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The Technological Tourist

Game On


Published May 2, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

What is Paris without a travel guide?

For anyone who calls the City of Lights home, no guide is necessary. Even the frequent traveler will know how to get around without a miniature encyclopedia of places to go, things to do and sites to see.

For the rest of us, bring on Frommer's and Fodor's. We don't want to get lost.

The authors of The Unofficial Tourists' Guide to Second Life figured that if you are not one of the 6 million or so visitors and itinerant residents of this expansive virtual world, you need a guide. Even if you've dipped into this virtual Wonderland in the past, it might help to have someone point out some of the interesting back alleys and steer you clear of trouble with a little local advice.

In a place as big and weird as "Second Life," it helps to have someone hold your hand and lead you around.

Let's go!

For the uninitiated, "SL" works like a giant game of "World of WarCraft," but with fewer rules. While "WoW" boasts more than 7 million players worldwide paying around $15 a month for the chance to get ahead in the swords-and-sorcery racket, "SL" fills its growing digital real estate with the random thoughts and architectural aspirations of its residents. Where "WoW" lets you live the life of a heroic dwarf, "Second Life" doesn't mind if you just putter around in a flying car or spend a while remaking your in-game character from a cute rave boy into a towering Amazonian roller-derby queen.

In place of goals, objectives and points, "SL" offers tools to let the players build whatever they want. Often that comes in the form of games. It's just as likely, though, to appear as commerce, frivolity and vice. Spend some time in the "SL" version of Amsterdam, and you'll discover that the red-light district has taken over. Or slip over to the Vampire Empire for a little gothic amusement. Just need to relax? The guide points you to Luskwood for a chat with a giant, talking bunny.

Whether you're stocking a digital bar in a dingy imaginary nightclub or trying to teach people about psychosis, nothing in the ever-growing grid of places in "SL" will take you far from fun.

The guide recognizes this, and its advice focuses firmly on enjoyment. This book shows that the digital age of armchair travel has reached an exotic new destination.

Who's It For: Anyone over 18 is invited into the world of "Second Life." And with free starter accounts and software for both the Mac and PC, almost anyone will enjoy, or at least remember, a visit to this dreamland.

If You Like This, Try That: If "Second Life" seems a little unstructured, but you like the idea of hanging out with real people pretending to be someone else, then try any of the wide variety of massively multiplayer online games. Some choice picks include "City of Heroes," "Lord of the Rings Online" and the ever-popular "World of WarCraft."

Best Part: Unlike many online games, the "SL" world was designed so that no magic portals or teleporters are necessary to explore the land. To get from one place to another you can walk or fly, taking in the sites and enjoying the serendipity of exploring a strange new world.

Play Money: One of the many original features of "Second Life" is its economy. While many online games have a shadowy black market of magic swords and suits of armor traded for cash on eBay, "Second Life" remains unique in its use of an in-world dollar that is legally exchangeable for U.S. currency. Moreover, the economic traffic inside "Second Life" has reached impressive levels. On a typical day in April, more than $1.5 million worth of barter happened inside its digital domain.