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Second Life is a virtual online world that exists on a vast computer somewhere in California. It has a detailed landscape, a mainland, many islands and more than one million simulated inhabitants whose actual bodies are distributed around every part of the physical world. Itâ€™s called a game though there is no goal and no end point at which a clear winner emerges and takes the prize. In this it is no different from real life (RL, as itâ€™s referred to in SL). And itâ€™s free up to a point, which is the entrance price of real life, though just like the here and now, if you want to own any part of the world in Second Life, you need money to buy it. There are of course differences between RL and SL. You have to opt in to SL, which is a degree of volition you donâ€™t get in reality. This does give it a certain negative charm: at least there is one possible life to which you can just say no. It also has the edge on the real thing (for me, at least, as an Ã¼ber-indolent person), because being a virtual world, you donâ€™t have to go out to get to it. I used to weep envious buckets watching whatshisname in Close Encounters of the Third Kind being taken off-world to the absolutely not here anymore by those delightful doe-eyed creatures, and Second Life seemed to offer a way of doing this without the hassle of the striving, making mountains out of mashed potato, quest thing. So I signed up.
The problem turned out to be (as it must) that Second Life is organised and inhabited by beings from the real world who have by definition very little experience of being anywhere or any way else. Being virtual is not very different from being real because the virtual place and its beings are controlled by the same old us as always.