Sixteen Years of Second Life Landmarks: A Trip Down Memory Lane

My oldest Second Life avatar, with the legacy name of Heath Homewood, was created on March 20th, 2007, which means that in a couple of weeks he will be sixteen years old! (And yes, I can blame a work committee at my university library for falling down that particular rabbit hole; more details here in a blogpost I wrote in 2017.)

This evening, on a whim, I loaded Heath up, opened up the landmarks folder in his voluminous, never-cleaned-out-in-sixteen-years inventory, and tried teleporting into various saved landmarks, out of curiosity, just to see if they were still around.

Many were long since gone, of course; over 16 years, sims had often changed hands. More often than not, I got an error message that the non-mainland destination no longer existed at all on the Second Life grid. Sometimes, the new owner of the sim or parcel had set up an intruder alert system, which warned me that I was trespassing on private property and that I needed to be somewhere else within X number of seconds (the rude ones set it to 5 seconds, and in one case, 1 second!).

The virtual recreation of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop, one of the few places where I could meet up with other Canadians in Second Life, has also vanished into pixel dust now. (I have fond memories of sitting around a campfire set up outside the store, swapping stories with my fellow avatars. We used to get quite a varied crowd! It’s amazing how many virtual worlds recreated the concept of a central campfire as meeting spot, a concept we have seen again in newer metaverse platforms like AltspaceVR and VRChat.)

Similarly, the extremely detailed virtual recreation of Dresden’s Old Masters Picture Gallery, where I spent many hours wandering around the paintings, is no more (but you can get a sense of it from this September, 2007 WIRED article). Of course, Second Life is home to countless art galleries and museums, but I wish that this particular build were still around! It was a wonderful showcase.

Likewise, my landmark to the Body Doubles store, where you could purchase shapes and styling cards (with detailed information on what to buy where) to create avatars which looked like celebrities, past and present, is long gone. I suspect that they might have gotten into some trouble with the real-life lawyers representing the real-life agencies who owned and/or managed the rights to famous dead and living people!

However, I still have my Marilyn Monroe alt (no doubt created using the style card from Body Doubles), and I like to trot her out for special occasions, just to surprise people. I likewise have a late-stage Elvis Presley avatar, complete with black sideburns, sunglasses, a white glittery jumpsuit, a microphone with singing animations, and even some wearable, white-hot stage spotlights! I still pull him out from time to time, and have him sing and gyrate in some unsuspecting public space, like London City, just for the hell of it. Or have Elvis wander around the grid, looking for Priscilla… 😜

But amazingly, my first-saved and oldest landmark still worked after all these years! The Lost Gardens of Apollo is one of those historical builds which appears to have been preserved for posterity by Linden Lab (which does happen sometimes), and it remains very much the same as it was when I first visited it in 2007, with no modern mesh additions or replacements.

The Lost Gardens of Apollo

You can even take a self-guided balloon tour of the sim (with narration in one of nine different languages), to explore the fantastical architecture: the harbour, the soaring towers, and the floating islands. This used to be a popular place back in the day!

You can tour the Lost Gardens of Apollio via balloon

Another venerable Second Life landmark, the Ivory Tower of Primitives, functioned as an immersive teaching centre, where the first generations of SL builders learned how to create, modify, and assemble primitives (prims), well before the advent of mesh on the grid. It sits on Natoma, one of the first 16 so-called “mainland” sims created by Linden Lab in 2003.

The importance of this place cannot be underestimated. Innumerable Second Life content creators, who perhaps have since moved on to design for other, newer metaverse platforms using tools such as Blender, first got their start by working through the detailed, step-by-step tutorials at the Ivory Tower of Primitives! I was one of them myself (although I never really designed anything truly beautiful or useful, or ever set up a store for my rather limited creations).

There were a few places in Heath Homewood’s landmarks folder that still are around, even sixteen years later! The oldest store landmark that still worked for me was the Bahia Tiki beach house and decor store, which is still in operation (albeit with more modern, mesh offerings). I must have bought something there for my very first set up, a sandy beach on the Maso Ariol sim, a parcel I bought in 2007 and built on and tinkered with to for a little over a year, until I became one of the first tenants in the Bay City mid-century-themed neighbourhood in May of 2008.

The Bahia Tiki store is still around!

Another sim from my landmarks folder, which has stood the test of time is Neufreistadt, inspired by the pubs, cafés, and narrow streets of the real-life Bavarian town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (here’s a SLURL that takes you to their Marktplatz, where there is a charming bookstore which I had landmarked back in 2007). It was somehow reassuring that, in a virtual world that was full of changes, I had found yet another place where time seemed to stand still.

An aerial view of the town of Neufreistadt

Neufreistadt is one of six regions operating under a long-running, over-arching government, the Confederation of Democratic Simulators, which bills itself as the oldest democracy in Second Life, dating back to 2004 (you can read more about its rich and eventful history here).

I then loaded up my librarian avatar, Notecard Writer, whom I created March 21st, 2007, as my “professional” avatar, as opposed to my “fun” avatar, Heath Homewood. And out of curiosity, I once again began checking out a few of the locations I had saved in the landmarks folder in Notecard Writer’s inventory, dating back to 2007.

Of course, the virtual library reference desk at the Second Life Library, where I used to volunteer evenings and weekends, and the other buildings at Info Island have long since been shut down, as part of the scaling back and downsizing of library services in Second Life (I wrote about it here in 2018). It turns out that expecting patrons to learn how to use SL to ask a reference question was too steep a learning curve, which makes sense. It was an interesting experiment while it lasted, though.

However, I am happy to report that one of Notecard’s landmarks, which still worked after 16 years, is the beloved International Spaceflight Museum, an educational project which was started in late 2005, and which has been at its present location on the Spaceport Alpha sim since early 2006. Here, you can explore models of the many rockets and shuttles which have taken humans into outer space over the decades.

The International Spaceflight Museum

Another spot still around after sixteen years is the Renaissance Island historical roleplay sim, which features a virtual reproduction of the Globe Theatre (exact SLURL), where works by William Shakespeare and other 16th and 17th century playwrights were produced. I don’t think the virtual version has been used for plays for several years now, though (and yes, that was definitely a thing!).

The Globe Theatre on Renaissance Island

Another SL store which has stood the test of time is The Omega Concern, a military vehicle vendor still in the same location after 16 years! I’m not even sure why I saved this as a landmark back in 2007, since I am not into military roleplay at all. I checked my inventory, and lo and behold, it turns out that Notecard Writer bought an anti-griefing tool called the Omicron from this store, to use while working shifts at the reference desk at the previously-mentioned Info Island! I believe the Omicron was recommended to me during my virtual librarian training, to keep those early SL griefers from launching me into orbit… 😜😜😜

The Omega Concern has been operating in the exact same location for 16 years!

One thing that I struggle to understand is why some long-disused locations are still up and running. For example, the NMC Campus sims are still on the Second Life grid, but utterly deserted; I can’t even remember the last time that any of them had been used for events. The notecard you receive upon teleporting in, which appears to date from 2010, speaks glowingly about the project and the first four years of its history, but frankly, most universities and colleges have long since moved on from Second Life at this point.

The NMC Campus sims appear to have been unused for quite some time
An aerial view of the deserted NMC Campus

But, apparently, somebody is still paying Linden Lab for the five non-mainland sims for the NMC Campus, even though nobody seems to have been using it for years. Or perhaps LL has taken those over as historical regions, as well. Strange. I wonder how many of these “ghost” sims are still on the grid.

I spent a very enjoyable evening teleporting around Second Life, and I plan to spend some more of my off-hours revisiting old landmarks in my avatars’ inventories, and take a trip down memory lane! I have (re)discovered places that I haven’t thought about—or visited—in years!! It was fun.

I hope that, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the surprisingly resilient virtual world of Second Life, this blogpost will make you decide to shake the cobwebs from your landmarks folder in your own SL inventory, and perhaps pay a return visit to some old haunts. You might be surprised to see what’s still around!