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Lost in the funhouse: How to navigate your way through Second Life

Colette Pichot is the Second Life avatar of a North Carolina-based journalist, whose work has appeared in a wide variety of national, regional and online publications.

In the past month, I have traveled all over the world and met people from many different countries. I've danced barefoot in the sand, sailed through tropical seas, surfed, enjoyed amusement parks and shopped at a ton of malls. I have even fallen in love. But get this: Despite my adventurous lifestyle, I've never left the comfort of my own home.

Confused? Let me explain. During the past month, I have become saturated with the experience of Second Life (www.secondlife.com) -- a 3-D virtual world on the internet. Second Life character ColetteIn many ways, the Second Life environment more flexible and consistently fun than my First Life, aka the "real world." For instance, I can change the color of my hair on a whim. If my hips look too wide, it just takes a few clicks of the mouse to trim them down. And when I'm lonely, there are generally between 30,000 to 45,000 people online at any given time to talk to and have fun with. All told, more than nine million people have registered avatars (or, fondly, avis) -- their virtual identities.

 

The people in your neighborhood

Just as in real life, not everyone you meet in Second Life will be sweet and thoughtful. But I've had the good fortune to meet some genuinely kind and talented people, the most significant one -- to me, anyhow -- is Bradd Laval. He has many successful Second Life ventures, which include a shopping mall, an amusement park (SL landmark: Moolbora, 32, 22, 55), dance floor and a cozy love park (SL landmark: Moolbora, 200, 15, 53). Let me tell you, the cozy love park is one of the best kept secrets on Second Life -- it is dripping with romance. Laval is a very friendly guy who loves entertaining new friends and helping them along on their SL journey. He has also founded Bradd Laval DeZines, and is creating some of the cutest virtual clothing around. Another talented person is Ashira Legien, owner of the Isle of Mists and creator of some spectacular Second Life jewelry. She has wonderful kaleidoscope necklaces that change color and rotate, as well as with chakra necklaces and even soulmate wedding bands that pulse red when you are in close range to your loved one. Her store, Ashira's Aerie, is located on the Isle of Mists (SL landmark: Isle of Mists, 95,115, 46). She also offers live musical concerts on her property from time to time, along with a stunning chapel where you can marry -- and don't miss riding a dragonfly around the island!

Start at the beginning

Want to join the fun? The first step to creating your own Second Life is to go to the SL download page. You'll need to check the system requirements and make sure you have an adequate PC system to support this technology. Once that's been have confirmed, you can download the program, install it on your computer, and get ready to begin. There is no charge to download the program or create an avatar, but there are premium accounts for users who want to do more, like become landowners. You only need a premiere account to buy land on the Linden Labs Mainland. If you choose to live on a private sim (see more details below) -- such as those owned by Juan Cusack and his owners group at Horizon Ventures -- you pay a little more for the better areas, but it does not require the subscription. Cusack owns 10 sims within Second Life, which are reproductions of North Carolina coastal areas. He also has his Cusack Coliseum (SL landmark: Pamlico Sound, 251, 239, 24) in Second Life, which offers the coolest dance floor around.Second Life characters Colette and Laval

Signing up for Second Life, step by step

To create your own avatar, you will need to complete the registration process.

1) The first step is to choose your name. Put some thought into this, because you cannot change your name once you've selected it. There is a drop down list of available last names to choose from, and you have total freedom to create whatever first name you want.
2) Once that's done, you'll be asked to enter your birthdate and your real email address, which will be kept private.
3) The next step is to select a basic avatar body. There are six female choices and six male choices. Don't worry however if you don't see any that you really like. Just choose one, and then you can alter everything about yourself once you get inside Second Life. You can change skin, eye color, hair -- even add realistic body parts! (Ahem... yes.)
4) The following page asks for your real name, and allows you to set a password and security question. There's also a space to type in who referred you. (Feel free to put my name, Colette Pichot, if you feel so inclined.)
5) You will then be asked if you want to upgrade to a premium account. It's probably best to wait on this until you explore Second Life a bit and find out if you really enjoy it enough to upgrade. Of course, you never have to pay to use Second Life, you'll just need the premium account to buy land. The current cost for the premium account is $72 -- that's real US dollars -- a year if you pay at once, $7.50 a month if billed quarterly, or $9.95 on a month-to-month basis.
6) Finally, you'll receive an email from Second Life following completion of your registration. Click on the link to activate your account. That link also includes the download information, if you haven't already installed the program on your computer.

Orientation Island

This is the first stop for newbies. You'll receive a notecard with instructions guiding you along your way. There are different stations on the island, where you can practice with your new arsenal of tools. For instance, you'll learn how to fly by clicking the page up key, then directing your flight with your arrow keys.Explore this island as much as possible before you venture into Second Life. When you are ready, you can begin by clicking on search and finding a place that interests you to teleport. For most newcomers, the first places to visit will be freebie stores where you can ditch your newbie clothes and find some new outfits that don't cost you anything. Use the search engine to find stores, beaches, clubs -- whatever you are interested in exploring. And as you make your rounds, you'll meet helpful people who will give you tips on your SL journey as well as give you landmarks to good places. Landmarks are markers for specific locations -- simply click on them to teleport to any given place.

Words you'll want to know

There are countless new terms and concepts in Second Life, most of which you'll pick up -- or, perhaps, struggle to learn -- as you go. Second Life character Colette - modelingHere are a few of the most basic definitions.

Camera: To view your world, you have camera controls on your computer. By holding down the alt key and using arrow keys, you can see all the way around your avatar. (For example, to fly, click page up and then use the arrow keys to control flight direction; and by holding down control and alt you can tilt camera up to the sky or down to the ground.)Sim: Stands for "simulated world," and is essentially a location in the Second Life world, and includes everything from cities and towns to majestic beaches and towering mountains. There are thousands of sims -- more are being created every day -- and the company behind SL handily adds new land to keep up with demand. Remember that this is a world built by the residents themselves, so the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Pose balls: These are colored (blue for the male, pink for the female) balls that are scripted to animate the avatars. When you click on them, the avatars are able to kiss or dance or make love -- all depending on what that particular set of pose balls is scripted to do. Most of the pose balls are labeled, so if you are walking through a park, you can easily identify which ones to click to kiss and which ones will allow you to tango or do the cha cha. Pose balls are just one way to use animations, but are one of the best places for a newbie to start.
Tier fees: Much like real world taxes -- they're used to maintain infrastructure of the community. In the case of this virtual world, that means the actual computer servers, the electricity, the rent of the building the server sits in, the air conditioning they require, the teenager that dusts them off, and the multiple broadband connections required.

Linden dollars

To buy anything in Second Life -- whether it's clothes, hair, furniture or a house (unless, of course, you pick up items for free -- you'll need to pay with Linden dollars, the virtual world's currency. The "Linden" refers to Linden Labs, the San Francisco-based company that created and runs Second Life.Second Life character Jewelry store There are a couple of different ways to add Linden Dollars to your account. If you sign up for a premium account, you'll receive a regular small stipend. You can also earn Linden dollars by camping -- this means you hang out in a certain area for an allotted period of time and get paid for it. This can include sitting on a bench, sweeping the floor, painting a picture or dancing, to name but a few possibilities. The fee for camping is low -- approximately $2 or $3 Linden dollars for 15 or 20 minutes of time, but at least here you won't get ticketed for loitering.You can also use your credit card to purchase Linden dollars -- and, unlike the rest of the world, the exchange rate is really good. Currently, you can get $10 bucks worth of Linden dollars for a mere 34 cents... or fork over 10 dollars of US currency, and you'll get a whopping $2,570 in Linden money. To make a direct purchase, go to SecondLife.com and simply click on the link to buy Linden dollars.

Take a second helping

This is just the beginning of your Second Life. In part two of our series, we'll give you the lowdown on refining your avatar with shapes, skin, body parts and hairstyles -- everything you need to create your own virtual self. Then the adventure of your (second) lifetime can really begin!

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