It may sound cliché, but there's no other way to put it: my nightlife sucks. With two shitty day jobs and a barely blossoming career as a freelance journalist, it's nearly impossible for me to find enough time or money to enjoy this city after dark. It hasn't always been this way: I used to spend my evenings gleefully cross-eyed, rubbing knees with random hedonists, pushers, and hell-raisers. I used to go skateboarding in night goggles and camp nude in the Tenderloin. Goddamn it, I used to have it all!
I've thus far managed to maintain sanity by telling myself that hard work produces success, but my self-imposed exile to the sunlit hours is rapidly taking its toll. Gray hair, bedroom alcoholism, and soul-crushing anxiety shouldn't affect me for another 10 years or so. Yet here I barely stand at the ripe age of 28, a boring fucking wreck. In order to salvage some of my formerly wild personality and rather than shoot myself or seek expensive therapy I decided recently to take the plunge into the comprehensive virtual world of Second Life. Might as well throw down with some wart-nosed trolls and weirdo Wizards of Nardo, right? Pass the magick toad grog, Tinker Bell. Yep, I'm just that desperate.
A LITTLE HELP HERE?
With all the hype surrounding Second Life and its maker, Linden Labs, you'd think the game would be a fairly simple thing to pick up. Not so, my friend. The first obstacle I ran into was of the technical variety. After installing SL and choosing a sly code name (Justyn Jewell, natch), I thought I was good to go, but my poor old Dell crashed whenever I tried to wiggle my virtual buttocks. My friend Tony, a notorious group gamer at Stanford, hates it when I call him with computer questions but was surprisingly enthused about the opportunity to share his SL wisdom. He even agreed to come over that very night and lend me his vacationing roommate's brand-new MacBook Pro until she got back. Score.
First lesson: customizing an avatar. Perversely, I chose the Boy Next Door body template and then altered its features to match my own. After some meticulous tweaking, Justyn Jewell was no longer your average joe. He was a tragically good-looking skinny white dude with slick brown hair and sleek black shoes. I also gave him a handlebar mustache, because I'm up-to-the-minute like that.
Tony spent the next few hours teaching me the basics. When he left that night, I was able to walk, fly, teleport, take a piss, and hold brief conversations. I was still having trouble picking things up, touching people, and not walking into corners, but it was too early to worry about socially acceptable advanced maneuvers. For a man who hadn't touched a video game since Mario Bros. III, simply stumbling through SL's intricate landscape felt like enough. Getting beyond that was going to be a bumpy road, but Tony promised to come back and teach me some more when the time was right.
My first few weeks with Second Life were just what I needed. Whenever my brain grew weary from writing another puff piece about the latest hair-removal technique ("Experience the smooth, toning pleasures of La Cage Aux Follicles"), I would log on and select one of the thousands of clubs from the Popular Place menu. Immediately, I'd shoot to an island dedicated to house, techno, hard rock, hip-hop, or what have you. Each venue was full of kitted-out avatars who acted as though they were at a real party. "Woo-hoo!" they would say. And "This party is sooo amazing!" I knew it was all fake, but I was getting a visceral thrill watching my doppelgänger mingle with squirrel people, virtual heshers, cocky shot-callers, and impossibly elfin ravers.
The possibilities kept me endlessly occupied.