Second Life appeared in 2003 as one of the first 3-D virtual worlds, a sort of interactive video game with no compelling goal for its users besides building up the virtual realm. Last week, there were more than half a million logins by Second Life's users - or 'residents', according to its official website. The 'in-world' society, as it is called, has developed an economy with a currency exchangeable for US dollars, myriad tribes and subcultures.
More recently, Second Life is also creating movie stars. A 2007 film shot completely inside Second Life called Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey screens on cable television and YouTube, while its main character has become a virtual celebrity.
Douglas Gayeton, 48, a pioneer of interactive storytelling, created the character Molotov Alva as his own virtual identity for Second Life. He produced video journals of his in-world experiences, which he later edited into a ground-breaking film - a gateway between mainstream entertainment and virtual existence.
'I can always tell when Molotov Alva gets shown in a new country because I get all sorts of messages and people contacting me,' he says.
Reaching out to a broader audience was one of the original goals of Molotov Alva, says Gayeton, saying the film's release on television was structured to 'push viewers online'.
The film is divided into 10 five-minute segments, the first six of which aired on television, while the others could only be seen on the Cinemax website. Within Second Life, Gayeton and others also created Molotov Alva's Interactive Journey through Second Life, which allows Second Life residents to experience their own version.
'The effect has been to bring people to the internet, and then into Second Life,' says Gayeton. 'This was unanticipated. I'm not advertising Second Life. I don't work for Second Life. But this has most definitely happened.'
Molotov Alva is a 3-D rendering of a bald, dumpy, suited middle-aged man who, at the beginning of the film, announces his departure from the 'carbon-based world'. 'What you're watching right now is a diary I have kept to explain how I ended up living in this online world, and why I left my straight-world life behind,' it says.
What follows is his quest for the 'creator', a vehicle Gayeton adeptly uses for probing virtual reality's conflicting tendencies towards utopianism on one hand and mimicking real world bad habits on the other.
But his overarching theme is that Second Life's millions of residents are typically 'seekers', that millions upon millions in both virtual and real worlds have come to the conclusion that daily routines are meaningless, and transcending real life - however vaguely that notion is understood - is the key to a truly meaningful existence.
'In the real world, in a lot of ways, there are no more frontiers left,' he says.
'My experience there was that no one cared what you were outside of Second Life. It was not a concern at all for anyone. So I decided to stick with that in making this film,' Gayeton says.