I'm one of the people on the informal committee (so informal I'm not sure it can even be called a committee) charged with making sure that the library doesn't get left in the university's dust as it launches its own Second Life presence. I haven't tried to install Second Life on my personal laptop yet - I'm pretty sure it can't handle the graphics and, even if it can, I'm not sure I'm ready for something I'm basically doing for work to take over my evenings. I did install it on my work computer, however, and I tried it out a couple times, once during lunch and once after work. All total, I've spent maybe an hour and a half in Second Life.
I've been involved in relatively simple virtual worlds before - one that ate up a lot of my time was Puzzle Pirates (I was determined to one day own my own ship without ever spending a single dime of real money). My requirements tended to be fairly simple - I needed to like the game, and it needed to be something I could enjoy without having to spend real money. I don't know of any virtual world that doesn't have the option of converting real money into game money, but each world tends to vary in the amount of enjoyment that can be freely had. Plus, some of them require subscription fees. Puzzle Pirates fit my requirements pretty well (and may still fit them, but I haven't played it in over a year - must...resist...the pillaging...).
So, I'm not a complete newbie with this kind of stuff. I've played more complex 3-D games, too, although usually not online. I heard about Second Life a couple years ago and have read a few books on it. It sounded interesting, but I never got around to trying it out. Now that I've tried it, I have to say...if it weren't for the "informal committee," I'm not sure how likely I'd be to continue with it. The learning curve for things that are usually much easier in most other virtual worlds is very steep.
The first thing you do in most virtual worlds is create your avatar. Some things can never be changed again - in Puzzle Pirates, for instance, your name and physical appearance stay the same after you set those up (your physical appearance amounts to your skin color and your hair, because Puzzle Pirates avatars look a lot like Lego people). The thing you can change is your clothing - and there is lots and lots of clothing to choose from, in many different colors. Of course, you have to buy most of it (it's not possible for players to create their own clothing, as it is in Second Life), but earning money in Puzzle Pirates is pretty easy. Setting up your initial appearance and changing your clothing is simple. Even in games I've played that allow more customization, things are still pretty easy to figure out. What causes things to take so long isn't usually the process of figuring out how to do the customization, but rather looking through all the customization options.
Not so with Second Life. A sizable chunk of the hour and a half I spent trying it out today was devoted to trying to figure out how to change my appearance - and reading all kinds of tutorial notes, flying, walking, running, figuring out shortcut keys, trying out gestures, picking up freebies, and learning how to interact with objects. There's tons to learn, and although the info I've been looking at on Help Island is nice, it's not always as helpful as I might like.
Back to the whole appearance thing. I'm probably going to go explore other places and just leave my appearance alone soon, but I'd really like my avatar not to be so generic. I figured out how to change certain aspects of my avatar's body, and I changed the color of her blouse, but the same principle that worked on the blouse does not work on her jacket, pants, and hair. I picked up some free stuff, so I could use that on my avatar instead, but that doesn't solve the problem - all I get is a new hairstyle and new clothes, when what I really want to do is take what I already have and change the color. It's frustrating, but I'm keeping at it, for a little while anyway, because every new thing I try teaches me something about Second Life.
So, in the process of trying stuff out, I made myself bald and then couldn't find my hair again. Rather than go bald, I went around with an enormous pony tail for a while, until I located my original hair and put it back on my skull. Tomorrow I'll try the hair thing again, but I have a feeling I'll give up soon and just teleport someplace else, probably Info Island - I want to see what other libraries have done and how they're doing it. Then, if I can figure out how, I'll go to a university island with a library and see if the library is just there to make the island look more like the real life campus, or if there are actually any interesting things being done.
I knew from past experiences with virtual worlds that they suck up a lot of time, but I think Second Life might be on a whole new level.