But those worlds satisfied many needs for me, often dependent on the era. My middle school role-playing group used the simplest of text-based communication systems, but they were the closest to virtual friends that I've ever made--I connected to this small community through email, message boards, chat rooms, and the exchange of stories and images generated among ourselves: this was our own virtual world. Since then, I've mostly entered virtual worlds as a participant in someone else's story rather than as a creator of stories--Asheron's Call and World of Warcraft use the model of telling the player the story rather than having the player tell them. Second Life, on the other hand, is a world without story.
New Beginnings and Snobby Indians
Unfortunately, Rathera Quasimodo, my old Second Life alter ego, has wasted away with the past year's neglect and I can't pull up the email account to get her back. Undetered, I decided to start a new avatar, this time tied to the Dreamlands world instead of beginning in the dreary commercial environs of the Second Life mainland. My new character is Wistfully Iwish, a pale red-head with unnatural coloring. After picking up a few boxes of free clothing, I ran into my first Second Life native, a man fully decked out in a Hollywood style Indian outfit. His presence inspires me to put together something besides the basic shirt and jeans combo, and in a few seconds I'm working my way towards looking out of someone out of a Forever 21 catalog with a barely-there top and pants that would only stay on in animation. I at least surrender the urge to try for a Jessica Rabbit look. Strangely enough, the Indian still declines to speak with me. Clearly it's time to fly to more welcoming places.
I pass over one area that looks lusciously decorated only to be ejected immediately after I started taking advantage of their pool--apparently it's not a public one, though what harm a virtual swimmer can do I still don't know. But the Dreamlands is filled with opportunities, and so soon I found myself at a seedy looking hotel, Club Tropics. There were a few people there, but they seemed to be engaged in the type of activities that don't invite interruption, so I left them undisturbed. Walking around the exterior of Club Tropics I get a message from a nearby object: Wistfully Iwish feels a sudden urge to go dumpstering. Well, I can't say that I've ever felt a great need to go dumpstering in my life [antiquing, maybe, but I'd like to think that's a bit higher on the scale of desperation.] Nonetheless, I went over to the dumpster past the Sesame Street lookalike and picked the ever-so-attractive menu option of "dumpstering."
A few minutes later I had myself a genuine "Rolexxx." Just the thing to add some spice to my outfit put together from the free clothing castaways in the newbie area. Clearly, I need to get a job: I can't spend the rest of my life--even my Second Life--living off other people's castaways. Still, I decided to dig a bit more in the dumpster, and came up with a chair and a bar stool, both of which I'm still carrying in my inventory--though where my avatar finds the space I have no idea.
Moving further around the virtual world reveals that everyone here is involved in the spending of money. I'm confronted with one storefront for what seems to be virtual sex toys. The owner of the shop is dressed only in a batman mask and cape and wields a virtual phallus--custom made, no doubt--as he plays virtual pool and awaits customers or companions. I'd like to ask him about his profit margins and customer base and the realities of life as an online virtual merchant, but he seems more interested in the prospect of animated cybersex, and I move on with a quick teleport.
It's All About the Money
Unfortunately, getting a job is easier said than done. I went over to the Second Life Newspaper Office, but the application on the desk informed me that they wouldn't take anyone who was under 30 days old. Clearly, this new character was underqualified; a shame, since I've always wanted to write for their Red Light section. They did point me to the SL classifieds, but I can't afford the body I'd need for dancing in this universe, and that seems to be where the major market is. Nowhere is there a listing designed for sarcastic wallflowers. So much for that.
But I do know of a much less lucrative way to make money off of dancing with far lower entry requirements, so I headed to the Black Pearl Mall. The Black Pearl Mall is an imposing structure filled to the brim with new body parts, slutty outfits, and skin lightening and tanning agents of all kinds. The mall is not like one of the commercial areas one reads about in the economics journals and newspapers covering Second Life: this is definitely part of the less talked about adult section, with everything dedicated to making your avatar more attractive.
Already there were a number of avatars gathered, most absorbed in the constant task of putting together outfits and updating their image. A few other poor souls were already taking advantage of the various low level money earners, dancing on the paid dancer circles or sitting on one of the pay out benches. I found myself a spot on a dancer circle that pays out at $3 for twenty minutes of dancing, and went at it. The strangely hypnotic dancing of an animated being wears thin after a while, though, so I only made it up to a meager fortune of $3 before I left in search of more interesting diversions. A fan took pity on me and bestowed a folder of more appropriate clothing, so I too took on the task of avatar editing, making myself a new outfit from the scraps I'd been handed.
Dancing Through [Second] Life
I've left the realm of Forever 21 and moved to something that's more of a crossover between Hot Topic and Victoria's Secret. I've matched my clothing to my hair and created an image that's perfectly Not Me, which is something I've always thought is important around here--unlike the Real Me, my avatar is definitely set to hit the club scene. But it's been too long since I've traveled these worlds and I don't know where the action will be. Thankfully, the map search engine will point one anywhere [and I do mean anywhere--do a search on Sensual Stoneworks and say hello to the gargoyle if you don't believe me, but don't say you weren't warned.] A search for "club" gives me a long list of options, and I'm not sure where my pseudo goth newbie avatar is going to blend.
I picked one at random, Club Jenna, and ended up at pornstar Jenna Jameson's virtual dance club. There was a large concentration of people gathered to enjoy the DJ, who seemed to be live and was continually reminded the audience that he worked for tips. After crossing DJ off my list of possible Second Life occupations to pursue, I headed in to enjoy the dancing. For a while all I did was bump into walls, as the server struggled to load the fancy club environment around me. Flying made the problem even more noticable, as I hit obstacles that for all I could tell didn't actually exist. But after a long struggle, I was on the floor with a crowd of people gradually resolving into unique forms and wrapped up in their dance.
That is, if you could even call it dancing. I suppose it's a vague approximation of what goes on at a club: I wouldn't know, I've only been at a Salsa club the once, and after that lead to one of the worst heartbreaks of my real life I have no desire to repeat the experience in virtual. But here, no one dances together, and the beat of the music doesn't seem to have much effect, so it doesn't seem like anyone's at much risk of falling for someone's virtual flair and smooth moves. It's like watching a bunch of generic hip hop background dancers move in vague paralell on a dark and unimpressive floor. Virtual dance doesn't strike me as much of a contest to the real thing, and yet there are dozens of people in this one club alone--not to mention on the nearby Dance Island, which I visited and left quickly.
I think I'd rather not spend any more time in *this* life dancing by myself, so I leave the club and its world behind for today. I don't think I have many of the motives that might drive one to spend time in Second Life. Companionship? I don't have enough time to spend with everyone I'd like to in the real world as it is. Love? Sex? I'll stick with reality on those, thanks.
And as for dance? Well, I'd rather dance with a partner, with hands and body providing a connection I can touch without feeling the plastic keys of a keyboard.