Second Life is big and diverse. There are over 30,000 regions (a region is the basic unit of virtual land, a square 256 meters on a side). That gives SL a land area roughly the size of Mauritius. There are millions of registered users, and at any given moment maybe 60,000 of them are on line. Every day, around 10,000 people from all over the world sign up to use Second Life.
Unlike most computer games, the world you experience in Second Life wasn’t created by a team of professional game developers. It was created by SL’s residents…people just like you and me. The quality of the content varies wildly. Some of it is visually stunning, while other parts are, to put it charitably, not so great. Regardless of the quality, one of the most remarkable things about SL is its diversity. You can find just about anything you can imagine there!
People who use SL are just as diverse as the world they have collectively created. Some are high school students. Some are senior citizens. Some know nearly nothing about computers, while others are professional programmers. Corporations and universities use SL for classes and seminars and meetings. Individuals use it for fantasy roleplay, socializing, or creating and running a virtual small business (and some small percentage of them succeed, managing to make enough money from a “mere computer game” to support themselves and their families in Real Life.)
There’s no way to stick a one-size-fits-all label or generalization on Second Life or its residents. But I have noticed something: Many people who come to SL and stay have something in their Real Life that they are not happy about. Perhaps they are out of work, or stuck in a dead end job. Maybe they are in an unhappy marriage, or have been unable to find someone to marry in the first place. They may have some physical or mental disability. Or perhaps they are just looking at their life and wondering, “What would I do differently, if I had it to do over again…and if I could, what would my life be like now?” I think it is this tendency of SL to attract people unhappy with some aspect of their Real Lives that prompted Philip Rosedale, the creator of SL, to make the rather insensitive observation that it was “a nation of crips”.
I don't think that's a failing, but a strength. Second Life is ideal for escaping the drudgery of your Real Life. You can live a new life as whatever you dream of being…a rock star, a fashion model, a designer, an artist. You can find love (and you can lose it). You can build yourself a mansion on the seacoast, or own a yacht, or an expensive car, or fine jewelry for a tiny fraction of what such luxury would cost you in the real world.
You can explore a fantastic world. Even more, you can use that world to explore yourself. Alternatives that would be physically or morally or emotionally risky in Real Life are relatively safe to dabble in here. You can change your gender or your sexual orientation. You can try out alternate lifestyles like BDSM. You can be sexually promiscuous with no risk of Real Life consequences like unwanted pregnancy, AIDS, or other diseases. (Do be careful, though. While the physical risks are minimal, there are definitely emotional risks. For example, what will you do if you fall in love with someone you meet in SL? Will you divorce your Real Life spouse? Will HE divorce YOU? Don’t laugh. It has happened, many times.)
Second Life is a fascinating social experiment, both individually and collectively. It asks the question, “If we could make any world we chose…would it be Heaven, or would it be Hell? If we could be any person we chose, would we be an angel, or a devil?”
The jury’s still out on that. You’ll find them all in Second Life.