[GAME MASTER]Second LifeWhat if there were an online world where you could create a new character, make any new object or piece of clothing, trade those objects with other players and even write code to change the world around you? And what if it was all free?
In fact, this idea has been around since before the World Wide Web ― some of the early versions were called MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons or Domains). But these derived their flexibility from their entirely text-based architecture. It’s not so daunting to create a spinnable, searchable globe when all you’re dealing with are descriptions of reality. It’s only now that this old dream has become a truly unrestricted, 3D virtual reality, in the online game Second Life. Since its launch in 2003, Second Life has grown into a mass of homes, gathering places, museums, training centers (some with real-world applications), realtors, retailers, clubs, newspapers and, of course, over 100,000 “residents.”
Second Life takes place on a large grid, where small islands make up the world. Just as in MUDs, nearly everything is user-designed. Character creation has never been this flexible, allowing for every possible adjustment from skin tone to eyeball symmetry. I spent 45 minutes just getting my nose right.
With the build tools in the game, the possibilities are nigh on endless. You can build a torch to carry, a helmet to wear, a digital dream home and a pink flamingo to stick in the yard. Items and buildings alike are built from “prims” ― short for primitives ― simple shapes like cubes, spheres and pyramids, that can be manipulated along an X-Y-Z grid, stretched and squooshed, and combined together to make more complex objects. Naturally textures can be made yourself as well. Of course, building more complex items takes longer, and maybe some other user has already made what you need. But that’s where trading comes in.
Second Life’s economy is based on “Linden dollars,” which are used to buy all manner of products and services in the world. Like the game itself, what makes Linden dollars unique is their flexibility. Most MMORPGs combat attempts to connect real money to “fake” online money, but Second Life encourages it ― you can even buy and sell Linden dollars for U.S. dollars on the Second Life Web site’s currency exchange, which calculates an exchange rate based on supply and demand just like a real currency market (less a small transaction fee). In fact, now several designers are said to make their living completely by building and selling game items.
What’s absent is everything one traditionally associates with an RPG. There aren’t any experience points, or attributes, or automatically generated quests. But this is a small price to pay, and anyway if you’re familiar enough with the scripting language you can make games yourself in the world.
The biggest problems with Second Life are its bugs, which are still bothersome even after almost three years of play. When flying I often found myself out of control, spinning off the map, and the slider that was supposed to give me a dashing mustache instead strangely warped the bones on my face. Movement bugs are by far the most irritating, with my avatar sometimes stuck atop a beachball or frozen in a sitting position.
Still, Second Life is the most successful in its genre, and the price can’t be beat. Welcome to the new New World.
by Ben Applegate