The hottest new virtual reality game is not just for kids and computer geeks.
At the time of this writing, more than 7.5 million people were enlisted in the game, 36,000 were actually online, 1.1 million had logged in during the last month, and in the previous 24 hours $1.7 million had been spent in the game. It’s called Second Life, and for some it seems better than the first.
Second Life (SL) is a virtual world designed by the U.S.-based Linden Lab, and operates not unlike the real world. You choose and develop a character, purchase real estate, gain employment, run businesses, sell products and meet new people. Players are known as “residents” and move around on foot or using the many vehicles available, ranging from go-carts to submarines. Land available ranges from basic plots to your very own private island.
The difference between this game and most others is that it’s actually running its own, real economy.
SL has its own currency, Linden dollars, or Lindens, which are worth money in the real world. Three hundred Linden dollars ($L) is equivalent to approximately $1, and with more than 2 billion $L flowing through the system, it seems there’s money to be made.
Real-world goods and services can be sold within SL for Linden dollars, sparking interest from real-world consumers and companies alike. Real estate, brand names, logos and original inventions are just some of the products for sale. Real-world news providers such as Reuters have been sending news feeds to SL residents in hopes of attracting a new and rapidly expanding readership.
Reuters even stationed one of its reporters, Adam Pasick, in the SL world for further investigation.
A basic account in SL is free but simple; you have Linden dollars and building opportunities but cannot own virtual land. For land ownership and a weekly stipend you must obtain the Premium account, beginning at a monthly rate of $9.95. Premium members can own up to 512 square meters of virtual land without additional fees, while larger areas of land incur an additional fee or “tier,” ranging from $5 to $295 a month.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. SL has as many critics as it does supporters and has encountered some difficulties along the way.
According to various news reports, “virtual riots” have broken out between French extremist parties established online and socialist and anti-capitalist user groups.
Gambling opportunities and pornography concerns are expressed in a number of criticisms, and the issue of taxation on Second Life income has also been brought into the spotlight. Linden Lab was sued in 2005 by one of its residents, who claimed the company had cheated him of real estate income before later withdrawing his claim.
However, some SL supporters see opportunities beyond the diversion of a mindless cash game. Many members see the program as a new opportunity for learning.
Costa Rican resident George Clark is a member of the SL world and is interested in using the program as an educational tool.
“I think this is a fascinating development that provides opportunities for both learning and entertainment,” he told The Tico Times.
Clark, 56, lives in San Rafael de Ojo de Agua, northwest of San José. He came to Costa Rica from the United States in 1995, and has been a member of SL for about six months with a Premium account.
An English teacher, Clark sees potential in SL as an immersion project. He has been working with online language learning sites for the past six years and believes the game can be a valuable educational asset.
“Second Life provides a world full of opportunity to explore and interact in English and, to a more limited extent, in other languages,” Clark said. “Once sound is fully operational, people could develop their listening skills in a relaxing, entertaining environment.”
Clark adds that the Costa Rican government should consider the advertising potential in SL.
“If I were the government’s tourism board,” he mused, “I would establish a presence in Second Life, providing the more than 1 million people who visit SL each month an opportunity to virtually discover tourist attractions and encourage them to see them in real life.”
Clark originally became interested in SL after reading several articles online concerning its use as an educational tool.
“I did some research and became interested after reading Megan Conklin’s article ‘101 Uses for Second Life in the College Classroom,’” Clark recalled.
Fortune Small Business magazine senior editor David Kirkpatrick claimed in a recent article that Second Life may be more important than its initial publicity and popularity suggest. He believes that SL represents a new way of socially interacting through the Internet.
“Yes it’s cartoony, but one of the great things about Second Life is that whenever you are doing anything, you can see the other people who are nearby as well,” he wrote.“This brings a dimension of social life – so elemental to how we live our lives offline – to the Internet in a way that up to now the Web has not.”
He does, however, admit that SL is still in its developing stages: “So far Second Life is way too hard to use. The people who do best there are still techie types. It requires a fairly powerful computer.”
To explore the SL world, check out http://secondlife.com.