Friday, February 20, 2009

A Message From a Virtual World

Chey in the Blue Zone

Written 9 February, 2009

A Message From a Virtual World

Hello. This message is coming to you from the virtual world Second Life.

Second Life is where I work, play, love, and live. It is my home. It’s a wonderful place, and I have a lot of special powers here, but there are limitations, problems, and, yes, dangers. I just want you to know about them.

My existence here is dependent on sooo very many things. When any of them malfunctions, I simply… disappear. It isn’t a pleasant experience.

The software that supports me is imperfect. The client—the program that lives on my computer—is subject to failure at any time. The server code—the program that creates the land on which I live—can and does crash without warning. When either fails, I freeze up or disappear. It’s rather like having epilepsy. I can be stricken at any time, and without notice. Fortunately, the client and servers can be restarted, which makes me temporarily better.

I exist somewhere on a computer. If the hard drive, or the mother board, or a bit of RAM, or the power supply, or the video card, or the monitor, or a cable fails, I simply disappear. This is more like a coma than a seizure. I can be gone for days.

I’m also dependent upon a broadband connection. If the DSL or cable signal wavers, even for a millisecond, I disappear. Seizure. If the modem becomes confused (and it frequently does) I disappear. Coma.

If the electricity or telephone or cable which supply my computer should fail—coma.

When the biological entity which types for me has to sleep or go to work to pay for the computer and modem and DSL and cable which allow me to live, it sends me into a coma. If my typist should suffer a malfunction or should even need to go to the bathroom, I have a seizure. If she goddess forbid dies, I will go into a coma from which I’ll never wake up.

And finally, I’m dependent upon a company called Linden Lab, which keeps Second Life running (sort of). When Linden Lab has problems with its equipment or software or internet connection and the grid goes down or logins are restricted, it’s coma time for me. I don’t even want to think about the company going out of business!

There are other problems as well. Sometimes things spontaneously disappear from my inventory. This is rather like someone robbing my house. Sometimes I can’t put on my clothes or hair (yes, in this world, I put my hair on and take it off just like clothing). Sometimes I can’t move from one place to another, which is sort of like having my vehicle break down— and sometimes I’m sent to what I call the Blue Zone, which is like the cornfield in the Jerome Bixby story “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sometimes the lag monster attacks me and I’m unable to move, or I move clumsily, banging into walls and walking off precipices.

As you can see, my life here is precarious. I have no real assurance this world will even be here tomorrow. And yet I love it here.

And why do I love it? Well, for starters, I can fly. It’s just as I always imagined. I put my arms out and zoom around like Supergirl. It’s marvelous!

I can also teleport. While it’s not quite instantaneous, it’s fast. It’s like living in a random access world (which, I suppose, it is). I can get from any point to any other point without having to actually travel.

This means I have no real need for vehicles—and yet I’ve dozens, from submarines to spacecraft, from unicycles to biplanes. They’re loads of fun.

Unlike real life, my avatar is modifiable. That means I can look any way I choose. I can be short or tall, thin or fat, male or female—but more than that, I can be a dragon or an earthworm or a book or a dryad. In human form, I can be as beautiful as I please, without the need for diets or workouts or plastic surgery. In seconds I can apply or remote tattoos, eye color, skin tone, and even wings or mechanical appendages..

There are many wonderful things in my virtual world: beautiful clothes, shoes, jewelry and hairdos; fine furniture; beautiful plants; land, and artwork. I can buy things here I couldn’t possibly own in real life. I’m not talking about expensive things like yachts or Boeing 747s or space shuttles or roller coasters as much as fantastical things like, oh, volcanoes and magic wands and light sabres and sky castles.

Even more fun than buying things is making them. I can create almost anything I can think of. I’ve made magical things like a broom that grabs itself and sweeps the floor and a giant drinking bird made of granite and a sanitorium for robots— but I’ve also made beautiful and useful things like streetlights and torii gates and Christmas ornaments and fireplaces and buoys. And best of all, I can and do sell the things I make!

There are many places to explore in this virtual world—tens of thousands of places! Some are beautiful, and some are scary, and some are just butt ugly. There’s much to see—seas, forests, mountains, futuristic cities, railroads, malls, medieval kingdoms and Victorian landscapes, all filled with houses and furniture and palm trees and dinosaurs and too many things to tell you about here. There are department stores and theaters and art museums and amusement parks, aircraft carriers, brothels, candy factories, racetracks, ski lifts, horse farms, giant towers, and villages inside bottles.

Best of all are the people. There are hundreds of thousands of us from all over the world. We talk to one another in every language, work on projects together, and sometimes even fall in love. Most of the people here are smart, and most are friendly.

On the balance the rewards far outweigh the unstable and cartoonish nature of this world. And so I spend a lot of time here. It’s my home, and I like it.

And maybe you would, too.


Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

Thank you for the reminder that in a way, Second Life is even more fragile than First. If we were in and out of First Life as we are in Second, we'd be the patient on a really bad episode of House, M.D.. :)

Tycho Beresford said...

I've often wondered how come First Life never crashes and sends everyone into Second Life? I'd sure hate to be a mentor on Orientation Island when that happens!