Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What’s This Second Life Thing and How Do I Get There?

If you aren’t familiar with Second Life, it’s a 3D, interactive virtual world on the internet. It’s not an MMORPG, although it’s certainly “massively multiplayer” (about 60,000 people on line at any given time) and it’s “on line”, and there is role-playing galore in it. But it is decidedly not a “game” – there are no rules, levels, or quests. There are no pre-built mazes to solve, and no NPCs to kill. Linden Lab, the creators of SL, did not create the content, only the bare bones of the world. Everything else you find there was created by residents…people like you and me. I’ll discuss many of its unique features in these pages, but to really understand it, you have to visit the place yourself. Here’s how to do that (yes, you need to know more than they tell you on the signup page!)

NOTE: You must be at least 13 to use Second Life, and I strongly recommend that you be 18 or older. Kids, that’s partly for your protection, but mostly for your enjoyment. SL is an “old persons” game. The median age of its residents is about 33. It’s fun for us adults, but most kids find it sort of boring.

  1. Click the big orange “JOIN NOW” button (not the little green “Sign Up” button below it…that takes you to FaceBook).
  2. You’ll see a bunch of people. Click on the one that you would like to be your initial avatar. Don’t worry too much about your choice, you can switch to any of the others, or custom-create your own, later.
  3. Create a unique “User Name”. NOTE: Unlike the user names on many websites, people will be able to see your Second Life User Name! Please don’t choose something nerdy and unpronounceable like “L33tMa$ter432”. Also, if you have any thought of keeping your Real Life name private, don’t use that either. DO use something reasonable, like, say, “LindalKidd”, or clever, like “TristanShout”.. If you intend to use avatars of more than one gender with this account, choose an ambivalent user name, like “FridayJones”. You cannot change your user name once you’ve created your account, so take some time and get this step right. (You will also be able to choose a “Display Name” later, and you CAN change that if you want…but your user name will always be with you, and some people will have their viewer set up to show only that name. So it should be pronounceable, versatile, and not ugly. People can Abuse Report you for an offensive Display Name or user name. If you choose “HugePenis4You”, you might log in tomorrow to find Linden Lab has canceled your account or re-named you “HugoPennyforth”.
  4. Names, Part 2. You’ll notice that older avatars like me have a first and a last name. The procedure has changed, though, and when you sign up, your user name will be only one word with no spaces. Your last name is automatically “Resident”. So if I were to sign up today my name might look like this: Lindal Kidd (my Display Name) [lindalkidd.resident] (my user name).
  5. Choose a password. Unlike your user name, your password can’t be seen by anyone except you and Linden Lab. I strongly suggest you do NOT leave the “remember my password” box on the viewer log in screen checked. It’s convenient, but your password is your only level of account protection. It’s unwise to compromise it by allowing your software to remember it. NEVER give anyone your Second Life password!
  6. Next, download the Second Life viewer software and install it on your computer. When you run it for the first time, it will be in the “Basic” mode. This mode is simple to use, but most of the really fun functions are not available to you. I suggest you click the “Basic/Advanced” button on the log in screen and change it to Advanced. Then follow the prompts to close the log in window and re-open it in Advanced mode.
  7. Enter your user name and password on the log in page and click the log in button.
You will find yourself in a strange white place. Things will look blurry at first, but should clear up in a few moments as the textures download to your computer (we call this “rezzing”, a term borrowed from Tron). This place is “Welcome Island”, a short and very basic tutorial that will show you how to move your avatar. At the end of this tutorial, you’ll be encouraged to use the viewer’s built-in “Destination Guide” to find other interesting places to go. Note that the Destination Guide locations are only a beginning! They are a good introduction to Second Life, but there are tens of thousands of other places to find and explore as well.

Here is one of the most fascinating things about SL: Look at the previous paragraph again. I said “You will find yourself in a strange white place”.  Not, “You will see your avatar standing in a strange white place”. Second Life has a much more real and immediate “feel” than watching something on a monitor. Very quickly, you begin to feel as if you yourself ARE your avatar, moving about in this new world and experiencing it first hand. This phenomenon is known as “immersion”, and it’s an amazing feeling. It can also be a scary feeling, when something unexpected happens to you.

I’ll leave you there, reading the signs and experimenting by clicking on buttons and menus in your viewer interface. Tomorrow we’ll talk more about your account, especially Payment Info and Maturity Ratings.

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