Saturday, August 04, 2007

First thoughts about Second Life

(Home and happy and far too tired for thought. So here's a blog entry that I've been writing in bits for a while. There'll be a real post about Hamburg and other stuff tomorrow, promise.)

I have had a Second Life for a few weeks now, not that I spend much time there. (In case any readers should happen to be or become 2L'ers: you can guess my given name there, and my surname is "Watanabe;" do come up and say hello.)

It took me a long time to start, because I couldn't see the point (and still don't, really): "So you dress up and walk around and talk to people, and buy things, but that takes money so you have to work for a living? Gee, that sounds kinda familiar." My inner cheapskate was also put off by the constant talk in articles and reviews about buying this and paying for that, but it's a red herring. One can choose an avatar and walk around etc etc for free; you only need a paying membership if you want to own property.

It's a strange and surprising place, though less of both than I'd expected and hoped. The first surprise is how few people are there at any given time, the islands I've seen were universally empty. I have yet to land on a place that had as much activity as the newbie getting-started tutorial spaces. The second surprise, which is closely related to the first, is that it's deadly dull most of the time. There is acres of stuff stacked up into the stratosphere (avatars can fly! easily the best part of 2L) but most parts of most islands seem to be predominantly private or commercial.

The third surprise is how few avatars are actually interesting to look at, and how few basic types there are. Any big-city bus contains more diversity of height, weight, age, skin colour and prettiness than all that I've seen of Second Life. This is a feeling that builds up over time, one's first impression is of great diversity because this tall thin beautiful long-haired perky-breasted white 20-something has a cat's ears and tail, whereas that tall thin beautiful long-haired perky-breasted white 20-something has an eagle's wings. It takes a while to spot that they are all tall thin beautiful long-haired etc. Nobody is old, weak, worn, tired, sick or even fat or ugly; nobody is not a successful and productive free-market capitalist democrat.

There are two standard body-types that one meets on every street corner in Second Life. The commonest male ego-gratification-body is the Russian-Mafia bodyguard: biceps as thick as your thigh, shoulder-breadth nearly half of his height, seventy percent of body mass above the diaphragm, cranial capacity less than his shoe size, and a phallic bulge that would intimidate a donkey. The commonest female ego-gratification-body is the Barbie doll: enormously tall and skinny, legs nearly two-thirds of her height, waist narrower than the male's biceps, no hips, would weigh less than fifty kilograms were it not for her enormous but perky breasts.

Body type as wish fulfillment, one might say, and more power to your fingertips, were the bodies not so un-humanly perfect, so insulting to those of our First Life. I haven't seen many experienced 2L'ers yet, for geographical reasons I know mostly newbies like myself, but still I am inclined to very much doubt that one percent of avatars look anything at all like their owners. Which is fine in itself: it's a fantasy world, go ahead and fantasize. What came to disturb me is how relentlessly similar the core of the fantasy is: almost all avatars look like the same one percent of the real world's population.

Yawn and yuck to them. I can't help thinking that wearing such a body in Second Life must make one dissatisfied with one's real body, with its petty flaws and disobediences.

I decided to rebel against this by modifying my avatar to be realistically un-beautiful—meaning, to look like a human that one might meet on any street corner in First Life. Watanabe-San began life as the "Japanese punk boy" readymade type: an animé wannabe, with the usual tall, slim shape but less muscle than the bodyguards. I reduced his height by nearly half (his head barely reaches the ribcage of some of the Barbies), stripped off what muscle definition he had, and gave him a realistic "package;" he has stumpy little legs, a beer belly, love handles and a budding double chin. I couldn't find a way to give him a bald spot or a receding hairline, else I'd have done that too. I think he looks fuckin' great, dude—and he really stands out among the muscleheads and fashionistas.

You know, I think there is probably a great, untapped market in "non-pretty" body types, because I surely cannot be alone in being disturbed by the predominant narrow-minded, exclusionist beautyism. I should learn how to build avatars and introduce a line of Uglies©®™: street sweepers, garbagemen, illegal-immigrant gardeners, can't-speak-the-language office cleaners, exploited-to-hell-and-back maids, bag ladies and cat ladies, back-alley drunks, back-of-the-bus monologuists. Woot. I reckon they would a great business!

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Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Couldn't take that nice bloke with the dog over to the right and use him?
I'll have to go try SL now, hadn't thought of it. Is it as good as Better Than Life from Red Dwarf?

August 7, 2007 at 6:21:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Sorry - bloke with the cat, best to look twice. O - can you bring pets along?

August 7, 2007 at 6:22:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Rob said...

Realistic body types- hmm, goven the high incidence of, um, large ladies in hem-hem sites out there in the real world, I'd bne surprised if nobody had started running off BBW, mature, etc. avatars in Second Life. But there may be an untapped niche for male realism.

August 17, 2007 at 6:34:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

Joe: nothing like BTL, alas. Now that would be a good game! (allowing for its slight negative side effects).

August 24, 2007 at 4:18:00 p.m. GMT+2  

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