[‘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 gamer culture.]

For some reason in the past week in Second Life my internet connection has been dropping packets like crazy, making coverage near impossible. That is, of course, not necessarily Second Life’s fault; it’s no better or worse at dealing with adverse network connections than anything else, and as much as I’d love to make a disparaging remark about how it doesn’t match up to World of Warcraft, having never played WOW, I can’t. Having said that, there are reports that the recent update is causing some major lag, so Second Life could be contributing to it, though I’m certain it’s not the root of the problem.

Network issues or not, I’m giving up on exploring the games in Second Life, because it’s become finally utterly and completely apparent that the games in Second Life are either absurdly primitive, depressingly broken, or sexual in nature. The latter, of course, not really requiring much in the way of HUDs, statistical systems or even really custom animations; a filthy mind seem to be enough.

It might be very hard to play a game within Second Life, but it doesn’t mean that the people who use Second Life aren’t gamers, and though they’ve perhaps learned to keep the activity of gaming separate from Second Life, they still bring their culture with them.

Little Silent Hill, for example. It's a strange experience; slap bang in the middle of some busy areas yet masked in a thick, strange fog, it’s a not entirely faithful recreation of everyone’s favourite small town horror. Complaining that it’s not entirely faithful, though, is a bit like complaining your local Chinatown isn’t exactly like Beijing. When you wander the streets of Little Silent Hill, entirely safe (well, apart from "griefers", who are running fairly rampant recently) there’s still that creeping fear, even if it's a bit like wandering a movie theme park and seeing all your favourite props and locations, just slightly out of context.

2006_09_05_ph.jpgThere’s the occasionally jarring moment; I don’t think I ever saw any neon signs in Silent Hill advertising porn magazines, but that’s Second Life for you.

The quirks of the engine also lead to some interesting fudges to get the atmosphere right; the fog appears to be giant semi-transparent polygons, but I’m not a coder so I can’t be sure. The fog does appear inside enclosed areas, however it’s done.

It’s nonetheless an interesting area to visit, and much like a movie set theme park they’ve got a nice range of merchandise, with my particular favourite being the “so darn cute!” mini pyramid head avatar – the stuff of my tiniest nightmares.

Using Second Life as a convenient way to go on sight-seeing tours of imaginary places is a nice way to waste some time, but it really only left me hungering only to revisit the "real" Silent Hill.

[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!]