July 3 2007
Released: June 23, 2003
Developer: Linden Research
Perhaps the best-known virtual world on the Internet, Second Life is a very flexible online environment developed by Linden Labs. It is a place where you can create almost anything you can imagine and share it with a vibrant community. You relate to this world through an avatar which is highly customizable, and there are tools for building 3D objects integrated into the software. Basic access is free, but premium accounts can be purchased by those who want to get more involved.
Social Network vs. Game
Although Second Life is often classified as a game and discussed on gaming sites, it lacks the structure we normally associate with games. There are no monsters running around, no specific objectives, no points, and no intrinsic way to progress or win. You can, however, make things, including games, with the tools that are part of Second Life and share them with others in this vast, user-created, 3D world.
People gather to share similar interests, have business meetings, advertise their wares, and flirt, among other things. Second Life has robust chat features and an enormous selection of emotes you can use to express yourself. Many people make avatars that resemble their actual appearance, but you can take almost any shape you prefer, including non-humanoid forms.
Exploring the World
Your avatar has the ability to fly so that you can get around easily. Double-clicking on the map will teleport you instantly to that location. Resident-made vehicles of various kinds are also available. There is a good search function for finding specific places and events in Second Life. You'll notice that there is a lot to see in Second Life, whether you want to stroll through the Louvre or celebrate the 4rth of July, and it continues to expand.
Second Life gives people a great deal of freedom to create content, so it's not unusual to find major corporations with some sort of presence in world. IBM, for example, has built a virtual amphitheater where they can stage announcements and press conferences. Sweden has opened an embassy in the world, and Svarga is a simulated ecosystem that runs autonomously.
Building a Dream
If you want to create something lasting in Second Life, you will need a place to put it. Owning land requires a premium membership, which comes with a small plot. Larger areas of land incur additional fees ranging from $5 per month up to several hundred dollars per month for an entire island. Land is bought and sold much like everything else in the world.
Creating your own objects involves a substantial learning curve, as you are using a rather primitive set of 3D modelling tools included with Second Life. People have made everything from costumes to castles with these tools, so they are reasonably powerful. To make an object that is interactive, actions can be scripted using the Linden Scripting Language.
You can practice with the tools in a sandbox, which is an area where people can experiment even if they don't have land. Sandboxes are cleared on a regular basis to keep them from getting cluttered.
One unusual aspect of Second Life is that the world's currency, Linden Dollars, is exchangeable for real dollars. If you don't want to build it yourself, you can use Linden Dollars to buy virtual goods and services from other residents. Similarly, if you make something people are willing to pay for, you may find yourself among those profiting from Second Life.
Second Life has proven to be a very practical way to implement distance-learning. Numerous major universities operate virtual classrooms within the world, and there are dozens of islands dedicated to educational purposes, including a nifty network of libraries called the Info Islands.
If ever a world was what you make of it, it's Second Life. A large part of the appeal is the community, and for a lot of people it's a very sophisticated 3D chatroom. Audio and video can be streamed through the client, and virtual concerts by real bands seem to be a growing trend.
Although there are some rules, adult content is allowed and it's a big draw. A re-creation of Amsterdam's Red Light District is one of many areas intended for mature audiences. Remarkably, for the right amount of Linden Dollars, it's even possible to hire the services of a virtual prostitute, if you're into that sort of thing.
Second Life is not an ideal platform for building complex 3D games. There are a variety of casual card and board games available within the world, but don't expect to find an EverQuest or a Counter-Strike hidden away on some island. If you want a game, there are better choices than Second Life.
Depending on how much you enjoy making items and/or dressing up your avatar, you may find Second Life a little short on engaging things to do. The majority of users seem to log on only for specific events and projects, rather than treating it like daily recreation.
It's a relatively light download, the system requirements are low, and, as I mentioned above, a basic account can be created for free, so it won't cost you anything to satisfy your curiosity. Maybe you'll discover that a Second Life is something you want to pursue.
- Broadband Internet connection.
- Win 2000, WinXP, Mac OS X, Linux
- 256 MB of RAM
- Nvidia GeForce 2 or ATI Radeon 8500 or better.