SM: Story Behind the Cover

I was brought up on Little Rascals, not Mario Brothers, so when I met with Sara Welch to discuss art for her virtual meetings cover story, I was at a techno loss. Second Life and its avatars sounded more like a computer game than a burgeoning business tool. The best way to figure out a direction for art was to experience a couple of days in this seemingly strange computer world.

After registering on secondlife.com, I was sent to Orientation Island for choosing my avatar's body and outfits. I went with the tall, thin, professor with glasses look, although I could never figure out how to shed the dark beard and gold necklace. I learned how to walk (hit forward, back keys), talk (hit IM button on screen and type: the words appear on screen above my avatar's head) and fly (hit the page up and down keys).

Then I hit the "search" button (it instantly beams your avatar to the desired destination) and went shopping for a new pair of glasses. Second Life has it's own Currency ‹the tortoise shell frames at Sergies cost me
L$119 or U.S. 50 cents. That led to shopping for a 300-foot luxury Star Line yacht (L$3,000 or U.S. $11).

While down at the docks, I mistakenly wandered too far past the sales area, and my avatar was jumped by a scantily clad avatar named Arian Frederix, who straddled my avatar's neck, wanting to hijack me to some sex island (L$500). Thinking quick, I hit the "fly" keys and was off the docks and away from Frederix in no time.

It was sightseeing time as only a bird can do. Cityscapes led to countryside which led to a beautiful log cabin mansion in the woods. There was even smoke coming from its chimney. Curiosity got the best of me. Maybe it was Steven Spielberg's avatar's retreat. Or maybe the avatars of Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel were having a weekend getaway together.

I went down for a closer look. And then I ran head-on into a "No Entry" electric fence that sent my avatar directly into the earth, deeper and deeper till it was molten red around me. My computer system froze and when I finally rebooted, I had no body except for the gold necklace and a small patch of hair.

For the cover, I combined cityscape screenshots that I took while in Second Life, with a photo of Mike McAllen that I had a photographer from the Associated Press take, with a photo of Mike's Second Life avatar, which he took. All three elements combined made up the March cover!