Well, the short answer is the one provided on the SecondLife.com website--"Second Life is a 3D online digital world imagined and created by its residents."
The longer answer, well, it borders on a philosophical debate. ("What is the meaning of Second Life?")
The medium answer goes something like this--Second Life is the latest iteration of this crazy thing we call The Internet. It is a three-dimensional 'world' that you access online, where you can create content and interact with others. It has its roots in things from the tail end of the 20th century like The Palace (a graphic based chat program), VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language--a means of creating 3D environments for people to interact with) and even, to a degree, the text-based MUSHes, MUCKs and MOOs of yore.
So it's, like, a game?
Mmmm, not precisely. (And be careful who you ask that question of, 'cos you're likely to get smacked for asking it.) While there are some similarities to online games like World of Warcraft, in terms of meeting far-flung individuals in a virtual, three-dimensional-rendered space, Second Life doesn't really have a specific goal in terms of levels or quests or missions.
What do you do there?
All kinds of things. You can go to dance clubs to hear DJs spinning or even hear live music being streamed. You can visit elaborate gardens and art galleries. You can surf, race cars or skydive. You can join discussions on things from politics to mysticism. Though, admittedly, the majority of people (according to a recent New York Times article) apparently spend the bulk of their time shopping for things to outfit their avatar with.
What's an avatar?
An avatar is the "body" you have when you enter this digital world. It can be anything from Neo in a neon trenchcoat to a pink-haired chick to a winged pony to a watermelon. (And that's just if you're Torley Linden.) While everyone starts out with a few basic shapes and clothes, over time people start spending Lindens on more elaborate and detailed skin, hair, shapes and clothes.
What are "Lindens"?
The word "Linden" (after Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life) can mean one of two things. It can sometimes refer to an employee of Linden Lab, since the avatars of such employees have the surname of "Linden." (Such as Torley Linden, referenced above.) More often, it refers to the "currency" that one uses to buy and sell things in Second Life--Linden Dollars (L$), which everybody calls "Lindens." For clarity, references to Lindens on this site will almost always be regarding the currency use of the term.
Okay, how do I get Lindens to spend on things?
The easiest way is to just go and buy some. You can set up payment information with a credit card or PayPal account and either buy Lindens inworld (if you need them right away) or buy them via the LindeX (on the Second Life website) from other players. There are also third-party sites that buy and sell Lindens, but proceed with caution--while some are legitimate, others sell Lindens obtained through nefarious means (such as stolen credit card numbers) and people who buy them can end up losing what they bought and getting smited for it.
There are also ways of making Lindens within Second Life.
Some do. Not necessarily very much of it, but it is possible. You can't really expect to make a living at it, though, unless you're dealing in real estate.
Wait, people buy and sell land that doesn't actually exist?
People buy and sell a lot of intangible things, when you think about it. I'm paying a modest amount to maintain this very website, and that's just information stored on a server. Land in Second Life is much the same thing.
So what do people do with this land?
People in Second Life ("Residents", they call them) build houses, create gardens, open shops--they pretty much shape the world that Second Life is. The only things the nice folks at Linden Lab do is create the land and charge a fee (called "tier") to own it, scaled by how much land you own. What you do with that land is pretty much up to you--you can build on it, change the terrain, rent it out, whatever. You can even buy an entire island, if you have the money, and sublet parcels to other people.
How do you build things? Is it difficult?
Building objects is done within Second Life (or "inworld" as folks round there like to say.) Objects are composed of primitives--"prims"--that can be manipulated and linked together. You can then apply textures to those objects, either obtained inworld or uploaded yourself. Note that prims are, effectively, free, but that each texture upload costs L$10. Once you get the hang of the peculiarities of each prim type--box, sphere, cylinder, and so on--building becomes easier. Prims can also be given certain properties through the magic of LSL.
LSL? What's that?
Linden Scripting Language. LSL is a computer language that allows one to program the behaviors of objects in Second Life. This allows for things like doors that open and close, cars that drive, water that flows and chairs that yell at you (and then give you stuff if you sit down in them and have the right letter in your name.) The syntax is apparently similar to C, so if you know anything about that, you might have an easier time understanding it.
What about clothes? Are those hard to make?
Well, that depends. Anybody can create basic clothes by changing their Appearance settings. You can play with the length and the color and, to a degree, the looseness and save your settings. Ta-da! New outfit.
If you want to make clothes people will actually want to buy, it's a little more complicated than that. You'll need a program that can deal in layers and alpha channels (Photoshop being the best known example) and you'll need the templates that map the coordinates for when a texture is applied to clothing. You can get basic ones from the Second Life website--some designers have created more detailed ones for use as well. Create a texture in Photoshop, use the alpha channel to create transparency (for things like backless dresses), upload it, create a new clothing item in the Appearance settings and apply the texture. And there you are.
Wow, this can get really complicated, can't it?
Tell me about it. I haven't even said anything about animations.
Okay, what are animations?
I'm so glad you asked! Animations allow your avatar to do things like dance, throw punches, kiss people and even look bored when you're sitting down. You can create them in programs that use the Biovision Hierarchy (BVH) format, such as Poser, but there are a couple of free programs (Avimator and Qavimator) that are specifically designed for Second Life avatars.
How can I learn about this sort of stuff?
There are many tutorials available on the web for people to peruse. You can also find classes inworld, by looking them up on the Events calendar.
What if you don't want to make things?
Then you can buy them from the various hard-working Residents of Second Life who have gone and made things for you to enjoy.
Okay, how do I sign up? Does it cost anything?
Signing up is free. A paid membership is optional--it provides things like the stipend, mentioned above, the right to buy land (though you can sublet from an Island owner without a membership) and marginally better technical support.
Before you sign up, though, read the Five Things To Do Before You Get Started. Trust me on this one.
Back to the Index