The Unofficial Tourists’ Guide to Second Life

Second Life can be overwhelming, confusing and hard to penetrate, especially for those who have no familiarity with MMORPGs (or have no idea what that even means). If that’s you or someone you hope to “turn on,” so to speak, this is the book to read or give. Is this the most thorough, detail-oriented text that’s been written? Nope. Is it very straightforward, quick to read, and cheaper than a movie ticket? Yes.

This isn’t to say aimlessly wandering SL is uninteresting; on one occasion I acquired a set of nipples for my avatar from a random encounter with a woman in hot pants. That’s the thing: SL is a strange and vast place. That’s why having a guide (not to mention context, as with “Virtual Hallucinations” – see below) can be as comforting as it is helpful. If you’re on the ground in Mexico, you want the very best info money can buy. If you’re a roaming tourist in SL, you can afford to be thrifty. This info’s online, too, but having a physical text is a nice way to remember you still have one foot in this world.

– Steven Leckart

The Unofficial Tourists’ Guide to Second Life: The Essential Guide to an Amazing Virtual World – with Millions of Users
Paul Carr & Graham Pond
2007, 224 pages
$10
Available from Amazon

Sample excerpts:

Virtual Hallucinations
Despite the many adult themes in Second Life, not many of the places you can visit actually come with a medical warning. Virtual Hallucinations does. ‘Some people find the Virtual Hallucinations experience disturbing, particularly the voices. If you find it bothersome, just walk to the end of the clinic and click the “Stop Voices” button.’ Devised by computer scientist and former physician James Cook, Virtual Hallucinations is a tool for educating people about mental illness – in particular schizophrenia. In the past, being educated about mental illness – or indeed anything else – was often a very dry, wordy experience. One of the great potentials of Second Life, however, is its ability to educated in a highly interactive, synaesthetic, kinaesthetic, and above all enjoyable wayŠCook has attempted to include in his project all the paranoia and disorder, and all the aural and visual hallucinations of the real thing. Based on the real hallucinations of two actual schizophrenia sufferers, the clinic is designed to give an accurate representation of how intrusive the voices actually are. You’re not watching an avatar on screen. You are an avatar, and you’re walking through a clinic going quite, quite mad. Personally we would also recommend you wear headphones. As you enter the deserted clinic where the Virtual Hallucinations Tour takes place, you click on a disc and embed the ‘voices’ animation in your avatar’s mind. Then, with the voices drifting in and out of your consciousness — ‘Kill yourself,’ they hiss. ‘Do it. What the hell. Go on, do it.’ – you walk through corridors and into deserted rooms. As you go, everyday objects turn against you. Words on a poster and in a newspaper change to insult or incite you. In a mirror on the wall a reflection that isn’t quite yours slips in and out of focus, returning to clarity with an anguished expression and bleeding eyesŠAs Dr. Cook says, please do be careful. And remember, unlike Real Life schizophrenics, you can put an end to the torture any time you like.

Jessie
Abandon hope all ye who enter here. While in most of Second Life gun ownership and wanton violence are banned, in Jessie it’s pretty much mandatory. Like a virtual Wild West, Jessie lies behind the Jessie Wall, once a physical barrier, but now more of a conceptual one at which point the law stops and anarchy reigns. Gun shops litter the streets, many offering free weapons (we picked up a rather cool watermelon launcher), while all around the place are splattered American flags. Jessie is also, however, famous for its part in the so-called Jessie Wars, ugly periods in Second Life history that many Residents have likened to the wars in Iraq. As a result, perhaps it’s not surprising that most of the people you’ll find there are American. And pro-war. If that bothers you, stay away — or at least make sure you’re packing serious heat.

Svarga
If you’re after something more spiritual, you can’t go wrong with Svarga. In Hinduism, ‘Svarga’ is kind of temporary Paradise. It is a place where the righteous souls of those who led virtuous lives reside until they move on to their next physical incarnation. As such, with its heavenly connotations, it is a fitting description of a Second Life island created by Resident Laukosargas Svarog. What makes Svarga special is that it is the only place in Second Life with its own fully functioning ecosystem. In Svarga, clouds that rain real rain are blown across the sky. When given the right amount of rain and sunshine, flowers grow and are pollinated by bees that in turn are occasionally picked off by hungry birds. As in Real Life, the entire ecosystem is interdependent. Without the clouds, the plants would die; without the plants, the bees would die, and so on. Svarga is one of the most beautiful places in the whole of Second Life. Go there and take the tour and you will be transported round the island in something like a large half shell, which will carry you through what feels like a tropical rainforest on a particularly exotic planet. You will float past mountains, palm trees, waterfalls, and what appear to be giant fungi. You will feed the birds, play with other avatars in the castle, take part in sound experiments that generate music from chat, and at the end of it all you will feel cleansed.

Teen Second Life
Designed to protect teenagers from the more adult aspects of Second Life, this is a heavily policed environment where all but the most innocent behaviour is banned and characters are expected to behave themselves at all times. One amusing aspect of the Teen Grid is the ban on avatars removing their underwear, to enforce the no-nudity rules there. Of course, teenagers being teenagers, Residents quickly worked out that the rule could easily be circumvented by creating special underwear and clothing that was transparent. Kids today, eh?

Camp Darfur
Not all the virtual representations of the real world in Second Life [ex; virtual Dublin] are designed for fun. Camp Darfur is Second Life’s very own refugee camp, created to raise awareness of the plight of the people forced to flee their homes in the troubled region of the Sudan. The first thing you notice when you arrive is the fire. Everything is ablaze – the camp is ‘decorated’ with simulated flames, and weapons and skulls litter the ground, reminding visitors that the camp is the product of violence and murder. And if the message weren’t clear enough, there are links to the websites of aid agencies working in the area, and a huge poster reminds us of a daily death toll in the region. There are even giant video screens showing interviews with real Sudanese refugees telling their stories. If you want to show your support for the cause, you can even pick up a free T-shirt or wristband to wear in-world. A great example of how Second Life can be used to raise awareness of a serious issue.