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Yelling at Strangers in Second Life

Good etiquette could save you from embarrassment while voice chatting in the sim.

The following is a transcript of "Traveling Avatar's Quick and Dirty Tips for a Richer Life," a podcast from The audio program is available via RSS feed here and at's podcast home page.

This week's topic is yelling at strangers -- tips and etiquette for using voice chat.

Voice has arrived in Second Life, and for better or for worse, it's not going anywhere. At the time of this recording, voice chat was only available in the First Look Viewer, so because it's in beta form we won't talk specifics about the controls. Instead, we're going to talk basic voice chat etiquette and hardware.

The first thing you'll need to do to use voice chat is download the First Look Viewer, and you can grab this here. I'd normally have something sarcastic to say here, but since this episode is so chock full of delicious tippy goodness, it's going to run long, so I'll just dive right in.


First off, hardware.

If you're going to use voice chat, you need a headset or at least a set of headphones. No matter how low you turn your speakers down, they're still going to pick up on your microphone, causing background noise, or worse, feedback. Now, this isn't a deadly faux pas yet, but trust me, it's going to be. Being the person who's causing echo will soon be the equivalent of that guy who keeps playing that same "Half Baked" sound clip over and over again.

And while we're on the subject of background noise, try to use voice chat in a relatively quiet environment. As much as we love you, we don't really have any desire to listen to your roommate's

Guitar Hero

rendition of

Psychobilly Freakout

, no matter how hard that song is to four-star on expert. Yes, Sean, I'm talking to you.

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Choosing a headset for gaming mostly comes down to personal preference. They're available in one-ear or two-ear models, in a variety of price ranges -- though to some extent you get what you pay for. Expect to spend at least $20 to $30. I highly recommend USB models because they tend to be more user friendly and reliable than their dual audio plugged cousins.

When shopping for a headset, I recommend trying to find a model with three features: an inline volume control, a clickable mute button and a wind screen on the microphone. Models without volume control have to be adjusted manually through your operating system software, which is a hassle, and I've noticed that headsets without a windscreen give you "Vader breath" issues. The mute button is just handy so you don't accidentally transmit something embarrassing. "Honey, the kids are coming over today, so could you take the restraints off the four-poster."

For years I've been using one of the Logitech PlayStation 2 headsets and I really think it's a solid choice for a beginner. They're widely available, take a decent amount of abuse and you can pick them up anywhere you buy video games. I've also included a link on the Web site, so you'll know the model I'm talking about.


Now, on to etiquette.

When wandering into voice chat for the first time, set your microphone volume as low as you can get it, around 10% or so, and I'll leave instructions on the Web site on how to do this on Mac and PC. You can take it from me that you're better off being too quiet and having to turn up your mic, than being remembered as the guy who introduced himself by shattering the eardrums of everyone in the sim. Trust me, I've done it. Twice.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you're there in a group, so don't flood the chat channel with conversations that could be taken care of in IM or a private channel. Don't be like that guy in the office who calls everyone on speakerphone and then doesn't know why I'm throwing pens at him. Do use voice chat for the sort of things you would talk about in a group of friends or coworkers. Don't use it for soliciting, overly personal conversations, Scientology pitches or impromptu karaoke.

Now, I've also noticed just from the beta, that one person in the area tends to dominate most conversations. I've also noticed that these are the same people I'm hearing about in IMs sounding something like, "I really wish that girl would shut up for two seconds so someone else could get a word in edgewise." Resist the urge to be "on" all of the time, and use the microphone sparingly. Use IMs and main text chat as much as possible, and try to be, in the words of Eddie Izzard, relaxed and groovy. You'll get your turn.

Also, try to refrain from what I like to call "voice blogging." In a nutshell, voice bloggers are people who feel the need to let people know their every thought and movement.

"My dog is here now. She's looking at me. She's adorable. Her name is Buttons. Who's a good girl, Buttons? Who's the best girl? Who's saving mama from crippling loneliness? You are! You are! Who's got a funny face!!"

Don't worry -- if I really want to know the minute-by-minute details of your life, I'll sit in the elm tree outside your window with a spotter scope and a shotgun mic. It's why I'm not allowed within 50 yards of Kristen Bell. And if you get that reference without IMDBing it, you've officially earned nerd credit with me. Spend it wisely.

I know this sounds like an awful lot of don'ts, but it's really not that complicated (really). The key to successful voice chatting is to use the same sort of social common sense you'd use at work, with friends or at a really good party. If you're polite and friendly, most people will reciprocate.

That's it for this episode!

Will Ross, a Second Life explorer and professional slacker, writes and records the Traveling Avatar articles and podcasts. Following a stint in college where he came dangerously close to earning a degree in history, Will Ross spent countless hours of his life in a number of online worlds including Worlds of Warcraft, Everquest, Ultima Online, and City of Heroes before making a permanent home on Eldoe Island in Second Life.