I don’t remember what I was expecting when I came to Second Life® for the first time. Or even whether I was expecting anything at all. As a rule I try not to have expectations. I prefer to stay open to appreciate whatever comes, without trying to predict in advance what it will be.

It’s a good thing, because I could never have imagined even half of what Second Life would be for me.

Indeed, my initial impressions of Second Life contained little hint of what was to come. In my journal, I wrote, “The thing that has impressed me about Second Life is the solitude and spaciousness. Although it’s easy to find parties and crowds when you want to, you can explore vast territories without ever running into anyone. You can admire unique dwellings, shop in malls, stroll down a beach, watch a sunset while lounging on a bed suspended in the sky, fly over the ocean, meditate in a temple, or walk through a forest, and you might never see a soul.” All that is true, but clearly, at the age of 3 days, I had not yet discovered the essence of Second Life.

As a veteran of online communities. I am well-versed in the psychological, sociological and practical dynamics of forming a connection with unseen others using only typed text. And I have played enough games to appreciate 3D computer graphics. But even I was unprepared for what happens when you combine the two — text-based communication and immersive 3D graphics — and then, let the people who are using the world manipulate it, giving them the ability to create themselves, and create a world to inhabit.

The creativity within SL is truly astounding. Unlike most 3D games, any player has the power to create just about anything — homes, clothing, body parts, vehicles, trees, mountains, water, fire, you name it. Thus, you can be anything you want to be; I have been a beautiful woman, a dragon, and a swirling pile of leaves, among others. And you can see anything you want to see; people create amazing landscapes, cities, atmospheres, environments resembling anything on earth and some not of this earth.

This unbridled creativity astonished me during my first days in SL. And I quickly discovered that it had a big impact on the way that people relate to one another in this online venue. The resulting self-expression was, in itself, another means of communication. When we can be anyone and anything we want to be, when we can choose what kind of world we want to live in, what we choose says something about us. Without saying a word, we can communicate quite a bit about what we want, what we value, what we admire, what we wish for.

And what do we want? What do we wish for?  Some SL newcomers arrive in gaming mode, so they follow familiar fantasy paths, becoming warriors, princesses, elves, dragons, soldiers, vampires, woodland creatures, etc. Others indulge in wish fulfillment, buying ostentatious homes, fast cars, extravagant yachts and so on, and making themselves look like Pamela Anderson or Fabio. But whatever environment or appearance they wish for, it’s usually not long before newcomers grasp that they can interact, not just with a game or a world, but with other people. The beautiful women and handsome men, the soldiers and princesses and even the vampires and woodland creatures, are not game characters. They are the visual representation of real people, who, like most of us, have a deep longing to feel connected to others.

Then the dance begins, and the hidden power of Second Life is manifest. Yes, the creative works can be wonderful to see, and yes, there are plenty of fun games to play. But this is not a video game that you play by yourself. The main game here is the same one we all play in First Life: the search for connectedness.

Next: Anything you want »

Author: Camryn Darkstone

After more than two decades exploring 3D virtual worlds and their possibilities for relationship and self expression, Camryn Darkstone is leading a life of quiet contentment, building and landscaping for Littlefield Grid with occasional projects in Second Life. Camryn has been active in online communities since the early 1980s, and, under other names, has written extensively about the ways that people relate to one another on the internet. Since 2009 Camryn has enjoyed a loving, consensual D/s relationship as submissive to Walter Balazic in both the virtual world and the "real" world.

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