The ritual is the same: Check Facebook, check MySpace, check e-mail, do some online window shopping, then log off. An hour spent online quickly becomes four hours checked out of reality. But with the advent of Second Life, a virtual world that boasts 13.3 million users spanning all demographics and continents, signing on is now an act of checking in to a different reality.
That's because the online environment's self-sufficient economy, independent entertainment industry and authentic emotional relationships have created a literal second life for its users, with real-life consequences that traverse the digital divide. This blurring of worlds means news in either is fair game for newspapers in our first life; Reuters has even opened a virtual news desk. Here are some headlines that had us scratching our heads:
Virtual housing boom creates real life millionaire
In 2006, the first virtual millionaire was made. And the cash was deposited into a real-world bank account. Anshe Chung invested just $9.95 a month to become a Second Life user before making bank by selling virtual real estate.Second Life is largely designed and improved by its users, so Chung and others can use their technology know-how to design houses, backdrops and other products that become commodities in Second Life. Other users then convert their money into Linden dollars (Second Life currency) using an account like PayPal to purchase the goods. That money can be transferred back into the real-world economy anytime.
Source: Information Week
Feds see dollar signs, terrorist threat in Second Life
Congress held an online hearing on virtual worlds in April to discuss a study on the Second Life economy by Congress' Joint Economic Committee. It spurred a slew of academic studies that ask whether the government can tax the weapons used in World of Warcraft or club attire purchased for wild nights on the Second Life town.
Additionally, Congress members used the hearing to question Philip Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Labs, about the possibility of using Second Life as a means to terrorist ends. Specifically, government officials worried the program's virtual economy could be used to launder money for terrorist organizations. Rosedale told Congress that large transactions are easy to spot and that Second Life has maintained a fraud rate under 1 percent.
Sources: Forbes and Wired.com
Real life arrest for virtual theft
A Dutch teenager was arrested in November for allegedly stealing more than $6,000 worth of virtual renderings of furniture from Habbo Hotel in Second Life. The furniture was bought with real money converted into the Second Life economy much in the same way you convert currency when traveling.
Source: BBC News
Belgian police patrols Second Life after virtual rape case
Two Belgian newspapers reported in April 2007 that police set up a Second Life patrol unit to investigate allegations of an online rape. Details about the case were not released, in the same way details of its real-world equivalent are not.
Avatar sued over virtual sex device
Kevin Alderman, a 46-year-old entrepreneur looked at the smooth anatomy of Second Life's Barbie and Ken-like avatars and saw dollar signs. His company, Business at Eros, quickly developed realistic genitalia for avatars and even some sexy moves. But its wares grew so popular that Alderman was forced to hire lawyers to go after a user who he said illegally copied and sold similar pieces.
Source: The Associated Press
Virtual child sex scandal
German prosecutors launched an investigation in May 2007 into Age Play, a Second Life offering in which users can request sex with others who create childlike avatars to make money.
Source: The Guardian
Cyber holidays replace traditional summer travels
Have gas prices foiled your summer plans? Take a trip without leaving the confines of your office. Second Life users have set up a burgeoning tourism industry online, complete with tours, virtual travel agencies and guidebooks that help visitors navigate virtual escapes. In 2007, Synthravels, the world's first virtual tour operator, led more than 1,000 tours in 27 online worlds.
Virtual protests turn violent
In 2007, protesting avatars attacked the Second Life headquarters of then French presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. More recently, virtual campaign rallies for U.S. presidential hopefuls turned ugly when online campaign headquarters were vandalized, marches were ambushed and cyber bullets flew. Though there was no real bloodshed, the Wall Street Journal reported that enough bullets can crash a Second Life server.
Sources: Washington Post and Wall Street Journal