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In many ways, Second Life is similar to massively multiplayer online role-playing games; however, Linden Lab is emphatic that their creation is not a game: "There is no manufactured conflict, no set objective".

Second Life users, also called residents, create virtual representations of themselves, called avatars, and are able to interact with places, objects and other avatars.

They can explore the world (known as the grid), meet other residents, socialize, participate in both individual and group activities, build, create, shop, and trade virtual property and services with one another.

The platform principally features 3D-based user-generated content.

Second Life also has its own virtual currency, the Linden Dollar, which is exchangeable with real world currency.

Built into the software is a 3D modeling tool based on simple geometric shapes that allows residents to build virtual objects.

There is also a procedural scripting language, Linden Scripting Language, which can be used to add interactivity to objects.

Sculpted prims (sculpties), mesh, textures for clothing or other objects, animations, and gestures can be created using external software and imported.

The Second Life terms of service provide that users retain copyright for any content they create, and the server and client provide simple digital rights management (DRM) functions.

In 1999, Philip Rosedale formed Linden Lab with the intention of developing computer hardware to allow people to become immersed in a virtual world.

In its earliest form, the company struggled to produce a commercial version of the hardware, known as "The Rig", which in prototype form was seen as a clunky steel contraption with computer monitors worn on shoulders.

Although he was familiar with the metaverse of Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, Rosedale has said that his vision of virtual worlds predates that book, and that he conducted early virtual world experiments during his college years at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied physics.s poster child and symbol for the economic opportunities that the virtual world offers to its residents.