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.”
All that I believe
Metric – Artificial Nocturne