A World Where Anything Is Possible

How would you like to live in a world where you could be anything you want, look any way you want, and create any object you can imagine?

That's the premise behind the online world of "Second Life," a computer-simulated 3-D environment where everything -- including you -- can be tinkered with, and all of your virtual friends and neighbors are real people just like you.

While some online computer games let you slay dragons, wage war in the future or hunt down mysterious artifacts and hidden treasures, "Second Life" users are left to their own devices.

Some, like Aimee Weber, have opened virtual fashion boutiques where they sell their own line of personally designed virtual clothing for the world's currency, called "Linden dollars."

Cubey Terra has built a successful business designing, building and selling virtual vehicles from giant blimps to one-man airplanes.

Here, players don't compete for high scores, gold coins or to gain power. In "Second Life," it's all about giving you the tools to be and express yourself, virtually.

As the makers of "Second Life" strived to allow players more and more freedom to interact with and alter their environment, they've run into some real-world problems and also found they can help with a real-world illness.

Protecting Teens

Linden Labs, which makes the game, noticed from the program's inception that about half of the people interested in joining the online community were between 13 and 18 years old.

"When we first launched 'Second Life' we made it '18 and up' because obviously you can do anything and people do just about anything in 'Second Life,' so there is mature behavior," explained Linden Labs CEO Philip Rosedale.

So the company created "Teen Second Life," a continent off the coast of the "Second Life" mainland where teens aged 13 to 17 can do all of the same things as their adult counterparts, but in a safer, more controlled environment.

"It's protected in a special way, so if you're 13 to 17 you can only go there and you cannot go there if you're over 18 from the mainland," said Rosedale.

In fact, in what Rosedale says is like "leaving Eden," when one of "Teen Second Life"'s inhabitants reaches 18, there's a graduation ceremony that sends them off to the mainland.

Just like in life, Rosedale says, "you can never go back."

Technology Imitates Life

"Aesop Thatch" -- as he's known in the program's virtual world -- says he's been drawn in because of the connections he's made with other players. The 16-year-old asked that his real name not be used for fear of some of the Internet's less scrupulous users.

"Most of my friends I have in real life are more casual acquaintances than close friends," said Thatch, who's been playing since June. "Here [Teen Second Life] it's really, I wouldn't say intimate, but it's much more personal."

So much so that when one of the teen community's more famous members turned 18 and was cast off to join the adults on the mainland, the entire continent felt the loss.

"Everybody got really depressed because he wasn't there anymore," said Thatch. "People were looking all over for him and got really sad when they found out he was gone."

Programmers Insist: This Is No Game

"Second Life" is many things to many people: a sandbox where they can bring their imagination to life, a playground where they can simply play or a place to meet and socialize. Just don't call it a game.

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