As some of you were confused about the difference between what Second Life denizens call furries and what they call nekos, or hybrids, I thought I would take a moment to clear things up.
Since the dawn of time, man has had close bonds with the animal kingdom. Many Native American tribes revered animal spirits as part of their rituals and celebrations. The ancient Egyptians worshiped gods depicted as humanoids with animal heads. Zeus, king of the Greek gods, liked to turn into a bull and mate with human women. Perhaps that's a bad example. The point is that we relate to animals. We talk to our pets...give them human names, assign them human behaviours, and we talk about them in terms of family. We enjoy sharing our lives with them.
Now just having a tail and a pair of fuzzy ears doesn't make you a furry. Let's take a look at the various ways that SL residents relate to animals.
Furries in Second Life are actually anthropomorphic animals - animals given human shape, walking on two legs. There are several popular places in Second Life to purchase furry avatars - Luskwod, Lost Furrest, and Curious Inc., where Uchi Desmoulins has been teasing fans with a house cat furry avatar for a good year and a half.
Characteristics of a furry avatar include a head made up of prims (a SL term for polygons, short for primitives) that completely covers the avatars normal head, along with paws, tails, or wings where applicable. While some furries indeed fall into the category of people who like to have sex looking like animals, most just enjoy being something other than human. It's a virtual world, after all. Why limit yourself to a shape you see everyday?
While there are links to RL furry fandom and SL furries, many of the furry players on SL would never dreams of showing up at a RL furmeet (furry convention). It's simply a way to express themselves within the confines of the world...much like you would take on the role of animalistic characters in games like Ratchet and Clank, Tai-Fu (remember Tai-Fu?), or even games based on films like Kung-Fu Panda.
Nekos and Hybrids
Nekos run rampant throughout Second Life. Mostly inspired by the habit of anime and manga to include random girls with cat ears and tails, Nekos are just that - humans with cat ears and tails. While there are places in Second Life where you can roleplay actual Neko cultures (they even have their own language), for the most part neko ears and tails are mainly worn just because they can be. Not only are they kind of cute, they also give folks focal points for flirting where just grabbing the nearest naughty body part wouldn't do. It isn't limited to just cats, however. Stores like Hybrid sell a wide variety of animal ear and tail sets, along with skins that help the humanoid character look as if they have tiger stripes or other animal markings. A few examples of other hybrids include:
Mouse: Do I need to explain?
Raccoons: There is only one raccoon boy.
Ferals are avatars that skip the whole humanoid bit, opting instead to be straight-up animals. Wolves and lions are popular forms, though some more fanciful variants can be found, such as this freaking amazing Okami wolf I purchased from Lost Ferals. It actually sprouts flowers and grass behind it as it runs. They also had wolf Link from Twilight Princess, but they were so expensive I could only afford the one. Lovely work.
Last but never least, we have the Tinies. These folks wear avatars shaped like tiny toy animals - rabbits, bears, ferrets, and cats are especially popular - and just have outrageous amounts of fun being small. Tiny communities, such as the ginormous Raglan Shire community, are all about having fun, free of the drama of everyday SL life.
Their community is strictly PG-rated and constantly engages in special events. They hold regular festivals to celebrate holidays, gather together to watch movies, play games such as Primtionary - a take on Pictionary where the players must use their SL building skills to deliver clues - and just basically have a good time. They regularly invade "biggie" areas in mass, partying along with their larger counterparts in the name of Waffles, preferably on a stick. Oh and yes, some of them are armed to the teeth.
That's All, Folks
Oh I know that's probably not all, but as far as I've learned so far, this is a rather comprehensive little list. There are plenty of other prolific cultures in Second Life - cyborgs, elves, more elves, vampires...vampire elves - but they don't generally come up as much during conversations from outside SL. It's all about the furries.
Hopefully I've help clear up a few misconceptions about the various animal hybrids. I don't expect you all to immediately run out and get dressed up as animals, but perhaps you'll be a bit more understanding of folks who choose to do so. At least you won't get a Neko mixed up with a furry ever again, which I suppose is all one can hope for.