I played Second Life on and off for the past three weeks, and I think my time with it is drawing to a close. For those of you don’t know, Second Life is a virtual environment created by Linden Labs with “two million users“. It has an economy based off of real money and almost every single thing inside the environment is created by users through the very flexible object creation and scripting engines. Despite all of that, I just couldn’t really get into it. It’s not so much a game as a virtual environment, like the world wide web but in 3D.
I first started playing Second Life when I heard of the replicating object outbreak. That fascinated me, so I downloaded the game and played for awhile, trying to figure out how to do it. I wasn’t able to work around the safeguards in place that theoretically prevent a perfect replicator, but I did manage to create an object that spawned lots of other objects every second, each of which also spawned lots of other objects every second. Needless to say, I crashed a few zones that way and my account was banned.
So I started a second account and decided I’d be “on the level”. And I explored the game for awhile. I found all sorts of seedy establishments: strip clubs, prostitution rings, casinos, furries, and even a Gorean fantasyland, where my female avatar was captured and sold into rape slavery. Luckily that last part requires you to play along with it; I didn’t, and I just teleported the hell out of there. There’s even camping chairs in-game where property owners pay paltry sums of money if you just idle and do nothing. Apparently popularity (as measured by in-game metrics) is worth money, though they aren’t even paying you enough to cover the cost of electricity to run a computer.
The scripting language was a lot more open-ended than I thought it would be, and I did make some crazy stuff, but it just wasn’t very satisfying. The physics was off. Also, there’s few places in the game where non-property-owners can go to build stuff. These places are called sandboxes, and they’re filled with other people and lagged to hell. Making any sort of physics object there was an exercise in futility; some of my objects would be getting one execution cycle a second. So much for trying to make a rocket.
In the end, I realized I was just sitting around in camping chairs making money, but it was very little money and there was no point to it. I wasn’t even playing the game, just leaving it open in a window on one of my monitors. So I stopped. I understand how others, especially in minority interest groups (like Gorean fantasies or furries), might be attracted to such an environment, but it just didn’t do it for me. It is basically a glorified 3D chat room with a real-world economy, and I wasn’t interested in spending money on virtual goods, and as for chatting, I’d much rather use IRC or AIM. Many others seem to share this viewpoint.
One more thing: the lag is terrible. It can take over a minute from when you teleport in to a place for all of the objects to load. It reminds me of the web pre-millennium. I was keeping track of bandwidth, and their server was only sending down about one-tenth of the maximum capacity of my connection. Google, with their massive server farms, could do a much better job. But alas, Linden Labs has too little infrastructure, leading to lag and bad loading times.
I would definitely recommend trying Second Life. It is a unique experience, and it will be a good fit for some people. But I don’t see how it could possibly be the next evolution of the internet. It’s more of a novelty, more of a game where you have to make the fun yourself. But ultimately it’ll prove to be naught but a blip on the radar of progress. There is a conceptual revolution in how we think of the internet out there, and it will significantly change everything we’ve come to think of as the web — but this isn’t it.