Second Life is a virtual world with an infamous reputation. If you've never played, you may only be familiar with the tales of kinky sex rooms and the YouTubers who troll the locals for a cheap laugh. But Second Life is so much more than that—a point driven home after I spent a whole evening reading a Second Life beauty blog.
Unboxing videos have permeated nearly every area of consumer culture from makeup to action figures. If it comes in a box, people want to see you take it out of that box. But watching Second Life beauty blogger Strawberry Singh as she unboxes a new set of eyeliner makes the whole process surreal—here is a human being unboxing digital makeup for their digital avatar to wear as if it were real. Berry doesn't just make unboxing videos, however, she also runs one of the more popular beauty and fashion blogs in Second Life. Scrolling through its pages, it would be impossible to tell it from a real-life beauty blog if it weren't for the screenshots of her avatar. It's a world of virtual fashion and beauty that has me absolutely enchanted.
But with countless beauty and fashion blogs that focus on real-life people, what's the appeal of making a blog focused on a virtual avatar? I spoke with Strawberry Singh to find out.
Beauty is only polygons deep
"Second Life is not a game, it's more like a social network," Berry tells me. "It's a big sandbox, you can make things, you can sell things... There's a massive segment of people there just shopping, dressing up their avatar, and trying to to find the latest and greatest trends."
Berry's blog is one of the longest running, with posts dating all the way back to 2007. Some of her most popular YouTube videos have over 60,000 views, which is a lot considering how niche her blog actually is. She's only one of a thousand bloggers in Second Life, the vast majority of them dedicated to covering the latest fashion trends the same way a real-world fashion blogger would—only they're not limited to clothes and makeup but often talk about new body parts and skin. It's like peering into a future where every part of our actual self is easily customizable.
Berry tells me that unboxing videos are a relatively new trend in Second Life. She was one of the first bloggers to begin making them last year after the first subscription boxes started popping up. Just like the real world, Second Life has a host of players who design and sell everything from makeup to clothing. Last year, several of those designers started including their products in subscription boxes similar to what you can find from major cosmetics companies like Sephora and Ipsy. Berry started making unboxing videos showcasing the cool products inside, and before long the trend caught on in the community.
These boxes are sold for around $10 to $15 dollars worth of Lindens, Second Life's virtual currency. While premium cosmetic items in MMOs are usually purchased by only the most dedicated players, makeup and fashion is a massive industry in Second Life that just about everyone participates in. Berry tells me she has a friend that had made "millions" from her Second Life fashion empire. Compared to the real world, it's hard not to see the appeal either: Makeup in Second Life is infinite, so you don’t have to repurchase that lipstick you like every few months.
When it comes to unboxing videos, Berry is one of the best to watch. Not only is she articulate, but she takes her craft incredibly seriously. She admits that she's not that knowledgeable with computers, but her virtual blogging career inspired her to learn Photoshop, video editing, and more. "It can be a huge learning curve," she says. "It's almost like real life where you have to learn lighting and composition, but can even be a bit more technical since you have to learn how to use all the software too." Her hard work obviously pays off as the photos on her blog look more like digital art than a screenshot of an in-game avatar.
But why go to all this effort to blog about digital fashion when you could do it in the real world? "There's a level of privacy you get through doing it with an avatar and it keeps you safe," Berry explains. "There's a lot of crazy people out there. I like being anonymous but still being able to fulfill my hobby and do whatever I want and show my opinions and tastes but still have that level of privacy. It's so much fun."
While she's adamant in keeping her real life separate from her Second Life, Berry tells me she works in education. As a result, she has to be careful of how people perceive her. "I don't want people in the real world to know that I do this because they'll probably be like, uh, what the hell are you doing? They probably wouldn't take me as seriously as they should, even though it's just a hobby and I just login in my spare time and do what makes me happy."
When she tells me this, I can't help but feel a little bitter on her behalf. Shouldn't she be able to openly enjoy a hobby this creative and endearing without fear of being judged? I ask her if she resents having to keep her Second Life persona hidden. "I do resent it," she says frankly. "It's hard to explain to people that it's just a hobby and I know it's kind of goofy and you might not understand it, but... I don't know. That's why it's better to keep the game and my real life separate."
Despite having to keep her two lives separate, the benefits of her secret Second Life are tangible. "It's helped me grow, gain confidence, I've even won awards for my blogging," Berry says excitedly. "It's just become an important part of my life."
My conversation with Berry has given me a rare glimpse into a world that is often negatively branded as bizarre. If you dig a little deeper, you'll find a community of artists and creators who have banded together to share and celebrate each other. It's not something you see in other massively multiplayer games, but it's something I wish there is more of. It makes me a bit sad, then, that Second Life will always be labelled by its strip joints and sex clubs. As Berry tells me, "That's just not what Second Life is about, there's so much more you can do here."