Friday, December 7, 2007

Why I bother with Second Life

Second Life is many things to many people. For me it’s a way to “get out” and meet people, do things, and wear cool clothes without the inconvenience, expense and social terror of actually leaving the bosom of my little rural homestead. On my own, I enjoy viewing the artistic endeavors of the creative amongst us, whether it’s a fabulous piece of virtual architecture, a clever interactive installation or game, or an art exhibit of real life work.

On the social side of things, I probably, as I pointed out to friend TotalLunar Eclipse the other night, would not have lasted very long in SL had I not stumbled upon Caledon, Steelhead, and other like-minded 19th century oriented sims (Babbage, Wyre, and now Winterfell). As it is, I recently passed my one year mark. Like many “noobs”, I spent my first weeks in SL just learning to walk, communicate, and finding a signature “look” for myself. Unlike, apparently, most of the main population, I actually strove to mold my avatar to be as accurate a simulacrum of myself as possible. Somehow I found a skin that didn’t make me look like Jennifer Lopez or Angelina Jolie. Honestly, what IS the deal with most of the female skins for sale having giant lips? I’m have no exotic non-Caucasian blood coursing through my veins. I’m a regular Heinz 57 northern European type with average kissing equipment. I do not want to look like I just had a collagen injection. But I digress. Brown hair in braids, some brown cargo pants, hiking boots, and a comfy flannel shirt, and a pair of glasses completed my transformation. Me on any given day.

The friends who showed me SL in the first place had warned me about all of the casual “adult” activities going on everywhere, so I steered clear of that nonsense. I was also warned about the similarity to any given public chat room, as far as the social demographic goes. Yes, I encountered a lot of very young (seemingly) people who’s spelling skills were negligible and manners almost non-existent. As in real life, I’m capable of walking away from or otherwise dismissing this kind of behavior. Griefers were encountered occasionally. I learned how to snap a photo, get ID information on the perps, and file a report. I didn’t feel it necessary to “get revenge” or “fight back”. Frankly, I just think it’s better if this type of person is booted from the system until they grow up.

Idealizing Oneself

As indicated above in my search for a personally expressive “look” for my avatar, there is a lot of posing going on in Second Life. I’m not exactly against it, especially if one is truly trying to remain anonymous. However, there definitely seems to be a default setting for the average participant outside of the pre-20th century themed areas. I was telling my husband this morning about my recent activities in world, and how much fun I had “visiting” with like-minded folks who, like my real world friends, enjoy going for the best and “coolest” historical clothing and equipment they can cobble together. This is in contrast to the “outer world” of SL, where one is surrounded by six foot plus Barbie Dolls in tube tops with their butt cheeks hanging out of their shorts (or skirts!) and stiletto heels, and seven foot guys with tiny heads and 62 inch chests. “Ah, just like real life!”, said Mr. Peterman. Well, in real life most of the guys seem to have 62 inch guts instead, but, yeah. Almost inevitably, the folks I met in the “outer darkness” who didn’t fit that description were the best conversationalists. This is not an absolute rule, but it’s what I found in my first months. Frankly, after spending some time bumming around, playing Tringo, attending a few Bible studies (largely lightweight and unsatisfying), and exploring mostly disappointing attempts at themed simulations, I can’t imagine not wanting to remain anonymous in the greater world of Second Life. It’s really just a giant, three-dimensional public chat room populated with the usual assortment of juveniles, illiterates, and predators.

Haven of Gentility...more or less

And then there’s Caledon….and by “Caledon” I’m also including like-minded simulations such as Steelhead, New Babbage, Wyre, and others. Looking back, I’m trying to remember how exactly I found Caledon in the first place. I think it went something like this…

One of my real world avocations is “Oriental Dancer” (that’s “belly dance” to most of you). Before I learned that the whole “Gor” thing was utterly distasteful to me and not worth my time, I thought I might be a dancer at festive occasions in Gorean settings. Can you tell I’ve never read any of the books? I’m such a naïf. Of course all I could find in world in the way of “dance costumes” was a variety of skimpy “silks” (took me a while to figure out what “silks” were) that were worse than the worst Turkish dancer’s hoochie gear, and in which I wouldn’t be caught dead even in a virtual world. My searches eventually led me to a charming ensemble by Solange Cerveau, which came with a variety of modesty options, mostly involving the level of opacity of the fabrics. I decided it need a choli to make it more to my taste, so I went searching for “choli” or “sari” until I found a link to some garments by Yuriko Muromachi (Silver Rose Designs). The landmark dumped me next to a nice Victorian manor house, a build of West Trade Imports. I followed a link to Muromachi’s main store, which was in…Caledon! What a breath of fresh air to wander a nice little Victorian sim. No flashing signs, nasty music, scantily clad women, or giant casinos. The first time I wandered in, to buy my “sari” outfit, I walked around a bit and just enjoyed the architecture and interesting things for sale. There really wasn’t anybody about, nor any “sandwich board” signage announcing upcoming social events.

At any rate, I walked out of there with a nice addition to my wardrobe, which gave me an exotic “dress-up” look that I was even able to wear as standard daywear in, say, any Medieval or Tolkien-esque setting. I spent the next few months fooling around in the “Galaxy” sim, a Star Trek themed area. Nice folks, but ultimately very frustrating. Did some nice roleplaying at first, but soon it became obvious that nobody had any serious tactical experience, and they all just wanted to rehash old Star Trek episodes. Um, yawn. That and the apparently young age and limited social abilities of most folks there wore me down.

Real life took me away for a few months, and when I came back and paid a visit to Caledon imagine my surprise when I saw it had grown in size by several sims! Announcements were up for several functions, and after somebody personally invited me to some shindig or other I cobbled together some evening wear and jumped in. It wasn’t long before I’d met some folks with whom I shared historical interests, and although I am not yet a land holder, I can honestly say that I’ve never since had any desire to spend time anywhere else in SL. It’s so entertaining to visit with folks online who have actual conversational ability, let alone the fact that I have met so many fellow historians, costumers, traditional music enthusiasts, and film buffs like myself.

Hanging with Regular Folks, only better

I’m sure that even in Caledon there are folks who model their avatars to a standard that does not mirror their real world image, but I have yet to find any person of any longevity there who’s personality clashes with their appearance. In real life, I find that one’s appearance is one’s calling card, and this is very easy to achieve in SL. For instance, a person in a nicely rendered uniform with a military affiliation in their title is usually able to discuss military history, as I have found, and I’ve made several good friends by asking questions about clothes or weapons. Strangely enough, I’ve met some folks who live fairly close to me in real life, and one person turned out to be an established acquaintance! I enjoy visiting with folks at the balls and during game play (such as the fencing game En Garde, see photo above). The conversation is the most important thing to me. As a bonus, I get to play dress-up with a little computerized paper doll and buy her virtual clothes and gadgets and have virtual adventures. In that way it’s a creative outlet, too, and I don’t regret the time spent.


Otenth Paderborn said...

What an absolutely delightful entry, Mrs Peterman. Thank you!

Eladrienne Laval said...

I really really enjoyed this insightful post and congrats upon your recent RezDay! I had so much fun jigging with you at the listening party!

Neb said...

I so want some clever computer geek to design a "reel" set of dance balls. We wouldn't be able to move up and down the set, but we could go in and out and twirl each other around!

Skusting Dagger said...

Well said! New Babbage, Antiquity, Steelhead, and of course Caledon, are the places I have found where I really feel like I am in another world in another time.
And the rules that are in place to keep them looking the way the do keep me coming back.
I feel quite at home here
And should you wish for a more intelligent Star Trek experince, I must suggest the Star Trek Science Museum.
Skusting Dagger
New Babbage Canal District