Second Life from Linden Lab is an MMO or “massively multiplayer online game” – a 3D environment in which users navigate and interact with a simulated world using an avatar (a graphical representation of the player).
Other multiplayer games have been either shoot ‘em ups like Doom or “dragons and elves” games such as EverQuest. The Sims Online, based on the popular computer games, was a big flop - many say because players were forced to compete in contrived competitions and silly popularity contests. Second Life is different - anything goes. There are no winners or losers, the game is what you make it and players come up with their own goals.
When you first enter Second Life you need to create your avatar. You are given an incredible level of control over your appearance via 140 slide controls which let you choose everything from the length of your eyelashes to the shape of your earlobes. You can look as ordinary or freakish as you want – there’s no need to even be human. Once you have decided on your “look” (which you can change whenever and how often you like) you can start on the helpful tutorial for newbies that will get you moving and interacting with people and objects in no time. To get around you can walk, fly or teleport. You can also make or buy vehicles such as cars and planes.
For those who need competition there are listings of the most popular, rich and beautiful avatars. Players themselves also organise contests such as trivia games, best dressed competitions and soon a Dungeons and Dragons style game within the game. These are just a part of the social interaction of the game, however, and are by no means compulsory.
The graphics are terrific considering everything is happening online. Objects render around you as you enter each new area so there is no need to download the entire “world” before playing - as is the case with some other games. Graphics are streaming from the Second Life server at high compression rates. It works surprisingly efficiently and smoothly.
Second Life is essentially a platform – a blank canvas on which players can indulge their imagination. Empty land is supplied as well as a set of tools which players use to build their own environment – houses, businesses, gardens, gadgets, animals – anything. It is the players who drive the Second Life economy, its communities and the collective experience. The makers of Second Life saved themselves huge artwork bills by providing the tools and letting the players create the environment.
Making objects is part of the fun of Second Life and is relatively easy - you really don’t need to be a computer whiz to design and produce some great stuff. Players can construct almost anything out of preprogrammed shapes called “prims.” A huge array of textures are supplied for your objects or you can make your own using a graphics program like Photoshop then upload them to the game. Scripts can be attached to objects to make them move or behave in whatever way you want. Those with more advanced skills can get right in there and tweak their creations using the Second Life scripting language which is based on C++. In November last year Linden Lab announced that the players themselves would now retain full property rights to any objects they make in Second Life – including avatars, clothing, textures and scripts.
Second Life can be used as a kind of 3D chat room. It’s certainly more interesting than the pure text kind due to the “physical presence” of your chat friends. Avatars can gesture and show emotion on their faces. For example, typing a smiley emoticon into chat will make your avatar smile, and you can attach the sound of laughter to designated text. You can make animations for your avatar – for example, you can choose how they will dance or wave. Every character is completely unique so there is plenty to look at.
Besides chatting, players can go skydiving or dancing. Many opt to build their dream houses, others build cars, weird pets or fireworks that shoot butterflies. They design clothes, jewellery, shopping malls and sheep. Players have set up quiz games, rock bands, philosophy societies and theatre groups - as well as quite a few dodgier ventures. The Second Life “world” is so vast, however (new land is being added almost daily) that users don’t ever need to go to these “darker” locations – unless they really want to.
There are three universities in Second Life. SLU’s goal is to “provide quality education in the arts and sciences for all citizens of Second Life.” Unfortunately it didn’t have any classes running when I visited the campus. Another offers lessons in Second Life skills such as making objects. The Teaching and Learning Centre is a non-profit organisation with the slogan “Educating and entertaining the masses. Teaching Second Life and Real Life topics.” It is currently looking for more teachers and encourages donations.
The Second Life Herald reports on events within the game. Only last Thursday a gang of WWII war gamers bombed Diamonds Lounge in revenge for the mines its owner placed on their land. The WWII’ers are infamous for having shot and killed (Second Life) anti-war protesters picketing outside their partitioned war-games area during the (real life) Iraq War. Fortunately death in Second Life only results in being sent back to your last “home” location.
||On registering with Second Life players are given a small amount of Linden Dollars (the Second Life currency) and they receive more each month. However at some point players will find this grant inadequate and will look for other ways to make money. Many players support themselves by selling objects they have made to other players who lack the time or the skill to make them for themselves.|
|One example of this is the proliferation of fashion parades where “designers” sell their creations to other avatars. Players will also sell houses or land or cars. Others give tours of Second Life or teach Second Life skills for a fee. There are many casinos in Second Life and a Horse Track has just opened up.
Second Life, like other MMOs, boasts its own complex internal economy – there are currently 30,000 objects for sale “in-world”. Second Life’s economy sometimes collides with “first life’s” in places like eBay where players buy and sell objects they have made and trade in “Linden Dollars” (the exchange rate is approximately L$200 to US$1). The website IGE has even set itself up as a kind of MMO “foreign currency exchange” for games including Second Life, Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest. In his blog Play Money: Diary of a dubious proposition writer Julian Dibbell describes earning US $47,000 in one year selling “imaginary goods” for the game Ultima Online. The California State University economist Ted Castranova reportedly calculated the GDP of EverQuest and found that it is the world’s 77th largest economy – just ahead of Bulgaria.
Second Life has about 10,000 paying subscribers. As yet it seems a bit empty, though this could partly be due to the time difference between Australia and the US (where 80% of players are from). Most places I go to are kind of eerie (beautiful but empty mansions and malls, abandoned motorbikes and speedboats). The way to guarantee meeting other players is to go to a scheduled event. I attended a song lyric contest where there were about 15 people and later a trivia contest where there were about 20 – although I saw a lot of the same “faces.”
As these environments become more sophisticated they must surely have many applications for various aspects of real life. I can imagine telecommuting workers could use these environments in some way – perhaps their avatars could reflect their real life appearance.
As broadband and faster computers become more available, simulations like Second Life will offer many opportunities to educators. They seem to be a perfect platform for “trying things out.” The US army has just commissioned simulation training software from the makers of There, a similar MMO to Second Life.
As with any online environment involving person-to-person communication you should take reasonable care and precautions. This includes things like not providing personal information (such as your name, email address, phone numbers home and work addresses) or other information that you wouldn’t provide publicly to all and sundry.
Additionally, anonymity can encourage anti-social behaviour in some people and although this behaviour might not be happening in the “real world” it can certainly feel real if you are on the receiving end. For this reason, it can be useful to know how to deal with online bullies in case you come across them in your travels. There are some tips for protecting yourself online and dealing with cyberbullies here.
To date, I have never had any problems in Second Life, however when I entered another non-combat MMO I was surprised to find myself being attacked within less than a minute by another player! So it can happen!
Second Life has a set of community standards which players must adhere to. It includes such things as being tolerant and not expressing hatred towards real life individuals or communities. If you feel someone has breached the community standards or is being abusive you can report them to Linden Lab. Players have been banned in the past for bad behaviour.
Areas in Second Life are given ratings of “PG,” “M” or “Unsafe.” When you are in an unsafe area violence and aggression are permitted and your avatar’s “Health Meter” will become visible. Teleport out of these areas if you feel threatened.
The risks associated with online environments shouldn’t discourage you from participating or exploring these. As online educators it’s important to be aware of these risks and to learn how to manage them, especially if you’re going to be responsible for groups of students who may be unfamiliar with the online environment.
Second Life could be used right now as a place to experience - in a very real way - subjects as diverse as economics, sociology, politics, object design, fashion design and running a small business – all in the safety of a simulated world. For example, business students could be set the task of finding a hole in the Second Life market, creating a product, marketing and selling it, then reflecting on the enterprise’s success. Why not have a LearnScope group buy some land and actually meet there to discuss the technology’s potential? How about running a class at one of the universities – or setting up a virtual VET Centre? The opportunities for educators are endless. Over to you…
Graphics Card, a PC s800MHZ or higher, 256MB RAM or more or Mac 1 GHZ G4 or better, 512 MB of RAM. Windows XP or 2000 or Mac OS 10.3. A broadband internet connection is essential.
Basic membership is a one off US$9.95, but if you want to be able to buy land you will need a premium membership which is US$6.00 - $9.95 a month – depending on how you choose to be billed.
Players should be 18 years or over.