A tour of Second Life's big emptyIBM is in Second Life! The John Edwards presidential campaign is in Second Life! Your mama is in Second Life! Media hype of Second Life has developed a subspecies focused on the novelty of X real-world entity establishing a virtual presence in the pretend world, which should then draw mobs of virtual gawkers. Yet these alleged mobs often boil down to one or two lookie-loos wandering around, or nobody at all. Critics of our SL criticism have rightly pointed out that we miss nuances because we're not "into" SL ourselves. Despite some bad experiences and disappointments, your plucky guest editor is giving it another go. So is born "Valleywag Vuckovic." After the jump, a safari into notable Second Life hype-points to connect with the locals.

First, I spent the requisite time learning to move around and interact. I also wasted a good 15 minutes tweaking my "Boy Next Door" avatar beyond the default 85% gay anime life-study. Most of those minutes went to rectifying a mysterious bald spot that kept appearing whenever I adjusted my hairstyle. At the end of this process, my avatar was less gay, though somehow I felt that I, myself, had become more gay.

After that, I only had time for three stops on the hypewatch tour: IBM's SL island complex, the SL headquarters of would-be Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, and some sex shops. I'll cover the sex angle in another post later today. So first, up: IBM.

A tour of Second Life's big emptyS
The IBM island chain is enormous, and it's covered with impressive Logan's Run-style futuristic structures. However, there was not a soul in sight. After reading through some billboards, it became clear this place was designed primarily for events. No IBMers were in evidence. The only other person I found was a strange goth-like being, slumped over in apparent sleep. When I approached this virtual hobo, he started awake and vanished. I was alone in the creepy bizplex.

A tour of Second Life's big emptyS
Or was I? Skulking around in the buildings — which felt exactly like wandering in empty offices, i.e., very slightly transgressive but also very, very boring — I encountered a person! Someone who actually looked like they were here to talk about IBM! But as I got closer, it turned out to be a standee cutout of a person, though it did talk. I tried to push it over or steal it, but no go. However, nearby I found a "coffee bar" which gave me an "Irish coffee." My avatar sipped this coffee placidly for the rest of my time in Second Life, even while I perused the bukkake offerings in a sex dungeon. (Like I said: more on the sex later.) Meanwhile, though, it's time to visit the John Edwards campaign HQ.

A tour of Second Life's big emptyS
I'm not sure if this Edwards presence in SL is official or not — seems a little murky — but they got a nice big billboard. However, the building itself is in the middle of an island with lots of other peoples' lots. As the Edwards campaign presence in SL got such media attention, the neighbors must have started throwing up their own ads (SL realty, shops, and porn are all represented, floating just off the Edwards lawn).

A tour of Second Life's big emptyS
My favorite was this neighbor, who had nicely framed his collection of fantasy-girl cheesecake to allow background contemplation of the Edwards HQ. All available for purchase, of course. But let's see what's doing at the campaign building.

A tour of Second Life's big emptyS
Holy shit! People! I eagerly approach, only to find out from their conversation that one is a SL newbie like myself, and the other is providing gentle instruction on how to enjoy this new space. I ask if John Edwards ever comes around, but they ignore me. After walking around the bare building and unsuccesfully trying to get a John Edwards t-shirt, I spot a helicopter hovering overhead. Why you'd need a chopper in a world where everyone can fly, I dunno. But I wonder if I can fly it around — at root, all of Second Life boils down to, "How can I mess around with that thing?" So I click on the helicopter, and rather than controlling it, find myself riding shotgun inside while someone named "Deadly Sin" drives. He suddenly descends till we're hovering (silently!) right next to the pair chatting in front of the Edwards building. One of those two guys says, "Dude, there's a helicopter behind you," which is the best thing so far said in Second Life.

A tour of Second Life's big emptyS
As the second guy turns around to see if there really is a helicopter behind him, my pilot takes us up again. Bored, I "stand up," to leave, and find myself standing nonchalantly on the whirring chopper blades. I step off and plummet to the ground, landing on my ass next to the two chatting guys. Still they ignore me. Despondent of interaction, I notice an abandoned motorcycle stuck in some bushes. I decide I'll ride the motorcycle around to the front and jump off dramatically in front of the two guys, saying I have important news from John Edwards. If they're not from the campaign, maybe they'll believe I'm from the campaign.

A tour of Second Life's big empty
Things do not go as planned. First, my avatar decides to mount the motorcycle backwards, sitting on the handlebars. Then, perhaps because of my unorthodox riding style, the bike takes off at top speed and will neither turn nor stop. I zip past the still-indifferent chatting guys, through the headquarters building, out the other side, off the Edwards property, over a hill, and into what looks like a Japanese teahouse where my forward motion finally halts. No luck on interacting with John Edwards supporters, though I am proud to note that my avatar never let go of his coffee.

This is, of course, just the beginning. A few notes on sex shops later today, but I remain open to further tourism suggestions. Where are all the people, anyway? If you've got an ostensibly popular or patently ridiculous site in Second Life that you'd like me to visit, by all means let me know.