There was a time when I would have said that all tastes were catered for in SL, and that no matter how weird, wayout or niche your particular enjoyment might be, you could almost certainly find a community, location or activity that would be guaranteed to meet your needs. Indeed, there are many thriving experiences and places inworld that might be considered a bit oddball, or at the very least, not as mainstream as say, going to the gym, gardening, or book-reading as a hobby.
Even a cursory search will reveal a host of roleplay opportunities and esoteric themes, from vampires to steampunk, through to BDSM and Gor. And then there’s the virtual biker gangs, trekkies, zombie-hunters, surrogate families and furries, all of which are accepted, tolerated and enjoy the freedom to fully explore their own particular interests. Not all, of course, will suit everybody, and some may even repulse you, or just leave you confused and bemused, but SL is a big old place, and there’s plenty of room for everyone.
There are some genres that SL seems to do extremely well… Steampunk, in particular, comes to mind, but although I find it fun and I can easily be ensnared by its look and allure, I would never say that I’m passionate about it, or necessarily have much more than a passing interest. What I do enjoy, however, is steampunk’s futuristic sidekick: Cyberpunk.
I’ve always been more than a little cyberpunk at heart. Maybe it’s something to do with growing up in the early frontier days of the internet, with my teenage years and onwards filled with the likes of Usenet, message boards, IRC, telnet, Gopher and FTP. All this coupled with a feverish devouring of classic cyberpunk novels, such as Snowcrash, Neuromancer, Ready Player One, Altered Carbon and Do Androids Dream. These, in themselves the seeds for movies that firmly established in our collective conscious the distinctive and unique characteristics that cyberpunk embodies. Dark, crowded, night-markets in the rain, illuminated in flickering neon, whilst hover cars zip through the skies on aerial highways; faceless corporate bad guys, hell bent on world domination; the underdog hacker, equipped with nothing but their wits, insane reflexes and home-made tech; and of course, the best dialogue and visuals ever created!
This is what makes me tick, and every time that I log into SL, I’m keenly aware that it is the most cyberpunk thing that exists on the planet.
SL is the network that those classic novels spoke of; SL is the technical wizardry that, as a teenager, I dreamed we would one day have at our fingertips; and SL is that virtual world that exists beyond the confines of the real, seemingly without limitations or boundaries.
So, it’s natual that one of my ongoing quests inworld has been to seek out those locations that cater for my inner cyberpunk, and you’d think – SL being the platform it is, and with the sort of people likely to be participating – there would be a plethora of places begging to be explored and experienced. Well, that used to be the case, but of late it’s becoming ever-more of a challenge to find anything that fits. Many of the sims and locations dedicated to the genre that I used to frequent have vanished from the Grid and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new and original places, and those that I have managed to locate tend to be dominated by scenery and structures, all the work of only three – maybe four – creators, who seem to be the staple source of this type of content across the Grid. It’s all really good stuff, but when you’ve seen the same capsule pod and multi-storey cyberpunk burger joint at several different locations, you start to realise that the choice of decor in this style is actually pretty limited, and you begin to long to see something just a bit different.
Unfortunately, unlike steampunk content, which seems to be well-understood and for which there’s a wealth of options, ranging from clothing to vehicles, cyberpunk – if you’re looking to do it properly – tends to be a hydrid of urban/grunge/future-tech and can be tricky to nail, and I’m sorry to say that most SL content creators just haven’t quite got it right. A search for cyberpunk content will come up with a wide variety of things where the focus is squarely on the ‘cyber’ without even a nod to the ‘punk’ element – and, whilst it’s all good fun, the purist in me despairs of ever finding that elusive, authentic, look that would sit comfortably in a Bladrunner or Fifth Element environment. Clothing, in particular is problematic, as designers seem to be under the impression that cyberpunk is defined solely as skin-tight, skimpy, shiny and studded with neon accessories, which really couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, what is one to do? Well, I suppose it’s very much a matter of hoping to stumble upon something that fits the bill and crossing fingers that it hangs around for more than a brief inworld sojourn. Either that, or take the proper cyberpunk approach: Go rogue and do it yourself!
Guess which approach I’ve taken?
This isn’t the first time I’ve had a bash at putting together something of my own along these lines: That project – Cyberhaven – was fairly short-lived, and it also gave me some first-hand insight into just how difficult the genre is to do well in SL, but the germ of inspiration had been sown, and ever since I’ve wanted to have another go. It’s been difficult to come up with anything original though: I could have just gone out and splashed some cash and pretty much got myself a ready made set, but it would have looked and felt like any of the other of the more authentic-feeling cyberpunk locations on the Grid. I really wanted it to have the Haven stamp on it too, so it was a case of resurrecting and repurposing some of the original Cyberhaven content, grabbing a few quality bits and pieces from designers I really like, and – where what I wanted simply didn’t appear to exist, making my own from scratch. And, I’m genuinely pretty pleased with the results.
It’s very small and self-contained, by virtue of the limited space and primmage I had available to work with, but I think it works, and – most importantly – captures that hard-to-define essence of cyberpunk, which is what I’ve wanted all along.
I made it for me, but if you fancy coming over and checking it out, you’ll be more that welcome. Colony Alpha Trading Post, and while you’re at it, why not check out the neighbourhood too, there’s plenty to see and do there!
A city that is breathing
Living through the cables
Alive across the wires
VNV Nation – When Is The Future?