Second Life, First Impression 2: "Your Clothing Is Still Downloading" - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
09:17 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner

Second Life, First Impression 2: "Your Clothing Is Still Downloading"

This afternoon I learned to walk, and fly, and fix my hair. I picked up a beachball and put it on a table, I'm ready to leave Orientation Island and go out into the real world. Or, rather, the real, virtual world of Second Life.

This afternoon I learned to walk, and fly, and fix my hair. I picked up a beachball and put it on a table, I'm ready to leave Orientation Island and go out into the real world. Or, rather, the real, virtual world of Second Life.

When I set out, after lunch, to log in to Second Life for the second time, I was a little bit nervous. There were all these avatars hanging around there who seemed to be much more proficient than I. Plus, I'd just written this blog post for all the world to see, where I took a self-deprecating look at SL's frustrations. Would they all be laughing at me in there now?

I'd heard about griefers, practical jokers who torment other players in games -- would I be subjected to griefing?

This is all starting to sound like the first day of high school, isn't it? Would all the other children be mean to me?

Anyway, I needn't have worried. I didn't have any problems.

As soon as I started the SL client software, I took a closer look at the login screen. It read:

Total Residents: 2,832,961
Logged In Last 60 Days: 1,007,488
Online now: 25,518

That first number is the total number of accounts in SL, it's a controversial figure, since nobody knows how many of those accounts are for people who logged in once, dinked around for five minutes, and then never visited SL again.

The second figure, "Logged in the last 60 days," is a little more interesting, but only a little bit. It has the same problems as the total residents figure. Second Life has been getting a lot of hype in the past couple of months; likely most of the people who logged in once, dinked around for five minutes, and then never visited SL again, did so in the last 60 days.

The third figure is more interesting: 25,000 people logged in at the same time I did, in the early afternoon, Pacific time. That's quittin' time on the East Coast. I'm sure more people use Google in a nanosecond -- but, still, 25,000 people doing this thing in the early afternoon, Pacific time, raises Second Life out of the fad category, and at least into the realm of weird little cults.

My thesis for my research, which I'm attempting to prove or disprove, is that virtual worlds are on their way to becoming mainstream. "Weird little cult" is one step on that path. The Internet itself was a weird little cult not too long ago.

Encouraged, I click the "connect" button. After a time, the scene resolves itself to where I left off.

I get a message screen that says, "Your clothing is still downloading." This is not something you hear every day.

Around me, I see people -- um, rather, avatars -- doing a much better job than I of altering their appearance. They're wearing what appears to be jeans, and white T-shirts. One female avatar is wearing a belly shirt. I watch for a while as their shirts change colors, and then take on patterns.

I'm approached by an avatar -- or, rather, I should say, my avatar is approached by another avatar. The placard floating above his head reads "Polpolone Lamont." We chat for a few moments. He says he's from Paris.

I have a breakthrough. I figure out how to walk. You can right-click on visible ground, and a pie menu comes up around your cursor. Click "walk here," and that's what you do.

I notice that I'm on a path. There are stepping-stones and arrows and signposts that say "click here." I walk for a bit, look around -- I figure out you can do that by left-clicking on your avatar, and then scrolling the mouse slowly left, right, up and down.

The appearance of my avatar is driving me crazy. I hate the patchy hair and the stupid forelock. I get off the beaten path and spend a good half-hour or an hour trying to figure out how to change the forelock. I don't spend this much time on my real-world appearance, not even for special occasions. Then again, I have more practice with my real-world appearance.

During the course of my experimentation, I'm approached by another avatar. I can't see him, but he asks me how he can stop being an animal. I resist the temptation to say: Get married. Your wife will nag you into picking up your dirty socks and not staying out all night with your hoodlum friends. Instead, I tell him that I can't help him, I can't even figure out how to get rid of my stupid forelock.

But then finally I do: I need to click on detach objects. I do, select the forelock -- it has a funny Japanese-sounding name I didn't write down -- and it disappears.

The instructions for altering your appearance are incredibly detailed. On the facial definition setting alone, you can control the density of freckles, appearance of tattoos, wrinkles, rosiness of your complexion and lip pinkness. There are settings for skin color, makeup and body details. You can control the skin color's pigment and ruddiness. You can give yourself rainbow colored skin. There's a control for makeup: Color, liplgoss, blush, inner shadow. You can control your height, build, and level of muscle definition.

I aim for a vague approximation of my actual appearance (only not as fat) and then I move on.

I'm on a little islet now. On the island is a beach ball and a little table. It's a training game, to teach you how to manipulate objects in SL. The object: Pick up the beach ball, put it on the table.

When you pick up an object in SL, your arm goes straight out and emits rays, like a comic-book character practicing telekenisis. The up and down arrow keys move the object forward and back. To actually move it up and down in the environment, you need to click the mouse. Or perhaps right-click. I should've taken better notes. Still, it's interesting: We talk about this interface being three-dimensional, but it really isn't, of course; it's a two-dimensional representation of a three-D world. It's easy to forget that.

So then I move on to the next little islet in Orientation Island. It's a place where you practice flying. Tap the page-up button and hold it and your avatar spreads his arms. Press page-up again and you go up, page-down again to descend. The arrows work just like walking: Left-arrow spins you left, right arrow-spins you right, up arrow goes forward, down arrow goes backward. I soar over a ravine and into a temple, after first banging my head on the roof three or four times.

This is cool.

I'm satisfied that I'm no clumsier in Second Life than I am in real life now, and I'm ready to take on the real, virtual world.

P.S. "Your clothing is still downloading." I love that.

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