Second Life Sketches

Helicopters hang in the air above the square at strange angles, abandoned yet not dropping. In the distance, a grey smoke-trail jumps up into the sky as a military rocket bangs off its launcher. Girls linger by the edges of the square, skins mutilated by MISSING IMAGE placeholders. Boys collapse on the ground from ballistic flight and failed landings, like crap superheroes.

This is what people new to Second Life see.

I’m on Help Island, where Second Life users who left the gated Welcome Area too soon can get questions answered about the world and system. Right now, it’s kind of quiet. I’ve been touring the help areas. Yesterday I was at the Infohub in Mauve area — the infohubs provide a similar function to Help Island — and the place was just a nightmare of people screaming “Help!”

I’ve been on Help Island a half-hour. I’ve seen exactly one Second Life Mentor, one of the team of dedicated volunteers that serve the populace here. And that illustrates the problem. Tens of thousands of new users every week are swamping the support system.

In Mauve yesterday, a small group called FREAK CREW fired off a sumogun at the huge crowd at the Infohub. A sumogun fires a bunch of harmless replicating bombs that go off with much sound and fury. In the chat channel, they sound off as R2 BOMB. A couple of dozen people new to SL just saw the word BOMB and freaked. FREAK CREW followed up with a classic freakout, a massively replicating picture with a sound file attached yelling “Get Lost!” And then started randomly placing people into unbreakable cages. A few dozen new users thought they’d dropped into the apocalypse, the poor sods.

Funny: as I write this, someone’s just fired a sumogun on Help Island.

In deciding to take a look at the state of the infohub system over the last few days, I quickly found it was best to run shields and weaponry. The infohubs are being attacked pretty regularly, one way or another — I clicked into one earlier to find it being filled with fifty-foot-high pink boxes — and I do not enjoy being shot with things or trapped in cages when I’m just trying to look around.

Some of it is obviously just razzing the newbies. Some of it — like the “Get Lost” strike — seems to be spitting at new, unpaid account holders, who are being treated like devil-sperm by longtime, paying SL users. You can see it on the loathesome comments-section of the official SL blog — longtime users who pay a lot of money to be able to pretend to fuck glowing teddy bears in shiny purple floating penis-houses, and therefore resent people entering the world for free and using up valuable underage-bear-raping bandwidth.

It’s strange. I originally thought I’d be tracking the emergence of something with some serious potential. But, with two million accounts projected for the end of the year and the grid apparently already groaning under the load, I’m wondering if I’m not here to document its collapse. SL is making news for all the wrong reasons…

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