Cyber punk’d

Every now and again, I get a little bored with the same old routine and I ditch the sensible hair, the M&S clothes and shun the safe and homely parts of SL. On goes the leather, latex and shiny plastic, out come the prosthetics, neon implants and glowing hair, and off I go to explore the dark and distant reaches of the virtual world.

I’ve always loved cyberpunk. The genre fascinates and draws me in and I feel an affinity for it that taps deeply into my imagination and the anti-hero vibe which typifies the genre resonates strongly with my own psyche. There is, of course, something very cyberpunk about the concept of a virtual world in itself, and I daresay that accounts, at least in part, for its hold upon me, and no-one would argue that SL isn’t the perfect environment for letting our cyberpunk imaginations run wild.

Or is it? Based on my own most recent forays into the cyber sims of SL, I’m forced to conclude that all is not as well as it might be.

Firstly, if you take into consideration the huge range of scenarios, storylines and plot twists that cyberpunk has explored over the years in literature, cinema and even art, there’s enormous potential for developing these myriad scenarios in SL. However the reality appears to be that most of what the virtual world has to offer is horribly formulaic, and typified by a very limited range of concepts. Maybe that’s a little unfair of me, since cyberpunk is, by its very nature, pretty formulaic anyway, but within that formula there’s a huge array of possibilities. Sadly, in SL, those possibilities seem to have been pared down into a) Bladerunner-esque city, combining equal measures of futuristic neon advertising and flying taxis with grotty Asian food stalls and tattoo parlours; b) Abandoned spaceship/space station, every one of which is built from the same modular components and contains exactly the same shuttle dock as every other. (Presumably, in the 26th century a single company holds the monopoly over such structures); c) Alien planet. Varying in character between slightly boring and horrendously boring, and whose chief attraction appears to be vast amounts of empty space; d) I want to do the cyberpunk sex. More of that later.

Quite apart from the cookie cutter space stations and ubiquitous storage crates, noodle bars and obligatory branches of Graves and Shu Mesh, you can’t help but feel there’s a deficit of imagination when it comes to onboarding new recruits to these other worldly cyber experiences too. After your nth identical arrival at an arrivals hub, complete with transporter mechanism, surrounded by glowing video screens and pulsing floor arrows, as you cast your eyes over the multiplicity of information boards detailing the various factions with whom you can foster allegiance, you’re desperate to come across something new… But those occasions are few and far between.

However, you make the best of it: Hopefully poking around the station/ship/city/planet in search of excitement, adventure and really wild things, only to find that it’s in short supply. It seems that in the future, some unforseen global plague has wiped out most of the Grid’s population, and the few survivors left that you do stumble across on rare occasions seem to enjoy nothing as much as standing in corners, unmoving and uncommunicative. Those who are mobile tend to flit across the screen and disappear in a moment, no doubt on urgent business of their own, or are young Japanese guys who just want to talk about pop music.

In fact I’ve found myself on numerous occasions to be the only sentient life form in the cyberverse… I know that to be a protagonist of the cyberpunk variety is often portrayed as a lonely path to tread, but I hadn’t realised that ‘lonely’ would be defined as ‘devoid of all human contact’.

That is unless you take the plunge and TP to those destinations whose keywords pull no punches in terms of what you can expect on arrival. Yes, my friends, if would appear that if you want company, roleplay and a true cyberpunk experience, the future is quite definitely sex-shaped!

However, the actual shapes can be somewhat mind boggling in their variety… Android, gynoid, robotic, anthro, tentacular, globulous, alien, vegetable, insectiform, futa, dolls, or any combination thereof, and all of them sporting – often in super-abundance – all the necessary, and unnecessary, orifices, protruberences and jiggly bits to ensure you have a good time.

Sadly though, even these can be empty, soulless places, whose only inhabitants are securely locked away in streaming capsules of green goo, or ensconced far away from prying eyes in secret sky boxes above the dark city skyscrapers.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me: There are many worthy and impressive cyberpunk builds in SL, some of which are breathtaking in their scope and the clear passion that has gone into creating them, but I can’t help feeling that there’s something lacking. If you’re expecting the bustle of Deckard’s Chinatown, or the anarchic lawlessness of The Black Sun, or even the confused unreality of Gilliam’s Brazil, then you’re going to be disappointed – in the one place where you might expect hordes of cyberpunk fanatics living out their dreams – a virtual world – you’ll actually be hard pushed to even find a single Co-conspiritor on the average cyber sim, and I find that somehow a damming reflection of what SL appears to have become

It seems to me that the power of imagination to explore the breadth and depth of potential experience offered by SL – whether in terms of cyberpunk, or any other genre, theme or tradition – has been muscled out in favour of paying homage to the big inworld retailers and vendors instead. Supported by fawning fashion Bloggers who’d sell their virtual soul for a freebie outfit to review, and a populace that would rather spend hours primping, preening and adjusting their alphas than exploring, creating and seeing how best to employ the resources of their virtual world, things have become very bland and decidedly uninteresting.

Maybe I really do fit into the archetypal mould of the cyber-rebel, fighting against the masses for a lost cause; I just didn’t expect it to feel quite so real in SL!

That’s not going to stop me though. The sims might be empty  sometimes misguided and often inappropriate, but they’re a niche into which I fit… And one day, when my inworld age is measured in decades, rather than years, I’ll sit in a virtual bar and tell the youngsters how it used to be, before The Corporation made us all dull, boring clones.

“I’ve seen things…”, I’ll tell them, “that you people wouldn’t believe.”

s. x

I’ll make
All that I believe
In dreams
So real
Metric – Artificial Nocturne

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, SL, Tales of the Road | 2 Comments

Weird game with nothing to do

It’s been a little while now since Sansar was launched on Steam, and today’s title is perhaps the least flattering of reviews that it’s received from steam users since its launch. To be absolutely honest, I’m not a gamer, although I have some good friends who are, and I don’t really understand what Steam is but I do know that it’s the domain of seasoned game players who are well experienced in a variety of different formats and genres and so – one would hope – probably know what they’re talking about in that particular field. So our titular review: ‘Weird game with nothing to do’ is particularly damning feedback.

Or is it?

I daresay that exactly the same criticism could be levelled at SL, and to me it underlines the fundamental difference between true virtual worlds and traditional games.

At this point, of course, I could go off on the well-trodden path of ‘SL is not a game’, but I’m not going to. It’s an argument that’s been hotly debated for the last 14 years and will continue to be debated for the next 14, but what I will say is that one of the stronger arguments against SL being a game is that hardened gamers simply don’t understand it. You land inworld and there’s nothing to shoot, no game plan to follow, no strategy to adopt, no factions to join and a disjointed social experience – it’s all very open-ended and freeform and everybody has their own way of going about things. It’s patently not a game in any traditional sense.

And neither is Sansar, and I think that’s where Linden Lab has slipped up in a big way because, depsite their best efforts to sell Sansar as absolutely not Second Life 2, in every fundamental detail, that’s exactly what it is. Unfortunately, the Lab have taken great pains to disassociate Sansar from SL and very successfully too, which leaves Sansar in the rather untenable position of trying to appeal to both hardcore gamers, and at the other extreme, absolute beginners who’ve never set foot in anything like a virtual world before. That is going to take some doing, since it’s not a game, and the Lab has successfully alienated the virtual worlders of SL by divorcing Sansar completely from the earlier platform. The Lab could have, if they’d really wanted, allowed funds, names and probably even some content to be transferable between SL and Sansar, which would have gone a long way towards bringing on board a user base who understand what a virtual world is and would love to have some incentive to invest in Sansar. Unfortunately, the very thing the Lindens shied away from – ie calling it SL2 – is the very thing that could have been instrumental in making the Sansar start up a success.

The end result is that nobody really knows what Sansar is.

We do know that the focus is on a VR immersive experience, (something incidentally, that its arch rival – Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity – is now dropping like it’s hot), which is fantastic for gaming, but a bit rubbish for the average Joe running an average set up, who wants text chat, dressing-up and shopping. I suppose you can’t have it all, but by putting all their virtual eggs in one basket, I can’t help thinking that the Lab are taking a bit of a risk. Take up of VR has been horribly slow, is dependant far too much on high end and expensive equipment, and is really just too much faffing about for most people to be bothered with. My own gut feeling is that it will go the same way as 3D TV, and where does that leave Sansar?

Maybe the Lab have a backup plan? Could it be that if VR doesn’t turn out to be the universal panacea that they imagined, they’ll quietly pull the plug and allow Sansar to revert to more traditional ways of participant interaction? Even then, it could be a little too late – I can’t see hordes of virtual worldies dumping their carefully crafted mesh avatars and heading over to Sansar to start all over again, because – let’s face it – even in it’s current incarnation, SL is just too damn good, and it’s where all the action is!

I’m not a doom-monger, and I’d always hoped that Sansar would bring great things, but I’m starting to wonder, in the harsh light of day, whether it’s actually going anywhere, anytime soon… Hopefully, it won’t turn into a white elephant haemorrhaging cash and resources from the Lab and SL, but there’s always a danger that it could.

On the positive side, SL has benefitted from the tech and development that has gone into the Lab’s new offspring, in much the same way that everyday things in RL have benefitted from the space programme. Certainly, none of us will be spending our holidays on Mars in the near future, but every one of us has reason to be thankful in some degree for memory foam, baby formula, cochlear implants, stayclean oven linings, infrared thermometers, CMOS active pixel sensors, scratch resistant specs coatings, and indirectly, the SuperSoaker!

It may be a weird game, but those of us who understand SL can readily assure all those hardcore Steam gamers… There’s more than enough to do!

s. x

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind!
Noel Harrison – The Windmills Of Your Mind

Posted in 2.0, Linden Love, Philosophicalisticality, SL, Techietalk | Leave a comment

Why do birds suddenly appear?

Every so often, realities get confused – like the moment you look in your wardrobe for that dress you only own in SL, or you catch yourself in real life looking at furniture and wondering how many prims it is. Then there are the occasions when we find ourselves surprised to find that people we know inworld look nothing like their avatars in reality.

There are subtle things too that catch us out from time to time; things that we’re almost oblivious to until they infiltrate our consciousness and remind us that there’s sometimes a thin line separating the division of one’s time between alternate realities and madness. Indeed, some would say its madness to even attempt the former!

Only yesterday, I found myself having one of those strange mixed reality moments. It was a bright, sunny day, and pleasantly warm; one of those days when I like to open up the patio doors, collapse onto the sofa and enjoy the sounds of nature, along with the occasional car alarm blaring out its annoying chant from the Tesco car park, a quarter of a mile away. Its funny how the brain has the capacity to tune out those things we don’t want to hear, yet still preserve that which we do want – like focusing on a conversation in a noisy bar, or living next door to a motorway or airport and being oblivious to the accompanying noise. There’s also the brain’s ability to zero in on the unexpected or unusual in the midst of white noise – no doubt a hangover from our distant past, when an unexpected twig cracking might herald the approach of a hungry, stalking sabretooth tiger!

What I heard was not a sabretooth tiger, but it was equally unexpected and surprised me out of my pleasant reverie. It was birdsong. Now, there’s nothing unusual in that, I have at least twenty species of birds that frequent my garden, and on a sunny day, it’s lovely to hear them going about their business, although I do sometimes wonder if all the tweets, twittering and melodious notes filling the air are actually avian slanging matches, raging arguments and brutal insults and slurs directed at fellow bird life! I digress… On this occasion, it was one particular call that suddenly invaded my consciousness and stood out amongst all the background noise with a clarity and unexpectedness that couldn’t be ignored.

There is a sound that I associate with SL which, for me, is woven into the very fibre of the virtual world. It’s a sound I’ve heard all over the Grid ever since I was a noob – a reassuring, welcoming sound that is quintessentially SL. Sadly, I’m no musician, so I can’t replicate it for you here, and I really don’t think that describing it as ‘do do doo do doop’ is really going to assist you, but believe me, you know it. You’ve heard the sound all over the place, anywhere where virtual birdsong can be found, for that’s what it is – a single, repeated avian refrain which – until yesterday – I thought was completely made up, a faux song, designed to sound like a bird, but was really something somebody had come up with on a rainy afternoon whilst messing around in Audacity.

It was this sound that I heard coming from my back garden, unexpected, and totally out of the usual context I was used to hearing it in.

It was one of those moments that the brain switches off all higher functions to avoid damage and goes into self-test mode. A cerebral ‘pinch yourself to see if you’re dreaming’ moment. All the evidence from my senses was saying this was real life, but that sound was contradicting them and – under the circumstances – it was just a matter of time before the men in white coats would be coming through the door, armed with syringes of benzodiazepine and those back to front bondage jackets. Some would say that’s long overdue anyway, but so far I’ve managed to evade them!

Once my mind had revived itself with an imaginary shot of whisky, the neurons began rebooting themselves, and good old Logic muscled himself to the forefront of my mind and rationalised everything out for me:

  1. I was quite definitely currently fully present in RL, and only RL
  2. I had quite definitely heard a sample of birdsong that I only knew from SL
  3. Ergo, someone had used a recording of a real bird singing to create virtual birdsong

Having proven his worth, Logic ambled back to own his cosy corner of my brain to see if he could find an unopened packet of biscuits to have with a nice hot cup of tea.

There’s only one slight problem with this seemingly sensible conclusion: I have never heard that particular piece of birdsong ever before, or since, anywhere but in the virtual world. So, taking a leaf from Logic’s book, while he’s away enjoying his cuppa, the only sensible conclusion to which I can come is this…

Some pesky virtual bird has escaped from SL and is now living in my back garden!

Unless you have a better explanation?

s. x

There’s a mocking bird
Singing songs in the trees
There’s a mocking bird
Singing songs
Just for you and me
Barclay James Harvest – Mockingbird

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

An equally inconvenient truth

We live in interesting, and rather disturbing, times.

The virtual bubble, rather than bursting, seems to be deflating like a hot air balloon wallowing and billowing on the ground, awaiting the inevitable moment when, bereft of shape and substance, it is packed away into a musty old crate and left to rot away. A fun experiment that ultimately proved to be too expensive, too niche and too optimistic. All that tech that we were so excited about – virtual headsets, new 3D worlds under development, and augmented reality for all, seem to have become rather embarrassing attempts to shoot the moon, and the companies behind them are quietly reassigning staff and resources to more profitable and accessible projects. New virtual worlds are ditching their pursuit of the all-round 3-dimensional experience in favour of the more traditional keyboard and mouse approach and all those technologies that we dreamed would change our world seem to be going the same way as 3D TV – a rather embarrassing and costly flop!

This is coupled with a changing social consciousness (unless you’re an orange-tinted American hotel magnate – in which case, please just file this under ‘fake news’ and move on to your own inevitable and ignoble extinction). With astonishing rapidity, a significant proportion of humanity appears to have come to the realisation that all those things the Voice of Reason and Common Sense have been telling us for at least the past 50 years is actually concrete fact. That we will indeed, possibly within our lifetime – and certainly within the lifetime of our ever more precocious offspring – witness the last of the polar bears, elephants, frogs, rainforests, coral reefs, honey bees, shoebills, mangrove swamps, glaciers, whales, polar ice, low lying coastal areas and fertile plains, as they march relentlessly towards permanent oblivion.

People, even schoolkids – who should really be enjoying themselves, falling out of trees in the great outdoors, rather than petitioning parliaments to do something to ensure that there will actually be a future great outdoors, with real living, breathing trees for them to fall out of, in the foreseeable future – are starting to get angry. And, even though I’d suggest it’s rather late in the day to get indignant about Maccy D plastic straws killing the orcas, I suppose that with enough impetus and radical action, maybe the breakneck speed at which we’re approaching Tipping Point can be slowed, even arrested, maybe?

However, it’s never that simple.

You see, all that amazing technology that we once thought would change the world for the better is indeed bringing change, only its not necessarily in the fashion we’d like. Every time we bid in an eBay auction, order an environmentally friendly recycled item off Amazon, watch a YouTube video about climate change, or even spend an evening doing nothing much in particular and dossing around in SL, we are unconsciously contributing to the problem. Every time we save the planet by not driving to the cinema and having a night in with Netflix, we’re playing a part in melting the glaciers at Kilimanjaro’s summit, and every time we upgrade our phone we’re depleting the earth’s finite resources of lithium, gold, platinum and helium… Forget recycling, the planet will likely die before we get around to reclaiming half the stuff we use and chuck away routinely.

But, who amongst us is prepared to pay the price of reducing our own personal technological impact upon the world around us? If they were to shut down the server farms that power the internet giants, depriving us of Google, Facebook, SL and bitcoin for five days a week, would we complain, or just shrug our shoulders and accept that it’s a necessary evil that comes with the territory if we want to reduce the fossil fuel consumption and crazy amount of atmospheric heat that are associated with these services? If we were to put aside any transport solutions that didn’t rely on hydrocarbons or battery power, would we be happy to walk or stay put instead? And, would we really enjoy a simple meal, grown in our own back garden over ordering a burger by smart phone, made from beef raised in South America on land cleared of ancient rainforest, flown 4000 miles across the ocean and packaged in a non-biodegradable styrofoam box created from palm oil by a minimum wage burger flipper, before being delivered to your doorstep via already clogged roads on the back of a dirty, polluting 2-stroke engined scooter?

I have a feeling that few of us would be prepared to make those sacrifices. We like our conveniences and our technology far too much to give them up, or even reduce our dependence on it. If for example, by logging in to SL for just an hour each week, rather than 15, you could reduce your annual carbon footprint by a ton, would you do it? If inworld designers were to close their Photoshop accounts, cut their processor use to the absolute basics in order to save the polar bears, would you put up with just having old clothes in your virtual wardrobe? If rather than using the fastest, most up to date graphics card for SL, you had to survive with slower, onboard, non-dedicated hardware, is that something you could tolerate if you knew it was stopping sea levels rising?

Those are surprisingly tough questions for us to answer… But, should they be?

I’m not judging anyone, and I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to taking natural resources for granted, but I can’t help thinking that the majority of those who are prepared to stage ‘die-ins’, civil disobedience and strikes would probably do the planet a much bigger favour if they ditched their mobile phones and stopped spending their down time paying online games and watching giant 4K TVs every night! The simple fact is that evolving technological change is inconsistent with preserving or improving the state of the planet, but we as a species have become so reliant on technology that we can’t countenance an existence without it – and although climate change, destruction of habitat, overuse of natural resources, growing population, plastic contamination, greenhouse gases, desertification, hyper-salination and an ever-growing IUCN Red List, along with a whole host of other – mostly human-generated – destructive forces are a complex and wicked problem, where our technological reliance is but a small contributor to the whole damned mess, and for which there cannot be any single simple solution, you have to admit that humanity has managed to deal itself a particularly unpleasant hand, and one which ultimately is highly likely to lead to it’s own demise. Somehow, idiotically, humankind has managed to shoot itself in the foot.

It’s a terrible dilemma. If we do without those things upon which we’ve come to totally rely, there’s a good chance we may well not make it… And if we don’t do without them, it’s a dead cert that we won’t!

Which makes writing about a virtual world that only exists thanks to modern technology, rather poignant in its irony.

s. x

Freed from the memory
Escape from our history, history
And I just hope that you can forgive us
But everything must go
Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Hard habits die old

I am a creature of habit, and I suspect that many others who frequent SL are cut from the same cloth. I tend to log in at around the same time, on the same days and hang around with the same people in the same places, with very little in the way of variation or change. I know that many of my friends do much the same thing – partly because they spend a lot of time in my presence, at the same times and places that I’m around, and partly because if they’re not around, I can usually predict with a fair degree of accuracy where they might be found.

Occasionally, the real world will intervene and mess us around, upsetting itineraries and changing our plans. This is usually unavoidable and those of us who may be tempted to put the virtual world first and jeopardise real life commitments should probably take a step back and get a stronger grip on reality!

Virtual life may throw the odd spanner in the works too. New friendships can sometimes fool around with our nicely ordered and structured inworld routines – and whilst we may not actually resent spending time with new people, visiting new locations with them and doing things when we’d previously have been doing something completely different, they can put a strain on our sense of order and control. We feel conflicted between nurturing and enjoying the company of our new acquaintance and maintaining our own familiar routines. Similarly, when SL imposes upon us and our time – even if for good reason – we can find ourselves irritated by that imposition, no matter how positive the reasons behind it. For example, landscaping a new parcel, creating a build or preparing for an event or fair can take their toll on our normal activities and pursuits, and although we may enjoy what we’re doing instead, it’s always with the frustrating knowledge that our usual routine has temporarily been put on hold.

I’ve always been a little jealous of those who seem to be able to flit around SL (and presumably, RL too), without any thought for routine, going wherever the whim takes them, unconcerned about places to be or things to be done. They remind me of my early days inworld before I’d established any real sort of routine, had few friends, no land or places I had to be and not even a place to call home where I could get changed. Certainly, that kind of SLifestyle had its disadvantages but, on the plus side, it was a free and easy time when I undertook a huge amount of exploring, discovery and investigation of the virtual world, its opportunities and possibilities – things that, although I still do them today, it’s nowhere near as much or as frequently, and more often than not, they are activities constrained by the demands of the routines that I’ve established since.

It’s a bit of a mixed blessing, growing into the virtual world – the longer you’re here and the more you socialise and integrate with the virtual community, the less freedom it seems you have to do all those other things that you’d like to do, but can’t, because you have things to do… If you see what I mean!

I know people inworld who have far more friends than I, who seem to have a full and varied social life, and yet if you dig a little deeper, their entire time inworld is completely dictated by the associations they have formed and the activities to which they subscribe. There’s no freedom to vary the routine and no leeway when it comes to fitting in anything outside that routine. They might appear to have everything going for them, but in reality, it’s just the same old routine, week after week. Of course, that’s fine if you’re happy with it, but it does seem to me to go against part of the ethos of SL, where we have the freedom to be who we want to be, do what we want to do, and create a life that we want… And, if we’re not careful, it seems that over time we can restrict our own freedom and end up in the very same type of routines that we try to escape in RL by heading off to the virtual world.

A cautionary tale, maybe: One that maybe I should take more heed of myself!

s. x

It’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone
But it’s the same old song
The Four Tops – It’s The Same Old Song

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, SL | Leave a comment

Bomb!

I am the sort of person who, it seems, is readily mistaken for an authority figure in real life. I’m regularly accosted in shops by people asking me where to find certain items, who are then disappointed to find that I don’t work there, and I’m just as frequently the ‘go to’ person for complete strangers to wander up to and ask for advice, whether it’s the fairly understandable and mundane request for directions, to the more esoteric and off the wall requests, such as ‘Do you know where the queen stays when she’s visiting this part of the country?’ – yep, I was asked that one by a complete stranger just recently.

I’m not sure why it should always be me that people turn to, especially since I’m always the one to be singled out even when in a group of far more obvious people. Let me give you a rather bizarre example from recently: Picture me, trying hard to relax on a super-crowded train, on the second leg of a 6 hour journey home after a long and hard week working away from home. I’m alternating between dozing off, trying to get comfortable and failing to pass the time by fiddling with my tablet, when – completely out of the blue – I feel a tap on my knee. The tapper turned out to be a gentleman sat across the aisle from me, with whom I’d had no prior contact or interaction, he leaned forward conspiratorily, and pointed at a rucksack in the footwell of the seat next to him…

Random gentleman: “I think he got off the train and he’s left that there!”

Me: “Oh dear”

Random gentleman: “What should I do?”

Me: “erm”

Random gentleman: “It’s just that they do tell us we should report these things. I mean, you can’t be too careful, can you? What if there’s a bomb in there?”

At this particular moment in time, I was less concerned about the possible presence of a bomb on the train  than I was about the fact that of the hundred or so passengers sharing the carriage with me, including the two people sat across the table from him, and a whole train crew somewhere on board, this particular individual had singled my knee out to tap, and decided I was the most qualified person to deal with his concerns out of everybody on the whole train!

Was I wearing a high visibility vest, t-shirt with the words ‘Bomb Technician’ emblazoned across it, military fatigues or any sort of uniform or other designation that might have indicated I was the most appropriate person to speak to? Nope! I wasn’t even the person in the closest proximity to him, or the rucksack in question. Yet, for some unknown reason, Yours Truly had somehow assumed the mantle of public safety and security expert, without even knowing why or how. And, yes, this is precisely the story of thing that happens all the time.

Thankfully, at just that moment, the guard appeared at the end of the carriage, and my random stranger gratefully accepted my sage advice to present his concerns to the guard, which he did. Quite what the rucksack’s owner made of all the fuss when he returned from the toilet a couple of minutes later later, I don’t know, since I was making a spectacularly successful attempt of feigning sleep by the time he returned, and mercifully managed to avoid any further freaky exchanges for the rest of the journey home.

Thankfully, occurrences of this nature may happen rather too frequently not to be slightly alarming in RL, they are few and far between in SL, where it seems I have no air of authority whatsoever. In fact, even when I do hold a position of inworld power, influence or expertise, its amazing just how frequently I’m overlooked, ignored or just simply not considered as someone you might approach for help, advice or for a decision to be made. It’s certainly not something I’m complaining about, since SL would feel far too much like it was an extension of the real world, as it pretty much what I do on a daily basis in my real world job, (in addition to being the resident bomb and royalty expert in any given situation!). It does feel a bit weird though, especially when I’m with people who know me well, yet still manage to avoid approaching me when it makes perfect sense to do so.

My inworld friends often joke about how scary I am, but I’m beginning to wonder if there might be more than a grain of truth in what they’re saying. Certainly, I can be pretty forthright and honest in my opinions and advice and I don’t suffer fools gladly, but does that mean that I really do come across as frightening, or is there something more subtle at work here? Personally, I like to think that maybe there is… I know that I can be extremely self-confident, and that I’m capable of demonstrating a fair degree of strength of character – which, incidentally, is the end result of some testing times and a lot of soul-searching and hard work on my part. I never used to be that way – but I do think that not only can that be intimidating to some, but it can also be evident without being specifically expressed. I won’t say that I ooze confidence, but I’m sure that it must come across at times, even when I’m not trying.

Perhaps that’s why random strangers on the train ask me for advice about explosive devices, and perhaps that’s why I’m such a scary person inworld.

But, I’m a pussycat really!

s. x

I am the power of a woman, strong like music, true like friendship, but without my friends, there would be no music, only spoken words.
My Ruin – Terror

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL, Tales of the Road | Leave a comment

Spoilt for choice

One of the ‘joys’ of frequently working away is the necessity of routinely eating out at restaurants and hotels. Whilst this may seem like a dream come true for many, the reality – like so many things – can be very different.

At first, it’s a pleasure – a bit of a treat and a novelty that you don’t think you’ll ever quite get used to. However, before long the novelty fades and you find yourself viewing the whole exercise as something of a chore. There are few things more depressing than walking into a restaurant and adding for a ‘table for one’ and when you’re on your third meal out that week, you find yourself desperate for some proper, home-cooked food, or the simplicity of rustling up some cheese on toast, curled up on the sofa in your PJs, accompanied by some proper tea in your favourite mug. Then there are the never-ending battles to stay within the meagre budget you’ve been permitted whist trying desperately to keep the pounds off the waistline – both lost causes, I’m afraid.

And some places, there’s just nowhere to eat. Thankfully, I didn’t have that particular problem this week, with a wealth of establishments to choose from – and an opportunity to try somewhere new, and very enjoyable it was too. I couldn’t help but chuckle though when I looked at their drinks ‘specials’ board, which proudly proclaimed :

I assumed that the wine drinkers of this town are an undemanding bunch!

It brought to mind some of the wine related conversations I’ve had in SL, which, on occasion, have verged on the intensely oenophillic – although I’m no wine buff really, I just know what I enjoy – which is something that can be said for SL in general. Most of us are well aware of the huge complexity and diversity of activities that the virtual world offers us, and yet the majority of us manage to mask out much of it in order to concentrate specifically on the elements that we enjoy… We know what we like, and we stick to it, even though we know there’s a whole virtual world of alternative things we can do to fill our time, we tend not to go down that route unless circumstances contrive to send us that way.

Even the most outgoing and adventurous of us seem to like our routines and established pursuits and what may seem to be a very full and varied virtual life can often revolve around a surprisingly small and limited range of people, places and activities, and because of that, there’s always the danger that we may become jaded, even bored with SL, despite the colossal number of things we could be getting up to. Like going out for a meal too frequently, it can become a bind and a chore; something that lacks the lustre it might once have held, and may even become a negative experience.

There’s a simple test we can do – even if our Second Life is currently fulfilling – ask yourself the question, ‘When was the last time I did something completely different?’

William Cowper tells us that ‘variety is the very spice of life’, and I’m sure that few of us would disagree, but so often we settle into a comfortable, regular, reliable, dependable – and possibly boring – routine. Maybe that’s somewhat unavoidable in RL, and many of us head off to the virtual world for that very reason: When life gets routine and dull, we seek refreshment and stimulation by bringing SL into the mix… And yet, after a while, so many of us have replaced the routine, dependable rituals of real life, with routine, dependable rituals of a virtual nature instead. That strikes me as odd, especially when there’s such a variety of entertainments that the virtual world offers us in abundance, much of which may be denied to us, for a variety of reasons in the real world.

We may, of course, think that our virtual lives are deeply fulfilling, but it’s surprising how often that fulfilment is defined within a very narrow spectrum – maybe it’s clubbing, shopping, roleplay, or building, but surprisingly frequently it rarely encapsulates more than a single, or perhaps two, divergent experiences. It’s a bit like the specials board… We’re happy with wine, and may even appreciate a glass of both red and white, but for some reason we never ask to see the wine list and the huge number of possible varieties, vintages and tastes that we could choose from, if only we were willing to experiment a little.I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it does seem a shame to miss out simply because we prefer to stick with what we know.

Personally, I’ve always tried to seek out new experiences in both lives – I’m never content with just red or white – which is not to say that I don’t occasionally get stuck in a rut, but if I do, I don’t hang around there for long and I’m always looking for something new and different… And, in SL, ‘new and different’ could be a whole new ball game altogether!

s. x

When we all give the power
We all give the best
Every minute of an hour
Don’t think about the rest
Then you all get the power
You all get the best
Opus – Live Is Life

 

 

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Out of circulation

You may have noticed that these posts recently have slowed to something of a trickle. And those who know me inworld may also have noticed I’ve been fairly conspicuous by my absence, only logging in on a couple of occasions a week, when previously – and indeed for pretty much the last ten years or so – it’s been almost every day. In fact, for many years, Saturdays have been the only day when you’re unlikely to run across me at all.

So, what’s going? Especially since it wasn’t all that long ago I was regaling you with tales of wonderful new experiences and things I’ve been up to in SL after a long period of ‘same old, same old’. It seems that I’ve abruptly gone from sudden renaissance to sudden apathy.

I’m not all that sure why either. It’s not that I’ve been so busy or indisposed in RL that I’m unable to spend time in SL; nothing in that respect has changed. Rather, it’s been a conscious decision not to bother and it’s difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why I’m feeling this way.

Have I become bored with SL? I don’t think so, and it’s not that sort of feeling anyway. I’ve been bored with the virtual world before: Logging in, only to while away the time doing very little and feeling unstimulated and unsatisfied. It’s not that. It’s more a case of me just not feeling bothered about getting online and choosing to fill my time with other things instead – I just can’t whip up the enthusiasm at the moment for some reason. I’m also finding that people around me, not just my close circle of friends, but complete strangers I run into all over the Grid seem to have become – not to put to fine a point on it – just a little bit boring themselves.

I should clarify that last point: By ‘boring’ I suppose I mean rather too predictable and regimented, but also, incredibly bland. It seems to me recently that people are doing the same old things, week in – week out, time after time, after time. And, whereas it’s perfectly obvious that there are scheduled events that people will subscribe to on a regular basis, I do find it odd that anyone would want to do the same thing every single day, for the duration of their time inworld, with the same crowd of people, even if the location might change. As for the blandness, I’m starting to think that everyone looks and acts the same, no matter who they are, or where you might come across them.I’m not saying that the Grid hasn’t become a more polished and aesthetically pleasing place, and the same goes for avatars, but it feels like it’s at the expense of quirkiness and originaliy.

It just seems to me that SL has become terribly serious and that nobody seems to be interested in being silly, odd or individual any more. The whole business of shopping,  getting dressed and going out and ‘enjoying’ yourself has become terribly regimented, expensive and labour intensive, and that’s a feeling that others have expressed to me too, although it often takes a bit of probing to actually bring those feelings to the surface. I find that if I should turn up somewhere sporting my own weird and wonderful style, I’m frequently the odd one out in a sea of immaculately turned out, plasticky perfect avatars, all mechanically slavishly dancing in perfectly synchronised movements. Sometimes I want to shout at them and shake them and ask them what’s happened to their individuality, but I’ve a horrible feeling that they’ll just look at me blankly, incomprehension in their eyes, like something out of a zombie B-movie.

The worst thing for me is that I’m starting to become very conscious that I’m the one who’s different. When I’m socialising, I’m the one literally dancing to a different beat; I’m the one for whom a nightclub visit in SL is the exception rather than the rule; I’m the one who’s constantly frustrated that the popular clothing creators are simply not interested in making anything that caters for anyone other than the masses… Surely there must be others inworld who aren’t interested in evening dresses slit to the thigh, bare midriffs and low cut, flimsy tops? Apparently though, there’s no real market for quirky, odd, unusual, grungy or downright weird mesh clothing, so I’m stuck with the ever-dwindling suppliers of decent system clothes to satisfy my somewhat off-the-wall tastes.

Nobody explores anymore, and the interstitial spaces in between shopping and going out seem to be solely filled with hours of standing motionless in skyboxes, trying to make your clothing fit. I find that odd.

So, maybe I’ve lost my virtual mojo, not because SL has become boring, but because the people who inhabit it are inexorably heading in that direction. And for rebels like me, that means the virtual world becomes an ever more empty, soulless and alienating experience.

Just like real life, in a way!

s. x

And nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before
And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow
Del Amitri – Nothing Ever Happens

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, SL | Leave a comment

Methuselah

I’m getting old!

Obviously  I’m not oblivious to the inevitable passage of time and the accompanying signs of aging, but apart from the odd ache, the realisation that I can no longer do all night what I used to do all night (sleep, that is… Without needing to get up for a wee), and the disturbing grunts and other noises I’ve taken to making when I get in and out of a chair, in the main, I manage to stay fairly unaware of the natural processes of entropy.

Then, whilst idly testing through the comments on a ‘true stories that really did happen to me in work’ website, I came across the fatal phrase:

“Whilst I was working in customer service, around the turn of the century…”

That stopped me dead. ‘around the turn of the century’ – now there’s a phrase that I never expected to hear used in my lifetime in that particular context. As a youngster, the 21st century seemed like the dim and distant future, a theoretical point in time that was so distant as to be incomprehensible. Then, as Y2K loomed, it suddenly all became very real,  although I have to say that my actual millennium eve, when the calendar finally clicked over from 1999 to 2000 was something of a disappointment, as was the fact that planes steadfastly refused to fall from the sky, traffic lights obstinately continued to work, and all the other promised horrors of the Y2K bug singularly refused to manifest themselves

Until then, the phrase ‘around the turn of the century’ always feel that it referred to ancient history. The realisation that the century turned all over again, during my lifetime, shook me up a bit.

I imagine that it’s the same for those who experienced the swinging sixties at first hand, rather than through the recollections of their parents, when they hear a Beatles’ song and remember buying the single when it was first released.

I am indeed getting old… I remember evenings spent taping songs off the radio and hoping the DJ wouldn’t speak through the intro; I remember panicking about the immanent demise of cassette tapes; I remember when Doctor Who was still a bloke, and moreover, he was Jon Pertwee; I remember having a black & white TV, and when remote controls didn’t exist; I remember being so excited at upgrading my 14k modem to a 28k and the sweet music of its digital handshake; I remember Netscape Navigator.

I remember experiencing SL on a 386sx PC that could barely display Internet images, let alone run a virtual world.

That’s quite disturbing too… Ten years is a very long time to have a life in a virtual world, especially considering that for much of that time I’ve logged in almost every day, and usually for hours at a time. That’s a lot of virtual hours logged during which surprisingly little has really changed inworld, despite the many momentous real world ‘upgrades’ and changes that have taken place during the same timeframe.

People, relationships and places, of course, have come and gone and sometimes changed beyond recognition, and technological advances mean that some things are a little slicker, a little more polished and the overall virtual experience is somewhat improved, but I don’t think there’s anything really comparable to many of the massive changes that have taken place in reality. Whilst I accept that there are those who may log in after a number of years’ absence and struggle to get to grips with this new-fangled mesh clothing, it’s nowhere near as radical a change as a time traveller might face in trying to buy something at a typical electrical goods store to to play their old VHS tapes on!

Much of what made SL unique, interesting and fun back when I joined up hasn’t really changed at all: It’s still a mad, quirky, bizarre and confusing place; negotiating doorways and spiral stairs is still a challenge even with ten years’ practice under my belt; goods still cost pretty much the same as they did in the past, and people still spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about the same old things they’ve always complained about.

Very little has changed at all, and for a geriatric avatar like me that’s great news… Because so little change makes me think that maybe I haven’t been around for quite as long as it feels.

However, the there’s something else about SL that makes me feel slightly less old: Second Life didn’t even exist at the turn of the century, and I arrived much later than even that… On that basis, I’m practically a complete noob! (Which would also explain why I’ve still to master walking through doors and climbing stairs!)

Yep, gotta say, even after all these years, I’m still down wiv the kidz! Innit though bruv! Safe.

s. x

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
The Who – My Generation

 

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Second Life: Second wind

Interesting times for me. After years of settling down into my own routine and feeling comfortable in my second life, in the past few months it’s all started to become rather unsettled – not in a bad way, I hasten to add, but my routines have started to become less routine and my day to day virtual experiences have developed a whole new array of unexpected territory to explore.

Whilst, on the outside, its all been rather subtle and unlikely to be obvious to anyone but my closest inworld friends, I feel that my character and the way I interact with those around me also changing as a result of the new challenges that SL has seen fit to send my way, and to quote the oft repeated mantra from so many profiles, ‘I’m the same in SL and RL’, so I can’t help thinking that what’s happening to my virtual self may well cross over into the real world too… And I’m not entirely sure what I think of that!

I’ve been doing a few things out of character lately in the virtual world: Firstly, my friends list has experienced a growth spurt, and unlike the majority of the pre-existing names featuring on the list, I’ve been finding myself able and willing to spend time with these people and, horror of horrors, chat to them about all manner of things in IMs – something that has never come easily to me. Please don’t think that this is any reflection upon any of the more established friends I have inworld – I wouldn’t swap them for the world, and for some of them, I’d willingly walk barefoot over broken glass… It’s just that I seem to have unlocked something that’s never been there before, and I’m not really sure why with some people things are a bit different, and with others, I’m the same old me.

I’m not one for social gatherings amongst strangers, or in unfamiliar places and settings, yet recently, I’ve departed from the beaten path on a few occasions and mingled happily with others in circumstances that previously would have found me hiding away in a corner. I’ve also found myself giving up my precious ‘me time’ in favour of ‘we time’, putting aside solitary pursuits that I previously would have preferred and instead spending time with others, chatting, shopping, dancing…

It’s all rather odd, and very much out of character and I really don’t know where it’s coming from.

I wonder if I’m becoming more social and gregarious with age, or maybe I’m mellowing somewhat and letting down the barriers that I’ve spent a lifetime erecting. Unlikely though that may seem to me initially, it does sort of make sense. The last ten years or so of my life have been one long process of reconstruction and re-establishing a sense of self, and perhaps that process is now bearing fruit. In RL, life has made me one tough cookie, and that has naturally been replicated in SL. I’m completely in control of every aspect of my life and no-one, but no-one, gets allowed in unless I trust them implicitly and it’s on my own terms – it’s a defence mechanism that works, and it’s not something that I relinquish without very good reason. The same is also true of SL.

The vast majority of my friends have taken months, sometimes years to become established; the vast majority of my time spent inworld has always been spent in solitude and doing my own thing; the vast majority of social activities I’ve partaken of fall within a tiny circle of places, people and events. This has been a conscious preference, driven by a personality that is hard coded for self preservation.

Until now, this has been sacrosanct and inviolate, but clearly something is undergoing a paradigm shift, and it’s almost as if I’m testing the water in SL before I take the plunge and start exploring new horizons in the real world. That is, frankly, terrifying!

However, many of the new aspects of my virtual life the have started to unfold were, if not terrifying, at least unnerving and capable of sending me into a flat spin in the past, yet I seem to be taking them on board without too much obvious angst… So maybe that’s a positive sign for reality too?

To be absolutely honest, I’ve been perfectly happy with my life, both real and virtual, for quite some time now, and I would have continued in that vein until I fell off my twig; however life can be both perfidious and benevolent when it comes to fate, not to mention occasionally mischievous, and sometimes you just have to lift your head above the parapet and take the risk that entails.

Maybe there’s a whole new wealth of experience that I’ve expertly managed to deny myself for years, or maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through which will eventually peter out and I’ll revert to type… Only time will tell.

Let’s see what happens!

s. x

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”
Talking Heads – Once In  A Lifetime

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