There isn't much that can't be done in this world: anybody can be beautiful, blond, slim, 1m80 and with big breasts. Or masculine, southernly with a washboard stomach and a three-day beard. Or a cat with pointed ears and animal body paint. Nobody suffers hunger, and there are neither environmental problems nor greenhouse gases. Anybody can fly or be teleported, with the topics of transport by plane and kerosene tax no longer an issue. And anybody can earn real money with their computer-double.
It is a virtual world, one which only grows in the global network of computers, but that promises to become just as real as real life. "Second Life" is no game in the sense of computer games, where you battle alone or together with other gaming freaks in a mission against dragons or zombies, but rather a staggering, in many aspects quite eerie vision.
For here, behind every being you come across, there is a person sitting at their computer creating a second life for themselves, a second existence in this artificial. Four million users have already subscribed to this computer masquerade ball, 25,000 virtual citizens are online every day: men in the form of their personal dream women, women playing men. You cannot guess who is hiding behind each masquerade. But is that important in a world in which not even Mardi Gras costumes occur?
More than a million US dollars change hands daily in this new world. Not in US-currency (which is only for the real world), but changed into the gaming currency "Linden dollars" with an exchange rate that fluctuates rather like the Euro. Virtual properties are created by software engineers and sold. Dream islands, on which you can construct an extravagant villa with a sea view or a virtual company headquarters, just like the ones Mercedes have just opened. With the help of computer keys, you can go inside, see the latest model at the Geneva showrooms, talk to a virtual salesperson, behind which a real Mercedes worker is hiding, and help yourself to the welcome gift, a racing suit.
Nobody needs a car in "Second Life", because everybody can fly. But many have already voiced concerns over the advertising impact of this artificial computer world: what a gag, if the new Audi weren't to be revealed before curious experts in the car showroom in Geneva until the day after tomorrow, but it can already be seen in the virtual company headquarters of "Second Life". For a few thousand dollars Gucci can afford a virtual boutique, where you can buy hats and clothes, which make the virtual Diva stand out on the virtual street, and attract attention and conversation. You can then play out the consequential flirting through to cyber-sex. At Adidas there are fashionable shoes, a watercolour painter puts on an online-exhibition, Reuters has founded a newsagents and the German newspaper "Bild" is trying out a virtual paper that brings news to the Second-Life inhabitants. What
is there to report on? The French election campaign is not only the topic of discussion in real life, but also here. Sweden is said to have opened an embassy in the new computer world, and today clubbing is in the Crazy Horse: the most outrageous outfit wins a 500 Linden dollar prize. The club owner still needs party starters, who can liven up the dancefloor for a few Linden dollars per hour. And naturally there is a job market. The development firm Linden is looking for start-up helpers, who can talk to new citizens in the virtual world (vaguely reminiscent of default freebie clothing) to make their first few steps easier, the boutique next-door needs a salesgirl, and of course real software engineers are sought, who can hoist up the artificial shop halls, design dream islands or programme software solutions for workflow in the first virtual online bank.
For some, "Second Life" is simply a boring game which costs money to get any further. For many, an illusory world like this is an opportunity to realise dreams that would not be possible in their real lives, with all the well-known dangers of set backs of a screen life through to a loss of reality. People like the half German-Chinese Ailin Gräf, who employs a whole host of programmers and through the purchase of virtual property has become a real dollar millionaire, or Professor Peter Kotauczek, President of the Austrian software company, both see a goldmine in the new platform. The professor said in an interview: "The social applications of such a boundary-free world are huge, once they are discovered. And for those with a creative streak, there are opportunities like at the time of settlement in North America. It is a whole new global market for businesses."