I've discovered that Ziggy Figaro, my alter ego in Second Life, is vain. In Second Life, I spend a good deal of time shopping, fussing over my appearance, and figuring out what to wear. In real life, I devote exactly as much effort on my appearance as I need to, and no more. </p>

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

February 26, 2007

7 Min Read

I've discovered that Ziggy Figaro, my alter ego in Second Life, is vain. In Second Life, I spend a good deal of time shopping, fussing over my appearance, and figuring out what to wear. In real life, I devote exactly as much effort on my appearance as I need to, and no more.

In Second Life as in real life, the first step to looking great is be physically fit and healthy. In RL, getting fit and healthy is tedious and unpleasant, and involves sacrifices no one should be asked to make, such as exercise and not eating burritos with guacamole and sour cream.

But in Second Life, you can just shop for the body you want.

When you join Second Life, you pick from any of a dozen or so male and female bodies. These default bodies are crude but presentable. Still, I didn't want to be seen wandering around in one of the default bodies for too long because it would mark me as a noob.

I first tried customizing the body myself; Second Life provides you with a control panel with about 100 separate settings for everything from height and muscle definition to the shape of the eyes and chin.

I didn't do a very good job altering my appearance, and so I was faced with a decision every corporate IT manager has to make: Build vs. buy. "Build" was looking like quite a bit of work, and I had no confidence that I would actually do a decent job of it. So I opted for "buy."

On the advice of SL friends, I went to a place called Naughty Designs to select my body, where I found pickings were somewhat scant. Sure, there were dozens and dozens of female bodies for sale, but there were precisely two (2) men's bodies.

The disproportionate ratio of female to male avatars makes sense, because women in Second Life seem to be more likely to try to make their avatars conform to real-world notions of feminine beauty. Second Life men either don't bother making many changes to their default appearance, or they make their avatars look like killer robots, or raccoons, or hyper-muscled barbarian warriors.

Or, they make the avatars look like themselves: Many of the men doing business in Second Life alter their avatars to look like cartoon versions of their real-life selves; I haven't encountered that in women.

And, of course, when I talk about "men" and "women" in SL, I'm talking about the apparent gender of their avatars. I know at least one real-life woman who mostly uses a male avatar in Second Life; she says she gets fewer hassles that way. Likewise, I'm sure there are many men pretending to be women; unlike some journalists this doesn't make me break down and collapse in a fit of the giggles.

When shopping for clothes or a body in Second Life, you go to a virtual shop or mall, where you browse among row after row of posters of what you're looking to buy. If you see something you like, you right-click on it, select "buy" or "pay" from a circular menu, and the stuff you bought arrives in a virtual box.

For my new body, I ended up buying a design called "Gabriel," who looks like a young soap-opera heartthrob. Gabriel, who was designed by a SLer who goes by the name "Lost Thereian," arrived in a box which included a half-dozen sets of eyes in different shades of blue. Half the pairs of eyes had pupils that are dilated, half undilated.

The box also contains Gabriel's genitalia, which are described matter-of-factly using a word we don't use here on InformationWeek. Ziggy Figaro doesn't wear the genitalia, because he hasn't been anywhere or done anything where nudity is appropriate. Also, if you wear the genitalia with clothes, the genitalia appears outside the clothes, which will get you talked about in Second Life or Real Life.

After I found a body for Ziggy, I had to get him a decent head of hair, and some clothes.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've bought Ziggy some good work clothes: A good, black, double-breasted suit by "Liliana Poole," along with dress pants by "Simone Stern" and a shirt-and-tie combination by "swaffette Firefly." I wear these when I'm doing corporate journalism in-world, interviewing IBM or Edelman Public Relations and other big, real-world companies with a Second Life presence. [I wore the black suit to host Friday's Second Life kaffeeklatsch.]

For day-to-day exploring, playing, and working in Second Life, I mostly wear black jeans, black designer T-shirt, and black motorcycle boots, all by swaffette Firefly. Oddly, that's similar to what I used to wear day-to-day in real life when I was a college student. I wasn't consciously trying to recreate my youth online, I just ended up with those clothes, but I expect it's not a coincidence.

For more festive occasions in Second Life, I have a green Edwardian velvet suit, complete with lace collar and wrist-ruffs, as well as a leopard-pattern by swafette Firefly, and sport-jacket with white shirt and bowtie, all by swafette Firefly.

Hmmm... I did not consciously seek out designs by swafette Firefly. Wasn't even aware I had so much of her stuff in my day-to-day wardrobe until I checked out the properties in my inventory. I'll need to keep an eye on her work.

Of course, every life devoted to looking good has its occasional faux pas. I got Ziggy golf shirts in a variety of colors, and decided I hated all of them so I don't wear them. When I put on the black suit, I realized I didn't have matching shoes, which was an emergency, so I rushed out and bought five pairs of dress shoes pronto.

I'm still looking for green shoes to match the Edwardian suit.

And I don't have any socks -- not that I think anybody notices.

How much did this shopping spree cost me? Thousands and thousands of Linden Dollars, which, fortunately, translates to only a few real-life dollars. As I type this, the price of the Linden Dollar is set at 266 for one U.S. dollar. And, because I'm a paying subscriber to Second Life, I get a L$300/week stipend. The account costs $9.95 per month in real life.

I've found that a good suit costs a few hundred L$, pants or a jacket about half that. You can get good shirts for under L$100, and they often come with matching neckties (The shirt and tie are usually a single unit and inseparable). A body like the Gabriel model is a big-ticket item, costing a couple of thousand L$ or more.

Of course, you can spend less -- lots of clothes and bodies are available for free -- but in SL as in RL, you often get what you pay for. Unless you find a good deal.

People sell all sorts of things in addition to bodies and clothing: They sell jewelry and hats and bags and other accessories. They sell furniture and apartments and houses to put them in. And they sell sexual services as well. You can find small, charming shops, and big, impersonal malls.

It seems like everyone in Second Life is selling something. Business is a game in Second Life.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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