Second Life 101: getting started

Today’s column is for the newest of the new, people who have been hearing about Second Life and want to try it themselves.

The good news is that you can join Second Life for free. You can download the software, install it on your computer, and become active in Second Life without spending a penny. The real obstacle for many people people will be Second Life’s two fundamental technical requirements:

  • At least a DSL or cable internet connection. Dial-up is too slow.
  • An approved 3D video card. Generally this means minimally NVIDIA GeForce 6600, ATI Radeon 8500, or Intel 945 chipset. A good card doesn’t have to be expensive. The card I primarily use, the EVGA NVIDIA 9500 GT, can be bought online for $70 or less and produces outstanding graphics.

You also need at least 512mb of RAM, a 800mhz CPU, and Windows XP or Vista (Windows 7 also works). Second Life can also be used with a Mac or Linux. For detailed requirements, go to

The next step is to create your account, which you do at You will be given a choice of signing up for two plans: Basic and Premium. Basic is free and Premium costs $9.95/mo. If you’re not certain about your interest in Second Life, choose the Basic plan. You’ll have all the privileges of Premium plan members with one exception: Basic plan members can’t purchase land in Second Life. You can always switch to the Premium plan later if you want to buy land.

Choosing an avatar
Selecting your avatar name

After choosing your plan, the next step is to choose your avatar. Your avatar is your appearance in Second Life. It’s how others will see you. Currently, new members can choose between six female and six male avatar bodies, shown here on the right. Don’t fret over this too much. You can change any aspect of your avatar appearance later. You can even change to a non-human avatar, such as a machine, an animal, or a plant. When choosing an avatar, there’s no need for you and your avatar to have the same gender. Many people openly choose an avatar with a different gender than their own. There is no stigma attached to it. This picture shows the current choice of avatars

The next step is to choose your avatar name, which will also be your account name. This is often the hardest and potentially most confusing part of the process. Give it some thought. This will be how people know you in Second Life. Choose a name that suits you and that you want to be known by. Your name can’t be changed after you set up your account, so choose it carefully.


Selecting an avatar name
Choose a different first name

You have to select a last name from a list, but you can use any first name you want as long as no one else is using that first name last name combination.

The first step is to enter the first name you want. After you do that, click "Get Available Last Names" and "choose" will appear after a list of last names that are available for your selected first name will appear. If no list appears, then your first name has already been taken. For example, as of this morning, neither "John" nor "Johnny" as a first name will generate any last names – the message "Sorry, all the last names are taken. Please try a different first name" appears in red. This message often confuses people. It doesn’t mean literally that all last names are taken, only that the first name you’ve selected has already been used for all last names.


Selecting an avatar first name
"Click the triangle to see the list of last names

In this picture, we’ve clicked "Change First Name" and then entered "Barack" as our first name. "- Choose -" then appears after "Select Last Name" and when we click the triangle, a list of last names appears that are available with Barack.

The rest of the signup process is fairly straightforward. When you log on, you’ll be in Second Life.

Over coming weeks I’ll write several more columns for those of you who are new to Second Life, telling you how you can change your avatar’s appearance, buy or rent land, and do basic building. Until then, you can get some basic but excellent graphic instructions on the first things you’ll need to know by logging into Second Life and then clicking Help/Tutorial. You can get much more detailed help by clicking the F1 key.

You can also get help and information about your account on the Web. Log into your account by going to and clicking "Login" in the upper right corner.


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