[‘Letters from the Metaverse’ is a regular weekly column by Mathew Kumar about his adventures in the massively multiplayer online world of Second Life. This week’s column covers gaming in Second Life.]

Last week when I left you I was in Yadni’s Junkyard, trying to make head or tails of the system of ‘animation overrides’ that is required to change your animations from the unbelievably terrible defaults set by Linden Labs.

I've given up. While yes, buying a box of animations is easy enough (point and click!) And viewing said animations is easy enough (point and click!) Actually overriding the animations seems to either involve coding, or using someone else’s animation override system. Of the two I found on offer (for free, admittedly) in Yadni’s Junkyard, one came with a help file which said “It’s open source, work it out yourself” (really!) and the other, it seems, expected you to be familiar with the other! So, looks like I’m stuck jerking my way around the world of Second Life for some time yet.

2006_07_25_tringo2.jpgBut enough about that. Really, the past few weeks I haven’t managed to prove to anyone, least of all myself, that Second Life is much more than a glorified chat room, with a dress-up doll attached, for players who don’t want to get their hands dirty with coding. As the voracious kind of gamer that reads Gamesetwatch, I imagine you’re simply chomping at the bit to find out what opportunities there are for real ‘game’ experiences in the world.

Well, I decided to go and find the most obvious and popular game experience in the world, Tringo. Already discussed on these hallowed pages by SimonC (who linked to a nice article at Wired) Tringo is a kind of competitive Tetris/bingo. Flying over to creator Kermitt Quirk’s island (“The Home of Tringo”) I found absolutely no one there that was interested in playing. Luckily, however, I could see one of Kermitt’s neighbours was in her house, and in traditional RPG manner I just barged in without knocking and rifled through her stuff, by which I mean I asked her nicely if she knew where I could play Tringo. She let me know the ‘hot’ place to play was Ice Dragon’s Playpen, and finding there was a Tringo event running, I dashed off to get involved.

Tringo can initially be bewildering. You have to find a space to sit and click the board to receive your game card, and as soon as the game master decides the game begins. Your game card is an in-game object on which you can see your 5x5 game board, score and the next piece to be played, and during the game all players must place the pieces on their board to make rectangles of 2x2, 2x3 or 3x3 for points. As all players receive the same pieces the strategy really is about maximising your score through your arrangement, rather than speed. I mucked my first game up completely, uncomfortable with the way in which I interacted with the game board in the world, but with my second game I managed to come second.

2006_07_25_tringo1.jpgTringo is not *exactly* a gambling game – it’s free to play but you can choose to donate to the pot and it’s this aspect, that you’re competing for as tangible a prize as is possible in the virtual world, that makes Tringo so thrilling. When playing for a pots of over $500 Linden (equivalent to a dollar) it had the same kind of addictive, one more go thrill of cash-prize online poker. I found myself playing for hours simply to try and win one game. Alas, I still haven’t yet.

The strangest thing about Tringo, and perhaps its flaw, is that taken in isolation it’s actually quite boring. You can play it online here, but playing for points alone just isn’t the same as playing for prizes, and the utter lack of coverage for the solo play GBA port perhaps hammers this home.

It’s going to be hard to tear myself away from Tringo, particularly with the idea that I could start to actually make money with it, akin to those who play online poker as a career. However, the more I play it, the less I’m sure I’m enjoying it!

NEXT WEEK: SimonC checks my character into a Second Life Rehabilitation Centre to get me over my Tringo addiction.

[Mathew Kumar is a freelance journalist who’s dabbled in MMORPGs, but is too cheap/strong willed to play past a free trial. He got his break with Insert Credit, and his work has been featured in publications as diverse as The Globe and Mail, Plan B magazine and Eurogamer.]