Second Life, First Impression: I Find My First Life Pretty Confusing Already - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
05:03 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner

Second Life, First Impression: I Find My First Life Pretty Confusing Already

I'm now ready to make a pronouncement about Second Life, based on well under an hour of experience with it this morning: It's pretty confusing. Also, my hair looks terrible.

I'm now ready to make a pronouncement about Second Life, based on well under an hour of experience with it this morning: It's pretty confusing. Also, my hair looks terrible.

Registration is simple. Go to the Second Life Web site,, click the join link at the very top left of the page, and enter the information it requests. It prompts you with a list of a couple of dozen possible last names for your online persona, and asks you for a first name. I select "Ziggy Figaro" for no particular reason at all. It then asks me to select a default appearance, stressing that it's just a starting point and can be modified at will. None of the styles seem to suit me. Half of them are women, and I'm a man. One of them is a black dude (Second Life calls it "urban chic"), and I'm white.

I'm aware, as I'm making these decisions, that role-playing is common in virtual worlds, and many of the users who appear to be black or women aren't. And that's fine. But it's not something I want to mess around with today.

I finally select an avatar style called "Harajuku, male," an ultra-hip-looking Asian dude with a long forelock.


I download and install the software on Microsoft Windows XP (there's also a client for the Mac and Linux). The install goes just like every other application I've ever installed. When I log in, it gives me a clickthrough license, which I irresponsibly accept without reading. The software also wants me to click my agreement to the terms of service, which consists mostly of "Behavioral Guidelines - The 'Big Six.'" The guidelines ban intolerant language, harassment, and state what the privacy policy is. The guidelines bar assault. Of course, they mean virtual assault -- attacks on other avatars. There are SL areas where combat games are practiced, but the guidelines doesn't say anything about those. The guidelines state that indecent behavior should be restricted to areas rated M. And so on.

Then, SL itself comes up. Soft jazz music plays. I turn it off.

I appear to be standing on a grassy hilltop, with a footpath stretching out before me. In the distance is a sea, with a sailboat on it. I can hear soft breezes and the sound of distant, soft, typing. Other avatars stand around me, with their names on cards above their heads.

I move around by pressing the arrow keys, and send my avatar on a drunkard's walk down the footpath to the bottom of the hill. Along the way I pass by avatars standing in front of mirrors, with labels above their heads saying they're editing their appearance.

Communications appears to be through a chat window. Someone named Kat says she wants a kiss. Someone named Asia Ashton says hello, and asks me where I am. I her (I assume Asia is a woman) that I don't really know, I'm new here.

Someone named Liam engages Asia in conversation and asks Asia if she wants to go for a walk. Asia agrees. I don't blame her -- who the heck wants to spend any time with a spaz like Ziggy Figaro when they could be making time with that debonair fellow Liam?

I find the tool for editing appearance. I change the color of the shirt I'm wearing, and the color of my hair, but I can't get rid of that ridiculous forelock. Also, there's two prominent bald spots on the back of my head.

I click the map button. It tells me I'm on an Orientation Island. Nothing interesting seems to be happening on the orientation island, and I can't find anything that's not the orientation island.

Finally, I surrender and click help. I end up reading the directions on how to look around and examine your environment. It includes passages explaining something called Third Person View. There seem to be four variants of the Third Person View. And there's also something called "Mouselook." Man, am I confused.

I do not despair, however, because I have read this essay in advance. The essay, by Wagner James Au (no relation of mine), is actually a defense of Second Life, however he singles out the user interface for criticism:

For anyone who is not a committed techie, early adopter, hardcore gamer, someone with very specific goals, or entering with an experienced guide, the current Second Life interface is intimidating and obscure, and almost perverse in its learning curve, easily two hours at minimum; much, much more for any real proficiency.

So I know it's not just me. I'm not being dense here. The user interface really is bad.

There seems to be a latency of about one or two seconds in everything I do. I don't know if that's a function of my slow processor, bandwidth problems on my cable modem, or if that's just how it is.

Back in the real world, I have a noon conference call, so I bail out. I'll be back later this afternoon. I think maybe I'm going to see if I can find a Second Life guide. I have an interview scheduled Thursday evening with Anshe Chung but I'd like to get moving in Second Life sooner than that.

For information I've gathered from all over the net about virtual worlds, visit

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