"Hi, I'm new here," I type into a box at the bottom of my screen marked "chat." When I "talk," my avatar does the same keyboard-and-bubble routine. "I can tell," says the woman in the cape. I'm wearing the generic outfit-jeans and a T-shirt-given to every new arrival here in Second Life, one of the biggest public virtual-reality spaces ever built online. Like the computer game The Sims, Second Life is software that enables you to guide your avatar through a 3-D landscape, chat with other avatars, and build objects with tools. But SL, as it's known to its 300,000 members, or "residents," isn't a game. It's more like an animated version of real life. There's no way to win and no specific objective.