The Slippery Virtual Slope


During a break from the regularly scheduled mayhem at work this morning I ran the “Second Life” client software on my work laptop, wondering if it still worked. After a few moments a three dimensional recreation of an Irish bar began reconstructing itself on the screen, along with a number of crazily dressed patrons. Moments later music erupted from the headphones scattered across the desk from me – I think it may have been the Dubliners. Moments later the unfolding scene ground to a half and “Second Life” crashed on it’s backside. I suddenly remembered why I hadn’t bothered with it for the last couple of months.

In a browser not very far away, I submitted a search to the mighty Google:

“Second Life Alternatives”

This brought forth a number of incredibly nerdy articles discussing the pros and cons of various massively multiplayer virtual reality environments available on the internet. I thought it rather mysterious that “World of Warcraft” wasn’t on the list – if you ignore the quest gameplay, it’s actually a very good (and free) virtual world to chat with friends – I know because I’ve done it.

I spotted a name on the list of virtual worlds that I had seen on voucher cards in town. “IMVU”. The client was a free download, and it seemed membership was free too. Against my better judgement I installed the client, and started messing around with it.

Five minutes later a rather attractive twenty-something avatar stood in front of me, wearing a black shirt, black jeans, and black sneakers. I gave him a suitable name, and then set about figuring out how the hell any of the controls worked, or what you could actually do within the virtual environment.

Fast forward half a day, and I’m sitting in bed with the chromebook writing this. I spent several hours this evening – inbetween chores – dipping into and out of IMVU, and a virtual world filled with bars, clubs, streets, beaches, and everything inbetween. I chatted with people all over the world, and went clothes shopping for pretend clothes with pocket money the game gave me in return for poking around and trying things out.

Any normal person would probably have struck up conversation in a virtual cafe with an attractive virtual model type avatar, and made virtual babies (or whatever else it is that people do in IMVU – I really have no idea). Of course I’m not a normal person. Within an hour I had discovered a Country and Western club, and how to make my little guy dance.

I used my free credits to buy a cowboy hat, some leather boots, and a pair of Levi 501s. Moments later I sprinted back onto the dancefloor just in time to hear Rascal Flatts rip into “Backwards”.

I still don’t know what I’m doing with IMVU, and I don’t know if the novelty will last much longer than 48 hours. It all seems tremendously random, and trying to make conversation with strangers seems shallow, contrived, and forced. I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far that much of the “world” is free – after reading feedback earlier in the day on the social internet, you might have thought the company behind the virtual world were modern day highwaymen – I suspect many of those writing reviews were young kids that had tried to game the system and had been caught. Maybe not. We’ll see I guess.

I guess if IMVU has a major failing, it’s that everybody looks very similar in the virtual world – too similar. It’s also difficult to make anybody that doesn’t look like a magazine cover model (believe me, I’ve tried) – which worries me, because I think most of the marketing is aimed at young teens. Way to go with making them feel awful about their appearance, when faced with virtual Barbie and Ken dolls to masquerade as.

Anyway. Time will tell. Tonight was an exception of sorts – I generally wouldn’t have the time to mess around with virtual world rabbit holes – I may not again for a few days.

Did I mention there is a free mobile app too? Yeah – that’s going to be a slippery slope and a half.

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