“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Buttercup Thursday.
When I signed up for my first Second Life account over seven years ago and stumbled online, I don’t remember having a mentor to provide sage advice about this new world. Most of my friends were as green as I was, and we set out on adventures together– most of them entertaining, some hilarious, and a few mildly scary. It was not a paid account; in fact Linden Lab paid me L$50 a week just for logging on. There was a young woman who showed me how to make a system skirt and top to go with my system skin; she showed me her SL apartment and suggested I find a boyfriend to finance an apartment. I was puzzled. A gentleman fancied himself my sexual mentor, it seems, for he spent months trying to teach me the benefits of cybersex, which sounded ludicrous to me at the time. Ah, the old days.
But if someone had offered me real advice, would it have helped me navigate more enjoyably, and more safely, than I did those first months?
Eddi Haskell, over on his blog, offers 7 tidbits of advice for newcomers. Briefly, they are:
1. Watch the harmful effects of Second Life addiction.
2. You have no idea who the real person behind and Second Life resident actually is unless you have met person, or have other direct knowledge of who this person is.
3. There is no such thing as a Second Life secret.
4. Anyone can look fantastic in Second Life; beauty should not be skin deep. However, [it doesn't hurt to] get expert help in order to look great.
5. You are never going to get rich in Second Life.
6. Alts (Second Accounts) are not intrinsically evil, and the majority of long-term residents have at least one — but use this properly.
7. The next time someone criticizes you about spending time in Second Life, talk about all the good that happens here.
All are good points, and I admit I truly did not consider my privacy, or the possibility of addiction, or earning a living, making an alt, or spending any real time on my avatar. The Second Life I stepped into felt, well, trippy. My friends and I giggled a lot at SL physics, like falling and surviving, and flying, and phantoms, exposed boobs and fake sexual organs, and constant, inexplicable crashes. There seemed to be very little, if anything, to be afraid of then.
I don’t think the culture of Second Life has altered significantly since my early days, but the Internet certainly has, and the people that populate it. So it makes sense to take your privacy as seriously in SL as you would anywhere else. Flor Nachtigal wrote an interesting piece called The Myth of Anonymity, which outlines how easy it is to track down people in RL by amassing careless hints and “trivial” personal details shared inworld. So the issue of privacy would be my first piece of advice: Keep your RL to yourself unless you are absolutely sure you can trust someone. It’s not hard to do, or harsh, or even difficult. For those of us for whom RL is separate, this is not as much an issue, but even the “separatists” can unwittingly divulge enough information to be tracked. Most people are not stalkers, but basic precautions can spare us a lot of grief.
This relates to Eddi’s advice on secrecy and the person behind the avatar. First, like in any online environment, what you say is potentially public, and forever more. So for dog’s sake:
~~~Think before you type.
~~~Be respectful of the real person behind the skin.
~~~Remember that anyone in Second Life can claim to be anyone or any thing in RL.
~~~They can even pretend to be nice.
As Pussycat Catnap comments over at New World Notes: All those other avatars are people too. This is not YOUR sandbox, but a community. And: If you wouldn’t say it to them in real life, don’t say it to them in SL.
Is it possible to become “addicted” to Second Life? Hell yes, if being unable or unwilling to quit an activity even though you are neglecting family, friends, job, pet, bank account, and/or personal health is “addiction”. Eddi says “If you find yourself not eating properly, hurting your real world relationship with people by not spending as much time as you have, spending hours on end in a chair inworld without getting up and stretching your legs every two hours to protect your health, or having problems at work by accessing Second Life when you should not be, you have a problem.” So yes, monitor your Second Life usage and be an adult about it.
More pragmatic advice from me? If you find yourself logged on and standing like a dumbfounded blob in a random infohub or sandbox, bring up the Search window and enter anything at all that interests you, or see what the Events tab has to offer. Make the Search window your friend. And if you are feeling more adventuresome, bring up the Map and look for clusters of green dots. TP there, like the fearless explorer you are, and see what happens.
For some reason there is an assumption that newbies are not enjoying their newness as much as we did. Who can say? There is so much external information now available about Second Life that was not accessible even in 2007, so perhaps expectations have changed, for better or worse. I know that many long-time residents of Second Life are strangely nostalgic about their first few weeks and months. So the best advice is also the most trite: Enjoy your discovery!
For slum magazine.
Top photo: Cat Boccaccio.
Other photo: Eddi Haskell, from his blog.