It was Christmas in the workhouse and all the little SL orphan kids were looking forward to their usual festive routine, which was pretty much exactly the same as the everyday routine, only with the reassurance that everybody else outside the orphanage was having a lot more fun than at most other times of the year with their Christmas cheer, presents and shiny decorations.
Oliver Twit – abandoned to the virtual world after his parents found him griefing noobs at Welcome Island when he should have been doing his geography homework – stepped back to admire his efforts. He was the first to admit that a few plywood cubes strung together hardly amounted to the traditional idea of festive trimmings, but it was all he had. Colourful displays were not encouraged at Sansar House, whilst shiny and scripted were completely outlawed.
Oliver considered himself to also be a bit of an outlaw – in his world, rules were meant to be broken, and he took the opportunity whenever it presented itself. When the new gardener foolishly left the gazebo as copy and mod, Oliver had taken the chance to cause havoc, like a ferret up a trouser leg, turning the little garden retreat into a giant pink, self -replicating penis that eventually brought the whole sim to a grinding halt and earned him a certain notoriety in the process. Since that unfortunate incident, Twit’s rez rights had been severely curtailed, with prior permission required for each and every prim and a limit of no more than 20 items rezzed at any time. These measures had served to badly limit Oliver’s activities and now he was starting to feel the pinch – his rudimentary bed, basic chair and now his newly-created Christmas cubes had used up his entire allowance… If only he had a Christmas tree, things wouldn’t have seemed quite so bad. Just a 2 prim cutout would do.
With new resolve in his step, Oliver decided something must be done. He marched to the orphanage office and tapped warily on the door.
Bumble Linden was known to be fair, but nonetheless a firm believer in rules and order. He raised a quizzical eyebrow at the orphan boy stood before him – Twit was not one of his favourites: The gazebo incident had been the latest in a long list of transgressions wrought by the boy, which on many occasions had almost led to a permanent ban for his repeated TOS violations – each time, Bumble had fought on the boy’s behalf, but even he was starting to think that Twit was a lost cause.
“What is it boy?”
Oliver was starting to think he’d made a big mistake, but it was too late now – he ploughed on:
“Sir, with it being Christmas and all, I was wondering if you would be so kind as to consider raising my prim allowance, just so I can have the humble decoration of a Christmas tree in my room. I’ve completely run out of prims… Please sir, can I have some more?”
“More?”, thundered Bumble; “MORE! Just who do you think you are boy? You have everything you need here, and many a time you’ve taken advantage of our good natures. And now, you want more? You’ll be asking for mesh next!
Well, my lad, you’ve gone too far this time – enough is enough! There’s no place for you in this orphanage any more. From now on, you’re banned!”
In a flash, Oliver found himself flying through the air – ejected from the parcel, with only the contents of his inventory to his name. When he hit the ground, he desperately ran back to the orphanage, only to be met by row upon row of flashing ban lines. Not only was Oliver an orphan, but now he was homeless too!
For days, Oliver roamed the mainland roads, not knowing what to do, or whom to turn to until, one day whilst trying to make himself comfortable for the night in the Old London Town sim, a voice challenged him in the darkness.
“‘Ere, you there! Wotcha fink you’re doin’ kippin’ dahn in my manor, eh?”
The challenge was issued by a young avatar, around Oliver’s shape and build, (possibly from the same freebie store), dressed elaborately in Victorian frock coat and tails, with a battered top hat perched at a rakish angle upon his head.
“I’m sorry”, he whimpered, “I’m just trying to get some sleep for the night – I was kicked out of an orphanage and now I’ve nowhere to go!”
The newcomer looked at him thoughtfully:
“Kicked aht were ya? Bit of a rotten apple, ahm guessin, yeah?”
Before Oliver had a chance to respond, the lad seemed to have made his mind up.
“Orlroight then, this is ‘ow it’s gonna be. This ‘ere is my gaff, but you can stay ‘ere as long as you earns your keep. I’m the Fartful Dodger – so called ‘cos I luvs me sprouts and cabbage, so if you’re around me, you wanna be dodging a fair bit. Know what I mean? The deal is, my erm… older bruvver, Bill Skypes,runs a bit of a racket arahnd these parts and as long as you scratch ‘is back, ‘e’ll scratch yours.”
Oliver wasn’t sure about the whole back scratching thing, but he was sure it would be more profitable than pole dancing and he could do with a few friends, so when the Dodger requested to animate him in a handshake, followed by an offer of friendship, he didn’t hesitate. And, at last, he could get a good night’s sleep!
Bill Skypes wasn’t sure what to make of Oliver; true he’d come to rely on the young ‘uns like Dodger to do the dirty work in running what he liked to call his ‘business concerns’, but he’d never really become used to the whole kiddie avatar thing. Sometimes he’d have to suppress an involuntary shiver when dealing with his charges, but he figured it was worth it for the returns. One thing he wouldn’t put up with though was kiddie speak – not in chat, neither would he tolerate it in profiles. To persuade his crew out of their cringeworthy ways, he insisted they all spoke in a mock Cockney accent – it was a pain to type and equally painful sometimes to make any sense of, but at least it wasn’t baby talk, and that – as far as Bill was concerned – was just fine.
This Twit fellow seemed OK, but Bill knew his stuff – it wouldn’t be the first time his organisation had been infiltrated and he wasn’t taking any chances, IP takedowns were a nightmare to sort out and he’d learned to be wary about those he took on.
He set Oliver a test: before the day was out, he was to beg, borrow or steal – actually, forget the borrowing part – at least three game rips and if he could nick a couple of account passwords while he was at it, Bill would be more than happy. He had a motto, which he made Oliver repeat until he had it off by heart… “You’ve got to pick a password, or two!”
Equipped with a new, copybotting viewer and a notecard full of dubious websites and detailed scams to persuade unsuspecting avatars to hand over their personal details, Oliver headed off to the nearest Welcome Area, not without a distinct sense of foreboding and a nagging feeling that he’d fallen into some very unsavoury company with little idea of how he might return to a less problematic lifestyle. Deep down he knew the road he’d begun travelling could only lead to disaster: Playful griefing was one thing, IP theft and fraud were quite another! Even so, there was little he could do – he knew Skypes was watching his every move and he didn’t like to think what the penalty for failure might be.
Putting his reservations aside, Twit applied himself earnestly to the job in hand, and to his surprise, discovered that noobs were far more gullible than he’d ever imagined. Following the instructions on Skypes’ notecards, he found it an easier matter to befriend the hapless newbies, offloading a box or two of rubbish freebies that the poor grateful souls fell upon with squeals of glee, and regaling them with tales of SL riches – easily obtained if they were to join any one of Skypes’ easy money groups, where there was something to appeal to any would-be virtual entrepeneur… ‘Poledancing for Profit’; ‘Prostitution for Pay’; ‘Camping for Cash’… all, of course, including a 75% cut to the group owner. “Well”, argued Oliver, “there’s the admin costs, overheads, and nothing comes for free – you can’t run a business on goodwill alone!” To give him his due, Oliver was a natural.
But the real money lay in the confidence tricks: Having befriended a noob, Oliver would offer to help them customise their avatar and find a place to make their home. Having thus gained their trust, it was a simple matter to pass them a notecard – strictly for their eyes only: “If you want to make serious money”, he’d whisper, “click the link on that card… It’ll take you to an official Linden backdoor site – log in with your SL details, and before you know it, you’ll be raking in the cash!” – All, of course, a complete scam, and within a short space of time, Oliver had robbed a good half dozen noobs of their accounts. He was flying!
However, Oliver’s presence had not gone unnoticed – regulars at the Welcome Area, both friendly helpers and the more unsavoury element were cottoning on to his tricks. Soon, it became very apparent that he himself was not at all welcome, and after a few vitriolic exchanges and AR threats, he decided to head off to pastures new: Time to try a different approach.
Sandboxes were Oliver’s idea of SL heaven – a place where he could rez whatever he wanted with impunity and cause as much havoc as he wished. Whilst at the orphanage, his travels had been severely curtailed and such places were completely out of bounds, but now he was free there was nothing to stop him having as much fun as possible. Nothing, that is, apart from Bill Skypes’ stern warnings: “Now you listen up, my lad. Don’t you be doing anything stupid to draw attention to yourself, you hear? If I get wind you’ve been griefing and getting yourself into trouble, I’m gonna come down on you like a ton of physical prims! You understand me?”
So, much as Oliver would have loved to have fun, there was no way he was going to risk Bill’s ire – he was here strictly on business, and just over the other side of the sim was an opportunity simply begging to be taken!
Sidling over to the well-dressed avatar engrossed in manipulating a complex and detailed build, Oliver began rezzing prims randomly on the ground in front of him, complaining constantly about how difficult building was, and how he’d never be any good at it. Eventually – and entirely according to plan – the well-to-do builder took pity on him, and began to offer a few hints and tips and some encouragement to the budding creator beside him. This was all the distraction that Oliver needed, quickly he started copybotting the detailed meshwork his helper had rezzed, but here he made a fatal mistake: Unfamiliar with Skypes’ hacked viewer, he’d neglected to switch off his selection beams, and he watched in horror as pulsing beacons stretched from his upstretched arm, straight to the items he was attempting to steal. Panic stricken, he hit the TP home button – what a complete disaster.
Of all the times for a teleport to fail, this was probably the worst ever!
Mr Bungalow was a kindly man, but if there was one thing he couldn’t abide, it was content thieves. He was minded to throw the full weight of the TOS at Twit, but there was something about the boy’s demeanour that made him hold back.
“Whatever possessed you to try such a thing?”, he asked.
Oliver was stuck between a rock and a hard place – whatever his answer, he was doomed. If he ratted on Skypes and the Dodger he was dead meat, but the alternative was to take the rap himself, and that would only lead to disaster. It was all too much, and faced with no real alternative, the only option was to tell the truth; the whole truth.
He started right at the beginning, explaining how SL was his life and how, as a result, he’d been disowned by his parents and left to fend for himself in the virtual world; how he’d gone off the rails and rebelled and how that had led to the orphanage, his fateful request for more prims, and his encounter in Old London Town.
Bungalow listened patiently, without interrupting the boy, who – when he had finished his tale – looked so lost and afraid that the builder’s heart went out to him. He reflected on his own SL journey and how difficult it might have otherwise been if he’d not had friends to guide him, a place to call home, and the opportunities that had come his way. Pondering whether he was being foolish, he came to an unexpected decision.
“Oliver, do you realise you’re a very talented avatar? You can build, script and – even with all the problems you’ve encountered, you’ve always been a survivor! Those are the very qualities that result in success in SL… provided you’re prepared to play by the rules and take the advice of those who know better.”
It wasn’t quite the response Oliver had expected, and he waited for the inevitable follow-up: ‘but you’ve blown it, so I’m going to hand you over to the Lindens’.
However, Bungalow looked Oliver in the eye. “But… It’s all down to you, Oliver. I’m prepared to offer you a chance to sort your SLife out, but you’re not going to find it easy, and I make you no promises.
This is what’s on the table: I’m prepared to take you under my wing and give you an apprenticeship. I’ll teach you mesh and I’ll give you all the prims you need; I’ll even put you in my profile picks and let you run your own Marketplace store on the side. In return, I want you to turn your back on your past and have nothing more to do with the Old London gang. No more stealing, no more deception, no more griefing.
If that’s not for you, well again, it’s your call. I won’t do anything more – I won’t report you or take this any further – I won’t need to: I’ve got a feeling that things will catch up with you at some point, and you’ll come to a sticky end.
So, what’s it’s going to be?”
Christmas Eve, and CharlieDickens Resident stepped back to admire the finishing touches to his latest creation – a beautiful mesh Christmas tree that any avatar would be proud to own. However, this particular tree wasn’t destined for the Marketplace, instead he would be hand delivering it to an orphanage… An orphanage with a small gazebo in the gardens, presided over by a certain Bumble Linden.
Could it really be a year ago that he’d first met Mr Bungalow? A year that had flown by and seen his SLife transformed beyond all recognition. Now, with a new identity and a whole new outlook, things were very different and, with hard work and much effort, he felt that he’d made amends for his past misadventures.
And what of the Old London Town gang? With the evidence provided by Charlie – or Oliver, as he was then – and the solid backing of Bungalow behind him, Bill Sykes had lost his account, his possessions and was IP-banned on every virtual platform on the .net. The gang broke up and the Welcome Areas of SL became comparatively safe places for noobs. As for the Fartful Dodger: He was offered a deal similar to that made by Bungalow to Oliver, which he declined, before slinking off and disappearing into the backwaters of the Grid, never to be seen by the authorities again. Some say one of the big games corporations caught up with him in RL and sued him into oblivion, whilst others think that he’s out there somewhere, waiting for the day when he can build his own nefarious empire.
As for Charlie: He now had friends, a family, his own business and – more importantly – respect in the community. Reaching out to make one final adjustment to the tree, he smiled and thought to himself that was probably the best Christmas present ever.
Just goes to show that with a bit of Christmas magic, even stories like Oliver’s can have an unexpected twist!
It’s been a real hard year
There just ain’t no gettin’ around this
Life is hard
But look at me
I turned out alright
The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa