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Recently I discovered something really interesting out there on the wild and crazy Internet - Second Life. What is Second Life? It's a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game) but it's quite different from every other game of this type that I've ever seen.
Most online RPGs follow the typical pattern of: Run around and kill the monsters. You then collect money, equipment and weapons from the dead monsters. You use the money to continually upgrade your equipment and weapons, change your appearance, gain new skills for fighting etc. Most are a Dungeons & Dragons type of theme (swords, armor, monsters. etc). Some follow a sci-fi theme (Star Wars Galaxies) or even a superhero theme (City of Heros). They are also a very social environment. You can log on and chat with others around the world.
Second Life (SL) is quite different. While it is a 3D world as are most MMORPGs, and you have an 'avatar' (your character in the game) that you control, that's where the similarites end. There are no monsters to kill (that I've seen). And while you can customize your character, it's not generally done through armor and the like. It's more a matter of customizing the appearance of your clothes and body. You can do all kinds of interesting things, such as completely customize your clothes (color, texture, shirt sleeve length, pants length), as well as your physical appearance (hair color, skin color, sex, etc.) What I find truly unique about SL is that what you can do in the game is limited only by your imagination. Most MMORPGs limit what you can do and how you can look to a series of 'canned' appearances and costumes. Not in SL. You can design your own costumes. You can even create entirely new outfits and textures and upload them. This allows you literally endless possibilities to make your avatar truly unique. You can even create a full body 'naked' suit that is anatomically correct, if such is your desire. (Thankfully, the adult areas are kept separate from the kids areas).
Other things you can do include include completely design your own objects in the game in every way. You can custom build 3D objects within the game, add custom textures, and even build custom scripts that control these objects. The possibilities are endless.
You can also buy land in the game and build a permanent home there. Since you have complete control customizing your home, you can create as elaborate a home as you like. It's all up to you. I've done some wandering around the game and there are some truly incredible user-designed areas there.
Second Life also literally has a real-life economy to it. You have money in the game called 'Lindens', but you can easily exchange between in-game Lindens and real-life cash! This means that you could conceivably create objects in the game, sell them to other players, then take your profits in Lindens and convert those profits in real money. You could literally earn a real-life living in the game!
How does this game make money? You can join for free (as I did) and wander around and chat with people. You also have a good deal of 'free' customizing of your appearance available to you for free. You an wander around, play games, probably find a job and earn enough money to survive. However, if you want to more than just the basics, you need to buy a subscription to the game. This subscription gives you the ability to buy land and build your home. I would imagine this would also give you the ability to buy supplies that you can use to build products to sell to other players in the game. You can then setup an in-game store and sell your wares to other players. I would expect that the makers of this game also get a cut of all money exchanges between Lindens and real money.
I don't play MMORPGs much, but I can certainly see how unique of a game this is, and how it stands to change how people think of MMORPGs in the future. Once you get used to being able to do literally anything in the game, would you ever go back to the other MMORPGs that limit what you can do? I think not.