Second Life redux: The first Walkin’ Dude article

Posted on April 28, 2010

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After reprinting the piece on virtual pregnancies in Second Life two days ago, I looked through my old Walkin’ Dude articles with an eye to posting a few more, especially since I’m going to be extremely busy over the next week as we gain another house guest.

But while going through the archive, I made an interesting discovery: my first Walkin’ Dude article was printed April 28, 2007.

So three years later to the day, here it is again — with added photos and a few changes in wording to make things clearer to a non-Second Life audience.

[NOTE: Most “talking” in Second Life, especially back at in 2007, was done by typing. The voice chat came later. And the constant use of “meters” is only because it’s the sole in-world measurement system.]

The Walkin’ Dude: April 28, 2007

An early version of my avatar with dorky hair.

My later avatar, with cool hair and nifty brown coat, posing in the Richard Locke Library

So the first question I had was: “Is that building supposed to be burning?”

This isn’t the kind of thing I tend to ask in real life. Generally speaking, when I come upon a building in flames, I pretty much assume that something’s gone awry.

But this wasn’t real life. This was Second Life, and the rules aren’t always the same.

Take the burning building. Lots of fire shooting out the side, but I was reasonably sure it was just part of the design. I mean, how many accidental fires can there be in a virtual world?

(No, really, I’m asking. How many?)

On the other hand, the building was a shopping mall devoid of both stores and customers, so maybe the landlord was simply engaging in a bit of virtual arson to collect on the virtual insurance money.

Either way, I moved on.

Ever since joining Second Life I’d been looking for a way to fit in, to find my niche. I rapidly discovered, however, that here, as in the real world, I was pretty much superfluous.

So I started walking.

Sure, like everyone else I could teleport anywhere instantly, but walking allowed me the chance to really observe this strange new world, and to meet its even stranger inhabitants — such as that nice man in the tuxedo who shot me with a machine gun my second day here.

It was an honest accident. No hard feelings.

Michael Parks, as Bronson

London, as the Littlest Hobo

Besides, I’d always wanted to be a care-free hiker, going where I wanted, stopping somewhere just long enough to impress a few of the locals then moving on. Sort of like Michael Parks in Then Came Bronson, or London in The Littlest Hobo.

And walking in Second Life is certainly a lot easier than it is in real life — although an hour or so spent pressing the arrow key can leave your index finger a bit tuckered out.

As luck would have it, however, walking is a rare occupation in Second Life, and my editor decided that a series based on my journey might be worthwhile. Hell, I was walking anyway, why not get paid for it?

She suggested I start my official trek from the front of our in-world offices.

The in-world offices of the newspaper. (Tiny picture -- only one I could find.)

So that’s what I did — and ran across a burning building within the first 100 meters.

I guess I knew right then it would be an interesting journey.

To start with, there are unique problems faced by a Second Life hiker, especially one with an older computer. For one thing, because my crappy graphics card only allows me to see a few hundred meters in any direction, I’m never sure what’s ahead of me. It’s like walking in a thick London fog in the 1950s.

Another problem is that because you have to keep your finger on the arrow key in order to walk, talking to someone at the same time is impossible. Normally this isn’t much of a concern since I tend to walk alone, talking only when I’ve stopped somewhere.

But recently I was accompanied by Finn — a young black man still experimenting with his in-world identity. (When I first met him he bore a striking resemblance to Lando Calrissian from Star Wars. Now he looks like the coolest, baddest black dude this side of, uh — wherever the coolest, baddest black dudes hang out these days.)

Anyway, as we were walking along the southern border of Sido, I fell through the road, but, because of the difficulty in walking and talking simultaneously, was unable to tell Finn.

Which brings me to another peril faced by the Second Life hiker: sometimes you fall through the road.

I’m still not sure how or why it happens, but it happens to me a lot. I’ll be walking along enjoying the scenery and suddenly find myself sinking through the pavement and into the ground below. Annoyingly, it doesn’t work in the other direction. Despite having the dubious ability to pass ghost-like though the road from top to bottom, trying to reverse the direction merely results in repeatedly whapping my head on the underside of the roadway.

After coming to a rest at the bottom of an embankment, I manoeuvred my way topside only to find that I was now alone. A moment later I got a message from Finn explaining that he too had just discovered his own abrupt and unwelcome passage to the underworld.

It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one it happened to.

For the next five kilometers we didn’t so much walk the road as repeatedly bisect it in a downward direction.

Despite these little misadventures, however, we managed to explore the area and even dropped into Hell-Mart, an all-in-one shopping mall dedicated to the coming of the Anti-Linden — a being who will ultimately free the Second Life avatars of their demonic possession by First Lifers.

Its furnishings department includes a gallows, torture wheel, and a catapult for unwelcome guests. Or if you’re in the market for a new (and vaguely disturbing) avatar, the aptly named “Burke and Hare Avatar Emporium” probably has something to interest you.

A good rule of thumb when visiting Hell-Mart, however, is to look, but not touch. Not knowing this, I inadvertently provided Finn with much amusement as I first got stuck on torture wheel, and then compulsively worshipped at the altar of the Anti-Linden.

I escaped without harm, although my  avatar’s immortal soul may have been compromised.

If he’s got one.

Avril Lavigne appeared in Second Life once. I'm just saying.

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