I never fail to be impressed with the kindness and generosity of my fellow SL Residents. Two incidents of this yesterday illustrate this perfectly.
SL Residents raise thousands of US dollars each year in an annual grid-wide fund raising effort for the Relay for Life effort sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Last night, a fund raising event was held at Grizzy’s Cafe, owned by my good friend Grizzy Griswold. In just a few hours of good fun and socializing, we raised close to $200 USD for the cause! I will add that Grizzy put more than just her Linden dollars on the line. She pledged to dress like a showgirl (NOT her usual mode of appearance) for a period of time to be determined by the amount raised. By the end of the evening, Grizzy was on the hook for four weeks of sartorial excess. She apologizes in advance for any awkwardness this may cause at her weekly bible study and other events for which she normally dresses in a much more conservative fashion. It just goes to show what a good sport she is!
The second incident actually exemplifies the best and worst of SL behavior. First I will explain to non-Residents that Second Life is created and designed almost exclusively by its Residents. Linden Labs provides the servers and the basic template, but the rest is created by us. Often those who have mastered a particular skill will open businesses to sell their goods and services. One of the best of the lot is Fatima Ur, owner of the collection of Antique Artistry sims. Not only is she an incredible designer, she is a lovely person who goes out of her way to take care of her customers (a trait I encounter again and again in SL merchants). As a result, she has very devoted customers! Well, long story short, just after I left Grizzy’s event, I got a group notice to Fatima’s customers. Seems that someone (from the sound of it, an unscrupulous competitor) was purchasing items from Fatima on Xstreet SL (a web-based vendor of SL products) and posting very negative reviews. When Fatima read the reviews, she immediately contacted the person who submitted the review and refunded their money. Which they immediately used to buy more items and submit more negative reviews! So this was clearly more than a case of an unsatisfied customer. Fatima send the notice to inform her customers of what had happened, and asked them to consider visiting the site to submit their own reviews and comments on her products, to hopefully negate the bad ones. I will add that she specifically requested that people not spend any more of their hard earned Linden dollars on this, but just review things that they had previously purchased. Well, as soon as the notice arrived, the group IM was flooded with good wishes and pledges of support. Many of us visited the site to submit our reviews, and from the sound of the IMs that were flying around many more were very happy to have an excuse to buy even more of her products, and submit glowing reviews as well.
Some people who have never experienced the sense of community present in virtual worlds have an idea that they are cold, impersonal places. They couldn’t be more mistaken about that.
I’d like to say a word about the “new user experience” in SL. It’s been a while since I was a “new user,” and I understand that Linden Labs is working to make the orientation better, but I understand that it can still be a little bumpy.
Let me put it this way. SL is a very big place, with something to offer for anyone. Let’s call it your “dream location,” as there is a spot in SL to match any vision of paradise anyone has ever come up with. So, you have this vision in your head. For the sake of example, let’s say you always wanted to live in Paris. Your vision of arriving in Paris is of landing right in front of the Eiffel Tower. You are very stylishly dressed, and you picture yourself ambling over to the Champs Elysses for a cafe au lait with the locals, who will all speak fluent English, and be instantly charmed by you.
But here is how it really plays out. You land at a small airport on the outskirts of the city, and end up on a bus, crowded in with all of the people who happened to be on the plane with you, most of whom you may have absolutely nothing in common with. Many of them do not speak your language, and their customs seem odd to you. You are very disoriented in this foreign place, and haven’t figured out how the money works, or how to ask where the bathroom is. You are all taken to a rather seedy part of town and dropped off at a bus station, where you are accosted by many strange people, some of whom seem to be there to take advantage of the tourists.
Now, if you really had traveled all that way to see Paris, you would hopefully push through the strangeness and discomfort, and find your way to that cafe you had pictured in your head. You probably wouldn’t just give up at that point and get back on the bus to the airport. But many people become overwhelmed and discouraged when they encounter a similar experience when entering SL, and give up on it.
I encourage you to push through the strangeness and give it a chance. Yes, you will feel awkward at first, and many of the orientation spots are overrun with people who apparently have nothing better to do than give newbies a rough time of it. But keep at it. Most of the people here are really very friendly, and are very eager to help you get the hang of things. We all remember what those first days were like, so people will really go out of their way to help you out, and won’t mind that you keep walking into the walls, and can’t figure out how to get that box off of your head. Much seem to be made of the more sensational aspects of SL, and it is often portrayed as a giant red-light district. But it is so much more than that. It is a reflection of every aspect of human (and fantasy) culture that anyone has ever envisioned. There is something there for everyone. Trust me. It is worth the trip!
In my last “SL for newbies” post, I advised you not to worry too much about picking your avatar design during the registration process. Nothing wrong with going around in a newbie shape at first, but before long, you will want to personalize your appearance a bit. And this really ties in to how you want to shape your identity in SL.
Speaking of identity, let me share with you the first bit of SL etiquette that you should learn. Many people prefer to keep their RL (real life) and SL identity completely separate. For that reason, when you first meet someone, do NOT launch into a lot of questions about their RL identity. Even seemingly innocent questions such as “where are you in RL?” can make some people uncomfortable. Respect this. You can usually ask general questions, such as “what country are you in?,” but if they hesitate or ignore the question, back off and respect their wish for privacy. This does NOT necessarily mean that they have “something to hide.” It is really just a common desire in SL to keep their virtual experience separate from their day-to-day one.
You can choose to assume any sort of identity or appearance in SL that strikes your fancy. You can create a look that mirrors your RL identity, or go for something completely different. You are not bound by gender nor species. You can be animal, vegetable or mineral here. As a result, naturally, you can not make any assumptions about people based on their appearance. This can be a very liberating experience for all concerned. People tend to be very socialable in SL, and many report that they are more so in SL than in RL. They are less self conscious about their appearance when they can fine tune it to project how they wish to be perceived. This environment can also make other people are less intimidating to approach as well. It really levels the social playing field, and opens up all sorts of opportunities to meet people that you might not have gotten an chance to meet in the non-virtual world.
I’ve been getting questions lately from folks I know who are curious about SL. You can visit the SL website for more complete info, and I will be posting more about it in the future. For now, I’d like to address some of the most frequent questions I get about it.
How do you get started? The first step is to go to the SL website and download the SL viewer. You will want to check out the page about the SL system requirements, to make sure your computer is up to running SL. I got my computer before I even knew about SL, so I didn’t get a “gaming system” with all the bells and whistles. It runs fine on my computer, although I did have to upgrade my graphics card, as SL is a very graphics intensive program.