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Column: Letters From The Metaverse

COLUMN: Letters from the Metaverse - American Apparel in a Parallel World

July 11, 2006 7:02 PM |

[‘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 shopping.]

After my first column last week I got a rather lovely comment from the poster fluffybunny, who said “I have to admit I'm looking forward to your next post, even though I generally feel Second Life is getting way too much attention these days.” Fluffybunny picks up a good point – Second Life does seem a bit overexposed, doesn’t it? (Not that I’m trying to put you off this column, or anything.)

For example, only seconds ago SimonC mailed to let me know of a brand new Second Life blog, Second Life Insider, which has about nine hundred million posts already. There’s a nice one which joins me in my opinion that Orientation Island is absolutely bloody useless, at least.

2006_07_10_10s.jpgThe recent reaction of the world at large to the launch of Second Life’s branch of American Apparel, though, more than adequately shows off how much exposure the virtual world is getting. It was actually SimonC’s post on this very thing which intrigued me enough to start this column, as I decided I absolutely had to visit the store; American Apparel is the only brand I’ll let myself wear without shame.

For those of you not familiar with American Apparel, here’s a quick overview - begun by Montrealer Dov Charney, it sells 100% cotton clothes in block colors that are, more importantly, produced 100% sweatshop free in downtown Los Angeles. Slightly less importantly, it’s pricey, and advertised mostly with perverted images of girls in their skimpiest offerings.

It’s pretty much for twenty-something hipsters. Of which I am one. Unashamedly. So unashamedly that my favorite piece of clothing is their California Fleece Track Jacket. I have it in brown, so it’s only fitting that my avatar in Second Life should wear something analogous.

Shops in Second Life are a strange proposition. Most simply consist of a wall of static images of what you can expect to get if you stump over your cash, and you’ve got absolutely no way of telling if it’ll look good on your avatar, or even work, it seems, until you’ve paid up. After scouring the web for the slurl of the American Apparel store (which took a lot longer than I expected it to) I teleported in, hoping for something better.

2006_07_10_5s.jpgThe first thing that strikes you about the American Apparel store is how much like an actual store it is, unlike the boxes full of image boards that I’m used to seeing. Of course, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Items are still purchased from image boards (cleverly placed above clothes racks) and there’s STILL no way to tell what the clothes would look like on.

(The image boards actually only show store designer Aimee Weber’s avatar wearing the clothes, so she either thinks that only women would shop there, or she’s just a little bit too in love with herself.)

Seriously, people. Am I the only one who thinks it would be trivial to have mannequins in stores? I haven’t seen any in the world yet, and I’ve seen plenty of statues. None the less, the place does have a nice American Apparel ambience, even it is even heavier, if anything, on the NSFW images scattered around the virtual store. That’s everyone’s favorite Torontonian porn actress/proud wearer of American Apparel socks [and little else-Ed.] Lauren Phoenix.

2006_07_10_8s.jpgSo, even though I couldn’t be sure what I was buying was good, I decided to stump up the cash (350 Linden dollars, which is about one US dollar) on getting myself a track top. Thankfully, though I didn’t have enough money on me, buying currency is effortless, even though at that point you have to come to terms with the fact you’re now spending REAL money on virtual things.

So, breaking that psychological barrier, I was soon the proud owner of the track jacket, and off to the changing rooms I went (more for effect than anything) and emerged looking pretty sweet in the cranberry version. Success.

Now I just need to get some designer frames.

NEXT WEEK: I suddenly realise I shouldn’t have revealed my player name as it could make undercover reporting impossible, before being talked down when it turns out no one reads what I write anyway. I celebrate by going clubbing with some furries, or something.

[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, Twitch Film, and Eurogamer.]

COLUMN: Letters from the Metaverse - Escape From Orientation Island

July 4, 2006 9:31 AM |

[‘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 getting started.]

Depending on who you talk to, the online virtual world of Second Life is one of two things. It’s either a model virtual community, standing up as well as a shining example of a real marketplace in a virtual world as it does as a thriving social gaming sandbox, OR it’s a gigantic sweaty virtual orgy, featuring every fetish you could hope to dream of played out in virtual public. Fancy putting on a diaper and being teabagged by someone dressed in a raccoon suit? You can probably do that in Second Life.

2006_07_04_hat.pngAhem. I can already hear the cries of the Second Life devotees who subscribe to the former view of the world, but to be honest, as it stands no one really seems to know what Second Life is, or what it means, with everyone from Business Week to hyperbole obsessed academics and "ludologists" stumbling over themselves to define it. Which is probably why our fearless leader, SimonC, asked me, as a total newbie to Second Life, to put on my investigative journalism hat (it’s got a little card in it that says "Press") and INVESTIGATE.

Well. As soon as you’ve gone through the painless creation of an account and installation of the client, which checks in at less than 30mb, but eats up to a gigabyte of your hard disk as it streams the world, you’re dumped quite unceremoniously on Orientation Island in your new virtual form.

For some strange and not entirely discernable reason you’re only given a limited number of choices for your second name, and the choices are uniformly terrible, consisting largely of Japanese food (Oh! Those wacky Japanese, with their “Ebi” and their “Gyoza”!) or the names of science fiction authors. These names probably ensure that you have a unique name in the world. A uniquely stupid one.

So my avatar is called “Seven Kikuchiyo”. He’s actually called Seven as a (weak) reference to Killer7, which I was playing and somewhat enjoying at the same time I began Second Life, so I picked his second name as a bonus reference. I am all about the pop culture references.

2006_07_04_firstthing.jpg

So this is Orientation Island, which will completely fail to help you if you’re as impatient as I am. You’ll quickly learn how to edit your character and create a terrible facsimile of yourself, probably with polygon shears you can’t spot because the camera is so bloody unhelpful. You’ll learn to fly and to run around like you’ve crapped your pants (or at least, that’s what the animation looks like to me) use vehicles, buy stuff, and use your incredibly confusing inventory, which rather than a traditional box of objects is a system of hierarchical folders containing everything from the animation which makes you run like you’ve crapped your pants, to the pants you’ve crapped.

Anyway, I got bored of all that jazz, and quickly exited through the first gate I could find onto the main island, making sure to fail to pay attention to where it was sending me. That would have been way too sensible. No matter, because all of my all my stereotypes of Second Life as the grubby red light district of the internet were smashed within seconds, as I was teleported directly in front of a sex shop.

2006_07_04_sexy.jpg

Here you can see a range of sex animations for your avatar. If you'll click it to get a closer look, you'll note that most of the animations explicitly list a male and a female as taking part in the sexual congress, the same way that fascists like George W. Bush considers marriage to be between only a man and a woman! Does this mean that the inhabitants of Second Life discriminate against gays and lesbians? Is this something I could… INVESTIGATE?

NEXT WEEK: I forget all about that and attempt to buy clothes which aren’t completely lame, probably.

[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.]