Is that a bandwagon I hear?

Everywhere you look these days it seems that the alternate reality Second Life appears. This isn't all in the niche gaming press but in the mainstream media. This leads us to think, is it a game or just another tool to sell us things? Henry Tucker, and his Second Life alter-ego, investigate.

Second life image (1) The first time we heard of Second Life (www.secondlife.com) was when we read a story about a man who was having an affair in the game. Although we didn't know it at the time, this was to be the start of a lot of tittle tattle about the so-called game.

In Second Life, if you're not aware of it, you create a character for yourself, choose a name and then create an avatar - you choose what you look like in the world. Having done this you can then walk around the world, talk to other people and generally have a second life, hence the name.

Now this all sounds like standard computer role-playing game fair. After all, with the exception of strange alien races, axes and magic, it's not a lot different from the hugely popular World of Warcraft game.

So if you can't go on quests, tackle evil warlocks or discover the sword of a thousand truths, what can you do in Second Life, apart from having affairs? Well you can buy land, build a house and then also buy things.

Second life image (2) You see, in Second Life not only is it an alternate world but it also has its own currency - Linden dollars. There's even an exchange rate, currently L$250 to the dollar. You may wonder what it is you can buy in the world, well after real estate, the answer is a lot of things.

More and more retailers are setting up shop in Second Life. This leads us to think, what's the point? Surely the idea of games, and it is a game because you're pretending to be someone else, is to escape from the trappings of our society. Surely that's why the man was supposedly having an affair in the game because it wasn't something he would do in this world.

In game worlds I have stormed the beaches of Normandy under heavy fire, scored goals against the top football teams and raced around the streets of Paris. I wouldn't do any of these in real life and on the flipside I wouldn't really want to go shopping in a game let alone go through the hassle of buying a house. These are tedious things that I play games to get away from.

And if you didn't think that this was a pointless idea, because of the nature of Second Life, the graphics quality isn't that good. This means that retailers wanting to sell their goods can only use very rudimentary images to represent their wares.

Second life image (3) So if you go into a shop you can't really see what something looks like, all you get is a basic, pixelated representation of the thing in question. You're better off either going online or into a real, physical, bricks and mortar shop. At least then you can touch the item and see what it looks like.

It feels like every day I read or hear that some business or other is setting up in Second Life. I then ask myself the question, is it because they want to help people escape the dull, monotony of life? No, it's because they've heard of Second Life and want to jump on the bandwagon and flog us more stuff.

I recently saw that Sky News has built a replica of its news building in the game. What this means is that anyone can now go into the building and watch news clips whenever they want.

Sky has also included a feature where people can pick up a free TV to watch programmes on as well. I can't think of anything more depressing than watching real news in a world that is supposed to be an escape.

As far as we can tell, companies, MPs and just about anyone who thinks they want to appear young and trendy tries to get themselves connected with Second Life in some way.

Bands have played exclusive Second Life concerts and Gordon Brown, the soon to be prime minister, has posed the question should transactions in worlds such as Second Life be taxed? Do these people really care about online worlds or do they just have the ability to spot a potentially lucrative bandwagon when it's rolling past? I think I know the answer.

June 2007