Role-Playing In Second Life - InformationWeek

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4/20/2007
06:02 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Role-Playing In Second Life

Role-playing is one of the most popular activities in Second Life. You're basically pretending to be a fictional character. Remember when you were a kid you tied a towel around your neck and pretended to be a caped superhero? As far as I can see, role-playing in SL is like that, but geared for grownups.

Role-playing is one of the most popular activities in Second Life. You're basically pretending to be a fictional character. Remember when you were a kid you tied a towel around your neck and pretended to be a caped superhero? As far as I can see, role-playing in SL is like that, but geared for grownups.

Medieval-themed role-playing, influenced by Lord of the Rings and other such work, is very popular. There's a couple of areas with cyberpunky themes, like in the movie Bladerunner. There's at least one area with a theme influenced by a kind of science fiction called "steampunk," which imagines that the Victorians developed advanced technology like computers, robots, and spaceships.

At least two role-playing areas have similar themes: a cyberpunk city that also includes vampires, werewolves, and other dark, magical creatures. One of them is called Midian. It's one of the first places I visited in Second Life, not realizing what I was getting into.

I think my eyelids exploded from their sockets when I found myself having a conversation with a virtual stripper. I work from a home office, and my wife was home at the time. I attempted to cover up my monitor with my body. I have a 24-inch monitor, so that wasn't easy, but fortunately a lifetime of eating fried food and not exercising gave me the physique to manage it.

Another area of the same type is the City of Lost Angels, which Onder Skall writes up for the blog New World Notes. It's a good overview of the game -- I admit that I don't know very much about RPGs in SL.

The game has sophisticated combat software (Skall writes), built with Second Life's native programming language, the Linden Scripting Language, along with SQL.

Despite the sophistication of the combat system, most accounts of battle seem to involve intense dialog over how the players see a situation playing out rather than who can click the fastest. Battles are planned ahead of time, the situation is carefully orchestrated, and the results are a combination of what the numbers say and what "makes sense." The game's message boards are filled with character backstories and a constant barrage of questions and new ideas.

Skall goes on to praise the avatars, music playing over in-game sound, and more.

He also paints a picture -- without coming out and saying it in so many words -- that the City of Lost Angels is a very friendly place. I know enough about RPGs to not be surprised by that. The characters hate each other, but the people -- the flesh-and-blood entities sitting at their computers and drinking Diet Coke -- get along just fine.

Reuters has a really good write-up of several other themed sims in Second Life, including one based on New York's Hell's Kitchen in 1980, when filth and crime in the Big Apple were at their peak, and another based on Dune -- apparently, the David Lynch camp movie rather than the novel or the later TV miniseries.

The sim includes nods to a couple of great cheesy moments in the movie, but not, apparently, my favorites: Kenneth McMillan chewing the scenery in three dimensions as the morbidly obese, antigravity-belt-wearing Baron Harkonnen. And Jose Ferrer, as Padisha Empereror Shaddam IV, sneering, "Show the fat floating baron in."

But I digress.

What other role-playing goes on in Second Life? What are your favorite RPGs?

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