You find me at a most peculiar crossroads in my life. I’m writing from my hotel room, somewhere in Bologna, Italy, possibly much the worse for a now empty bottle of Primitivo, and probably as far away from Second Life as I could be; yet real life seems pretty distant too.

It has been like that for some time.

But, focusing on the here and now, today has been… Well I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s been a mixture of the mysteries of science and spirituality, the carnal senses and banality. I’ve marveled at Cassini’s Meridian Line at the Basilica di San Petronio, and found myself oddly touched, standing in the presence of Usai’s mummified body, nearly 4000 years old; yet still somebody’s son, a person, strangely commanding, even in death. I’ve feasted on hand made tortellini, and wrestled with crowded buses and the banality of indecipherable ads on the hotel TV… And yet, somehow it feels a little like SL. I feel like an observer, experiencing this incredible life vicariously, undecided about where I fit in, and what it’s all supposed to mean.

It’s supposed to mean something, isn’t it?

I’m no Julia Roberts, but it does feel that the events of my life have, for some time been leading me to a moment of self-discovery. Although, typically for me, I’ve done it all backwards, and not quite as successfully. I completely failed to find love in Bali, unless you count a profound love for the people, the place and the lifestyle, and whilst I’ve certainly eaten my fill in Italy, it’s not realy been food for the soul… If anything, I’ve come to realise just how enormous the gulf between what I have, and what I’m looking for, really is. Just to tie things up neatly, I suppose I should head off to India, but that’s a long way off in so many ways, and to be completely honest, I wasted a huge portion of my life on the whole spirituality thing, and I’ve come out of it far more cynical than most.

This feels very much a void – the perfect, unbroken circle. No beginning, no end, and no meaning.

And yet, there is still joy to be had, passion even. Fear, anger, peace and contentment; love and hate. Nevertheless, it all feels terribly distant, disconnected from reality, whatever that is. I’m experiencing emotions, yet I feel them almost as if they’re second hand, I could be an avatar, subject to the whims and fancy of some otherworldly operator, obsessed with making me face whatever challenge they can come up with next. Of course, it’s all bollocks: I’m as much in control of my life and destiny as I am at the dictates of fate and fortune, however the former takes strength of character, whilst the latter simply requires blind acceptance, which – I’m afraid – is just not my thing. Then again, any strength of character has pretty much been beaten out of me by the trials of life recently.

My apologies – this post owes more to frustration, grief, anger and wine than it does to reason, but so what? I always vowed that I’d be honest in the pages of this blog, even if it makes little sense to anyone else – it’s my blog, after all, and sometimes, you just gotta vent.

It’s Friday and I know that my SL friends will be out dancing, joking and laughing… They are a curious mix – some know each other intimately, others think they do, whilst some know more than they realise, yet those ‘people’ dancing, joking and laughing are just a representation of the reality behind the avatar. Some will be very much ‘what you see is what you get’ , others are more, or less, what they appear to be, still others will be nothing like who you think they are… Whatever, it doesn’t matter one iota. Even in RL, we are what we appear to be – the persona we choose to reveal to those around us – and that may be further from the truth than we’re prepared to admit, but we’re all trying to find our own way, some more successfully than others, and we can only do our best, even if our best is suffocated in caveats and ‘if onlys’… Because, so often, that really is the reality of being.

As for me, for some time now, it’s been a case of The Void versus Crossing Over, but in reality, I’m still somewhere in the middle.

And maybe, that’s where I’m going to stay.

s. x

I want a thousand guitars
I want pounding drums
I want a million different voices speaking in tongues
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?

Bruce Springsteen – Radio Nowhere

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Stuck in reverse

Over 11 years of SL and blogging now… And apart from some slow news days just lately, barely a break.

I’m in a shitty place RL, and SL sucks recently, so before I completely lose the plot and do something I might regret, I’m giving myself some breathing space.

No more blogging until I can write positively, and no more SL – apart from the few things I’m obliged to log in for – until I’m able to take things with a pinch of salt again.

Could be a couple of weeks… Could be another 11 years. We’ll just have to see.

See you on the flipside.

s. x

And if I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted
All the time
All the time
Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

En español por favor

During my formative years, which are apparently the best time to acquire any sort of language skills, I completely failed to rise to the challenge of learning any foreign tongue. In fact, I was rubbish at it. Come the time to ‘pick my options’ – schoolspeak at the time for choosing which subjects were going to underpin my path for the rest of my adult life – I was summoned to the headteacher’s presence to justify being the only pupil in the school to have point-blank refused to take a language at O-Level, which was supposedly a mandatory requirement. Nevertheless, my language skills were apparently sufficiently eloquent to persuade him that to pursue a language at that stage of my life would be a fruitless exercise, and I’d be far better occupied with a meatier subject, such as, erm… Film and Media.

Oddly though, as an adult, I’ve not struggled with languages at all. Over time, I’ve picked up a pretty good grasp of Japanese grammar and vocabulary; I can just about get by in Spanish, French, Italian, Welsh and a smattering of German, fairly competently read and translate first century Greek, and can order a beer, ask directions and exchange pleasantries in Kiswahili, Arabic, Thai, Indonesian and Malay! Don’t ask me how, it’s just stuff I’ve picked up along the way.

However, I have made more formal attempts, on at least a couple of previous occasions, to properly learn Spanish, although I’ve never really got beyond the first few lessons before becoming bored and frustrated. The problem that I run into every time is that it’s all rather dry and contrived and I’ve realised over time that the only way that my brain is able to take on board another tongue, is to be immersed in it: I can try my best for months to pick up a foreign language before heading off on holiday, with little success, but after two weeks away I’ll have become far more proficient from simply being immersed in the real thing than any amount of study.

Being acutely aware of my own challenges when it comes to learning a foreign lingo, I can’t help but be impressed by the people I know in SL whose first language isn’t English, yet manage to converse effortlessly inworld, often to the extent that you’d never know they were speaking in an alien tongue. I know quite a few people who fit into that bracket, and I find it even more astonishing when you consider the mental gymnastics they have to perform in order to accomplish that feat. First, there’s the translation of what’s appearing on the screen, on the fly, into a form that the brain can understand; then, there’s formulating a response; next, there’s the mental translation back into English; and finally, typing out that response in a language that’s not natural to you. My brain hurts, just thinking about it.

It’s even more incredible when you consider the often ridiculous nature of SL conversations, the typos and the multiple topics that tend to be tossed around across each other whenever people are gathered inworld. It’s seriously impressive, and I applaud those who seemingly breeze through such situations with little difficulty.

And that’s one of the reasons that it pains me to open a profile belonging to a native English speaker to find a garish array of words that appear to have been thrown together with no thought for structure, grammar, spelling or meaning. Now, I’m no grammar nazi, (being a blogger, that’s rather a dangerous position to assume; even writing on this topic is just asking for trouble), but when I read the appalling drivel that passes for language in some profiles, there’s a part of me that dies inside, embarrassed on behalf of the rest of the English-speaking world. It’s rather futile – don’t you think – for someone to boldly state ‘Pet hates – U and 4 are not words’, when the rest of their profile is a barely decipherable mutilation of the language, littered with misspellings and apostrophic gaffs?

I can’t help but wonder about the person behind those words… Who would pay such little attention to constructing their primary means of introduction to strangers that they come across as a blithering idiot? Can I really be expected to entertain entering into a spontaneous conversation with you if something into which you should have expended a little effort in crafting is so obviously crap? To me, it’s a bit like walking into a job interview for investment banking, dressed in a boilersuit and carrying a chainsaw… It really does give the wrong impression, (although the blind terror that might engender may well get you the job!).

Maybe I’m just being a bit of a snob, after all – ‘Your world, your imagination’ – but, then again, what’s wrong with showing a bit of pride in how you present yourself to the virtual world, especially when those less equipped to manage the job seem to do so much better than those who really should know better?

But, then again, as the Spanish say, “¡El que tiene boca se equivoca!”

s. x

Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad
The Animals – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | 1 Comment

Get off my land!

Second Life is like buses… Nothing at all for ages, then three come along at once.

Such has been the case with my land this week: For years I had what is known in legal jargon as ‘quiet enjoyment’ of my little inworld parcel. No hassle, no issues, and neighbours on all the landlocked sides who pretty much kept themselves to themselves. It’s all been very harmonious and peaceful, and apart from the occasional booting-off and banning of the odd griefer and perv, it’s all been pretty much conflict free.

Conflict free, that is, until this week, when in the space of just a few days, two long-term neighbours on opposite sides of my plot, took it into their heads that Seren would have no objections should they wish to extend their own landscaping into my land. After all, I’m only paying for the privilege of using that land – what possible objection could I have to giving up some of it for their benefit?

All together, I lost around 110 square metres, which may only be a small part of my overall space, but it’s still a substantial chunk, and to make matters worse, some of my own stuff ended up being buried in rocks, waterfalls and a massive lump of stone pavement.

When such infractions happen, I’m not one to shrug and accept the inconvenience – I go on the offensive, first with the land tools, which are little use when you’re trying to evict large items overlapping sim boundaries – which still remains one of my biggest peeves with land management in SL. In my opinion, if next door’s decorative paving or giant water feature is encroaching on your land, you should be able to remove it, no matter where the root prim is located, or at the very least, shove it back over to the owner’s side of the border. On this occasion however, no joy. That meant doing the one thing I try to avoid at all costs – having a potentially contentious interaction with a relative stranger; not something I particularly relish.

To be fair, on the waterfall issue, it all went very smoothly – an honest mistake on my neighbour’s part that she put right straight away. Yay!

That still leaves the matter of the 37 square metre strip of land that my other neighbour has decided to concrete over, and I’m less inclined to be magnanimous here, because as an experienced builder, they really should know better than to extend their crap onto somebody else’s land. Consequently, I’m considering being a little more creative in dealing with this infraction, just to make a point! Maybe I’ll install a massive digger and create a big pile of rubble over the top of their beautifully-designed paving; or perhaps I’ll indulge in a spot of fly-tipping, dispose of some unwanted body parts and dump some piles of poop along the boundary; I could fill the gap with a horde of shuffling zombies or glowing radioactive waste… Anything really to make the point. And if they happen to be a little upset about the mess I’ve made of their construction, well tough… I can do what I want there, because IT’S MY BLOODY LAND!

The way I see it, is that if you choose to build inworld without planning permission, then you’re stuck with the consequences, whatever they may be, and I tend to be unsympathetic when people do it, even if it is totally unintentional. There are plenty of tools and tricks available to ensure that these scenarios don’t have to occur, and if you’re going to build on your land, then I reckon you’re under an obligation to do it in a neighbourly fashion, otherwise it’s just plain rude and ignorant.

One of the great pleasures of SL is that you can build with few restraints and restrictions, but that doesn’t mean that you can get away with filling up your neighbours land as well as your own.

Especially if it’s mine!

s. x

One more crime
Crossing lines
Trapped inside
State of mind
Sepultura – Border Wars

Posted in Builder's bum, Rants, SL | Leave a comment

Enjoy the silence

It’s been a bit of a weird few weeks in SL for me. Everything’s gone a bit flat, if I’m honest, and I’ve been led to thinking, what’s the point of it all? The root cause is somewhat complicated, but stems mainly from a change in the inworld social structure and relationships that I’ve grown used to being a part of for several years, along with some of the conscious decisions I’ve made that have resulted from those changes.

Perhaps the most significant of those choices I now find myself facing comes down to the simple question: Do I elect to follow the crowd, or should I do my own thing?

Following the crowd has its benefits: I keep the same circle of friends and acquaintances, some of whom have been around for years; I get to still play a part in the new things that are going on around me; and I can stay abreast of what’s new and breaking amongst the relationships and activities happening around me in the virtual world. However, some of the changes that have been happening I find disagreeable, I don’t particularly like or want to get to know some of the people that now form part of the extended social circle I’m (theoretically) a part of, and I can’t help but feel that a large proportion of people that I know inworld are doing things, not necessarily because they want to, but simply to be part of the ‘in-crowd’, and in doing so their perspective has become distorted and the definition of some fundamental and deeply held values, such as friendship, loyalty and respect have become blurred and replaced by pale imitations of what they should be.

Actually, my choice hasn’t really been that difficult, and being the rebel and individualist that I am, I’ve simply dropped out and gone my own way instead. That however, also does not necessarily make for guaranteed happiness.

I’ve gone into something of a decline. The will to do anything much at all inworld has petered off and events and experiences that would previously have seen me enthused and engaged have lacked the power to draw me; instead, I seem to spend the majority of my time hanging around my land, doing nothing much in particular… At least, that’s when I can be bothered to log in at all.

It’s all come to something of a crux in the past couple of weeks, mostly as a result of a single specific incident that summed up for me just now much things have changed amongst the people close to me. As a result, I’ve retreated into my own little virtual world, shut down the friends’ list temporarily, and avoided socialising as much as I can. Doing so has reaffirmed a couple of points that perhaps needed to be made…

Firstly, hardly anyone seems to have missed me, or if they have, most have simply turned a blind eye or can’t be arsed to ask after me. Secondly, I don’t have to be around others to enjoy what SL has to offer, in particular, the little niche that I’ve carved out inworld for myself. I’ve spent the past few days making a point of re-engaging with my virtual holdings and rediscovering the nooks and crannies, hideaways and quiet spaces that I’ve built for myself over the years, but haven’t really spent as much time enjoying as of late than I should have. It’s been enjoyable in a way, but it’s also reminded me that SL can be a very quiet and lonely place at times. It’s also given me plenty of time to reflect on things, such as the changes that have also been taking place in my home sim. The very character of the place has changed, for example: It’s become much less homogeneous and far more parochial than it used to be. Before, it felt like a town and a community, now it feels much more like a set of disparate, unconnected spaces, less of a community and more of a business park. It’s gone from a vibrant interconnected public space to somewhere where people TP in to the local club or store, then TP back out again when they’re done – I can’t help but wonder how many even realise there’s a whole sim outside their immediate surroundings?

Traffic has dropped to an all time low – to a point where I’m considering whether it’s worth the expense of maintaining any land at all, and I’ve already dismantled a large portion and started thinking of maybe selling up, because… Well, what’s the point, if nobody every visits?

Worst of all though, I’m starting to wonder why I’m bothering at all? The time I spend doing nothing much at all inworld could be much better employed writing, gardening, listening to music, relaxing or even getting out and about a bit more in the real world!

Maybe I should?

Maybe it’s time I took a break from SL… Perhaps take a month or three off, or a  year, or two, or perhaps forever?

I dunno.

s. x

Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence



Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, SL | Leave a comment

Value for money?

A wise accountant once told me that, no matter what the price of something desirable, even if it’s over and above its real worth, if we want it badly enough we will pay the asking price. The worth of anything is basically what we’re prepared to pay to possess it.

There are, of course many factors that will influence us in determining what we feel something is worth: Rarity or scarcity, an items’ relative importance or desirability to us, the likelihood that we may not get the opportunity again, quality or quantity, and how convincing the sales pitch may be – but, I’ve always found it useful to bear that accountants’ word of advice in mind, and try to mentally remind myself that value and worth may be very different things.

Even value can be a tricky thing to evaluate. There is always a cost involved in the creation of anything – design, creating, testing, tooling, overheads, merchandising, transport, materials, packaging and many more factors need to be accounted for in assessing a fair price, and that’s before even considering any worthwhile markup or profit for each entity or person involved in that process. Even where something is free to the end user, there is some cost necessarily expended along the way.

Such is the case for economics in the real world, but it’s little different when it comes to SL, in fact the virtual economy is a complex thing indeed.

How do we value virtual commodities? Each of us will have our own standpoint and view, and although, on the surface, it may seem that there’s little difference between SL and RL, in many ways it’s not always that simple.

Where we have a lone content creator producing items for fun, the end cost to the consumer may often be a completely arbitrary figure, conjoured up from nowhere, a stab in the dark based on what the creator feels that their time and effort merits. Most will probably build in an element of ‘production costs’, covering any outlay in terms of upload fees etc, but in practical terms the sale of just one or two finished articles will probably cover these in full. The rest is just an exercise in pitching a reasonable price for whatever is being offered. Maybe the creator will set a competitive price that matches, or betters, other similar offerings on the market, maybe they’ll just be greedy and hope that someone will find it desirable enough to merit the outlay, or maybe they’ll decide to be magnanimous and give away their creation as freebie… The bottom line is that, unless the creator is relying on their virtual income to put food on the RL table, the price is likely to be fairly arbitrary and whilst a sale will always be serendipitous, it may not necessarily be terribly important to the creator.

It’s a very different matter for the serious content creator, who may be paying a design team, devoting land and paid-for resources to the development, marketing and sales of their product or products. Here we have a proper commercial concern with books to balance and overheads that need to be covered on an ongoing basis before any profit can be made. In this case, price point will be the result of careful calculation and pitched at a competitive level. There’s every likelihood that these goods will be more expensive, to the point that purchasers will consider them a luxury item, unlikely to be impulse buys and the subject of careful research and comparison before committing to buy.

Some may consider these luxuries as overpriced, whilst for others, the desirability factor outweighs the cost… Again its a matter of values.

Recently, a friend was playing a spontaneous music set for a of us gathered together. It was only a small group, and after a short while my friend decided to put the radio on instead, since the gathering was so small. A comment was made along the lines of “its always worth playing even the audience only numbers two people”. There was a time when, from my own standpoint, I might have agreed – in fact, I’ve always said that I’d continue to write this blog, even if no one ever read it – but on this occasion I had to disagree.

You see, value works both ways – any creative work, including putting together a musical play list for the pleasure of others has an intrinsic value for the person involved in the creative act, as well as the recipient. After all, the creator, supplier, or purveyor has invested their time, energy and effort into producing that end result and that investment can be quantified and valued, and – for that reason alone – there is nothing wrong with having an expectation of reward from those who are benefiting from what has been produced. That reward need not be financial or even quantified, but there will be times when the creator can perfectly reasonably say, ‘the work I’ve put into this is worth more that I’m getting back’ – if you’re giving up your time and effort to entertain others, it’s not unreasonable to call it quits if the size of the audience is inconsistent with the effort expended. It’s no different to creating a piece of furniture or clothing and being expected to give or away at a price that fails to recognise the work you’ve put into it.

Those who make the effort to make SL a more enjoyable place for others should be valued, as should the things they do… Too often we take such things for granted and fail to acknowledge their efforts. There is a cost to these things, and we can’t grumble if the people who create them value their efforts more than we do

Perhaps if we do feel that way, then maybe we should try doing it ourselves?

s. x

“That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Get your money for nothin’ get your chicks for free”
Money for Nothing – Haris Abdagich & BalkanEros

Posted in Builder's bum, Philosophicalisticality, SL | Leave a comment

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