Money, tickets, passport… travel guide?

Travel is one of those things that you really don’t want to leave to chance – that’s if you want to get the most out of it. One of the things i find most enjoyable about planning a holiday is getting to grips with a few guide books, researching where i’m going on the interweb and getting to know everything that i can about the location, culture, traditions and people that i’ll be immersing myself in once i arrive at my destination.

It seems crazy to me that anyone should plan a holiday, pack the suitcases and fly off to far-flung destinations without finding out the most basic details about where they’re going – and yet many people do. Each to his own, of course, but i can’t help thinking that to arrive in foreign climes without at least a spattering of background knowledge is to miss out on a great deal of fulfilment and is bound to detract from the overall experience. Even so, many seem content to do just that.

Recently an sl friend spent a week in Las Vegas – when he mentioned that he was going, a whole bunch of people chipped in with advice about places to stays, things to do, bits to avoid and a whole load of other advice. One person who knew Vegas extremely well, even offered to put together a travel guide for him in notecard form!

My own experience is that the best holidays that i’ve had are those where i’ve had the chance to hook up with people who live where i’m going, allowing me to stray from the regular tourist haunts and organised tours, to discover a bit of local colour. Looked at from that perspective, sl is a superb resource for the round-the-world traveller, with friends and acquaintances from a myriad of locations across the globe, who are only too happy to tell you the facts about their home locations and give you pointers to the hidden treasures that most tourists never find!

That’s the real world, but there’s another world to explore in virtual form at our fingertips – sl itself. Unlike the real world, you don’t need a passport, tickets, currency, inoculations or even a suitcase to explore the virtual world… but there is something, without which, you can really find yourself struggling: a decent guide, with a bit of local knowledge.

You may think that’s nonsense – that anyone can find their way around sl without any trouble at all and, to a certain extent, you may be right. However, getting around sl unscathed isn’t just about finding great destinations, grabbing a SLurl from the Destination Guide, or taking pot luck on search – just as in real world travelling, there are practical considerations to be taken into account and cultural differences that should really be considered. Is it wise, for example, to wander into the Wastelands sporting a cute pink bunny rabbit avatar? Is it really OK to stroll around a Gorean roleplay Sim in your bikini, eating an ice-cream and laughing at all the ‘peasants’ around their campfires? Of course it’s not and it’s a surefire way of ensuring a very frosty welcome. It’s occasions like this where a little local knowledge goes a long, long way – and how best to unearth that knowledge, than by doing your research and asking the locals to help you out.

Now, consider this – if that much is true about individual Sims in sl, then what about the bigger picture? Recently, i somehow ended up trawling the official forums where i was pretty dismayed to find a vast number of posts from bright-eyed and fresh noobs who were at their wits end because they couldn’t make any sense at all of the world they found themselves transported to. We might laugh at the noob who complains they’ve somehow become bald and naked and have no idea how to put things right, or at the newcomer who feels overwhelmed and lost, without a clue how to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’, (or even that ‘B’ exists), but to me it illustrates a fundamental failing of sl.

Wanna be a vampire?

These hapless individuals are reeled in by advertisements that hold promise of becoming beautifully crafted vampires or strikingly-modelled mini-me’s, with intriguing straplines of ‘Watch what unfolds’, only to find themselves staggering around drunkenly, with no hair, no clothes and absolutely no idea of ‘how do I play this game?’ – You can’t blame them for not doing their research; it’s only when you get inside a virtual world that you realise that it really is a world, with diverse people, places, cultures and all the capacity for work, play, art and creativity that the real world holds. Similarly, we can’t expect the average noob to see the words ‘Second Life’ and realise that life is a process of growth, change and frustration, just as it is outside the virtual environment.

Much as i hate manuals, instruction books and ‘how to’ guides, i think there’s a place for them in sl, not because it’s complex, but simply because it is a world. Just as in the real world, if we are to get the most from the virtual world, we’re going to have to knuckle down and do our research first…. And not just the noobs – when was the last time you took an sl ‘holiday’ and went off exploring somewhere new?

s. x

He’s a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why, he’s a stranger in a strange land
Leon Russell – Stranger In  A Strange Land

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