November 5, 2006

Second Life

I read an article about the Australian government deciding to tax money made on virtual-reality sites such as Second Life. I hadn’t played a dungeon game since Zork so I signed up, created a character, and went over to Help Island to try out the basics. I had a great time flying around all over the place. Now when I was a kid my parents were always trying to get me to go outside and play but in reality I only left the house on Wednesdays to ride my bike to Countryside Pharmacy and buy the new shipment of comic books. If Second Life had existed I doubt I would ever have left the house.

Players in Second Life can build anything they are willing to put the time and effort into. There is an economy of “Linden Dollars,” which can be used for any mutually acceptable transaction among players, or purchased with real dollars. In a few minutes of wandering around I found a bowling alley, a gallery of erotic art, and a casino, in which anyone could get a job as a security guard or dancer for L10/hr. I searched around for a poker game but haven’t yet found it.

I asked a few of my friends if they had accounts in Second Life. Matt Maroon said it best when he laughed, “Then I’d never get anything done at all.” Bill Gates, for whom I used to work, drove a diesel Mercedes with no radio. The reason for the diesel was a plea bargain with the traffic judge after a ridiculous number of speeding tickets. The reason for no radio was the same reason he never watched TV: in his words, “There are too many interesting things on.” Second Life seems overwhelming in its ability to provide endless interesting things. It’s like the old Richie Rich comic where every month he would wander around some wing or other of his mansion and find a cool room he’d never been in before.

I don’t think I’ll spend much time in Second Life. I’ll be 47 this week and, as Thoreau said on his death bed when asked if he expected an afterlife, “One life at a time.” But as the megatrend moves the economy from information, which is approaching free, to entertainment, which requires human creative effort, it seems pretty clear that virtual reality is here to stay. Once they get this thing hooked up to a holodeck it could even end up putting an end to the oldest profession.

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