, but when I started the game and discovered that she was the “goth” one, I changed my avatar to the one pictured right because I felt it reflected my overall look/personality a bit more.
When the game started, I was dropped off on an island surrounded by pirate ships. There were about four to five other people on there with me, but I couldn’t figure out what to do or how to interact with them. Before I was able to really orient myself with this new environment, I received my first chat from the residents on the island. In it, they were introducing themselves. One spoke Spanish and the other Portuguese, so I jumped in and said “Hello,” but the conversation ended there. Maybe it was because they didn’t speak English? I then tried flying over the ocean, and I have to admit, it was pretty cool because it gave me a sense of freedom. But after seeing minimal activity on the island, I chose another destination.
My next destination was called “Hesperia Templemore”. It was dark, and there was weird rock music blaring in the background, so I tested out my avatar’s running skills and tried to find out where the music was coming from. I came across a deserted motel and a nearby bar. The bar was closed, but I was still able to enter through the side.
I descended down the bar’s staircase, and at the bottom of it, I came across instruments and a notice that asked me to give a donation to “support live music in SL.” I opted not to donate and moved on to another destination.
My third destination was “Prehistorica: The Dawn Kingdom”. I was so confused by all the rules here, but fortunately, received help from a fellow resident named Eric who’s been playing the game for four years. He gave me a landmark called “Help Island Public”. I wasn’t quite sure what a landmark was, but it seemed like it was a tutorial, so I accepted it.
Eager to find a destination with more people, I ended up selecting from among the editor’s picks because I figured they’d be more entertaining. I decided to check out “Rez Nightclub and Mall”. There was a live DJ playing original dance songs for a packed house, but, unfortunately, no one seemed friendly and I didn’t receive any welcoming chat messages.
Later, I ended up at Luskwood Lusk, another dance-type party. Here, the DJ was playing songs like “Material Girl” by Madonna and “Lovesong” by the Cure. Someone in the chat was looking for a fitted ladies top for her avatar, so one of the other residents sent her a suggestion. I’m still baffled by the fact that you can buy virtual clothes for your avatar.
I then chose to go to New Citizens Incorporated. Here, I tried to change my avatar’s appearance because I wanted it to look more like me. One of the female residents saw how much I was struggling and actually sent me a notecard containing instructions on how to change my avatar’s outfit.
I tried following what she said, but ended up bald and without pants (eek!). So I undid my changes and tried changing her outfit again. Somehow, I managed to put her in a sexy school girl outfit. At this point, the avatar didn’t resemble me in the least. Well, at least, I tried.
For my final destination, I wanted to try Miami Beach since I’m from Miami, but, sadly, it was too full. Who knew virtual destinations could be at maximum capacity?! I have to admit, it felt kind of like not being on the VIP list for an exclusive party. Bummer!
My Take on SL
I found SL to be extremely confusing and wanted nothing more than to get out of this world. On the plus side, its residents were very friendly. Even still, I’ll take the real world and my real friends any day over SL.