Basic advice to get started on Second Life

Moving around

Walking, running, flying

The most basic way to move around in second life is walking (arrow keys), but you can also run by switching from walk to run modes with [ctrl + R]. You can also fly in SL by either using the arrows on the Movement Controls or using [E] for up and [C] for down on your keyboard while the talking menu is deactivated.

Landmarks and Teleporting

For traveling longer distances, you can teleport from point to point. Landmarks are the way to bookmark a place that you would like to revisit later. To set a new bookmark you use “Set landmark here” option in the “World” menu. You can later open up the landmark, which will be stored in the Landmarks folder of your Inventory, and teleport back to that location. Also, once you’ve built a list of friends, you can offer teleports to them so you can meet at whatever location you are, or vice versa.

Camera Controls

Looking aroung is another critical part of your SL experience, learning to control your camera movements, which are otherwise following your avatar movements, are one of the most basic skills you will need. There is a camera controls menu that can be opened from View > Camera Controls.

For more seamless action, you can also take control of your camera with the keyboard, here are some things this will allow you to do:

Interacting with people

Chat / IM

The basic way of talking with other people on SL is via the open local chat option from the Communicate menu. This mixes up the conversations of all the people within a given area, so it is public conversation. You can also have private one-to-one conversations with people via Instant Messaging, quite similar to regular IM. You can IM with friends who are at different locations once they are on your list. Just be careful not to talk about private manners via the local chat, as the interfaces are identical.

Some people take their Second Lives very seriously, and others just as a game, gauging this is extremely difficult so the best approach is to be always very polite with people, furthermore, it’s a general rule in SL to greet people as you enter and leave a location. Keep in mind that most people come to SL to have fun and lay back after a long day of work, school, and they are looking for a safe environment to have fun. Yet their concept of fun may differ from yours, so try not to be judgemental.

A large part of the culture of Second Life has inherited from the old textual online role playing (RP) games, and an important part of this includes describing with words what you are doing and thinking. If you like to describe something in text you do so by typing "/me" before your sentence in the chat window. For example if you type "/me smiles", the other people will see "Firstname Lastname smiles", you can be as descriptive as you like "/me stands up and walks slowly towards the door, looking back over his shoulder to smile once more to his friends before leaving the room" and you type this just before performing the gestures with your avatar, this is called emoting and brings a much deeper level to the SL experience, but is not used by everyone.


Just as on many of the social media platforms on the web, you can create a list of friends on your Second Life acount. Adding somebody as a friend will give you access to know their online status whenever you are logged in, and will allow you to talk via IM with them when both people are online. Friends can get access to further advanced powers, but this basic is the default, and all you need to know for getting started.

It is customary on Second Life to offer friendship to people once you've known them enough. At the speed at which relationships develop on SL, this may only take a few previous friendly encounters. You should consider though, that some people may consider rude to offer friendship "at first sight", although later on it is considered a compliment, and always celebrated with a huge "thank you!".


SL also has groups that you can join for people with similar interests, the topics are as varied as in any Internet environment. Some groups have membership fee, and some send out notices for events and special offers. You can usually see the groups a person is on by looking at their profiles: right click on avatar > profile.

Groups usually share information related to their interests, get you invited into events, and allow for a group chat.

Voice on SL

You can also talk via voice on SL, but this is not done too often apart from business meetings, education lectures, and close friendships. You probably won't need to use your voice in order to get your life started.

Your Avatar

Your Profile & Identity

As on Social Media, you profile gives the basic info of who you are. The big difference is that on SL you have the explicit differnce between who you are as an avi from who you are in real life. There are many approaches to Second Life, and the range of distance between SL and RL that people take is vast. It is completely up to you to define a fantasy character for SL apart from your RL...

The first profile page displays your picture, groups, description, when you were born in SL (you will learn that this is relatively important to SLers). There are other tabs in the profile that help you describe your character, for now we will not go into more depth, but I'd just like to mention the "1st Life" tab where you can describe things about your real life, including your picture. Just keep in mind that the more info you disclose here about your real life, it is more likely for people to ask about your RL. For many people these worlds are kept apart, for people who go on SL for research or work-related purposes these are closer together. It is not uncommon for people to leave their "1st Life" tab blank, or further type "don't ask" or "ask away, I will only lie".

It is important to stress out that for many people SL is a fantasy world, and you should not assume anything about the person behind the avatar based on their appearance, not in terms of sex, age, race, as all of those can be faked on SL, and often are.

Your body - shape + skin

The avatar is the representation of yourself within this 3-D world, the more time you spend on SL, the more used (and fond) you will become with your avatar. SL avatars are highly customizable, the "Edit Appearance" menu on your profile gives you gauges to make very subtle changes to the shape and appearance of your human avatar. You can spend lots of time editing your appearance before getting comfortable, remember to save your profile where you can save it later in case something goes wrong.

Besides the basic shapes you are initially given, there are all sorts of shapes you can get, including human forms (ie: children are not part of the basic shape), animal, or fantasy (dragons, aliens, etc.)

What SL calls a shape is the 3-D wireframe that your body is built upon. The skin is the most basic layer that defines the texture of your body. You can find many free shapes and skins within SL once you start looking for this, you can also, of course, find some very expensive ones. You can also create your own skin by scanning your pictures, and render your shapes when you become more advanced.

Your clothing - your closet

On top of the shape and the skin you wear clothes. This basically very simple, you wear different layers of underwear, clothes and coats, plus accessories such as belts, watches, hats. You can also have tatoos instead of underwear etc. One thing you may notice once you first take your clothes off, is that SL avatars come without genitalia, and of course, these can also be added on.

There is an amazing amount and variety of clothes and accessories in SL, and most of it is for women. Once you start collecting clothes you will need to define how to organize these in your inventory.


Gestures provide the basics of non-verbal communication, gestures are activated by typed triggers in the chat window such as "/laugh" and "/bow", as with clothes, you can collect free and purchase packs of gestures. It may take a while to learn to use these well, but they will strongly enhance your ability to communicate with others, and will tell you apart from newbies.


Animations move your avatar in pre-programmed sequences. The default avatars come with male or female animations, and these can be enhanced by collectible animations that will allow you to do things like dancing. Some objects also contain animations; for instance, a chair can have an embedded animation that makes your avatar sit in a realistic posture, some advanced chairs even have menus. There are also tools that let you override the default walk/run/stand/fly animations of your avatar, you can look for those when you want to get more fancy.

Common SL Jargon

Curatorial Work and Learning in Virtual Environments

Updated: June 16th, 2009