A Cat Has Nine Lives; An Internet Savvy Human Has Two


Creating a persona in “Second Life” can be an engaging (and time consuming) process. (Nhat V. Meyer/MCT)

Published: April 17, 2008

A few weeks ago, I tried to start a “Second Life,” but I failed miserably. In case you haven’t been keeping up with the times, “Second Life,” the self-proclaimed “online, 3-D virtual world imagined and created by its Residents,” has taken the Web by storm. According to the Web site of Linden Labs, the creators of “SL,” there are over 13 million users signed up, each pouring countless hours into creating the perfect avatar, or virtual self. This new you, called a Resident, can then interact in the virtual world in a similar fashion to the real world: you can purchase land (with Linden Dollars, the official currency of the “Second Life” world), watch CNN, attend a concert or, if you prefer, make out with your latest boyfriend of choice.

I’m quite cynical when it comes to the allure of the virtual world. As an avid video game player, I can definitely relate to the pull and draw of compelling atmosphere and immersion. But there’s a fine line between indulging in the pleasures of controlling a virtual figure, making the unreal, real. Nevertheless, wanting to see what all the fuss was about, I downloaded the client from the Web site (www.secondlife.com) and began the character creation process. After a bit of a concentrated effort, I typed in the pseudonym of my choice: Siam Hax.

The unfortunately-named Ms. Hax then moved on through the frighteningly-detailed customization process. With everything from ear rotation to shoe size, I was given free creative reign to sculpt my own virtual Mini-Me. But no matter how hard I tried, Siam Hax looked like the splitting image of a Neanderthal woman. As beautiful, svelte supermodel-like vixen avatars strutted around Siam, a Frankenstein-like combination of revulsion and pity stirred within my heart for the monster I had created.

After two hours of helplessly flailing through the creation process and walking around aimlessly, I gave up and deleted the client from my hard drive. Siam Hax was officially laid to rest. What, I wondered, could possibly be the appeal of this? After all, I already have a first life—why would I need a second one?

It’s apparent that many people find this much more compelling than I do. You consistently hear horror stories about the addictions of a virtual world like “Second Life.” Only last year The Wall Street Journal reported on Ric Hoogestraat, a middle-aged man so devoted to his “Second Life” persona that he had literally taken up a second wife within the game. Due to his consuming addiction to “SL,” he frequently ignores his real wife and family, spending upwards of 10 hours a day “living” in his own virtual paradise.

The allure of “Second Life” is irresistible, but incorrigibly dangerous. Everyone can be anyone they want to be, without any restrictions of the real world. Want wings and a furry tail? You got it. Your own private island? For $120,000 Lindens (or $480 USD), it’s yours. Sex changes, virtual prostitution, scandal, obsession—“Second Life” almost seems like a playground for vice and manic fixations. Is there anything good to be said about “Second Life”?

Yes, there is, and, ironically enough, it comes in the form of a group known as the “Naughty Auties.” As reported on CNN.com on March 28, the “Naughty Auties” is an area of “SL” devoted to providing a community and support center for those diagnosed with autism. Individuals suffering from autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and other conditions like it often have difficulty socializing in the real world. It is the hope of the “Naughty Auties” center that this will provide a jumping-off point for the cultivation of real-world social skills in these individuals.

There is definitely some merit to communities like “Second Life.” When used properly, “Second Life” can provide an outlet of communication and interaction for people previously cut off from proper social behavior. In the right context, I begrudgingly admit that it could be somewhat fun to create a fantastical and ideal version of yourself to play around with. However, “SL”-ers, remember: you have a life out here, as well. Come interact without the computer screen occasionally. You just might find that it’s sort of fun out here, too.