Second Life is a virtual world engineered by Linden Research, Inc, and opened to the public in 2003. Users of Second Life, who are known as “residents,” can interact with each other within the extensive framework of the virtual world. This framework is colloquially known as “the grid.” While Second Life garnered little public attention when it was first released, in 2006 and 2007 it began to attract major media attention, causing registration to skyrocket.
Several things about Second Life make it quite distinctive. The first is that users can shape their own environments. Residents are represented by avatars, figures which may be humanoid or entirely fanciful, depending on personal taste, and residents can program their own avatars to suit their needs. People can also create environments, from islands to deserts, and they build homes, make gardens, create shops, and participate in a wide range of activities which make Second Life incredibly diverse.
Residents can move through this virtual reality in a variety of ways, either by walking their avatars, flying short distances, or teleporting to specific locations. As people navigate Second Life, they can interact with each other, striking up conversations or carrying out instant messaging over long distances. In this sense, Second Life is almost like a form of social networking, and people can participate in various activities and events together.
Activities in Second Life are quite varied. Some groups of residents have set up games which range from traditionally styled role playing games to complex logic puzzles. Residents can also attend art shows, music performances, and theatre productions in the Second Life universe. This aspect of Second Life has attracted a great deal of attention, as numerous politicians, organizations, educational institutions, corporations, and even government agencies have a presence in Second Life.
Users of Second Life can attend political rallies with actual politicians, visit foreign embassies to get information about visiting various countries, and even talk to job recruiters. They also engage in commerce with each other, using a currency known as the Linden Dollar. Some people actually make a living in Second Life, selling goods in the game and selling the earned Linden Dollars to other users to convert them into cash.
A basic Second Life membership is free, and the company also offers a tiered membership system which allows people to buy land so that they can make their mark in the game. Depending on the size of plot desired, people can pay relatively low fees, or extremely high ones for things like private islands. All of these plots are shaped by their users, and people have created everything from self-enclosed ecosystems which run themselves to fanciful worlds with mythical beasts using their Second Life accounts.
The world of Second Life has attracted media attention because it blurs the lines between real life and virtual reality in many ways. For example, some users fear taxation on the basis of Second Life earnings, which can be transformed into real money. Second Life has also been used to stage protests against organizations and governments, and people can do things like attend college classes within the grid, thanks to innovative programs sponsored by some universities. Second Life has also witnessed more sinister activities, like the exchange of child pornography, ponzi schemes which take advantage of residents, and denial of service attacks which are designed to hurt individual residents.