Anybody who has spent any decent amount of time exploring the Grid will know that sl scenery tends to fall into three basic categories. At one extreme, we have the astoundingly beautiful, aesthetically pleasing eye-candy sims, which can range from uber-realistic representations of the real world, through to fantasy forests and glistening cyberpunk cities of the future. In the middle, there’s the bland, thrown-together hodge podge of disparate and disconnected builds, ideas and garish constructions that typifies much of the mainland. Then, at the other end of the scale, we find the antithesis of beauty, illustated by the dystopian, urban grunge and wastelands that abound throughout sl.
It is to this latter group that i find myself increasingly drawn and – if i’m honest – i find it terribly hard to explain why exactly i find these places so attractive.
Certainly, in rl, i’ll take a countryside wander over a tramp through an industrial estate any day. Given a choice between living in a natural wilderness or an industrial wilderness, nature wins hands down; and natural beauty beats bricks and mortar ugliness every time. Cities i can do, but i’d rather not if i can help it! That’s not to say i can’t appreciate the attraction of a spot of urban exploration, especially if it’s with the aim of grabbing a few gritty and grimy HDR images, but the whole fear of getting arrested/beaten up/falling through rotten floorboards to be impaled through the throat on a rusty spike of rebar is, i’m afraid, somewhat offputting.
You’d think things would be much the same in sl… in a world where our perfect imaginary environment can be so easily made tangible, with every illusion of reality, what’s to stop us filling our virtual world with colour, beauty and light? Which, of course – as i’ve already mentioned – we do, and from a personal point of view, that’s exactly what i’ve done with my own little parcel of land, and it makes me very happy.
However, it appears that i – along with many, many other inhabitants of sl – have a dark side.
It’s not much of a secret really, since i have written about some of my adventuring on the urban edge previously, however what does continue to surprise me is just how much of sl is given over to environments that, in rl, most people would find depressing, unappealing and sordid. Yet sl has it all, and in great abundance… urban ghettoes, industrial mazes, post-apocalyptic wastelands, seedy backstreets, ruined cities and trashy, dark, dirty and destitute neighbourhoods: and every time i go exploring, i find even more new locations springing up, all over the Grid.
These aren’t places where little effort has gone into constructing destruction either: whilst it’s true that you’ll almost certainly find one of Arcadia Asylum’s trashy taxis, grafitti-ridden buses or grungy drugstores lurking somewhere in every seedy sim, (it’s the law!), you’ll also find that a huge amount of care and effort has been put into giving the illusion that nobody has made any effort to show any care for these places. The attention to detail can be astonishing – with as much labour expended over the cracked streets, grimy walls and crumbling facades as you see at the opposite end of the spectrum being lavished on forests, unicorns and moonbeams.
All of which can seem utterly crazy, but in many ways it is sl creativity at its best. To put together scenery, props, lighting, effects and music in a way that is so compelling that it draws you in and persuades you that this is a real, dark, edgy and dangerous place; an unsavoury hellhole, where you need to keep your wits about you, and your very presence to yourself, is quite an achievment. It’s almost an art, but one which we are severely limited in our scope for exploring in rl, so once again sl becomes a canvas that not only imitates life, but draws on it to make a virtual experience that feels real, but is essentially as safe as a room full of cotton-wool balls.
It’s clever stuff… and i love it!