LOS ANGELES – A group has gathered beside a gazebo in an outdoor park to discuss the presidential election. But the park isn't real, it's in the online virtual world of Second Life, where pixelated avatars fly around and interact with each other.
The folks are hanging out at the Straight Talk Cafe, an online enclave that supports John McCain. "I think we need to know a little bit more about Obama," a character named Sophia Yates tells the group.
In this image provided by Lisa Peyton, Gordon Olivant's avatar, Wyatt Forster, leads the McCain campaign in the virtual world of Second Life, where pixelated avatars interact with each other. [Agencies]
She's interrupted by another character, Auryn Karu, demanding to hear the group's thoughts about Sarah Palin.
"Auryn, just go to Obama's world," says another avatar, MarsS Juran.
Volunteers for the presidential candidates unofficially created campaign headquarters, held grass roots rallies, handed out virtual buttons and T-shirts, and signed up actual voters in the vast virtual world developed by San Francisco-based Linden Lab.
Many people decided to spend Election Day online — and they had plenty of company this time around.
Across the Internet, election watchers were discussing, celebrating and bemoaning the political process inside virtual worlds, on social networking sites and within blogs. They were also using techno-savvy Web sites such as Twitter, Google Maps and Flickr to share individual voting experiences, as well as monitor polling places across the country on Tuesday.
At the nonpartisan TwitterVoteReport.com, specially tagged Twitter.com micro-blogs about voting were being aggregated and pinpointed on an ever-changing online map. The 140-characters-or-less posts, called tweets, are also being used to estimate voting wait times. Some users were reporting short lines Tuesday morning, while others were complaining of much longer wait times.
"Longest lines ever at 7:30 am," posted James Glanville from his iPhone in Newton, Mass. "Half-hour wait helped by 5th grade class Election Day bake sale. By the time I left at 8 am, 222 people had cast their ballots."
Not all the online pursuits were as serious.
In Electronic Arts' species-creation simulator "Spore," the game's developer created downloadable spaceships in the candidates' likeness. The John McCain and Sarah Palin ships were classified as an "endangered species," while the Barack Obama and Joe Biden vessels were deemed a "flourishing species" based on player votes Tuesday on the Sporepedia, the game's database of user creations.
Meanwhile, in the PlayStation 3 platformer game "LittleBigPlanet," several gamers had uploaded election-themed user-generated levels, including one titled "CNN Election Center" that featured dangerous obstacles amid photos of CNN news anchors. At the end of the level, players could cast a faux vote for either Obama or McCain, which both culminated in a splash of confetti and points.
Over at eBay.com, the auction on four one-of-kind Cabbage Patch Dolls crafted to look like the presidential and vice presidential candidates ended Tuesday. The Palin doll nabbed the most cash with a $19,000 bid while the Biden doll only brought in $3,500. The lil' Obama and McCain impersonators earned offers of $8,400 and $6,000, respectively.