Living A Virtual Life On The Internet

Second Life virtual game screenshot
Linden Research, Inc.

On the Internet, there is a virtual world called Second Life. It's not a game: no one wins, loses or dies. It's not a show: nothing happens here unless you make it happen.

Second Life is all about wish fulfillment. You're represented by a computer-generated character. You can make it walk around. You can fly. You can exchange typed comments with other people's characters. You can make yourself young and beautiful. You can even make the sun set on command.

"I, as a kid, always wanted to kind of make the - the world's biggest Lego kit," Philip Rosedale, the CEO of Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life told Sunday Morning correspondent David Pogue. "It's driven by personal expression, creativity, ownership. It has commerce. If you want to make money, you can."

And that is what makes Second Life different from other Online 3D worlds. In this one, people spend real money for imaginary stuff.

"You see land for sale, virtual real estate," said Eric Rice is a Second Life fan who's part of this $220 million a-year economy. "You're renting space to be able to store your things. So that translates to a world where you can walk around and interact with people as real estate. And some people do extremely well with it."

Some people make a living in Second Life the old-fashioned way, by making stuff and then selling it. Rice has built entire building complexes like a music center. Online, he looks pretty close to how he looks in real life.

"There are very basic tools," he said. "I can make it big. I can make it small. Here, we can make a fake skyscraper."

In shopping districts, people sell everything from virtual clothes to better hairdos. People even pay for imaginary drinks so their imaginary characters can stand around looking chic in imaginary bars.

"You would do it because you believe so passionately in it as an experience from the real world that you cannot help but take it there," Rosedale said.

Reuben Steiger, a consultant to big-name companies like Toyota, Microsoft and Intel who want to be represented in Second Life, said that people who participate in it are showing not who they are, but who they would like to be.

"When Armani sells me a shirt, they're not selling me a piece of cloth. They're selling me the transformative capability of that product," he said. "Companies find it very interesting to see what their customers would like to be if they had the power to determine that."

Second Life has its own currency called Linden Dollars, which are currently trading at $270 per real dollar.

"Establishing some micro-transaction currency was really important because obviously there are a lot of things you might want to make and sell for a very small amount of money because there is no inherent costs associated with those things," Rosedale said.

Those micro-transactions can add up. Several Second Life entrepreneurs are clearing $200,000 a year. Of course, in any world where people have money to spend, there will also be a sexual element. Rice said Second Life is about 30 percent sex driven.

"And you know, in its early stages, everything kind of starts that way, I guess. I see more casinos than I do weird clubs," he said.

Nevertheless, a lot of Second Life is rated G. You can take a balloon ride. You can listen to a live concert through your computer speakers. You can join a Harvard Law school seminar with fellow students who are actually scattered all over the world. Still, Second Life isn't quite a paradise yet. It's experiencing growing pains in the form of software bugs and freezes and Rosedale acknowledges that there's a lot of work yet to be done.

"In just a few years, this is gonna look like walking into a movie screen," Rosedale said. "And that's just gonna be such an amazing thing."