[‘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 Second Life's film culture.]

Well, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from Second Life this week, as I’ve been incredibly busy attempting to cover the Toronto International Film Festival. Film competes regularly in my affections with videogames, and I’m usually rather fascinated by the influence of one on the other. It’s worth noting, I think, that very little of Second Life feels “filmic”, unless you think the world feels a bit like virtual reality as imagined by early 90’s films like The Lawnmower Man, which it does, a bit.

Of course, the big news that I’ve kind of missed is that there’s been a massive security breach of the Linden Labs customer database, “potentially exposing customer data including the unencrypted names and addresses, and the encrypted passwords and encrypted payment information of all Second Life users”. While this obviously is a problem, no one seems to be quite clear on how much of a problem. It’s the first time I’ve felt “unsafe” on the net, however, which isn’t really a good sign.

2006_09_12_galaxy.jpg

Ahem. That’s slightly off topic, however. The truth is that despite not being a particularly filmic experience, Second Life also holds tributes to a variety of film and TV shows the same way that it has its own Little Silent Hill. For example, only a quick teleport away is Galaxy, where you can live your Star Trek dreams until your heart is content. I didn’t know the Starfleet Academy accepted furries, but there you go, I suppose! Like most areas, the play and fun is to be had in social situations, and without it, it’s a bit sterile, as nicely designed as it is. I only think I’ve watched maybe one full episode of Star Trek ever, and that was almost entirely on the Holodeck (something to do with Sherlock Holmes?) so I can’t really comment on this too clearly, but it seems… Nice?

2006_09_12_garden.jpgI actually reallyenjoyed my trip to Nakama, however. Although just as quiet as Galaxy , this is an astoundingly (if near randomly) designed anime city featuring many aspects of anime films and TV shows. I was immediately impressed to have teleported into one of the most alive gardens I’ve seen in Second Life, with trees and plants swaying in a light breeze, but flying around and exploring the city was a pleasure, from spotting giant robots from Evangelion, through to strange and sweet little rainbow towns.

2006_09_12_eva.jpgLooking around Nakama, however, I observed that what I noted about Little Silent Hill, that “it’s like wandering a movie theme park and seeing all your favorite props and locations, just slightly out of context” is as film-like as Second Life can get. It’s too easy to bump into a prop building and shatter your illusion, rather like a boom mike falling into shot.

Having said that, were you able to get your head round the logistics of it, Second Life must be one of the most wonderful playgrounds available for those interested in creating machinima. There are enough locations on Nakama alone that could form the back drop of practically any narrative that I hope that people are exploring the potential. I guess I should find out!

[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, The Gamer's Quarter, and Eurogamer. Check out his workblog!]