MTV’s True Life Takes a Look at ‘Second Life’

The closest I’ve ever come to leading a double life was holding down a part-time job while attending college. Not exactly exciting, but nowadays it’s possible to completely reinvent yourself on the internet. The creators of tonight’s True Life: I Live Another Life on the Web, went on a virtual exploration to find some people who admit to having on-and-offline personalities. Here, producer Ben Rosen sums up his experience putting the show together.

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When I first learned of the topic for the True Life episode I would be producing (“I Live Another Life on the Web”), I immediately thought of the virtual world Second Life as having a potential windfall of interesting subjects. Just the name “Second Life” suggested that this might be a place overflowing with people who lead “other lives” on the internet. My suspicions were not unfounded. Second Life has given rise to an amazing number of interesting social structures, modes of behavior, cultures, and fantasies.

Amy’s Other Avatar

In addition to Keiko, Amy created an avatar named Mama Shepard. Mama Shepard is a 38 year old widow, who owns and operates a virtual bakery where she sells baked goods. She also is a mother to a virtual 8 year girl named Lisa. The ironic thing here is that in real life Amy is 22, and the woman who plays Lisa is in her 40s. This role-playing exercise is so thorough that Amy wakes up everyday at 8am to virtually walk Lisa to her school!

Amy often talks about how fulfilling the Second Life experience is as a creative medium. Combining elements of fiction, theater, and animation, she has created a character replete with a personal history. And she goes a step further by adopting the character as a psychological persona, and engaging in very sophisticated role-playing.

The Linden Dollar

Second Life has its own currency, the Linden Dollar, that converts into real world currency. Goods, real estate, and other virtual items are bought and sold using the Linden Dollar. Real world people, through this marketplace, have begun to amass personal fortunes. Business Week reported that a woman in China recently became a self-proclaimed millionaire from her savvy virtual real estate sales.

Virtual Terrorists

This open, user-created medium gives rise to an almost limitless possibility of avatars, groups, and environments. It also enables people to behave in ways that mirror our real lives. Case in point the existence in Second Life of virtual terrorists (read more on techshout.com). Different groups have different goals, but a common theme is the desire to take down the company that runs Second Life, Linden Labs Inc., and to establish a virtual democracy, where users can vote on who manages Second Life.

Virtual Love

And what would life be–real or virtual–without the libido? There is a preponderance of sex-related sims, clubs, brothels, and other gathering sites in Second Life. Whether your fancy be straight, gay, S&M, or any kind of bizarre fetish you can dream up, chances are you will find it in SL.

And then there’s love. People get hitched in Second Life everyday, and they maintain these virtual love affairs sometimes unbeknownst to their real life partners. Who’s to say if this qualifies as “cheating”, but these virtual relationships offer people real emotional sustenance. I met one young lady in Second Life who had recently become virtually pregnant with her virtual boyfriend. In real life, this woman was in fact unable to conceive. But in SL, she would be going through a nine month cycle, and then giving birth, an event replete with visuals and sounds!

Realizing Dreams

Indeed so many people in SL are living out fantasies and dreams that are unattainable in their real lives. Experiences in SL can be seen as therapeutic and liberating in this way. In SL Ashley is something of a celebrity: she’s extremely well-connected and popular, she works as a host at several popular night clubs, and she has a real-income generating job designing SL environments for other users. In real life, Ashley is mute. She represents a perfect example of how SL can literally be a new life for some people. Likewise, Simon has cerebral palsy in real life, but in SL, he runs a very popular nightclub called Wheelies. In SL, he’s able to freely socialize, dance, and even run a business—things that would be almost impossible for him to do in real life. Also check out Newsweek‘s report on him.