Thursday, October 09, 2008

Walkabout in Second Life

The last few days I've been doing a bit more research about Second Life, especially in comparison to Google's newly released Lively. I'll return to the comparison in a future blog posting. However, this time through, I'd like to describe my initial experiences with Second Life (SL).

Actually not my initial experiences. I tried Second Life a year and a half ago but didn't get much past running into walls in the initial Help Island.

This time, I stuck with it, and started from scratch with a new avatar that will be identifiable for students should I decide to use SL for classes. Actually, I started and discarded a couple of avatars because I kept using all lower case for the first name, and I found it looking stupid when in world (the term used to mean you're in SL). I settled on an avatar named Profdan Netizen. For those who haven't tried SL, you come up with your own first name, and then choose from a list of last names.

Once on the orientation island, I practiced walking, flying, using camera angles, sitting. I talked to a couple people (through text--haven't tried voice or audio chat yet), and found a list of good places to visit. Here are a couple pictures of my avatar on the orientation island.

Here's Profdan Netizen after some alterations of the avatar image I chose. I tried to make it look somewhat like me. The original avatar had a full head of hair; since those days are long gone for me, I removed the hair (not actually sure how I stumbled upon doing so) and added a ponytail.

Profdan Netizen found quite a nice grand piano and began playing "Maple Leaf Rag."

I spent a couple hours on the Help Island, getting used to the controls to move around without running into things, and flying without smashing myself into the ground when landing. I then decided to try out some of the favorite spots, so I first teleported to a Mayan ruins, which was interesting; not very Maya like, though it may be I just didn't explore fully. I did, however, spend more time at a Japanese tea garden. I was struck with the verisimilitude of the soundscape. Wearing headphones, the direction of the ocean or a waterfall moved with the position of the avatar, both directionally and distance-wise, quieting when I retreated, gaining in volume when I approached the source of the sound. I also found some familiar faces from the Miyazaki film, My Neighbor Totoro:

By the way, you can buy these creatures for 100 Linden dollars each (the currency in SL).

Here, Profdan stands before a roadside shrine. I'm showing you a screen capture that includes all of the command buttons I have to interact with the situation. The screen of text is describing the shrine that the creator posted, explaining what it is and what you can do with it.

I found out while exploring that there are areas that are restricted (like private residents) and items that you cannot interact with if you don't have permission. I tried to ride a motorboat but was denied. I also found out that avatars don't swim, they just walk around at the bottom of the ocean. Fortunately, they don't drown. I also found a pillar at various places where you can vote for the site to be considered worth visiting, which then determines the hot spots for SL. Also, you can download from the pillar and place in your inventory the hotspots currently ranking at the time you're in-world.

My next stop was the SL Botanical Gardens.

A shot overlooking the ocean and a walkway lined with flags in the botanical gardens.

Profdan sitting on a toadstool during a thunderstorm. Again, I was struck by the soundscape of rain falling all around me, along with the occasional crack of thunder.

I found a covered arboretum to dry out in. An avatar spoke to me from the doorway asking if she could bite me, wanting to try out an animation. Before I could say yay or nay, she disappeared.

Another shot of Profdan resting from strenuous walks through the gardens. A perfect sabbatical stance, don't you think?

My next stop was Dublin in SL, but I didn't do much there, just walked around and looked at a couple shops and read about a literary tour that is conducted every evening. I became very frustrated at this point because of lagging. When I checked Windows Task Manager, I realized why--I was using 2 gigs of RAM memory, and I only have 1 gig. According to Second Life system requirements, you need a minimum of 512 mb of RAM, and they recommend 1 gig or more. The minimum might be fine for Help Island, and for low graphics areas, but I found I really needed 2 gigs for places like the botanical gardens and Dublin, and that would be only if everything else was shut down. If I want a browser open with email, or some music from an mp3 player in the background 2.5 or 3 gigs are likely necessary.

Final thoughts on my first excursions: movement around the world is pretty intuitive, and can be mouse or keyboard based. I focused on the latter so I could sit on a couch without fiddling with a mouse. I need more practice with smoother control use, but overall, I was able to walk, jump, and fly without falling off of cliffs too often.

Speaking of flying--I kept getting the sense that Second Life operates like a dream world. Besides flying, lagging (like running but getting nowhere), strange creatures, avatars asking for unusual requests ("would you please allow me to bite you?"), or even running around naked--as was the case with one particular avatar in Dublin--it's almost like Second Life has become Jung's collective unconscious writ large in cyberspace.

Well, I'm off to buy some more RAM to keep me from tossing my laptop out of my second story office window!


Bekah said...

Your avatar's hair is hilarious, Dad. It's like, a bald man with a girl's ponytail attached! ;)

Dan Holt said...

Yeah, well, my choices and ability to make changes were limited.