I changed into a black t-shirt, practiced a bit with a beach ball and a table, flew from here to there, and finally exited the practice island to step into the “real” world… I finally decided last week to have a peek at the Internet-based virtual reality world Second Life that has been featured in esteemed magazines such as BusinessWeek and The Economist and was created by California-based Linden Lab.
You start by registering and creating your avatar, your representation in the virtual world. I tried to create it in my image, but you can create anything from a smurf to a vampire or an angel. You’re then sent off to a practice island, a tutorial walkthrough on how to move about in the virtual world.
I probably didn’t practice as much as I should have, but I was too eager to find my way to the “real” non-practice world. The Second Life world is vast and created entirely by its residents. There are some ugly creations and some beautiful creations, but most of all, there are a lot of creations. I walked and flew around for a bit, and soon teleported myself to different islands and sections.
One of my first stops was the Nissan island, where you talk to a piece of toast, get a code, and win a car from a giant vending machine. Sure, since there are really no physical limitations in Second Life, a Nissan Sentra seems boring compared to a jet propulsion flying device. But it was free and it was one of the only places I knew, because I had heard about it in real life.
Later, I bought some Adidas shoes. Again, I probably should have looked at a Second Life version of a mom-and-pop store, but Adidas was first in mind. This is probably not something early Second Lifers would want to hear. But then again, when I visited the Adidas and Reuters islands, and the newly established Second Life marketing agency Crayon—all businesses that got significant media coverage for opening up shop in Second Life—I was the only person there. Maybe it was not the right time, and hopefully they have events where people do show up, but it was quite lonely out there.
So where did I find people? It is still the Internet, so not surprisingly I found most people at gambling sites and casinos, strip clubs and escort services. It was funny and awkward to see virtual characters getting it on; compare it to that long and bizarre “love” scene in Team America or the puppets in Avenue Q.
The most fun I had at a trivia game. I sat in a seat in a stand, along with a dozen other people, and answered random questions for prizes and Linden dollars (the world’s currency). I am hoping to find more of those kinds of activities.
Second Life has major potential. I can even see it replace today’s browsers that go from hyperlink to hyperlink, if the vast amount of information found on the Internet can be integrated in the Second Life software. Have your character say a keyword and find information; call Yellow pages; send e-mails and so on. Chatting and Instant Messaging are already enormous parts of the software. I am curious to see how it will develop.
How about the classical music industry? I know there are already art exhibitions in Second Life, even though I have yet to visit one. And there have been musical performances as well. Now, a lot would happen before we see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform in Second Life. Think of all the avatars to create alone; a Shostakovich symphony would require about 100 avatars! And think of all the instruments and the scripting that would need to be done. Cost in labor, time and money would be much too great to create a full symphonic concert. Somehow, I also suspect that the musicians’ media contracts mention nothing about performing in a virtual world.
Small chamber ensembles, however, don’t necessarily sound like a crazy idea. As I mentioned before, last week I went to a chamber concert with three great artists. Three is certainly doable. Wouldn’t it be great to have a concert venue with real artists, streaming live music before an audience from around the globe? Build a venue, sell tickets, there might actually be some money to earn.
Classical music and Second Life seem not to share a common target market, so it might be hard to get a crowd at this point in time. But give it some time; before we know it, the whole world has an avatar.
Update: November 9, 2006 – The following image is a screen shot from Second Life with my avatar hovering above the surface: