For those of you not familiar with Second Life, the best way to describe it would be The Sims meets MMO. Unlike the failed Sims Online, Second Life not only allows, but encourages the players to create content for the virtual world.

The ‘game’ offers players the opportunity to play for free. Just download the client and create a new account. When you install and run the program, you will start by creating a character or more accurately, an avatar. Unlike MMORPGS, Second Life has no monsters to kill, no levels to grind, no quests, and in fact, no real objective other than to be a virtual reality. So, the main thing to consider in creating your avatar is what kind of look you want and what kind of person you want to be in this virtual world. And the variety of avatars in Second Life echoes real life (or First Life – FL as it is referred to in game).

Unlike most MMORPGs, where you have to select a specific server or realm to create your character on, Second Life has only two realms, or grids as they are called. One is for people who are 18+ and the other is for 13-18 year olds. Separating kids from adults has long been one of my requests from MMORPGs. My reason for wanting this is that I really hate dealing with the immature children who play these things. The reason Second Life does it is twofold. One is to prevent (supposedly) adults preying on children. The other is that by doing so, they can have adult content on the adult grid.

Unfortunately, there are certainly some underage players on the adult grid, but for the most part, I think they have pretty good controls in place to keep most of them out.

So, anyway, what do you do in Second Life? I’ve told you what you can’t do. So what’s the point of the thing? It’s basically about virtual social interaction. I know that it seems like computer games are anti-social, but for a lot of folks, Second Life offers a chance to be social when they otherwise can’t.

Some examples: I met a nice guy… well, his avatar was a dragon, so maybe guy isn’t the right word for it, but in FL, he has some disabilities. Second Life (or SL) gives him a chance to socialize without having to deal with that part of himself.

I am not playing Second Life much anymore. For me, it allowed me a way to ‘get out of the house’ while still being in the house where I could take care of a sick mother. It was great when I was basically a shut-in.

I’ve only just begun to explore all the world of SL has to offer. One feature it has is the ability of players to make items that can then be loaded into the game. I can’t really go into all the types of items you can make, but one of the main staples is clothing for your avatar. Once you’ve created an item, you can sell it to other players in game. The currency used is something known as a Linden dollar. You get $250 Lindens for free when you create a free account. If you get a premium account, you get $1000 to start, plus $300 per week, for $9.95 US per month. However, if all you want is more Linden currency, it’s cheaper to forgo the premium account and just buy the currency.

The interesting thing is, there is a currency value fluctuation. Just like we compare USD to the Japanese Yen, or any other currency, there is an ever changing value to the Linden compared to USD. Currently, I think it is something like $270 Linden equals $1 US.

There are a lot of freebie items you can get in game, but of course the best items come with a price tag. And while you can play and have fun without spending any real dollars, you can have more fun if you do spend some.

One of the first things you will notice if you have just started is that some avatars look much more realistic than others. This is because the default skins on the avatars have only minimal detail on the textures. Player created textures (made using 3rd party software such as Poser) can be photo-real or hybrid photo/drawing. These will make your avatar really come alive. The same is true of the clothing. The default stuff may have some nice texture, but not great detail or style. The high end designer clothes can be breathtaking.

So, let’s talk about sex. Everyone’s favorite subject whether they admit it or not. The default avatars are pretty much like your Barbie or Ken doll when it comes to anatomy. However, there are parts you can buy that install on your avatar and make him or her fully capable of virtual sex.

One thing I haven’t talked about is land. It wouldn’t be much of a virtual world without land would it? Well, there is plenty of land to be had, but for a price. For about $30 US you can get a plot big enough to put a house on. Players can also pool their resources and get bigger plots for setting up larger structures like shopping malls, dance clubs, you name it. Your land will incur a monthly maintenance fee, however, so the initial cost is just the beginning.

One of the neatest features of the game is the ability to set up streaming radio that plays in game. So, you can go to a dance club that has music playing. There are animations that allow your avatar to dance. Sometimes the music streams are just rebroadcasts of real world radio stations, but frequently there are virtual deejays who will go to a club and play some mix sets for you. Some of them also have microphones, so they can talk to the crowd. To be honest, these clubs have advantages over real life clubs… no cigarette smoke or drugs, and if the music is too loud, you can turn it down.

One of the great things about SL is that they have put in features that we’d love to have in RL. For example, the ability to fly (no wings required) and the ability to almost instantly transport to anywhere in the world.

Second Life is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. I’ve installed and run the Linux version for testing and it seems to work pretty well, but most of my time has been spent in Windows XP. Check it out at Second Life.