WHAT TEQUILA AND SUICIDE TEACH US
As you'll note by the ad banner intermittently flickering across the top of the page for the next ten days, Playboy is officially entering Second Life in June. And while their success would seem assured, that's far from certain. Just a couple months ago, MySpace superstar and former Playboy Cybergirl Tila Tequila opened a mansion hangout in Second Life. And though she counts over a million MySpace friends, attendance at her SL crib has been scant; it's consistently empty during peak periods, with Traffic registering in the low hundreds (i.e., a handful of daily visitors, at best.) Last year, the Suicide Girls launched an SL space of their own, and though the goth-punk babes are extraordinarily (and deservedly) popular on their own site (and again, were featured on Playboy's homepage in 2004), visitors to their Second Life locale quickly dwindled, and within weeks, most of the dozens of Girls who had created an avatar lost interest with being in-world.
All of which leads to the obvious question: in an online world already beset by sexy female avatars, is there a place for actual sexy women?
On one level, this is just another demonstration of SL's equalizing effect, which enables, say, amateur fashion designers to successfully compete with established corporate brands. In-world, sexiness is not a function of good genes and modeling classes, but Photoshop artistry and witty, text-based repartee. (Among other skillsets.) Real life age, physical appearance, or even gender are no barrier: with enough talent, anyone can simulate the beautiful and the sensual well enough that their avatar takes on life or something close enough to it-- and the dazzling effect on the opposite sex is the same. (And just as it's thrilling to note how a college kid can beat out Nissan in the SL car industry, there's something inspiring to the thought that some of the sexiest women in Second Life are actually grandmothers or burly dudes with good typing skills.)
Challenges exist even for genuinely attractive women with the prequisite aptitude. Most of the Suicide Girls are seasoned artists and geeks in their own right (which is part of their appeal), but even then, there are hurdles.
"I know a lot of girls probably spent hours on their avatars and shopping for the right outfits and piercings and whatever else," Lavonne Suicide told me last year. (Lavonne was one of the SGers to stick with SL longest.) "Some built houses, some got jobs. Perhaps they didn't spend enough time developing relationships with others on SL, or the world itself. You can only play Barbies for so long before you get bored. I think real human relationships would have kept more SGs going. If more people I knew from real life or SuicideGirls.com were online it would have been more fun for me."
Ironically, the commerce of sexuality in Second Life was also a barrier, according to Lavonne. "If SL jobs were better and paid more, I'm sure many would be thrilled to play. The sexual aspect was a problem. Some girls mentioned how working at clubs they were expected to pretty much have cyber sex with 'customers' for tips, and that it wasn't worth it." (Virtual tips are rarely competitive to what a performer makes offline.)
How all this relates to Playboy's project, if at all, is too early to say. For now at least, the paradox remains: somehow, this has been one aspect of reality that hasn't mixed well with the metaverse.