Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Second Life diaries II

As I bring myself to type this, I’m sitting on a virtual barstool in a bleak cavern called Moonshine Casino, sharing a drink they call Loneliness with some kind of wolf-man, some kind of tiger-man, some kind of goth-man (-woman?) and a nondescript nothing nobody with a face as bland as his unprinted t-shirt. You’d think this wacky bunch of Whyte Ave-meets-Night Breed misfits would have a lot to talk about, but there’s really not much to say. We’re all just “camping” -- in exchange for keeping his establishment’s traffic numbers up, the proprietor’s programmed the stools to pay us out two bucks for every five minutes we sit here. All we have to do is jiggle the mouse every twenty minutes so we don’t fall asleep at the bar. Camps like this are the cornerstone of the Second Life economy.

The exchange rate sits at about one American dollar to 250 SL Lindens, but even if you’re not putting real-world money into your wolf-man’s pocket there are lots of ways to build up a stake in this virtual reality. For example, you can literally pick money off trees. You have to get there first, of course; this morning there was an hour or so of system downtime, and when things came back up I raced like a madman around the SL globe, teleporting from money tree to money tree. Six trees and twenty-five Lindens later, things started to dry up. There was somebody by the name of Fried Fish – the clever trees record the names of their harvesters – one jump ahead of me. I caught up with him at a money tree in the lobby of a shitty virtual “art museum”, an open-air tower slathered with imported .jpgs of famous paintings, and he turned out to be an OK guy; gave me some cash-harvesting pointers and tipped me off to a couple of trees that were still loaded with cash after he’d taken his limit. Thanks partially to his info – it probably didn’t hurt that I was wearing my cutest hippy-girl shape -- I came out of an hour and a half of money-picking with about eighty bucks.

And then I dropped it all at the casino. If camping is the cornerstone of this economy of over 100,000 consumers, gambling is the rest of the damn building. You can’t /SPIT without hitting a slot machine, poker table, wheel of fortune or raffle box. After paying the rent on my floating one-room apartment, I took the remaining thirty Lindens to the Moonshine and slowly but surely – blackjack systems work better here than in real life – built it up to over 500 before I went crazy and bet it all (all two dollars’ worth!) on a single turn of the cards. So now, still wearing my “lucky avatar” (the fat hoser model with lumberjack shirt and Bogart spliff) I camp along with the animal dudes and freaks and blingged-out tarts with off-the-rack hair, waiting for the cardboard-cutout bartender to spot me two bucks for the slots.

Yeah, the American Dream dies hard, even in the limitless realms of the fantasyNet. Check out any neighbourhood in SL; beyond the lingerie malls, porno shops, casinos and cheesy streaming-audio discotheques populated by animatronic dance-campers there lies hillside after crammed-up hillside of participants’ personal palaces, vast favelas of countless bleak McMansions furnished with virtual Nice Things and idle cyber-sextoys. All the power of completely flexible VR with no pesky laws of physics, and all most folks can dream up is a neo-Tudor split-level with a baby grand in the foyer and a couple of DOGGYSTYLE M/F fuck-simulators in front of the fireplace.

Tree by tree, minute by minute, I’ll get there too; all I need is some bank so I can work my system. Brother… hey, brother! Spare a Linden for a sweet-hearted girl down on her luck?

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