The Adventures of Huygens Sideways-Part One: Escape from Orientation Island

By Aaron Russell


Why did I have a year-long walkabout in an online-massive-multi-user-role-play game known as Second Life? Well, the main reason was: I had a baby. Not physically, my wife took care of that part. No, I meant in proximity.

I know that sounds strange. Blame it on the baby? Well, most of my time interacting with people online up to that point involved putting a bullet in the back of their heads in epic team-deathmatch sessions. I’ve been an avid gamer all my life. I grew up with the dawning of computer games. I am not a fanatic, though. I play conservatively, and I’m pretty picky about my games.

But unfortunately, team-deathmatching requires two hands and a lot of swearing. Now I had an utterly helpless, sleeping creature nestled in one of those hands. What could I do? Maybe it was time to settle down with a nice quiet SIM game and plant a garden and raise a digital family. Farmville wouldn’t be around for a couple of years and SIM games cost money. All my money was now tied up in diapers and diaper rash relief.


It’s January, 2008. I’m back at work after two weeks of new-parent-scared-shitless leave.  New fatherhood had graced me with perpetual glow and constant fear. This is a fourth tier support time in a young man’s life. I felt clueless, more so. That kind of stress needs a valve, and it was around that time I stumbled upon my coworker “playing” Second Life.

Second Life is an online, interactive, virtual world where people can explore, via avatar, and meet other people, hang out, buy property, and become a furry or whatever. Here’s the nice part: It’s free (relatively)! The software was only a 35mb download. I filled out a quick registration, and bam! I was in.


Here’s that “relatively free” catch. If you want to buy land, fancy clothes, or avatar modifications, you need to hand over some credit card digits. $6.00 a month gets you started and gives you some land to build on, entertain on, or run a business. I came very close to rationalizing the small amount and almost payed, but luckily, I came to my senses.

I decided, no. I will dedicate time but never my cash to this endeavor. I would be a homeless, penniless adventurer, on permanent walkabout and making passing friends, saving kittens and solving mysteries.

When I registered, they allowed me to pick a first name but they forced me to choose from a long list for my last name. I wanted “Huygens” as my first name and scrolled through the list of lasts and spotted “Sideways”. Seemed like a good match. Huygens Sideways now needed an avatar. I picked a generic one from their small list, and I was good to go.


I wanted a kind of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo avatar since I planned on being a nomad and solving crimes, but I ended up with Prince in glasses. I was OK with that. You can tweak your avatar’s shape and form but not its appearance. That costs. I did manage to give him real squinty eyes, to give him a slight stoner feel.


When you first enter Second Life, they throw you into this place called Orientation Island. It’s a place where you can learn how to do things like pick up objects, talk to people, tweak your form, and get around. One of the cool things about this virtual world is that you can fly in a lot of places. It beats walking and gives you a superhero kind of vibe.

To my lament, I had to complete four tutorials in order to escape. They were time consuming and uneventful. I learned how to talk to people and hold objects. I found a torch just lying around and decided that I was going to free it from the dreg scripts of Orientation Island and take it with me. I needed a sidekick anyway. Oh yeah, I learned how to sit on things with my new sidekick, too.


Most of the conversations I had were pretty basic. Everyone was a noob and expressing that fact. One female avatar kept asking me to be her boyfriend. I kept telling her I was married. She told me she thought she was ugly since I wasn’t into polygamy. Now I was getting interested. This was the exact kind of crazy I was hoping to encounter.

I told her I didn’t know why I was holding a torch. She walked away, frustrated, to the next guy and asked to be his girlfriend. I caught a little of the conversation. He seemed like a nice guy and was advising her not to be so forthcoming and to beware of jerks. It was nice advice, but I detected whiff of troll on that lady.


When I first logged in, it said over one million people were registered, with around 60,000 logged on at the time. New people were joining as I was completing my tutorials. When the avatars first appear, they’re naked. To my pleasure, four new women were joining as I was walking by. But I didn’t creep around too long. I wanted to complete the tasks and get the hell off this island and into the REAL Second Life.


I did stick around long enough to test out a thing or two. Across a bridge was a simulated Second Life city where you could practice driving a car. My Loki nature took over, and I attempted to drive back over the bridge to the main part of the island and cause some mischief.

The administrators had planned for just this sort of thing, and my car disappeared as soon as I reached the gate. I could not run over anybody in the training city either. Smashing into someone, going 60mph, only causes you to stop instantly with no deleterious effects to the jaywalking son of a bitch.


But at last, my chores were now complete. I waked down the ex-noob staircase, a proud man. I was met with a glorious sign asking me if I was ready to finally explore Second Life. I clicked the link and was immediately transported out. Goodbye, Orientation Island. I hope you don’t miss this torch, but he’s much better off with me.

I woke up from transport to find myself in…Help Island?!! How many islands are in this place? What’s after this? I Swear You’re Almost There, Island?


Fortunately, there were no required tasks to do here, and I had the choice of leaving right away if I wanted. I had that intention, but then I thought twice about it. Second Life says once you leave Help Island you can never return. There might be some useful things here.

Turns out, there was. I got this boss, vinyl jacket and some suede pants to go with it. Plus, they go well with my torch. Now I’m ready. Huygens Sideways is going to Second Life. I’m not sure what to do first. Do I chat up some bystanders? Try to steal some food? Go squat on someone’s property and build a few cubes? Whatever it is, I’m ready to get weird.

Tune in next week for…

Part Two: The Beginning!



Aaron is living the Second Life on Twitter. He also has a website devoted to his Photoshop hilarity.

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