Second Life is the scrappy frontier of online games. It is a program of unusual freedoms and such undefined goals that many users call it a video game only for lack of a better term. And since its launch in mid-2003, it has tested the possibilities and limits of unfettered creative freedom.

In late summer, an armed airborne mechanical moose patrolled the skies of the online virtual world of Second Life. Its intended foe was a gold-armored man who would eventually set ablaze the moose owner’s virtual headquarters, a replica of the German Reichstag. This was unconventional warfare even by the standards of massively multiplayer online games, where conflict is common.



What stood out was the ingenuity of the tools and the tactics, all designed and put in place not by a game programmer but by the players themselves. It is just one example of the creative freedom in Second Life, the most unpredictable of online worlds.



There are no inherent goals, no monsters to kill, no skills to learn; there is essentially no grand design. The developers on the 25-person team at Linden Lab, based in San Francisco, create the game’s virtual terrain and provide basic programming for users to walk or fly their humanoid avatars through this world.



Everything else – the buildings, the clothes, the animation that lets people dance the tango and the 48-acre replica of Peter Pan’s London and Neverland, opening this week – is the handiwork of the users, who manipulate in-game design tools to build, animate and otherwise give purpose to the world.



It is also the only online game that officially supports third-party services that convert game money to dollars, encouraging its users to try to turn a profit.



“The only limit to the game is your own imagination,” said Karen Huffman, a Georgia native who is one of Second Life’s premier clothing designers. She created the costumes for the Peter Pan project.



But the no-limits nature of Second Life has raised some questions for its founders and citizens regarding the allure of unrestrained freedom.



Discussing the Reichstag conflict, a veteran creator of several online worlds, Randy Farmer, who last year consulted for Second Life and is still a fan of the project, said, “Do we want people to be able to firebomb Disneyland?”



The question has an obvious answer in real life. But in Second Life, even antisocial behavior (with a few limits) can advertise the potential of unlimited creativity. Now the question is whether a world defined by such freedom can go mainstream.



A tour through the game’s ever growing landmass is a testament to the ingenuity of its mostly peaceful users. Some have built shops and casinos. In one sector someone constructed an extravagant airport where users can purchase the ability to skydive. In another, a series of rooms designed by James Cook, a physician affiliated with the University of California, Davis, lets visitors experience the visual and aural sensations of schizophrenia.



Philip Rosedale, Second Life’s founder and a former chief technical officer for RealNetworks, said he had not foreseen most of this. But that lack of design was the design.



He had wanted to build a world of collaborative construction. He had been taken with the idea that many small variables could create a nuanced entity. He and Cory Ondrejka, Linden Lab’s vice president for product development, prepared to build their world by studying the growth of a forest fire.



Mr. Rosedale said he was heartened by the 20 percent monthly growth in the game’s population. Still, at 15,000 users, Second Life is tiny compared with City of Heroes, this year’s most eagerly received massively multiplayer online game, which has more than 150,000 users, according to the game’s publisher, NCsoft.



Mr. Rosedale predicts that Second Life can attract a million users in three years, pointing not just to the enthusiasm of his current users but to the $8 million of financing secured last month from the venture firm Benchmark Capital and the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar.



One concern, however, is that the program’s ballyhooed freedom has proved more effective in drawing customers with an appetite for construction rather than those who – conditioned by video games, TV programs and movies made for them – simply like to consume.



“We don’t think the message for a million people is to come and build your own world starting from bricks,” Mr. Rosedale said.



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