second life: first encounter

The graphics are insultory to my hardware. But that I knew beforehand. In fact, honestly, I always wanted to stay away from Second Life as clean as possible. Of course it has to do with my project as a whole, and I won’t be able to completely steer clear of it, and I will be forced to drop some words about it. But it’s too far away from my focus, and really a thing in itself which deserves full attention when you decide to take it up as an issue. But then a friend of mine, an anthropologist who now does documentary movies for television—no, not Lady Longlegs this time—some days ago phoned me. His project outlines sounded perfectly sensible and interesting, so I gave in. Today he visited me at my office, deeply bowed down three times in front of my new machine, and then we dived into the matter for some hours. Naturally we dived into “Second Life” as well, so I had to install the client on my machine. For the working session we used one of his accounts running a hilarious custom made avatar depicting … oh, I guess I am not allowed to disclose this. When he had left I started my own Second-Life account. The first barrier already came when I was prompted to christen my avatar. You are freely allowed to type in the first name, but the second name you have to choose from a drop-down list. The list does not contain “Xirdal”, but it contains “Raymaker”. In the novel La Chasse au météore by Jules Verne & Son the private genius Zéphyrin Xirdal invents a green ray by means of which he controls the movements of the golden meteor about to hit Earth. So, now I am known as “Zephyrin Raymaker” in “Second Life”. The rest of the registration for the creation of the account was the usual thing.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

With the account created I fired up the client, logged in and spawned on “Orientation Island”, four little islets grouped around a fifth and connected by bridges with the latter. The place is owned by Linden Lab and is the analogon to a tutorial level of a computer game. On the four islets you have to absolve tutorials which teach you how to move around, how to communicate with other avatars, how to search places, events, people, things etc., and how to change the appearance of your avatar. All other avatars on the islets are the same n00bs as you are, completely disoriented and well at sea. But chat communication already is lively. That seems to be quite natural, because every single one of them was just beamed into a “new world” they do know nothing about. In situations like that human beings seem to have the impulse of immediately clinging together. No matter if the others around are complete strangers whom you have never seen in your life—and in the case of “Second Life” you actually do not see them, and never will.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

The most fun thing was learning to fly. Here you can see me on top of the tower in the center of the search-tutorial islet. At the top edge of the snapshot you can see the central-plaza islet, the bridges to the other islets, and parts of two of the latters.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

Having completed the tutorials I fooled around with the search engine and wildly teleported my avatar to and fro through “Second Life”, to places which struck my fancy. What really struck me was, that it appears to be an empty world. Empty not in terms of landscapes, objects, and architecture, but void of avatars—people that is. Wherever I spawned, no one was there. Granted, I didn’t use the people search, and didn’t visit places tagged as most frequented, but I visited lots of places, flew and walked around them, and never met a soul. There is a Science-Fiction movie of New Zealandian origin—I don’t remember the title—where some Philadelphia-Experiment style project is let loose and empties the whole world of people, except one scientist connected with the project. He runs around the city, drives around with orphaned cars he finds standing on the streets, desperately seeking for another human being. At a certain point in the story he gives up, takes residence in a huge villa, and harvests everything he needs or wants from the city, drives around in Lamborghinis and such. I had the exact same creepy feeling while exploring the empty world of “Second Life”. The above snapshot shows me flying around a seaside-compound consisting of a Frank-Lloyd-Wright style house and a luxury motoryacht. I was able to freely wander around, inside the lavish interiors of the house and yacht as well. Some of the furniture was for sale, some were for free. I took a copy of a large flat-panel television with me. Don’t ask me for what. But at numerous other places I ran into invisible walls, inscribed with tiny red letters, saying “no access”. Not exactly gated communities, because all the houses were empty as far as I could see, but closed private property.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

Getting a little bored I decided to visit a place I knew of—see tetracube in flatland—and teleported to Seifert Surface’s The Future (SLurl: secondlife://The%20Future/120/150/507). I urge everyone interested in mathematics and geometry, every fan of M. C. Escher, and every upright aficionado of surrealism to visit that place. In terms of geometry and graphics it’s far superior to everything else I have seen so far within “Second Life”. And of course in terms of ingenuity.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

The most famous sight there is the crooked house, a simulation of a fourth-dimensional cube you can wander around within. That indeed is an experience so far unknown to the realms of computer games.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

While exploring the vast area of “The Future” I indeed met someone. He flew in while I lingered around in the “Cliffside Appartements”. He greeted me by “Nice place. You built it?” I denied and explained that this was the work of Seifert Surface and consorts. Freely I admitted that some hours ago I still was on “Orientation Island”. We had a lively chat, fooled around, teleported to other places together, and he gave me lots of inventory as presents. Vehicles, avatar skins, and weapons of course. By the way, when your avatar dies within “Second Life” it’s beamed to your home location. Inexplicably my home location is some sleezy casino—don’t ask.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

At “The Future” there is way more to find. Here I am standing on top of a geodesic glass canopy [compare the geometry to that of the dome owned by Linden Lab in the second snapshot from the top of this story], hanging from the sky. In the background there are two skyscrapers. Drawing near to them you will discover that the right one has a surface like shiny plastic, the left one is of shiny polished chromium.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

Like in Silent Running the geodesic canopy houses plants. A real little park where geometrical objects are on display. Outside of the canopy there floats a magnified copy of the stainless steel sphere at the top left.
 

Snapshot from Second Life by Zephyrin Raymaker
 

Here I am exploring the interior of the large version of the stainless steel sphere. By far I haven’t seen everything to be seen in “The Future” [pun not intended], but I already explored a lot more than I can describe right now. If you are willing, go and see yourself.
 

To shortly sum up my first exploration: Steering the avatar is a bit awkward and doesn’t stand up to the, to me, intuitive controls of decent first-person shooters. That may become better once I’ve learned a bunch of keyboard shortcuts. If I will, that is, because at this point I very much doubt that I will spend much time in “Second Life”. Nevertheless the eerie post-apocalyptic ambience of exploring an empty world in a way suited me, and “The Future” really is top notch. Now I will see what I have to do for the documentary project, but in the long run I guess I will subtract 1.5 lifes and return to Half-Life [2].

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