New Second Life users select their avatars from generic male and female templates (residents and their avatars don't necessarily share the same gender). Although a resident could use an unmodified template, everyone else would know that he or she was a newb -- a new user who doesn't know how things work. Most residents customize their avatars a little before leaving Orientation Island.
One important factor in avatar customization is the inventory. The inventory holds hair, skin, objects, animations and body parts and has an infinite capacity. A user can open his or her inventory and choose to put on or remove items, like clothing or hairstyles. Residents can add to an avatar's inventory at any time, creating a practically limitless number of avatar customization options.
They can change their avatars' appearance as often as they like. Nothing in Second Life is permanent -- if a user decides his or her avatar should evolve from a hulking brute to
an emaciated goth kid, he or she can make the changes at any time.
A resident can also right click his or her mouse on the avatar, which pulls up a pie-shaped menu. One of the menu choices is appearance, which allows a user to adjust the way his or her avatar looks. For example, if the user wants to modify the avatar's hairstyle, he or she might use the tool's slide bars to make the hairstyle longer or shorter. Even with this level of control, the user can only adjust what is already there. If he or she wanted a completely new hairstyle, the user would have to either design it or buy it from another resident.
Some residents create special skin textures for avatars ranging from realistic skin and hair to fantasy-inspired scales or feathers. Users can find dozens of residents who sell and trade clothing, skin and even body parts in Second Life. Savvy residents can customize their avatars by creating their own clothes and skins in a graphics program and importing the file into Second Life.
Avatar customization is just one way residents can tweak their Second Life experiences. Users can also build objects within Second Life using simple in-world tools and menus. By creating and linking together basic prim structures, users can create more complex objects. They can also use the Linden Scripting Language, a programming language similar to Java, to give objects specific properties. For example, a skilled user could create a puppy dog that follows him or her everywhere. Residents make objects for different reasons -- some do it to bolster the theme of a particular area or avatar design, others build objects just for fun.
Residents can even build houses and other buildings. Some use programs like AutoCAD to design their structures before importing them into Second Life. Others purchase building designs from other residents. Buildings can be extremely realistic or defy real-world physics.
Second Life's capacity for customization is extensive. The world inside Second Life doesn't just foster user-generated content, it depends upon it. By encouraging user innovation and participation, Second Life has created a loyal community of enthusiastic residents.
In the next section, we'll learn about the navigation, communication and interaction systems in Second Life.