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A Virtual Lesbian Life: Revisiting Second Life

A Virtual Lesbian Life: Revisiting Second Life

I've dabbled in the massive online world of Second Life on and off, but it was not until a virtual L Word island popped in the game a couple of years back that I really dived in. My passion for the immense virtual world comes and gos, but there is no denying that this game is an addition that's hard to kick.

Although I dabbled in the massive online world of Second Life back when it was first becoming really popular 3 or 4 years ago, I didn't have time to really explore and didn't end up playing for long. It was not until Showtime made a big splash in SL by creating a virtual L Word island in the game a couple of years back that I ventured back in for another go. My passion for the immense virtual world comes and gos, but there is no denying that Second Life is an addition that’s hard to kick.

To rehash a bit from a previous article I wrote about Second Life, for those unfamiliar with the game, Second Life is a huge, interactive online world populated by hundreds of thousands of people who spend ludicrous amounts of time and money living, well, a virtual second life. Unlike many online game worlds, Second Life is for the most part very much like the real world -- only more glamorous and fantasy-filled. Much like The L Word itself if you think about it.

Inside the world of Second Life, you can buy land, build homes, run businesses, make and sell virtual products -- even fall in love, get laid (oh yes, you can indeed have wild, naked virtual sex in an incredible range of variations) and get married (in whatever order and with however many people you choose). Added to all of this, Second Life is based on a "real world" economy -- which means that money in the game (lindens) equals money in real life (dollars), and the two can be exchanged for each other via an online currency market.

Second Life's real world economy is the major draw for some players who have big dreams of striking on the perfect virtual business and becoming one of the game's rare, legendary gamers who play full time for profit. Major real world companies like Coca-Cola, BMW, Dell and have created virtual presences in Second Life to push their real world products -- and to sell virtual copies of their goods to a gaming audience all too willing to pay real dollars for virtual playthings. Second Life even plays host to virtual embassies for countries like Sweden, Columbia and Estonia.

Making money and promoting products and tourism is one thing, but many residents of Second Life are just there to have a good time. Thus real world and virtual businesses alike have to gear their goods toward entertaining their customers -- the Second Life players. Providing live entertainment, virtual toys, community gathering places, freebies and the like keeps players happily returning to company and player-run businesses, hopefully with their wallets in tow. One of the strongest tools in getting your brand recognized and remembered is tapping into Second Life's social factor -- the tendency of players to want to interact with each other, gather in groups for activities and build a virtual "lifestyle" within the game. That's exactly what Showtime, with their The L Word in Second Life venture (created by SL company Electric Sheep), is all about.

The L Word in Second Life is both a place and an organization of people -- including greeters, event hosts, managers, builders and other workers (both paid and volunteer). The L Word islands in Second Life play home to various show-inspired businesses (like The Planet) and unique shops and hangout spots for visitors (like the L Word dance club). Player's avatars (their digital representations) stop for coffee, shop for clothes, attend live concerts, experiment with speed dating, watch L Word episodes in the amphitheater and even have the chance to meet actors from the show in the game -- Daniela Sea, Rachel Shelley, Pam Grier and others have showed up to delight fans. Showtime workers and player volunteers dedicate their time to planning & hosting events, engaging visitors with conversation and recreation and building and creating more goodies for Second Life gamers.

Beyond the L Word islands, Second Life has much to offer the queer gamer. There are hundreds of ‘gay-friendly’ and ‘gay-only’ locations in the game to visit and hangout at. There are also entire regions dedicated to providing exclusive real estate and housing to gay and lesbian ‘residents’ of Second Life. And for those who think Second Life is mostly just a virtual world of porn and fetish -- well, there is a lot of that going on too for those willing to submit to having their age verified. Most ‘adult’ areas of Second Life are relatively open to gay and lesbian gamers (especially lesbian and bi) who are looking for a little mature ‘play’. But Second Life IS about far more than just virtual sex.

What makes Second Life truly unique, in my opinion, is the diverse ability to customize and create your experience within the virtual world. Many hardcore gamers dismiss Second Life outright as some kind of cheap virtual experience filled with too much sex and little else of interest. (Which I think is all about how you choose to spend your time in the world really.) But few can argue that Second Life gives ‘residents’ more creative options to pursue than any other virtual world out there. From customizing your avatar in every way to building your own dream mansion to creating and selling your own virtual products -- there is very little in Second Life that cannot be designed and modified to suit your every whim.

Fashion designers use Second Life tools to test out virtual representations of their designs on virtual models -- and sell the virtual copies to residents there while hawking the tangible counterparts in the real world. Architects use the game to test out building layouts and looks and do virtual walkthroughs for themselves and clients. Artists create virtual representations of their works or do entirely virtual originals, displaying them for sale and appreciation in Second Life shops and museums. Musicians and DJs perform live via the internet in virtual clubs and bars, building new and worldwide fan bases and earning real money in the form of tips from Second Life players. Even scientists and researchers use Second Life to teach about their work, study interesting projects and do virtual research with the help of SL residents.

Basically, if you can do it in the real world, you can probably do it in some form in Second Life. For those who are into more traditional gaming, you can even participate in games within Second Life -- ranging from hardcore hack and slash to sci-fi adventures to fantasy role-playing. If you can dream it up, you can probably find it in SL -- or create it yourself.

In revisiting Second Life recently, I was pleased and surprised to find this five-year plus virtual world still going amazingly strong. SL is still one of the most populated games on the web and is arguably the largest in “land-mass” of any virtual world. Although lately it seems the world has been a bit less prominent and maybe a bit less populated than it was at its peak, it still generates an immense amount of interest -- and press -- every month.

Some things have changed in SL, but I personally think mostly for the better. ‘Adult’ areas and experiences are being put behind age verification barriers to keep those too young from seeing and participating in things they shouldn’t. Some more ‘disturbing’ and even questionably illegal practices in the game have been banned and put under strict enforcement. Like any country, Second Life has had to grow up and learn to live with a few laws and regulations in order to keep its population at large happy and safe. Granted, not everyone is happy to have any regulation at all and would prefer to go back to the days of virtual ‘anarchy’ in the game. But overall I believe the virtual world of Second Life has matured and become a more comfortable and fun experience for all -- not just those who like to get naked and make virtual porn.

Second Life is a world that is hard to abandon once you get into it. It’s very addictive to live a virtual life of fantasy and make-believe -- where you can look like and be anything and everything you want. Which is all to the good if you have the time and want to play and relax. However, like anything addictive, it’s important to set limits and know when it is time to stop or take a break. This is especially true because Second Life is a world in which you can spend unlimited amounts of REAL money without even really being aware of how much you are spending. You could easily drop thousands on virtual toys, clothes, houses and more if you aren’t paying attention. And with our current economic crisis, it’s far more important to worry about how to pay for the gas in your car than that swank new outfit for your virtual avatar!

Miss the last "Virtual Lesbian Life"?Read it here.

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Laura Vess