In 2003, Linden Lab, a San Fran-based gaming and VR company, launched Second Life. 12 years later, more than a million users around the globe play the online game - although Linden Lab insists that Second Life is not a game at all.
So what is Second Life?
It's a virtual world, similar to a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) like World of Warcraft, in which players create an avatar to roam the virtual world with. This is completely customizable, so it's not necessary for it to be a human - it could be an animal, or a vegetable. Probably better not to ask why you might want to present yourself as a vegetable... with your avatar you can walk, run, drive, teleport, meet other players, buy land, build property, create, design, sculpt, have sex, even marry.
That's the most basic summary of how Second Life works - but it can also get a whole lot more complicated.
You can get rich playing it - if you have skills or time
The game - or world - has its own currency, called the Linden Dollar (L$). Because the world within Second Life is a real society just like ours, nothing is for free. To pay for services, players need Linden dollars, and they can be bought with real money - right now, 1 USD buys 250 in-game Linden dollars.
An interesting consequence of this is that players, provided they have enough time, can actually use Second Life as a kind of substitute for actually getting a real-life job. There are several ways to earn Linden dollars in big quantities, and later sell or exchange them for real-life dollars.
One way is to create mesh - basically, design or sculpt products to sell in the marketplace for profit. It could be anything from furniture to clothing, hair to accessory parts for a player's Jeep. For this you'll need time and talent - there are some courses such as this one which claim to be able to teach mesh design.
Or you could become a stripper - seriously. What you'll need is a female avatar customized to be highly attractive, with clothes, accessories and hair purchased with Linden dollars (therefore there's some initial investment involved). However if you're using your avatar to strip or perform sexually, you might need to make a one-time phone call to verify your gender - some players don't like it when that girl they're flirting with is actually a guy - so it might be a good idea to have a female friend on standby to make that call. (Just kidding. Play by the rules, kids.)
You'll also need time - there's no way to get rich quick on Second Life, but if you're willing to put in 30 hours a week you might start to reap the benefits.
Sex is a big part of this world - but there are rules
Don't think you're going to get laid five times a night just by hanging around in a nightclub. You still need to make the effort - people like Second Life because it resembles an alternate real world, remember, and real world rules still apply. Start with customizing your avatar to look desirable, and take the time to flirt.
You should also remember that for a lot of players, this game is role play. The sex is between the avatars, not the real people behind their computer screens, and the other person might not want to hear about what you're doing with your spare hand.
And then there's consent. You always need consent - that's just common sense. Virtual rape is not even remotely cool, and will get you banned.
Virtual time travel
One of the more abstract aspects of the game is the ability to literally immerse yourself in another time period - the 1920s Berlin Project is a mock-up of the German capital almost exactly as it would have been in 1929. Visitors should dress in time period-appropriate clothing - they take this stuff pretty seriously. There are cabaret clubs on every corner, the Charleston is the dance of choice and the preferred methods of transport are bike and tram. More miniature worlds-within-worlds are on the way soon.
In fact, the possibilities of this game are almost endless. You can visit "Hell’s Asylum" (a landscape of fire and brimstone), "Everwinter" (a post apocalyptic wasteland based on the Chernobyl fallout zone) or - if you prefer something more serene - there's "Irreplaceable", a beautiful island paradise complete with a castle, forests and an underwater cave.
Have you played Second Life, or a similar virtual world such as Blue Mars or Twinity? Would you recommend it to others? Let us know in the poll or leave a comment explaining exactly what you love about online worlds!