Virtual clubbing saved my skinny white hipster ass. Maybe
It may sound cliché, but there's no other way to put it: my nightlife sucks. With two shitty day jobs and a barely blossoming career as a freelance journalist, it's nearly impossible for me to find enough time or money to enjoy this city after dark. It hasn't always been this way: I used to spend my evenings gleefully cross-eyed, rubbing knees with random hedonists, pushers, and hell-raisers. I used to go skateboarding in night goggles and camp nude in the Tenderloin. Goddamn it, I used to have it all!
I've thus far managed to maintain sanity by telling myself that hard work produces success, but my self-imposed exile to the sunlit hours is rapidly taking its toll. Gray hair, bedroom alcoholism, and soul-crushing anxiety shouldn't affect me for another 10 years or so. Yet here I barely stand at the ripe age of 28, a boring fucking wreck. In order to salvage some of my formerly wild personality and rather than shoot myself or seek expensive therapy I decided recently to take the plunge into the comprehensive virtual world of Second Life. Might as well throw down with some wart-nosed trolls and weirdo Wizards of Nardo, right? Pass the magick toad grog, Tinker Bell. Yep, I'm just that desperate.
With all the hype surrounding Second Life and its maker, Linden Labs, you'd think the game would be a fairly simple thing to pick up. Not so, my friend. The first obstacle I ran into was of the technical variety. After installing SL and choosing a sly code name (Justyn Jewell, natch), I thought I was good to go, but my poor old Dell crashed whenever I tried to wiggle my virtual buttocks. My friend Tony, a notorious group gamer at Stanford, hates it when I call him with computer questions but was surprisingly enthused about the opportunity to share his SL wisdom. He even agreed to come over that very night and lend me his vacationing roommate's brand-new MacBook Pro until she got back. Score.
First lesson: customizing an avatar. Perversely, I chose the Boy Next Door body template and then altered its features to match my own. After some meticulous tweaking, Justyn Jewell was no longer your average joe. He was a tragically good-looking skinny white dude with slick brown hair and sleek black shoes. I also gave him a handlebar mustache, because I'm up-to-the-minute like that.
Tony spent the next few hours teaching me the basics. When he left that night, I was able to walk, fly, teleport, take a piss, and hold brief conversations. I was still having trouble picking things up, touching people, and not walking into corners, but it was too early to worry about socially acceptable advanced maneuvers. For a man who hadn't touched a video game since Mario Bros. III, simply stumbling through SL's intricate landscape felt like enough. Getting beyond that was going to be a bumpy road, but Tony promised to come back and teach me some more when the time was right.
My first few weeks with Second Life were just what I needed. Whenever my brain grew weary from writing another puff piece about the latest hair-removal technique ("Experience the smooth, toning pleasures of La Cage Aux Follicles"), I would log on and select one of the thousands of clubs from the Popular Place menu. Immediately, I'd shoot to an island dedicated to house, techno, hard rock, hip-hop, or what have you. Each venue was full of kitted-out avatars who acted as though they were at a real party. "Woo-hoo!" they would say. And "This party is sooo amazing!" I knew it was all fake, but I was getting a visceral thrill watching my doppelgänger mingle with squirrel people, virtual heshers, cocky shot-callers, and impossibly elfin ravers.
The possibilities kept me endlessly occupied. I started out mainly going to standard Ibiza-like situations but soon wound up frequenting a hip-hop club called Insatiable, where people ground to slightly less-than-cutting-edge tunes by Ludacris and Fat Joe. I tried to spice things up by talking to people wherever I went, but my standard greeting, "Whacha gonna do with all that ass, all that ass inside them virtual jeans?," was often met with a cold shoulder or yawn even at Club Insatiable! The reason was obvious. While nearly everyone else had wild hairdos, tattoos, designer outfits, and sparkling electro-bling, I was still in stock attire, a boring newbie who didn't know shit. It was time to get some gear.
Perusing boutiques in SL made me realize just how Vegas-like this virtual world can be. Everything is for sale. Shirts, pants, drinks, cars, body parts ... Most items struck me as rather excessively priced or ephemeral, but a few choice pieces had me reaching for my Linden dollars, the coin of the realm.
One of my first stops was a store called Dicks and Pussies, where I somehow managed to score a free T skintight, red and white, with the name of the store emblazoned across the chest. It was fine for walking around in an adult boutique, but I couldn't figure out how to get the damn thing off. What would they say at Club Insatiable? In the hopes of finding a better free shirt, I teleported to a few other stores, but no luck. I was stuck looking like a freebie-grubbing douche bag until Tony could help me. Luckily, we had made a date for that night.
By 10 p.m., Tony and I were in an alcohol-fueled Second Life frenzy. After scoring some more Linden dollars, we flew around to goofy places like Hedonistic Isle, where you can gamble, listen to streaming audio, and lounge in lawn chairs. There were volleyball courts, bonfires, and beach toys all over the place, but I had other plans. Talking, dancing, and roasting electronic marshmallows were great and all, but what kind of nightlife would be complete without one-night stands?
I felt I had to act. "Hey Tony," I said. "How do you have sex in this place?" Tony stopped tapping at his keyboard and looked me dead in the eye. "I'm not exactly sure," he said. "Why don't we find out?" I took a sip of my third real Jack and Coke and said, "Follow me."
Besides complimentary dorkwear, Dicks and Pussies has everything your perverted avatar could ever want. For less than a thousand Lindens (about $3) you can get a gigantic schlong with veins or a vagina with hyperrealistic stretch action. There were electric toys, erotic hairstyles, and even peekaboo lingerie. "All right, dude, I'll buy you a vagina and myself a dick, but you have to show me how to put them on and work them," I said. "Fuck it, why not?" Tony said after a slight pause. That's all I needed.
Within seconds Tony was wetting things with his brand-new vagina, and I was setting the flesh tones on my penis. "All right, man," I said. "How do you work these things?" I thought we would have to purchase some animation codes or something, but Tony knew a shortcut. Next to the showroom floor was a bedchamber with little balls hovering all over the place. Tony walked up to one and said, "Come on, dude, I'll click on the pink ball. All you gotta do is click on the blue one, and we'll be off."
Within seconds Justyn Jewell was balls deep in Tony's avatar. Hilarious. Tony and I spent the rest of the night drinking and taking screen shots as our avatars explored each other's software.
I passed out sometime around 2 a.m. and awoke the next morning to a pissed-off girlfriend. "What's wrong, baby?" I asked. She refused to speak to me for an hour or so and then finally said, "I heard you last night. That was sort of weird that you fucked Tony."
I was immediately assaulted by a flurry of flashbacks: the sound of ice clinking in glasses, the sight of my avatar in the throes of passion, the giggles, the grunts ... "Don't say it like that," I said. "I didn't fuck Tony. He was just, like, showing me how to have sex so I could buy some later." She stared at her coffee for a full minute and then said, "Well, I don't know why you have to have sex at all. Is something wrong?"
The more I tried to explain that Second Life was just an entertaining outlet for when I was too busy to take her out, the worse it sounded. Why was I obsessed with that particular aspect of the game, anyway? And why, of all people, did I pick my friend Tony to experiment with? I waited until my girlfriend was in the shower before looking at the screen shots from the night before. Jesus Christ, what a pervert. Thanks a lot, Linden Labs! Now I have two shitty lives to deal with.