Moonletters – Feral Mossrider

The Mossrider Years

Some people have been brave enough – (others might say crazy enough) – to allow me to write for them. One such brave person, (definitely not crazy… well, possibly just a little), is Shauna Vella for whom i used to write a weekly piece for her Moonletters site, which now goes from strength to strength under Shauna’s authorship as Moonletters X.

For a time, to protect the innocent, i wrote as a fictional avatar – Feral Mossrider – and on the odd occasion when Feral was ‘unavailable’, erstwhile mad professor, Dr Fearless Moonslider MD(SL), MTed would step into the breach.

Now and again i’ll browse this page and have a chuckle… i’m firmly of the opinion that Feral is a far more accomplished, intelligent and amusing writer than myself – weird, i know, but it’s hardly the weirdest thing i’ve come across in sl!


Staff Writer: Feral Mossrider

Feral always had ambitions to be a Second Life postman but, after failing to find any sort of an opening, succumbed to the lure of writing and has been stuck with it ever since. Often down-to-earth but frequently off-the-wall, Feral’s enquiring mind and straightforward style can occasionally plumb the very depths of those philosophical and challenging questions of Second Life existence: ‘Who am I?’, ‘How did I get here?’ and, ‘Where shall I go for lunch?’, as well as the more prosaic themes of Second Life. Often to be found wandering the distant reaches of the Sluniverse in search of ever more interesting topics, Feral is always on the look out for new friends, inspirational experiences and copious amounts of alcohol – if you can supply any of these in abundance, you’ll have a friend for life!

I Have Seen The Future (Eek!)

Posted on October 15, 2010

So rumour has it that Microsoft is secretly bidding to buy Linden Lab – well, it had to happen sometime or another – where would the world be without good old Uncle Bill Gates owning most of it?

I don’t wish to get into any political debates about the matter – personally I find that kind of thing rather boring and pointless – but I have been pondering what sort of virtual world we’d find ourselves living in if it ever were to happen. Inevitably, us happy Second Life citizens would find some subtle changes happening to the way our world works. Come with me, if you dare, into the post takeover world of Second Life to see what joys might await us . . . .

A instantly recognisable brand. Out with the old and in with the new. Second Life will get a completely re-vamped corporate branding. Introducing ‘All New Universal Secondlife’, ANUS for short. Along with the new name MS will introduce a new inclusive blanket term for users to obviate discrimination against scripted agents – therefore, in future all residents and bots will be known as a ‘Human Or Locally Engineered Script’ (HOLE);

One platform for all – Yes, ANUS will run on any absolutely any computer* [*- that is, any computer running Windows, preferably with a huge processor thingy and lots and lots of memory – far more than you have at the moment of course. Don’t even think about running ANUS on any other operating system . . . this will render you and everything around you as simple cubes in a subtle shade of battleship grey, it will also corrupt your hard drive and invalidate the warranty on your washing machine. Oh, and sorry Mac users – you’ll be left out in the cold and forced to used a text-based viewer. That’ll teach you for being so smart and trendy!];

Full integration – ANUS will, of course, be fully integrated with all existing and new Microsoft applications. What this means in practical terms is that you will only be able to login to ANUS with Internet Explorer 9, which will replace your existing viewer (MS have cleverly combined the browser and viewer to create the all new ‘Brewer’), on the plus side, you will be able to import spreadsheets from Excel directly into your inventory and access Hotmail without closing your Brewer (admittedly, you will have to shut down ANUS completely to access your e-mails but at least your Brewer will remain open. It’s a small price to pay for the additional functionality.);

Interconnectedness – Because of the limited capability that SL currently provides for social networking, ANUS will be linked to Facebook. Every ANUS HOLE will receive a brand new Facebook account which will be populated directly from their profile information. However, since Facebook does not allow accounts for ‘fictitious persons’, your real life details will also be automatically populated, including name, address, age, vital statistics and most embarrassing real photographs you possess (you know… the one with the inflatable sheep and traffic cone!);

New Features – Well, old features with an exciting new slant, actually. All your old favourites will still be there; lag, failed teleports, slow rezzing and sudden logging-off, but these will now be known as ‘Functional Adaptation Resolution Tools’ (FART) – completely re-vamped and better than ever in the new Brewer interface;

Always up to date – Update your ANUS automatically! No more worries about whether you have the latest version, the new Brewer interface will automatically download huge updates while you patiently wait to rez (at least you’ll now know why it’s so slow!). For convenience, updates will be installed when you try to log on or off, (whichever is most inconvenient), with the friendly message ‘ANUS is updating DO NOT turn off your computer, or even think about taking your eyes of the screen’. To add a little spice to the whole update procedure, a cute little dialogue box will occasionally pop up (only two or three times a session) advising you ‘A critical update has been applied to your ANUS – your computer will restart in 30 seconds. Press OK or Cancel to confirm’. Isn’t it nice to know we’re being looked after.

A great deal – Of course, ANUS will continue to be free to basic members: MS won’t be charging us to become ANUS HOLES, unless we really want to become premium members, which will hold the same benefits as at present. You will however have to purchase the official Brewer application to run ANUS. There is a trial version, which will allow you to login up to 20 times before refusing to work any more and permanently deleting your account unless you upgrade immediately. Brewer will be offered in 3 versions –

* ANUS Brewer Home Edition: Basic, but just about affordable. No frills, but beggars can’t be choosers.
* ANUS Brewer Office Edition: Lots off additional add-ons that no-one will ever use. Also includes a ‘look busy, here comes the boss’ panic button;
* ANUS Premium Edition: Well worth the extra mortgage and it even comes in a special curvy plastic box. Includes extra useful features such as the ability to teleport, sound capability and it even allows you to edit objects.

All versions include a 50 character product key on an attractive holographic sticky label – this must be entered correctly first time or the product will lock-up and refuse to work until you can prove you really bought it using the premium rate international helpdesk telephone number.

Remember . . . you heard about it here first!

Disclaimer: Feral Mossrider does not have any connection with Microsoft or Linden Lab, nor inside information about an alleged buyout by Microsoft. She actually thinks their products are lovely, and since she has no money, please don’t sue her!

All Things Being Equal

Posted on October 23, 2010

I’m a great believer in equality: gender, race age, ethinicity – doesn’t matter to me, I firmly believe that all are created equal and that one person’s contribution to the whole holds as much value as that of the next person. This is one of the reasons I like Second Life which, unlike real life, seems to me to engender equality in ways that the real world finds hard to compete with. Of course, even in Second Life, not all are truly equal, although the distinction is perhaps less clearly defined than in real life and tends to equate broadly with two things – money and power. Even then, things are somewhat fuzzy – it’s perfectly possible to pursue a high standard of living in Second Life with a nil income and, as for power, other than the god-like Lindens themselves, does it really create a higher tier of residents in any tangible sense? For me, Second Life is a great leveller: we may have power, land and Lindens, or we may have nothing but, at the end of the day all of us, without exception are mere pixels.

I see equality manifested in Second Life in almost every aspect of our experience. Take for example, (simply because it’s one I’m the most familiar with), the issue of sex discrimination: no matter how much the real world may have changed over the years, I think there are few people who can honestly say that they believe we have achieved equality between women and men. In real life there are numerous professions where the supposed ‘glass ceiling’ is, in fact, reality if you’re a woman, and to get to the top of your profession takes far more than competence, experience and ability – if indeed, it’s possible at all. How many of the world’s top building firms, successful entertainment ventures and retailers are headed by women, for example? Yet, in Second Life, gender appears to have little bearing on sucess – a woman can just as easily succeed as a builder, nightclub owner or chainstore magnate, as any man. More importantly, nobody blinks an eye when it happens – it is asccepted as being the norm and rarely, if ever commented upon.

Granted, Second Life can further blur the lines of demarcation – just because the successful avatar you see on screen is female doesn’t necessarily mean the real person is a woman, however the important point here is that the act of choosing a feminine persona appears to bring with it no attendant discrimination in that person’s chosen field of expertise and creativity. Similarly, if the roles are reversed or a substitution of race, colour, ability or any one of the numerous possible grounds for discrimination in real life is made, the equality in Second Life remains inviolate . . . it doesn’t matter who, what or how I am – the way I am treated and the manner in which my contribution to the Second Life community is received is rarely prejudiced.

Please don’t think I’m living in an idealised world, watching people going about their Second Life existences through rose-tinted spectacles. I’m well aware that prejudice and inequality are present in Second Life, just as in the real world. However, I’m also aware that, seemingly without effort, Second Life facilitates equality in ways that, after thousands of years of trying, we are still struggling to take our baby steps with in real life.

It’s Complicated

Posted on October 29, 2010

Life is a thing of complexity – just how complex it really is becomes clear when you try to model it.

Take me as an example. You can define where I am through simple spatial co-ordinates, x, y and z, which is fine, provided I don’t move. Throw time into the mix and things become a lot more complicated. Similarly, you can describe me in terms of size, colour, mood, dress and vocation – but these can change seemingly randomly, making the whole process of recognising me somewhat tricky. Then there’s my interaction with other things, people and the world around me – the infinitely complex array of possible scenarios that can arise out of them. Finally, try throwing all those unconscious, automatic ‘properties’ that allow me to function as a human being – breathing, circulation, digestion, the complex interplay of nerves, muscles and bones that produces movement without thinking… and that’s just a simplistic overview!

Remarkably, Second Life somehow manages to take all this complexity in its stride. Granted, it’s not perfect and much of the inter-relational side of things is still reliant upon me providing my own responses – conveyed through my avatar and communication – but, nevertheless, there are a considerable number of real life attributes that Second Life has absolutely no trouble coping with.

Again, let’s take me as an example. In Second Life, I can walk through a forest, listening to the birds and the wind in the trees. As I walk, the scenery around me changes – objects I see demonstrate perspective and depth and the quality of the light and shadows changes according to the time of day and where I’m standing. I can stop and talk to people I meet along the way, exchanging items with them, or giving a hug to those I know. If someone bumps into me, I’m pushed off the pathway and if I step into a ravine, I’ll naturally fall. While all this is happening, I have no need to think how to walk or stand – my AO takes care of that for me without any help… watch carefully, you’ll even see me breathing.

It goes further. Beyond this ‘simple’ scenario, Second Life is still capable of mimicking real life – poseballs, furniture, vehicles, HUDs and attachments allow me to experience a huge range of actions, emotions and interactions with the world around me, from dancing with a friend right through to other, more intimate pre-occupations. We even have animals that can breed and pass on their virtual DNA to their offspring, and, if you’re so inclined, HUDs that allow us to experience all the joys of pregnancy, with prim babies as our offspring.

All of this boils down to an enormous and growing complexity, not just in technical but also in behavioural and sociological terms. It stands to reason that as things become more complex, instability and unpredictability creeps in… and, potentially, that can lead to disaster. Consider the world financial downturn and the enormous impact it is having – could anything similar ever happen in the Second Life economy? What about things like disease, (malicious code, perhaps), war and even things like drug misuse (imagine an addiction that gives you a virtual ‘high’ at an equally high cost) – these may all seem far-fetched and fanciful but they’re certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility. As things in our virtual existence become ever more sophisticated, we may need to question whether we, as Second Life residents, are in control, or Second Life beginning to control us?

I do know that the more complicated something becomes, the more likely it is to break down or bring unexpected consequences and I wonder just how stable is Second Life? In our quest to build an ever more responsive and realistic virtual world are we perhaps contributing to our own downfall – and what, in real terms, could that mean?

And The Answer Is…

Posted on November 7, 2010

In a recent article, our worthy Editor posed the question ‘What is the point of Second Life you ask? Well, what is the meaning of life???’

Not one to be daunted by the breathtaking scope of such questions, I thought I might wade into the debate by sharing my own thoughts on the subject. I’m certainly not the first to tackle the thorny issue of the meaning of Second Life – staff writer Jellie Arrowmint has previously given her own perspective in these pages, but I’m sure there’s still plenty of scope for our consideration!

‘What is the meaning of (second) life?’ is one of those eternal questions for which we can never really be sure that we will ever have a definitive answer… it fall’s within the same genre as ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ (Zen Buddhism); ‘If a tree falls in the forest, with no-one around…’ (Mann & Twiss); ‘Why?’ (Patrick McGoohan: The Prisoner) and; ‘How long till the next bus?’ (myself, frequently!) – we may think we know the answers to these, but we can never be really sure.

Perhaps it may be easier to consider what the meaning of Second Life is not, (albeit, only in my opinion!) –

An exercise in finding spiritual truth
Second Life is not a vheicle for spirituality – we are unlikely to find God, Nirvana, enlightenment or eternal truths in Second Life, unless we happen to worship at the altar of LSL. The question of the meaning of life is, of course, very much related to questions about God, creation and why we’re here at all – it seems to me that we’re unlikely to find answers to any of these questions within the confines of Second Life which is, our own creation. Rather, to solve the complex questions of the soul, surely we need to consider the tried and tested methodologies and idealogies that abound in the real world all around us? No doubt we do impart some degree of who we are and what we may be seeking in life into our Second Life self-created existence, but it’s nothing that we couldn’t find through reflecting on our inner selves through any other means, be it meditation, prayer or philosophical discussion.

If anything, we ourselves are in essence playing the part of gods, creating our own universes, and people and indeed, self – sometimes even in our own image. It seems to me that, this being the case, we’re unlikely to find any deep spiritual truths in Second Life, which we might consider to be humanism at its most idealistic – we are what we choose to be and our path leads to wherever we wish it to – we, ultimately, are in control.

A seeking to achieve an ultimate goal
There are those who descibe Second Life as a game, although most people who have spent any length of time in Second Life or engaged with it at anything beyond the most rudimentary level will argue vehemently against such a description. Shauna’s definition that it is a ‘virtual world’ is most likely the one with which many of us would concur. Another definition that we may not feel as comfortable with has been used by Benny Linden, who describes Second Life as a meta game – to me that describes an overarching architecture that supports many thousands of individual ‘games’.

However, I’d suggest that where Second Life differs from the definition of a game, is by virtue that any game must have a final goal or destination or, failing that, a means of progression forwards – be it by way of points, the development or acquisition of abilities, or the completion of tasks. Games have rules and fixed scenarios and, above all, are shaped by their environment and an overall theme or purpose – Second Life has none of these constraints. In fact I’d go so far as to say that to consider Second Life to be a game, in this context, is but a small step from considering real life to be just a game also.

Are there ultimate goals in Second Life? Not that I can see, other than perhaps those that we set ourselves – but these change and vary in importance throughout our time in Second Life and we can have a completely fulfilling and satisfactory in-world experience without ever actually achieving them. For me, Second Life isn’t about focussing on a goal somewhere in the future, it’s about making the most of the here and now.

An alternative reality
This is where some may consider my opinion to be somewhat controversial – after a great deal of thought, I’m afraid I don’t consider Second Life to be any sort of alternative reality, except in a very fleeting and temporary sense. For some, sl may feel like an alternative to reality – but can it truly be an ‘alternative’ reality? It’s patently obvious that we can’t log out of real life and choose to exist in pixel form, so Second Life can never be an authentic physical ‘reality’ – it’s just not possible. However if we take a less pedantic view, there is certainly an argument that SL enables us to engage on an emotional and intellectual level that is, to all intents, both alternative to the physical world and ‘real’.

However, there is one incontrovertable truism that we cannot escape – although we may choose to allow ourselves to escape into our emotional/intellectual alternative reality, at some point, we have to return to actual reality – whether it’s to answer the telephone or a call of nature, or to log out, go to work and earn a living and, when this inevitability is thrust upon us we are required to consciously shift perspective from the perceived reality to actual reality. In real life, we can’t teleport to a different location, we can’t always have perfect make-up and hair and things like looking both ways to cross the road become a necessity that cannot be ignored. The fact is, we live in the real world – SL does not provide a true alternative . . . it can provide a temporary respite, but we always have to return to reality.

The path to perfection
So, is the meaning of Second Life defined in terms of it being our road to perfection? I think not. Second Life will always be imperfect – it is too reliant on technology, the equipment we use to ‘live’ in our virtual world, money and the time and resources available to us. How can something that is inherently imperfect lead us anywhere near to achieving perfection?

Perhaps, more significantly, we are as flawed as our systems in this respect – we have singularly failed to achieve perfection in the real world, how on earth can we expect to do in a constructed world? More importantly, in my opinion, is that if life, whether real or Second, achieves perfection, then where is our encouragement to grow and develop? What is there to drive us forward, to challenge us and to keep us striving for something better?


So, when all is said and done, what is the meaning of Second Life? For me, I derive meaning from what Second Life does to enhance my real life, the relationships I build through Second Life, the skills it allows me to develop, the creativity I can explore and the experiences that mould me. No, I don’t think that Second Life does have any intrinsic meaning – for me, it is Second Living that is meaningful, just as living in the real world gives me a sense of purpose, vitality and passion, so too can I find the same things in Second Life… and it is those things that give meaning to myself as a person.

Everything In Its Place

Posted on November 22, 2010

I’ve seen some interesting discussions recently regarding the use of Second Life scenarios as possible solutions to real life problems. This whole area of debate is one that fascinates me, not because I think that Second Life really does have the potential to provide a panacea for real life – in fact, I have real reservations about that. Rather, I find the convoluted threads of reasoning that run through such discussions provide fruitful avenues for exploration.

Take a recent open invitation issued to Second Life residents to participate in research being conducted as part of a medical doctorate. The thesis was simple: to use Second Life to model the spread of infectious diseases by plotting the movements and interactions of volunteer ‘infected’ residents. To add authenticity, those infected would show ‘symptoms’: perhaps a special tag or attachment.

On the face of it, this seems a perfectly reasonable, if novel approach to using Second Life. However, it is fatally flawed in several respects. Disease is no respecter of will – therefore, to seek volunteers undermines the whole exercise, the alternative – to randomly ‘infect’ non-consenting residents – is both unethical and a violation of the TOS. In any event, without the capacity for symptoms to be truly infectious and transferable, without the consent of those coming into contact with infected residents, any data obtained will be hopelessly inaccurate and unusable.

I have other concerns quite apart from the methodology and these relate to the veracity of the research. By consenting to be infected, a resident would also be consenting to having their movements, associates and activity tracked and open to scrutiny – and possibly published. Accurate data would also require disclosure of real life age, sex, nationality and other personal details. All this with no proof of the researcher’s credentials, aims or background. Admirable attempt but, under the circumstances, no thanks!

This brings me to another concern. Not so long ago I came across a discussion where a resident was asking for advice regarding real life domestic violence counselling, but provided through the medium of Second Life. I can see the attraction – anonymity, privacy, convenience and no actual contact all spring to mind, but there are huge problems with this kind of scenario. I know of at least one Second Life resident who provides psychiatric counselling to other residents. This person provides a string of credentials, qualifications and testimonials to back up their service but, just how valid are these and what guarantee does one have that the person providing the counselling is not an impostor?

That’s the trouble with Second Life in these contexts… what you see is not always what you get. I’m well aware that there are perfectly genuine professionals providing such services in Second Life and that there are many authentic organisations represented in-world, including charities and counselling services – but, well-intentioned though these may be, I do question whether we should be turning to Second Life to solve our real life problems?

Please don’t misunderstand me, I do think that Second Life has enormous potential for things like small-scale, controlled modelling of specific scenarios. I’m also convinced that the freedom, anonymity and openness of Second Life, coupled with the rich cultures and strong friendships that can develop in-world are themselves capable of providing support, encouragement, hope and help to those in need. I’m simply advocating a commonsense approach – Second Life is what it is: for all its positives, it isn’t real life, and some real life issues belong firmly in the real world.

The Eye of the Beholder

Posted on December 8, 2010

There are some quite beautiful places to be explored and experienced in Second Life – places where their creators have invested time and effort to produce something that is both aesthetically and emotionally pleasing for the visitor. Some are based on real world locations, others are conjured solely from the imagination, whilst other visions may spring from a combination of the two – an idealised or imagined virtual reality, built upon actuality.

Then there are the galleries which, just as in real life, house works that range from the traditional ideas of what constitutes an artform, through modernism and concept artistry, to interactive and participative works. I’ve been privileged to be able to view a wide range of art in Second Life, of all genres, and all have shown merit and either have an intrinsic beauty or provoke a reaction.

What is beauty, though? For centuries philosophers, artists and everyday people have wrestled with the question – how to define that sublime and often transient quality that makes something a thing of beauty. Certainly, one person’s art may be another’s anathema – this has always been the case, particularly where art is used to provoke or challenge the viewer – for me, within the context of Second Life, this presents some interesting themes for consideration.

Second Life presents us with what is effectively an almost blank canvas for us to develop – whether that be in the way we style our avatar, our surroundings, or our own personal space, and not forgetting the potential for purely artistic expression I’ve already touched upon. Faced with such an open-ended opportunity, I’m sure that there are many of us who would set about creating the ‘perfect’ world. Of course, ‘perfect’ is itself a widely variable definition, just as it is in real life, and with the lack of contraints that Second Life affords, individual rendering of perfection may be exemplified in an almost infinite number of ways. This is where things, for me become interesting!

One would imagine that there would be an overwhelming thrust to create beauty and perfection – perhaps as a backlash against a real world that is crammed full of the ugly and imperfect, about which there is often little we can do. Yet, there is a significant part of Second Life given over to what many of us would understand to be quite the opposite. I’ve travelled enough in-world to know that there are very many sims given over to decay and entropy; that there are urban wastelands and industrial eyesores, and there are also huge areas so stark and utilitarian in design that they lack any sort of soul at all. Why is this? Is it perhaps that in search of ever-greater realism, people find themselves compelled to create a ‘warts and all’ virtual reality that echoes the very dross of real life, even down to the oil stains on the floor and peeling wallpaper?

I fully understand and recognise that even the gritty realism of such places can hold an intrinsic ‘beauty’, perhaps in the way real life has been rendered in such loving detail. Many artists can capture such scenes in real life to powerful effect, often to make a statement or provoke the viewer, but can the same rules apply within Second Life? I’m not so sure they can, since what we experience in-world is infinitely adjustable and, ultimately, within our control… abandonment and decay can only happen if that is how we choose to express ourselves. Perhaps there’s a subtle artistry in that concept of itself?

Then there’s the question of how we present ourselves within our virtual existence – once again, one would imagine the temptation for us to create for ourselves the perfect body would be hard to resist, yet many choose not only to resist that temptation but also to reject conventional stereotypes, sometimes to the point of self-deprecation. Of course, personal beauty is a complex concept, drawing on personal preference, cultural influences and peer and societal pressure. Beauty in the Western world is a very different thing in comparison to beauty in the Polynesian cultures, for example. Certainly we may struggle with cross-cultural influences when they appear out of context. For instance, scarification – a common definer of beauty in some cultures may cause consternation, even revulsion in others – particularly when it is adopted by members of a culture where it is not normally practiced. Some of us may even be attracted to what may be considered completely outside the norm, perhaps as a counter-reaction to what is accepted as ‘normal’.

Second Life opens up a whole new can of worms in this respect, and things are not always what they may seem to be, even defying logic and understanding, except for the individual concerned. People may choose to represent themselves as an animal, for example… does the concept of beauty have any part in their decision, or would we prefer to err on the side of caution and stick with ‘aesthetically pleasing’?

I used to occasionally bump into someone in Second Life who, by most people’s definition of the word, could be described as ugly. It was obviously intentional, since their profile noted: ‘Yes, I do know what I look like, there is no need to bring it to my attention’. Then again, there are those in Second Life who do aspire to beauty – apparently, the ‘perfect’ male is tanned Causasian, dark haired, with impossibly large shoulders, barrel chest and (apparently) a very large schlong. As for the perfect female, she is bland, wears next to nothing and is always resplendent with bling. Oddly, the ‘ideal’ height for both sexes appears to be around the seven foot mark. To me, these models of ‘perfection’ are, I’m afraid, rather unpalatable.

Personally, I’ve found the most beautiful people in Second Life, tend to be those who resemble their real life counterparts – of course, they are not perfect – who amongst us is? – but there is an honesty and a freshness, in fact a real beauty about them.

I still find it puzzling to a degree that so many in Second Life choose to embrace what many would consider to be ugliness, or at the very least, something that less than pleasureable to the eye – and yet, perhaps the fault lies with me, could it be that I’m missing something, or indeed, that my own perception of what is attractive, pleasing and stimulating is as individual as I am myself?

Alternative Reality

Posted on December 17, 2010

Did you know that there’s more to life than, well, Second Life? To be perfectly honest, the thought never really crossed my mind – I had a vague idea that there were other virtual worlds somewhere out there but there was always so much to learn and discover about Second Life that there was never really any inclination to enquire further. Then I noticed an almost throwaway line at the top of the Moonletters’ writers’ page… ‘we may open our doors to other virtual worlds in the future’, and it got me thinking.

Could there possibly be anything out there that could even remotely compare with the wonders of Second Life? So, donning my Lara Croft shorts, I set off on a mission to find out.

Of all the alternative worlds available to those who might wish to investigate, I found very little that could compare to Second Life but there was one that stood out head and shoulders above all the others, which for the time being I will refer to as Alternative Reality (AR for short). However, I wouldn’t recommend jumping ship and leaving Second Life just yet – there are a few areas where our own virtual world still has the upper hand. Therefore, by way of comparison, I’d like to try and give a balanced and unbiased comparison of the two, (unfortunately, as far as Second Life is concerned, I find it almost impossible to be either balanced or unbiased, so my apologies in advance!).

* Graphics – Ask most people what’s the single most frustrating aspect of Second Life and I’m pretty sure that the majority of answers will relate to graphics. Either the time things take to rez or annoyances like avatars remaining grey and featureless, or hovering around as particle clouds. The graphics are the single most impressive feature of AR – stunningly good and rezzing instantly, with none of the Second Life quirks we all know and love. The only time things tend to get a bit fuzzy is at a distance, but that may well be my dodgy eyesight!;

* Navigation – Here Second Life wins hands down. It’s such a shame that the fantastic graphics in AR are badly let down by no camera functions whatsoever – to view anything, you have to physically go to it – a real failure, in my opinion. This means that some of the great Second Life pleasures – spying on people from a distance, having a nose at people’s taste in wallpaper from outside the house and shopping without moving from the spot are all, sadly impossible;

* Animation – I’m afraid that Second Life still has some way to go before it catches up with AR, which has done away with poseballs completely! Yes, it’s possible to sit, dance, and do (ahem) other things intuitively, fluidly and naturally without having to sit on a ball and make endless adjustments. Animation overrides are missing too – the AR interface seems to ‘know’ exactly how to walk, run and stand to suit your character and has the quite remarkable flexibility to suit any pursuit or situation you may find yourself in;

* Locations – It’s difficult to try and compare AR and Second Life in this area, mainly because the AR interface has no teleport function. This means that to get from one place to another you have to travel in real-time, which makes ‘game play’ very slow, although it does force you to take advantage of one of the many different forms of transport available to those who wish to do a bit of virtual travelling. I didn’t have the time, so sadly I can’t say whether AR can provide the same variety of simulations as those in Second Life.

I would say more but it’s probably a far better idea for you to investigate for yourselves and see whether this alternative to Second Life is worth getting into. I was surprised to find that it’s been around for quite some time although, like me, many Second Life residents may have found it all too vulgar and intrusive to be truly enjoyable, although I’m pretty sure most of us will have come across it at some time or another and may even have dabbled. Chances are, you have and were disappointed, which is why I changed the name to AR, so you weren’t put of straightaway, (see… I can be unbiased and balanced, when I try!). So, if you’re bored with Second Life and want to give something else a go, why not try it? – It’s called Real Life™ and you can find it, well, pretty much everywhere!

2010 ‘It Seemed A Good Idea At The Time!’

Posted on December 29, 2010

Second Life seems to bring out the crazy gene in some people and I suppose I fall into that category. Perhaps it’s the daft situations you sometimes find yourself in, or the equally daft people you can find yourself around or it may just be that Second Life offers opportunities for lunatic situations that seemed like a brilliant idea at the time but, with hindsight, really shouldn’t be attempted by any sane person!

So, with the benefit of hindsight, a good dose of practical perspective, and in no particular order, here are my top five tips of mistakes to avoid from the last year . . .

Bloodlines isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but never make the mistake of thinking it’s fun to wind up vampires – sneaking up behind an eight-foot tall Count Dracula, taking a bite out of their neck and then proclaiming that their blood ‘sucks’ in general chat is simply asking for trouble. By all means, try it, if you fancy being hounded from sim to sim by a bloodthirsty horde of the undead but just remember, these guys bite and if you upset one, you upset the rest of the clan too. Blood truly is thicker than water, (and much tastier, apparently).

Still haven’t found Mr or Mrs Right? Don’t be tempted to create an alt of your perfect significant other and then get partnered to them! It’s a recipe for disaster, since you can guarantee that the real Mr/Mrs Right will show up on the scene almost immediately resulting in an embarrassing and awkward love triangle, with you at two corners. It can also knock your confidence somewhat when you discover that your newly created partner is rubbish in the sack or not attracted to you in the slightest.

Don’t hunt, belittle, grief or otherwise harass noobs, just because they walk funny and wear freebies. Within a matter of weeks, they will almost certainly be far richer and more powerful than you and will probably have ascended to Linden-esque heights. Somehow, they will never be able to bring themselves to forget that pipsqueak avatar who treated them badly when they were a week old – you have been warned.

When logging out, always make a note of where you were and what you were (or weren’t) wearing at the time and stick it on your screen. This will serve as a useful reminder to double-check before accidentally logging in to your last location in the same state you were in last night. It may have been fun skinny dipping in that fountain when the mall was deserted – it’s a different matter entirely if you turn up there starkers just as the whole of America logs in to do their Christmas shopping!

Dressing in a latex catsuit is never a good idea – it might seem like it when you’ve downed a couple of tequila slammers but you’ll spend the rest of the year regretting it. There is a simple acid test: before doing anything of this nature in Second Life, ask yourself – ‘would i honestly wear this in public in real life?’.

Magical Mystery Trip

Posted on January 14, 2011

One of the fun things about Second Life is the way people manage to get a real bee in their bonnets about pretty much anything and everything even remotely controversial. Of course, when I say ‘fun’ it’s only with the slightest trace of irony. To be honest, most of the debate about weighty and important issues tends to go right over my head, leaving me to happily carry on with my Second Life, regardless.

The hot debate that’s been raging recently, (although I’ve no doubt that web-profiles will soon steal the top spot), is the peculiarites of search. In a nutshell – apparently – there’s no logic to Second Life inworld or marketplace search and, if you search for bananas, you’re just as likely to be rewarded with results relating to boot polish and picnic tables!

I can’t say it bothers me that much and, if you’re anything at all like me – and I suspect many of you are – I suggest you don’t let it bother you either. You see, I’m the sort of person who will search for bananas and, upon finding boot polish will instantly be sidetracked into a parallel boot polish universe, consumed by an insatiable desire to explore all things of a boot polish nature. Consequently, I’ll zip around the Grid, happily absorbed with the world of boot polish until something equally intriguing comes along, such as roller-skating penguins and then I’ll be off on yet another tangent. I’ll then happily return to my Second Life home at the end of the day to re-decorate using all my lovely new boot polish and penguin related purchases, sporting my new pair of (highly polished) roller-skates, at which point I’ll realise I’ve completely forgotten the bananas I set out to buy in the first place, (never mind – the new picnic table looks lovely!).

This is human nature for you – I call it ‘Youtube syndrome’ – the ability to start of with firm intentions to watch one particular thing, only to be hopelessly caught up in a magical mystery trip of vaguely related clips that entices you ever further into a journey of unlimited discovery.

If any of that sounds familiar, then you’re in good company! Second Life search is ideal for people like us – we don’t need something that points us in the direction of what we think we need – no, we want something that sends us randomly to places full of interesting and intriguing things, something that captures our imaginations and invites us to explore the lesser known reaches of the SLuniverse – and isn’t that what it’s really all about?

I grant you it can sometimes be irritating to search for ‘soap dish’ and be presented with a page full of garden centres and clothes shops – especially if we really do need a soap dish to finish off that perfect Second Life bathroom we’re building – but where’s your sense of adventure? (I suppose you could always search for ‘garden forks’, perhaps that’ll bring up soap dishes?). I personally think that having a search facility that always come up with exactly what we’re looking for is just plain boring – I’d much rather have my attention grabbed by something completely ‘off the wall’ that just demands I go exploring, something that captures my imagination and propels me into the unknown. Look out penguins, here I come!

No matter what you might argue – in my humble opinion, I’d say search works perfectly!

Lights, Camera, Action!

Posted on January 21, 2011

I was asked recently who would play my part if a movie was made about my life. I can’t imagine anyone would ever want to make a movie of the life and times of yours truly but, if they did, I’d have to play myself: I just can’t think of anyone that I could picture in the role, apart from me! However, if the film was based in Second Life, that’s an altogether different matter and there are several stars of the big screen that pop into my head whom I’d love to have play me.

This prompted me towards a cinematic frame of mind… what if Second Life were to hit the silver screen? I know that there were rumours of ‘Second Life: The Movie’ making the rounds a couple of years ago but nothing seemed to come of it – but can you imagine what might result if some of our favourite film directors did get round to committing Second Life to celluloid?

Here’s some of my favourites…

Tim Burton’s ‘Edward Secondlife’

A moving story about Edward – an avatar whose creator sadly dies before finishing his prim feet. Forced to slip and slide through life on substitute toes made from freebie bananas, Edward is befriended by a young girl, Kim, who attempts to integrate him into society. Ridiculed and laughed at for his fruity appendages, Edward manages to turn the tables on his detractors when he shows a remarkable talent for tap dancing. Edward’s luck seems to be changing as people flock to learn his style of dancing from far and near, enabling him to set up a profitable business in poseballs and tailor made chimeras. Then, one day, his luck changes when Kim accidentally slips on one of Edward’s discarded banana skins – the townspeople suspect foul play and Edward is hounded out of town to live out the rest of his lonely Second Life in solitude. The film closes with a dreamlike cameo of Kim, dancing in her garden on one of a pair of poseballs, as a slices of banana rain gently down on her from the skies.

The lead parts, originally offered to, but turned down by Johnny Depp and Wynona Ryder are played instead by Johnny Rotten and Anna Ryder Richardson.

Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Prim Fiction’

Several interconnecting but separate stories which unravel before our eyes, somewhat akin to a room full of people slowly rezzing out of hazy particle clouds, each contributing their own part to the puzzle, as they appear. Rather than try to explain the storyline, it’s probably easier to pick out a few of the films highlights and memorable moments…

The execution scene: in which hitman Jools, sporting a scripted flexi afro, recites from the TOS before letting rip with an over-ripe tomato gun;

The dance at Jack Rabbit Sim: in which hitman Vinnie and Mrs Mobster, (played, unsurprisingly by Uma Thurman), wow the crowd with a steamy performance that you won’t find on any dance machine;

The bloodbath in the car: much dark humour ensues when Vinnie accidentally discharges a melon launcher in the car, resulting in pixel stains on everything in sight. A frantic cleaning session ensues, in which various body parts are hidden away in inventories and Vinnie and Jools drive away from the carnage sporting a complete change of outfits and freshly rebaked textures;

The diner: The film ends as it begins, in a diner with Pumpkin Resident and Bunny Honey canoodling over their coffees before deciding to rob the joint. As they attempt to deprive everyone present of their Lindens, they find it’s not their lucky day, as Jools and Vinnie are revealed amongst the clientele.

M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Second Sense’

Warning: this contains a spoiler!

Doctor Bird is a child psychologist who is presented with a difficult case when he takes on a young boy whom nobody else has been able to reach. In a shocking revelation, the lad tells bird, “I see ghosted Lindens, walking round, just like regular Lindens”. At first, Bird thinks the boy is delusional but, as time goes on, he begins to suspect the boy is able to communicate with the avatars of ghosted residents. Bird feels the only way forward is for the boy to try to help the avatars he sees – this he does, leading him to the Linden home of a young ghosted girl on the anniversary of her rez day. Standing amongst the gathered mourners, the boy is directed by the girl to show a Youtube clip in which we see her Second Life father slowly de-rendering the girl’s alt sister.

The film ends with a twist – as Bird attempts to log out, he comes to the terrifying realisation that he too, is a ghost!

George Lucas’ ‘Sim Wars (Episode 1 – The Phantom Object)’

A bit of escapist science fiction for all you Jedi masters out there! Lots of swashbuckling heroism and eye-popping special effects as Jedi apprentice Yogi Wonton Kendobi learns how the force is strong in him (probably due to a superfast internet connection) and discovers the hard way that the life of a Jedi isn’t all fun and games. They come upon yet another kid, Panikin Firecaster, in whom the force is also strong, and along with the usual rescuing of princesses, and blowing up of planets, the heroes eventually save the day.

Highlight of the movie is an homage to the Ben Hur chariot race, when the young Firecaster takes part in a no-holds-barred scooter challenge, three times round Penny Lane and, of course, wins despite all the odds.

You Can Do It!

Posted on January 28, 2011

Second Life is a great enabler: not just for all those crazy and incredible things that the real world simply doesn’t allow us the luxury of having – the ability to fly; walking under water without drowning; teleportation, but also for the less dramatic but no less impossible things that we love. Things like being able to do all our shopping, without moving from the spot and even being able to change our hairstyle, without an expensive trip to the hairdressers!

However, I think there are a huge range of things that Second Life allows us to do that we take completely for granted and yet, if we stopped for a moment to think about how these things might relate to the real world, we might see them very differently. The sort of things I’m thinking of are by no means impossible in the real world and yet, for some, they may be as unattainable as the ability to cam through real solid brick walls.

Just pause for a moment to consider the person living in a 4th floor apartment in the city centre: someone with ‘green fingers’ and a love for nature, and no means of expressing those things. That same person, defeated in the real world by double-glazing and a 100 foot drop can have the garden of their dreams in Second Life. They can plant it with flowers and trees, tend it and nurture it, fill it with the song of birds and the buzz of insects – isn’t that just amazing?

Or take the retired woman with her rheumatic knees and aching back – and yet her mind is as active as it’s ever been and she dreams of the days when she was younger… the belle of the ball and the diva of the dance hall. “Ahh”, she sighs – in reality those days are long gone and yet, in Second Life, she’s a young girl again, wowing the lads at the disco, dressed to the nines and partying the night away. Mis-spending her youth, all over again!

Then there’s the girl who always dreamed of owning a pony, but ponies cost money and need stables and feeding; there are vet’s bills and expensive tack to buy – she knows she’ll never have that pony. But this is Second Life… our girl can have her pony and stables, she can ride to her heart’s content and, what’s this? Breedable too! In Second Life, she can have a whole field full of ponies to love and care for.

What about those for whom life may have dealt a less than ideal hand, the wheelchair user, the deaf, the palsied? What does Second Life offer? Nothing less than a chance of freedom from the ties that bind – the chance to walk and run and dance; the chance to have a conversation with others on equal terms; the chance to live without pitying glances or anxious stares. The things so many of us take so easily for granted.

Do we even stop to think of these amazing things as we fly and teleport around our virtual world? Or are we so lost in the wonder of the bizarre and ridiculous that we fail to see the small miracles happening all around us? I sometimes wonder how many of us have reason to be grateful to Second Life for the small, insignificant, yet life-giving things that are there for all?

Isn’t Second Life amazing?

Are You Listening?

Posted on February 4, 2011

Linden Lab has made some deeply unpopular decisions of late – yes, this is my own opinion, but a casual trawl through any Second Life related blogs and forums, even the conversations you have with residents in-world will reveal an extremely high degree of disenchantment with our Linden lords and masters. More and more frequently, I’m hearing of people not only threatening to move to other Grids, but also a growing number who have already made the move and are finding the alternatives just as viable as Second Life.

Despite this, I’ve yet to come across anyone – happy or otherwise with the conduct of Linden Lab – who would deny that Second Life is a quite amazing place. No-one disputes the quality and content of the experience and the vast majority of residents seem to not only enjoy their Second Life but would find it an enormous wrench to give it up in favour of another virtual world. In fact, I wonder how many people would prefer to quit altogether if faced with that decision?

The Teen Grid merge; Viewer 2; moving goalposts over Zyngo; single-name IDs; display names; linking to Facebook and Twitter; and, web profiles… all recent examples where Linden Lab has managed to alienate large swathes of Second Life users, seemingly without any real consideration for how people feel. With these, and so many other changes, the cry always seems to go up, “why were we not consulted and why were we not told?”. Of course, the simple fact is we are consulted and, in most cases, we are told about changes, usually well in advance. Unfortunately, Linden Lab seem to be extremely competent at shooting themselves in both feet with regard to both these necessities. To any enlightened observer, this appears to demonstrably underline a serious flaw in Linden Lab’s business model – one which goes to the very heart of the whole Second Life ethos.

Firstly, Linden Lab may well consult and seek the opinions of residents – but, to all intents and purposes, it seems that any feedback received falls largely on deaf ears. If this were not the case, then surely flawed and unpopular ideas would never see the light of day, or would be modified to take into account what residents are saying?

Secondly, Linden lab are appallingly inconsistent in the way in which they communicate with their customer base. Changes are publicised but rarely in any meaningful fashion that the average resident will either take note of or, for that matter, be aware of at all.

Yet we stay. I’m sure that the reason so many people would rather walk over broken glass than leave Second Life is because this world is our creation… a world composed from our ideas, our own dreams and visions, our own hard work – and so, we love our world passionately. Linden Lab take great pride in that – if I may quote from their mission statement:

‘We are blessed by some of the most informed, passionate, committed customers imaginable. They are our reason for being, they are our world, and we call them Residents. They are an insuperable source of advantage and an awesome responsibility. In every choice you make, consider how your choice will impact their experience.’

In so many ways, this is our world, not Linden Lab’s world. Why then, despite their own stated aims, do they so often take so little notice of the vey people who have given Second Life its unique flavour and feel? Without us, Second Life fails and dies.

Is it ignorance on the part of Linden Lab, arrogance, a blinkered focus on just building revenue and market leadership or just sheer bloody-mindedness? I don’t profess to know, but I do know that unless they start to make a concerted and honest attempt to listen and act on what residents are saying it won’t be so very long before there’s nobody left to listen to.

Jeux Sans Frontières

Posted on February 11, 2011

Many years ago, on UK TV, there was a show called ‘It’s a Knockout’ – teams would compete against each other in ridiculous games and equally ridiculous costumes just for the glory of winning. Winning teams would have the dubious honour of representing Great Britain in the international version: Jeux Sans Frontières (Games Without Borders). The whole thing was hopelessly politically incorrect and full of racial stereotypes, but in such a self-mocking and jolly way that nobody really cared. In short, it was all good clean fun! The programme is no more – our tastes have become more sophisticated and our sensibilities far too fragile to tolerate such ribald humour at the expense of others.

I like to think that, in some ways, Second Life has taken on the mantle and become something of a modern-day Jeux Sans Frontières.

I’m somewhat philanthropical in nature – I love to travel and to experience other people’s ways of life first-hand and, if I can, I try to learn from other cultures, countries, backgrounds and faiths. Unfortunately, in real life, the chances to do so are few and far between and even when I do get to see other places, the opportunities to really get to know people are pretty limited.

Not so in Second Life – here we have a truly international melting pot of cultures and people, and not only in terms of ethnicity and country of origin: there’s also a vast array of popular cultures, interest groups and social diversity.

There are places I can go in Second Life where I’m able to meet and spend time with people from all over the world – often there may be several countries represented in just a small group of people – I think it’s fantastic! It always strikes me that, even in a widely diverse group of people, it’s so easy to talk about the simple, everyday things that seem to cross cultural boundaries – (Marmite; the Rolling Stones) – as well as the very different things that cause us to realise that the world is a very big place, where even some things that are simple and everyday to us can take vastly different forms – (breakfast habits; attitudes to money…) – and it’s so great to be able to talk about them in a fun and enjoyable way – and yes, sometimes it can even involve ridiculous games and costumes! Conversations without borders, anyone?

I’ve learned so much about people from my experiences in Second Life – perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that we’re not so different, no matter where we’re from. Of course, that’s quite an easy mantra for us to repeat in a purely theoretical manner – I’m sure we all subscribe to it – but Second Life gives us a perhaps unique opportunity to experience it in a practical way. I’ve found that, on occasion, Second Life experience has caused me to reconsider my own stereotypes and preconceptions – some of which I’ve found to be laughably far from the reality. I think that’s a very healthy situation to find oneself in.

Of course I realise that not everyone would agree with me and I’m fully aware that bigotry and racism exist in Second Life, as they do in the real world. Thankfully, I’ve only come across such things on rare occasions – I wish it wasn’t the case, but I guess that’s human nature for you. Overwhelmingly though, I’m convinced that Second Life enables us to be tolerant and to learn from other cultures and, for me, the way in which Second Life excels in this regard is that it compels us to make an effort to communicate with others.

Unlike travelling in a foreign country, where we can choose to stay with the tour guide, or resolutely steer away from attempting to converse in the local language, we simply don’t have that option in Second Life. Whereas attempting to communicate using the spoken word may intimidate or discourage us, I find that the anonymity of Second Life, coupled with the need to ‘speak’ via the medium of the written word is a great enabler for communication. I find that Second Life makes me want to try to communicate with others and, even when we speak different languages, live in different time zones and have widely diverse cultures, somehow we’re able to bridge those gaps… and friendships are made.

Romancing The Pixel

Posted on February 18, 2011

Well, that’s Valentine’s Day all done and dusted for another year and now all the content creators, merchants and entertainers of Second Life can get back to their normal business and begin preparations for the next round of festivities: Easter egg, anybody?

With all the stray love that’s been floating around, my thoughts have turned to romance – not the variety you’re probably thinking of, more the kind of swashbuckling, Indiana Jones/Pirates of the Caribbean type of romanticism. To my mind, there’s no better place than Second Life to swash your buckle, shiver your timbers or, for that matter, go raiding for lost arks!

Second Life has the power to evoke in us all those almost forgotten pleasures and fantastical whimsies of childhood, as well as the wistful yearnings of adulthood that are, so often, repressed and held at bay by the pressures and realities of our real-life existences and the need to attend to all of those terribly ‘important’ matters that the real world insists we deal with. The simple escapism of daydreams and wild imaginings is so often relegated to the rank of ‘non-essential’ and ‘time-wasting’, or is ridden roughshod over by more pressing things – I think the world is a less pleasurable place as a result.

Yet Second Life gives us the chance to rekindle the forgotten joys of dressing-up, role-playing and experiencing fantastical dreams. It gives us the chance to fly and regain the wonder of our youth, like modern day Peter Pans and Wendys; to don the garb of superheroes, the coronets of kings and queens, or as valiant knights: to take arms against fire-breathing dragons and wage heroic war against the forces of darkness. We can experience the anarchy of Victorian England, the romance of the Italian Renaissance, the fun of the Roaring 20′s or the excesses of the Swinging 60′s – or we can fly headlong into the future in the company of Dr Who to the far reaches of the galaxy… the only limits are those that our imaginations impose.

As the world presses in around us, with bills to pay, work to be completed and ever-increasing demands upon our time and energy, it is all too easy to lose our ability to retreat into our own, secret and fulfilling fantasy worlds. Be honest – when was the last time you unlocked the gate to the secret garden, when did you last save the world from imminent destruction and when was the last time you danced the night away in the arms of Prince Charming, as the clock began to strike its dolorous midnight chime?

The world around us is changing – the dragons of yesteryear have all passed away, their treasure troves plundered by intrepid questors who have now become all grown up – all now tied to occupations and commitments that demand rationality, steadiness and sobriety. How sad if we were to lose entirely our capacity to dream and to embrace those worlds that live only in our imaginations because of the strictures that being adults imposes. Yet, there is hope – Second Life grants us permission to indulge ourselves – a means by which we ‘grown-ups’ may become childlike again and, once more, explore the furthest reaches of our imaginations. Whilst the real world may try to assert itself and claim our time, energy and that most precious of resources: our imaginations, Second Life throws us a lifeline and reminds us that the simple pleasures are those we cannot do without.

In the musical of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the young Cosette sings of that place where she finds her escape from the drudgery of life – perhaps, just maybe, Second Life might be our refuge, a place to which we can escape and dream, our own virtual castle on a cloud?

There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.


Posted on February 25, 2011

Take around 20 million people from wildly divergent backgrounds and every corner of the world, from every social strata, academic, business and artistic persuasion. Throw them all together in an environment that encourages creativity, networking and sharing of resources and you get unlimited potential for the achievement of pretty much anything conceivably possible.

When looked at in that way, Second Life is a mind-boggling concept.

One of the most fascinating facets of Second Life for me is that provides an environment where the pooling of knowledge and the sharing of things learned are implicit to the structure of the virtual ‘society’. Whether it’s the noob taking those first faltering footsteps – aided and encouraged by more seasoned residents through the sharing of landmarks, notecards and good old-fashioned advice – or the multi-national learning institution with its virtual campus inworld, the sharing of knowledge is fundamental to the success of Second Life and those who partake of it. Then there are the more esoteric, ‘higher’ forms of learning: those places in Second Life that cater to the spiritual, philosophical, carnal and artistic needs of the heart, mind and soul. It is all there to be found – an holistic and all-encompassing wealth of knowledge and wisdom, (and occasional foolishness, it must be said), that spans all of human experience.

Unlike many other virtual or ‘gaming’ environments, there are no levels to complete or quests to fulfil in order to unlock knowledge or abilities – it is there for the taking. Unlike in the real world, time zones, distance, sex, ethnicity or educational achievement rarely stand in the way of those who wish to learn in Second Life and even the lack of financial resources – real or virtual – need not necessarily be any barrier to the accumulation of knowledge.

When you consider the sheer wealth of resources at our command and the eclectic mix that we residents make up it’s not difficult to see the extraordinary possibilities that lie in our hands. Where else can a rocket scientist and a burger-flipper hold equal standing: being able to mix socially, and even ‘professionally’, without prejudice and preconceptions? Where else, but Second Life, can the burger-flipper teach a rocket scientist new skills and enable them to achieve even greater potential?

There is however a caveat to all this utopian musing… The skills and learning fostered within our virtual environment are of limited use if they cannot translate into real world situations. Learning how to create a sculpted prim will be of little use to the vast majority of us in our everyday lives: its usefulness is essentially limited to the virtual world. Although, I grant you, there are some skills which by their nature can enable us to develop useful real life expertise – the Second Life fashionista will be developing their real life designer skills, whilst extending their knowledge of tools like Photoshop, in the course of creating clothes for avatars and there are certainly mainly real world applications for talents and abilities developed in the course of inworld pursuits.

There are of course other, perhaps more important, things that we can learn from Second Life which may be of inestimable value in our day-to-day real life existences. These are the social and interpersonal skills which develop naturally in an environment that is fundamentally based upon sharing, co-operation and mutual benefit – qualities that in real life may elude us or which we may struggle to master. Just suppose we were able to bring those positive aspects of our Second Life fully into our daily dealings with the world around us – what would be the impact… could we, in fact, contribute towards creating a better, more tolerant and more enabling society?

What if we applied the same collaborative effort and contribution to our real world as we do in Second Life? – just imagine the possibilities!

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…

Posted on March 4, 2011

So Shakespeare’s Hamlet muses upon his life – It’s very easy in our modern, hi-tech world to favour the physical, measurable world of ‘reality’ over the less stable, more ephemeral realm of dreams. We try, very successfully, to reduce things down to technicalities – specifications and performance, expressed in terms of benchmarks, standards and protocols – we strive for compatibility, efficiency and functionality. I live in the fear that it may only be a matter of time before we start to think of our own selves in those very same terms, and I worry that in some ways we already do. I’ll tell you right now that the day we begin to style ourselves as ‘components’ of humanity, our achievements as ‘peripherals’ and ‘outputs’, and life itself as our ‘operating system’, then that will be the day I’ll simply unplug and power down!

Let’s turn a moment to Second Life – none of us is so far removed from reality that we think of Second Life, despite its richness, its vibrance and its ability to engage all our senses, as anything more than a sophisticated computer programme. Deep down, we all know that what we see and experience when inworld is in reality just a whole load of electrons buzzing around circuits. We know that, at its most basic, every single thing that ever occurs in Second Life is just a consequence of a string of ones and zeroes – that if we were to peer into the nuts and bolts of what makes Second Life tick, we’d see something very much akin to that glowing screen of digits so familiar to us from the Matrix trilogy.

The same could also be said about the real world. At our most basic, we’re just a mass of cells: a great big organic chemistry set… and yet, when I look around me, that’s not what I see or experience. I see people – real people – with flesh and blood, with emotions, feelings and character, not chemical reactions and electrical signals. I see beauty and ugliness and everything in between, I don’t see formulae and equations. In point of fact what I perceive to be reality is not reality at all… it’s something that can’t be defined in terms of performance and specifications; there are no components that perform the same task, day-in and day-out, unthinking and unknowing. The world around me is constantly in a state of flux and change, it is ephemeral, it is dreamlike – because that is how I choose to experience it. I prefer the dream to the reality.

So it is in Second Life: Who amongst us thinks in terms of binary and hexadecimal strings? Of course we don’t – we think in terms of people, ourselves and those around us. We think in terms of relationships and feelings. We see places and take part in events. We become our avatars and they have their own characteristics and foibles. We express ourselves through them and they become real. Just as in the real world, we choose to ignore the true reality of pixels and code and instead, we choose to live the dream.

There are some who would criticise those of us who immerse ourselves in Second Life, accusing us of ‘not living in the real world’, of escapism and even of losing touch with reality. To those I say look around you and consider how ‘real’ you want your world to be? Do you really want to strip away the dream and reduce the world to its component parts? To do so, for me, would be to enter the realm of nightmares – you are welcome to them! As for me, let me dream in peace and, if the real world is but a dream, then Second Life is no worse.

What Did You Do Before Second Life?

Posted on March 11, 2011

What did you used to do to fill your time before Second Life came on the scene?

Now, I realise I’m making something of an assumption in thinking that Second Life takes up a sufficient amount of your time to merit the question. However, I reckon the fact you’re even reading this probably means you spend a bit more than the odd 20 minutes dabbling inworld when you’re at a loose end and have nothing better to do!

So, what did you get up to before you found your days, evenings or your free time taken up by the all-consuming virtual existence that is Second Life? As for myself, I’m still a relative noob compared to some of you who’ve been around for a while – even so, I find myself struggling to remember what life before rezzing was like.

I don’t seem to do any less these days than I used to. The household chores still get done, meals are prepared and the shopping still happens on a regular basis. I still have time to watch the odd movie, listen to music and indulge my other interests too – and yet, I know that all of this happens despite the fact I also seem to spend an inordinate amount of time inworld or doing other Second Life related things. Either something’s changed, the days have got longer, or there’s some significant activity that’s disappeared from my daily routine, although I can’t, for the life of me, imagine what it might be!

Maybe I’ve just adapted to a Second-Life oriented way of life – some sort of virtual evolutionary process by which I’ve adapted to survive by incorporating both real and virtual worlds into a new life form that would have caused even Charles Darwin to raise an eyebrow in surprise. Perhaps I’m on to something here? I’ve seen others adapt in this way too. I have a friend who is an avid reader and I’m sure that before they discovered Second Life, they would spend hours of their recreational time, head buried in a book, devouring their favourite authors. Recently I logged in to find them sitting in a deckchair, a virtual book in hand… here’s the good bit: what they were doing in Second Life was mirroring the real world, where they just happened to be relaxing, reading a favourite book! Here was someone indulging two recreational pleasures at once – one virtual, the other real – a sublime example of adaptation and the merging of the two worlds.

Coming to think of it, hoovering the carpets is a lot more fun when, with headphones on, you’re also dancing at your favourite Second Life music venue. I’ve no doubt that, in fact, there are countless ways in which not only similar but also entirely disparate activities in both worlds can be carried out simultaneously and still complement each other perfectly.

Is this a glimpse of the future? Are Second Life residents spearheading the next evolutionary leap forward? Probably not, but it’s fun to speculate. Come to think of it, Second Life causes me speculate a lot; in fact, I seem to do even more of everything since joining the virtual community than I ever did when I was just part of the real world.

So, what did I do before Second Life? I have no idea! All I know is that I seem to do an awful lot more than I ever used to and I’m loving every minute of it!

That’s SLife

Posted on March 20, 2011

It seems I’m frequently drawing parallels between Second Life and real life, or talking about how the two interconnect and share similarities but, as time passes, I realise that in some respects Second Life and real life do not always share the same path.

Whilst real life may be the ‘real thing’, Second Life clearly is not, however therein lies a problem; every one of us who has ever made a friendship inworld, rented a home, built a business or invested our time, energy and money in the virtual world of Second Life will have forged an emotional connection with it. The trouble is, those emotional connections are built on real life experience and knowledge – unconsciously our minds translate them into the Second Life context but, when it comes down to the line, our minds only really understand these emotional ties in terms of the real world and expect real world terms of reference. Within Second Life, that is a need that is often denied.

Second Life can be brutal.

Take a simple example – someone in real life dies – painful though it may be, to some extent the pain is ‘sugar-coated’… we’ll usually know the circumstances; perhaps it was an accident or old-age, perhaps we knew it was coming and, even after the event, there may be ways in which we can still capture the spirit, the essence of the person who has gone. In real life, we have a focus for our grief and, even in the most senseless and awful circumstances when ‘why?’ is the only question we can utter, we still have something or someone to which that question can be directed.

Compare that with someone who disappears from Second Life. It’s happened to me three times in just the past year – people who vanish overnight. Sometimes they’ll leave a notecard… the Second Life equivalent of a suicide note, usually leaving more questions than answers. Sometimes, they just go. Rarely do we know why, or how, or what has occurred; rarely do we receive warning or time to prepare; rarely are we told their fate. In Second Life, we have no target for our grief, nothing to lash out at or rant about, nothing we can cling to in order to compensate for the loss – just the brutal reality that someone who was once there, is there no more.

Then there’s the other little tricks that Second Life plays on us – things that, if they happened in real life, we’d take them pretty much in our stride, but in Second Life we’re just not equipped to deal with them. Once again, our real life terms of reference let us down badly. Take the friend who never makes the effort to say hello and ignores us when we log in, (maybe they’re just AFK a lot); people who always seem to need to log out, just as we turn up, (yes, there is such a thing as real life intruding and, perhaps, it’s just bad timing); those times we know the person we’re having a conversation with is having a ‘secret’ conversation with someone else at the same time, (is it such a big deal and how often do we do the self-same thing?); that friend we suspect of having an alt so they can log on without us knowing, (so what!)… the list goes on. This is the well-worn route to Second Life paranoia – the one that we’ve all travelled at some time or other. Sure we can get paranoid in real life too but Second Life leaves so much room for doubt, we can find it infinitely more difficult to listen the voice of reason and so, we succumb to our doubts and fears.

The simple fact is that we need to grow a thick skin and learn to accept that there will be times that Second Life is going to wrongfoot us, and cause us to fall without the benefit of a safety net. We need to grasp that the reasons, explanations and justifications that real life gives us for behaviours and actions will very often be confused or entirely missing in Second Life and therefore cannot be relied upon to be there when we most need them. It will often feel that Second Life or people inworld are giving us a kick in the teeth when the reality is that we simply do not have the information our emotions need in order to fully understand the situation or to properly cope. Perhaps, getting to grips with this simple tenet, accepting that sometimes Second Life sucks, and then getting on with the busines of virtual living regardless, is the first step towards virtual enlightenment and a happy Second Life.

Artistic Impression

Posted on March 27, 2011

A throwaway comment made by a friend recently confirmed something that’s been hovering in the back of my mind for quite some time. Maybe it’s the circles I move in, or perhaps I’m just drawn towards a particular sort of person but have you ever noticed just how many people in Second Life have an artistic leaning?

More than that, I’d go so far as to say that many of the artistic types in Second Life are multi-faceted in their artistic abilities, often to an extraordinary degree. I know a good few people in real life who could be described as artistic and in almost every case that artistry is limited to a particular discipline. I’ve rarely met good painters who are also accomplished musicians; few sculptors also make the grade as singers and it’s a rare thing to find a dancer who could write a compelling story. Yet venture inworld and it seems you can’t move for artisans, who are not only skilled in one field, but equally accomplished in several others too.

At a recent event I attended, within a group of about a dozen people, I could count 5 musicians; 6 photographers; 6 writers; a singer; 2 songwriters; 3 actresses; 2 poets; 3 fashion designers; a graphic artist and at least one ‘virtual’ artist… to those you might also want to add 4 virtual architects/designers and a couple of performance artists for good measure – you do the math! Note that this was just a social gathering, not some sort of elitist get-together… simply a bunch of friends socialising and having fun.

Of course, the artistic talent with which this particular group was endowed was nothing intrinsically rooted in Second Life – unless you focus solely on those talents which come under the ‘virtual’ heading – each of these people were the real deal; multi-talented artists in the real world – yes, those very people whose existence I doubted at the beginning of this article. Somehow, caught up in the web of Second Life and, consciously, or not, drawn together in a fashion that doesn’t seem to occur in real life. It’s not as if these people boast about their abilities either – you’ll glean some of their talent simply because it’s so evident in their demeanour and the things they do but, a great deal of the time you’ll only discover the true extent of their artistry by chance. I’ve been amazed to discover, time and time again, the depth of talent that is possessed by some of my friends just seems to go on and on… I’m constantly discovering new levels and previously unknown abilities.

Maybe it’s the inherently creative nature of Second Life itself that attracts these most talented of people. Maybe in Second Life, those of an artistic leaning recognise an environment that is capable of encompassing and nurturing their abilities but without the demanding and critical cynicism that the real world so often brings to bear upon the artist, or perhaps it’s nothing of the sort. Could it be that the social appreciative approach that Second Life encourages us to take – one which relies on us truly getting to know each other without the visual and environmental clues and cues that we rely upon to shape our opinions and perceptions in the real world – enables us to appreciate the person, rather than the persona?

Perhaps the world is full of multi-talented artists – it’s just that I’m so blinded by the glut of unnecessary and irrelevant information the world constantly throws at me, I’m missing the subtleties, the artistry, the reality of the people around me?

Privacy Piracy

Posted on April 3, 2011

A recent excursion to a rather beautiful private island brought a chance meeting with the sim’s owner. We exchanged pleasantries for a moment and she was perfectly willing for me to look around although with one exception: “Please, not the private homes.” This was, of course, a perfectly reasonable request and one which, as far as I’m concerned, really didn’t need to be stated but the mere fact she felt it was necessary caused me to think about the issue of inworld privacy.

There has recently been a flurry of concerned activity over certain ‘anti-griefing’ tools which appeared to break the Linden TOS by breaching residents’ right to privacy, through the release of potentially personal information to anybody prepared to pay for the privilege – that is a separate issue. I’m more concerned with our right to enjoy privacy whilst inworld.

Whether we actually have any right to enjoy privacy whilst in Second Life is an ethical question – one which hinges upon what we, as residents, consider to be morally acceptable standards of behaviour. It is not something that can be policed, or rigidly defined, since one person’s privacy may equate to another person’s perceived right to enjoy the virtual world. Who is to say what is right and wrong, other than our own conscience?

Let’s imagine I’ve returned home from a shopping trip at my local Second Life mall. In the privacy of my own apartment, I go through my purchases, trying on all my new outfits. Although it could be argued the four walls of my apartment provide all the privacy I could ask for, what is to stop anybody on the street outside, in the next apartment, or for that matter, anywhere within radar distance from taking a peek? In fact, such an action may be entirely innocent, borne out of simple curiosity about who else is in the vicinity. One might argue that if I choose to change in what is effectively a pretty public place then I take that risk.

Now, take the same scenario – only this time, my home is a skybox 2000 metres up, chosen specifically to be away from prying eyes. Is it incumbent upon the passerby to recognise that my choice of location reflects my desire for privacy and therefore even ‘accidental’ snooping is unwelcome and unwarranted?

The trouble is, Second Life is absolutely full of curious people like me. I love to cam through walls to see the amazing ways that people furnish and decorate their own personal spaces; I love to peer through windows and see what’s inside – none of it with the intention of making mischief but simply out of boundless curiosity and interest in the creativity of those around me. However, the question remains, what is morally acceptable, even if this is ‘only’ Second Life? Who, for example, in real life would be happy about complete strangers, or even friends, peering through our windows, exploring our households and taking pictures of our interior design tastes, whether or not we’re at home at the time? Taking it a step further, would we really be happy to have people spy on us, even accidentally, just because they could? I’d hazard a guess that we’d consider all of these examples to be unacceptable behaviour and I’m sure, for the most part, the majority of us would never contemplate doing that sort of thing in real life… and yet I’m almost as sure that most of us at one time or another have wandered into somebody’s home in Second Life and had a good nose around – even if not physically, we’ve cammed into places that are essentially somebody’s private space.

Where do we draw the line? Is Second Life so fundamentally different to the real world that the accepted rules of privacy and respect for others’ personal space no longer apply, or is the opposite true… does the shared, communal basis that so much of Second Life is rooted in mean that those places where we can find privacy and seclusion should be treated with even greater respect? Perhaps we do need to define some guidelines, although whether these could ever become anything like hard and fast rules is unlikely.

As for myself, I think the best stance to take is one of personal morality – if I wouldn’t feel comfortable being on the receiving end of unasked for attention then perhaps I should make every effort to avoid putting others in that same position. I value my Second Life privacy – surely, I should value the privacy of others also?

It’s Good News Week!

Posted on April 10, 2011

A recent discussion with a friend about things that happen in Second Life gave rise to the comment that there’s better news on the Moonletters’ site than in the newspapers!

How sad that the real world in which we have to live is so full of bad news that there’s a whole industry pretty much dedicated to disseminating it . . . although, you have cause to wonder whether there’s ever any good news in Second Life too, sometimes. What with moans about lag, inventory issues, privacy, poor support and the myriad of other gripes and groans we have about glitches and problems, you can’t help wondering why we bother at all.

With that in mind, I think it’s time we reminded ourselves of the good news about Second Life, the headlines that, for some reason, you never see. So as a reminder that it’s not all doom and gloom, I invite you to ‘Read all about it!’ –

Open All Hours!

Fed up with schedules, itineraries and timetables? Second Life transcends time and even space. Everywhere is open 24/7/365 – never be tied to time again; instead, here’s a world that revolves around you and fits into your lifestyle, on your terms. Feel like shopping at three o’clock in morning? No problem! Want to go to the movies on Christmas Day? Can do!

Second Life is there for you, whether you’re looking for fun, music, shopping or more esoteric pursuits, whenever you want them, night, day or any other time. Never will you leave the club too late to TP home; never will you have a wasted trip to the shops to find it’s early closing on a Thursday; and, never again will you be at a loss for something to do, just because it’s 2:00am and you can’t sleep!

All Inclusive Deals!

Here’s some great news… you are welcome – Second Life is completely inclusive… and that includes you!

No age, height or size restrictions; no dress code – feel free to log on wearing full evening dress, or nothing at all, other than a smile – nobody will mind! (Unless, of course the babysitter happens to wander in whilst you’re wearing nothing but a smile!).

Who cares if you’re aged 86 and drawing your pension? There’s nothing stopping you from going hang-gliding, bobsledding or extreme uni-cycling. Ditch the zimmer frame for a micro-mini skirt, a safety pin through your nose and ride a Harley through the house! Equally, you may be 17, but no-one’s going to stop you from driving a bus, building a property empire or going ballroom dancing, wearing a cravat and monocle.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak the language, are missing limbs (or, for that matter, have extra ones), are as poor as a church mouse or rich as a Russian oil tycoon – there’s a place for you in Second Life!

Nothing Is Impossible!

Don’t listen to all those spoilsports who tell you teleportation, flying and invisibility is a pipedream… in fact, tell them to stick their opinions in their pipe and smoke it! You can do all those things and much, much more in Second Life. In fact, it’s the law!

Exercise your X-Ray vision, walk on (and under) water and put your underpants on without taking off your trousers, (that’s more than Superman could do!) – and that’s all before breakfast! In fact, why stop at the underpants? If the mood takes you, there’s nothing to stop you changing your skin, shape or sex. Why not try life as a dalek or a dragon, a superhero or an archangel – be who, or whatever, you want to be.

Here’s the best bit. Never grow old! Yes, though our real selves may grow aged and become flabby, grey and wrinkly, the Second Life us need never age; in fact there’s nothing stopping us from becoming ever younger and more innocent in Second Life, as we grow ever crumblier in the real world, like some pixellated Dorian Gray: What science has singularly failed to achieve, we can fix with the click of a mouse.

World Peace And Save The Planet!

Yes, Second Life can ultimately be the solution to all the world’s problems.

Feeling the need to become a totalitarian, dictatorial despot? No problem – simply buy an island and populate it with your own master race of subservient bots. Make yourself a flashy uniform, complete with jangly medals and rule your idealised tinpot dictatorship with a rod of iron… and nobody need ever get hurt.

Feeling the need to invade another country? Second Life has the solution to that too – simply buy another island and invade that – couldn’t be easier!

Having solved world peace, for an encore, why not save the planet? There’s nothing to stop you growing your own rainforest and stocking it with all sorts of rare and endangered species. In fact, why stop there? Bring back the dodo and dinosaurs… absolutely anything is possible in Second Life!

You see – there’s plenty of good news: but you’ll only find it in Second Life.

Behind Every Silver Lining

Posted on April 17, 2011

Last week I wrote about all the wonderful, bountiful goodness that flows from the wellspring of Second Life. On reflection, it struck me that maybe I was a little too enthusiastic about the miraculous properties of Second Life and, after several re-readings of the piece, I realised I’d made the virtual world sound a bit too virtuous. Rather like those breakfast cereals that contain nothing but whole grain goodness and can consequently save you from heart attacks and give you a spring in your step the minute you leave the breakfast table…. It’s worth remembering that, despite their wonderful properties, they taste like cardboard and have all the appeal of an accountancy examination. So, in the interests of balanced reporting, I have to admit that Second Life also has its downside.

I also thought that my gushing positivity about Second Life may have made you think I’ve been indoctrinated by the Lindens – I can categorically state that is certainly not the case. (Certainly not without any financial recompense, anyway!)

Here then, to keep your expectations sufficiently lowered is the bad news about Second Life:-

Second Life makes you crazy

It’s true. Anyone who has been involved with Second Life for any length of time will attest to this. One day you’re a normal human being, the next you find yourself introducing yourself to someone in real life, using your Second Life name – usually, of course, this happens at the worst possible moment, for example when you’re introduced to the queen at a garden party at Buckingham Palace, or whilst being interviewed on national TV.

Other signs of Second Life insanity are spending hours looking for a pair of shoes, only to realise you only own them in Second Life and developing the unconscious habit of blurting out ‘HB’ whenever somebody leaves the room, only to compound the error by shouting out ‘Yay!’ and ‘WB’, on their return.

You find Second Life terminology infiltrating other situations too. You’ll start saying people crashed when something has gone wrong for them – not hugely disturbing in most everyday situations, but not so good if you’re explaining why someone is late for a meeting, or you happen to work on a cardiac ward.

False hopes

Second Life can maliciously raise expectations before cruelly dashing them. So please, listen carefully….

You think you can dance; you think you have great dress sense; and you think you’re a witty and fun person to be around – I’m afraid not! These are all illusions brought on by spending far too much time in Second Life. Anyone who has leapt on to the dance floor at a family wedding, sporting a French maid costume and wittily commenting on the bride’s cheese fetish will have learned this to their cost. Some things work well in Second Life: Leave them there… please don’t try them in the real world!

Second Life also tells some very convincing lies, which our brains are more than happy to believe until the horrible reality hits us. For the record, here is a brief reality check for all of those who forget to disengage our Second Life synapses, once we log off –

When someone calls you up and invites you to a party, I’m afraid it’s just not possible to be there almost instantly – TP is limited to Second Life. In the real world we have taxis and buses, and neither is instantaneous or convenient. You’ll also learn to your cost that in real life shoes, handbags, clothing and houses are not cheap or affordable and never free! Neither do they come in fat packs, allowing you to have a suitable colour for any occasion.

Distorted reality

The longer you spend in Second Life, the more difficult it gets to appreciate what is real and what is not. Some symptoms that should start alarm bells ringing are, as follows:

You think 500 bucks is a reasonable price for a new outfit, or you start tipping taxi drivers 100 dollars/pounds. When the, (now extremely happy), taxi driver deposits you at you destination for your night on the town, you feel an overwhelming need to give the DJ money. You think that peering through people’s windows and wandering around their property, playing with everything you find, is perfectly normal behaviour. You ask someone for a dance and, when they accept, you tell them to poke your bum because that’s where you wear your chim.

Perhaps the worst symptom of all, is when you strip off in the middle of a shop to try on a new outfit, rather than using the changing rooms. Once you’ve reached this stage, I’m afraid you’re a complete lost cause.

So, there you have it: Second Life does have some bad points, as well as the good ones. Nothing that a well-adjusted person couldn’t cope with but, if you’re that well-adjusted, what are you doing here in the first place?

Off the Radar

Posted on May 1, 2011

A friend recently mentioned to me that they’d been having problems with their usual Phoenix Viewer and had temporarily switched to Viewer 2. They weren’t that bothered about switching but they were really missing the built-in Phoenix radar – a feature that, once you’ve become used to it, is hard to live without. The convenience of having a pop-up list of everyone in the vicinity is a useful tool by itself, however when you add to that the additional functionality that the radar menu provides, it’s a positive treasure trove of usefulness.

Remote camming, instant messaging, teleport options and tracking – all incredibly useful tools – as are script counts, moderation tools, and arrival/leaving notifications, particularly if you’re a landowner or service provider. The radar provides a powerful real-time tool for analysing and managing sim traffic, and does it all in a way that allows you to get on with your normal activities without interruption. Plus, if you’re using a viewer with a built-in radar, it’s free, instantly accessible and doesn’t contribute to lag, unlike scripted radar HUDs will.

Used creatively in combination with other tools, the radar can achieve even more and goes far beyond being just a tracking device…

I use it for precise teleporting over short distances into groups of people, without having to go through the tiresome business of landing on people’s heads or being stuck, flailing in mid-air, whilst someone hogs the landing point: Just use radar to cam to the person you want to join, and use double-click teleporting to land exactly where you want, with pinpoint accuracy.

Or how about using the radar for making machinima without the need for opening multiple viewers or expensive camera HUDS? It couldn’t be simpler: Use the radar to cam onto your ‘actor’ and the radar will track them all on its own, wherever they go, leaving you free to change camera angles and position without ever losing your subject! (Brilliant for filming avatars in moving vehicles too.) Or, try using the radar in conjunction with the mini-map to check out new locations before you arrive. Once you’ve found a group of people on the map, you can use the radar to take a good look around before making an entrance; you can even make an educated guess as to the type of establishment you’ve found by profile surfing whoever comes up on the radar list! I’m sure there are many other uses too… how do you use yours?

There’s another side to radar, quite apart from the purely practical applications – I’d hazard a guess that almost all of us like to know what’s going on: we have an innate curiosity… it’s what compels us to look through gaps in fences and into holes in the road; to rubberneck when we pass a car crash; and to listen in on phone conversations on the train. We can’t help ourselves, it’s part of human nature. It adds to the tapestry of life and helps us to build a bigger and richer understanding of the world surrounding us.

What radar manages to do very effectively, is provide us with a means of sating that curiosity, whilst allowing us to keep a degree of distance and watch safely from afar. In fact, we can give all the appearance of doing one thing, when in reality we are actually wrapped up in something completely different happening elsewhere. Radar expands our freedom to explore Second Life and makes possible that one thing that we could so desperately do with in real life… the ability to be in two places at once!

The Seven Ages of an Avatar

Posted on May 6, 2011

Old Will Shakespeare was pretty good at observing life. Perhaps one of his better known observations is that found in ‘As You Like It’, (specifically Act 2, Scene 7). You know the one… it starts off “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players…”: The bard then progresses to expound upon ‘the seven ages of man’, from cradle to grave.

Inspired by the master of the written word, I thought I’d share my own humble observations on the Seven Ages of an Avatar!

At first we have the Newly-Rezzed Noob: He stumbles around, bemused and dazed – trying to make sense of the strange world he’s in, a thankless, fruitless task. He takes SLife in small doses – “how do I walk?”; “how do I talk?”; “what do I do?” – baby steps, for baby noobs that, with passing days, become ever more confident and assured… although, perhaps, a little too confident when we come to his second act.

Act 2, and Whining, Searching, Noob, with his rucksack, appears on the scene. Thinking his virtual existence owes him something, he’s out to get his due. “Give me freebies”; “give me clothes”; “what is this place”; “I want to do teh sex!” He seeks friendships but without any depth. The WSNoob can appear rude and indifferent – which, of course, he may well be – but, much of the time, we do him a disservice. WSNoob doesn’t see himself as we do – he thinks he’s doing just great, finding his way in the world and forging an identity. We see a forlorn, lonely figure – one who still can’t walk or dress himself properly, let alone hold a decent conversation… but, somehow, he survives.

Enter Mr All-Grown-Up (But Still A Noob) – resplendent in his freebie bling, he’s out to make his mark. A new look, a new skin, (with all the appropriate attachments), and look out world… there’s a new Top Dog in town! Or so he thinks. We’ve seen it all before, the posturing and the bragging – his tasteless style is only matched by his tasteless humour and the worth of Mr All-Grown-Up is measured by the number of establishments he’s been banned from. No longer does he want to do teh sex – he IS teh sex! – but, time marches on and things, inevitably, change.

A new man emerges – Archetypal Resident – careful guidance and the expenditure of a few Lindens creates an altogether more pleasant avatar. The rough edges have been smoothed off – he looks and acts the part. The excesses of youth have either passed or become more balanced and rounded, even meaningful. This is a time for shopping, exploring, making friends and enjoying SLife. Archetypical settles down, makes a home – the whole of Second Life is his, to enjoy at leisure. Yet, there is something lacking.

Now we meet Hardworking Resident – an avatar with a need to find a meaning. There must be more to this than just a game or a social network. He discovers the need to express himself, through artistry and creativity, to stretch his limits and those of the world around him. Hardworking Resident becomes a success, amassing wealth, friends and kudos; but, the greater he becomes, the harder he must work for ever smaller reward. Every hour is spent building, creating, buying and selling – friends become distant, the wider world of Second Life becomes unimportant. The bubble is about to burst!

Let’s welcome to the stage, a frowning, Disenchanted Resident. With few friends, SLife has become a bit of a drag – disenchanted with the Marketplace, with Support, with the latest batch of noobs – there’s little of value to be found any more. Second Life has lost its glamour and all those things he achieved seem to have lost their meaning. He begins to drift… spends more time in the real world than the virtual, then one day, decides it’s time for a break.

Last scene of all, we meet Worldly Wise Resident – his sojourn from Second Life and eventual return have taught him much and he embraces his second noob-hood. Standing sparkly-eyed amongst the pixels, he remembers the awe and wonder, the fun he once had and reaches out to grasp that elusive and compelling freedom at the very heart of Second Life. Then, sans cares, sans worries, sans ties, sans expectations… he begins, at last, to have fun!

Manners Maketh The Avatar

Posted on May 13, 2011

With Linden Lab crowing about the success of the latest viewer and the ‘improved’ registration process, which they say has resulted in a big increase in new residents, I think it’s high time that something was said about the appropriate way to behave in Second Life – let us consider the question of SLetiquette.

It’s always struck me as a little strange that on arrival at Orientation Island, the gawking, jerky-legged baby noob is presented with a plethora of useful information: How to walk, fly, chat and cam; pointers to helpful locations and sage wisdom on getting on in Second Life. Yet, despite this wealth of instructive and, no doubt, essential knowledge, there’s not a word about how to conduct oneself when abroad in the virtual world.

Now, I’m sure that, for some people at least, the idea of proper manners and conduct may seem rather quaint and outdated – maybe in the cut and thrust of the real world it’s a sad fact of modern life but proper etiquette is certainly not to be sneered at in the virtual world. Even in the world of text messaging, there are certain conventions that are accepted as the norm… SHOUTING, for example, is considered very bad form in normal communication and, on message boards and in chatrooms, flooding, trolling, flaming and spamming are all the preserve of the ignorant and arrogant, (and if they’re neither, then they’re bots!). Therefore, I’d suggest that in the rich and diverse environment of Second Life the need for appropriate and proper etiquette is not to be overlooked. Why then is there no guidance for noobs in the art of good behaviour and why do so many ‘grown up’ residents seem to think that proper SLetiquette is something to be avoided at all costs?

Let me, if I may, cite a few examples where lack of restraint, common courtesy and respect for others tends to raise the hackles –

First up, there’s the person – usually a noob – who turns up at a crowded social venue and goes through the usual barging around, poking about in the corners rigmarole. Often they will then stand stock-still in the middle of the room, failing which they’ll go into edit appearance mode, hanging with arms outstretched in mid-air, for no apparent reason. Irritating enough in itself but perhaps understandable – what is less understandable and, in my opinion downright rude, is the impoliteness that tends to go with it. Why is it that any friendly greeting, offer of help or encouraging words offered by those assembled are so often not acknowledged or otherwise completely ignored by the itinerant noob, who then promptly teleports away, (often only to return a few minutes later and do the self-same thing!).

Then there’s that other preserve of SLetiquette failure that noobs seem to embrace right from day one – the overly familiar approach with people they’ve only just met. This is evidenced by shameless demands being made of complete strangers for everything from Lindens and clothing, places to set up home, (for free), and even ‘teh sex’. Another common variant of this ill-conceived ‘right’ to have their every need pandered to comes from the aspiring performance artist, dancer and/or stripper who will walk into a club or entertainment venue in the full expectation of being immediately signed up for a regular, paid slot. Whatever happened with working your way up in the world and putting in the hard work to achieve your goals?

Friendships: In real life these take time to develop – time to get to know people, learn about them and become close to them. There’s no reason why Second Life should be any different, nevertheless most of us have had the experience of receiving a friend request after a single, 5-minute conversation with a newcomer or even out of the blue from a total stranger. The trouble is, when they look at you with those puppy dog eyes and those funny, jerky movements and painted-on clothes, how can you refuse that friendship offer without feeling a huge pang of guilt? In accepting, you’re either condemned to having a noob glued to your online presence, like some virtual limpet whenever you log in, or you’ll never hear from them again: Go ahead… do you feel lucky?

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that all poor SLetiquette is down to hapless noobs – and, after all, if nobody’s ever educated them, it’s not entirely their fault. Where I do finding myself raising a pixellated eyebrow and muttering under my virtual breath are those occasions where those far more experienced residents, who really should know better are just as guilty of breaching it as any day-old noob – I find that sort of behaviour wholly unacceptable, I’m afraid.

Let’s start with the group chat spammers… most of us are well used to being bombarded with group notices for events and updates and also well used to their cousin, the group chat. It’s one of the prices we pay for being members and, for the most part we either welcome it as helpful, or tolerate it as a necessary evil – what is less easy to endure are those people who insist on having meaningless conversations in group, to which you have no choice, other than to be a party to. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional, “Anything interesting happening?”, it’s when it develops into a pointless rambling chat between two or three group members that I start thinking ‘how rude’, (or worse!). There really are few things worse than having a conversation with someone in open chat, only to have it constantly disrupted by a few thoughtless people in group chat, who feel compelled to tell jokes to anyone and everyone, who are compelled to listen in. By all means, make an initial contact in group but then retire to IMs, if you must have a conversation, and spare those poor souls who really don’t have any interest in anything you have to say!

Then there’s the downright rude residents – often they’ll ‘invade’ a group or a location and make a thorough nuisance of themselves, either as lone protagonists or, more likely, in small groups. The hallmarks of these particularly obnoxious – let’s not mince our words here – griefers, share a commonality of purpose: simply to be offensive. Second Life is primarily an adult preserve and so we have to accept that there is a time and a place for bad language and the brandishing of weapons but for those for whom SLetiquette is an alien concept, it’s unfortunate that their particular choice of time and place can often intrude upon other, less ‘grown up’ pursuits. There are few things that can clear a dance floor more quickly than a bunch of inconsiderate jerks shooting off their mouths and their weapons – particularly when the protagonists choose to indulge in asinine comments, insults and bigotry at the expense of the innocent bystanders around them.

There’s another impolite and irritating ploy that tends to be the domain of the more experienced resident. It’s the distant cousin of the noob’s unmerited friend request: the unexpected TP or IM. Polite and reasonable residents tend to ask before sending a TP request, or before poofing out of nowhere to land on your head in the middle of your peaceful retreat. Not so the arrogant and insensitive dimwit who sends you a TP out of the blue – not only are they almost always a complete stranger, but the likelihood is that if you accept, you’ll find yourself unwittingly transported to some perfumed boudoir, in the expectation that you will find the requestor completely irresistible and fall for their non-existent charms.

Un-asked for IMs are the Second Life equivalent of the builder’s wolf-whistle or the shouted suggestive remark from the other side of the street. In my opinion, they should also be treated in the same way – ignored! Receiving an IM from a complete stranger whose idea of an introduction is “Hi babe, wanna get jiggy?” feels something akin to walking into your bedroom to find the creepy man from across the road rifling through your underwear drawer. Uninvited, unpleasant and unwelcome.

Surely it’s not asking too much for Second Life residents to exercise a little respect and restraint when dealing with others? Certainly, noobs may have some excuse for the odd social screw-up but even the complete beginner must have some understanding of common courtesy and politeness – or do I expect too much? Sadly, there can be no excuse for the more experienced resident to be rude and uncouth – it’s just plain ignorance and an arrogant lack of manners, I’m afraid.

Perhaps I am a little old-fashioned and quaint, yearning for the etiquette of the ‘good old days’ in this high-speed, hi-tech virtual world – I wonder if that really is such a bad thing?

All The Small Things

Posted on May 20, 2011

During the course of a recent conversation with a friend, she happened to mention that one of the things she loves about Second Life is the way it allowed her to do things so much more easily than in real life. That comment got me thinking about some of the things we take for granted in the virtual world that are either very difficult in real life or just not possible.

I’m not considering the big things so much – teleporting, flying and such like – rather, it’s the little things that we often don’t spare a thought for in Second Life that, if we could have them in the real world, they would revolutionise our lives.

I think my number one must have, if it was possible, would be real life profiles. Can you imagine how great it would be to be able to glean useful snippets of information about the people we meet, simply by viewing their profile? How incredibly useful to be able to get an idea about people’s interests, their philosophy on life, favourite places and even their age, without even saying a word. Of course, some of you at this point will be shaking your heads and thinking it would be a complete conversation killer – I think it would be quite the opposite; providing us with ready made points of reference for not only conversing with someone, but also to provide a headstart in getting to know them.

What about ‘preferences’? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to change the world around us to suit our circumstances, without affecting anybody else? Anyone who’s ever stood too close to a smoky barbecue would leap at the chance to be able to reduce their smoke particles to a tolerable level, for example. What about those late night walks or drives home from visiting relatives… how much easier and safer would it be, if we could just switch from midnight to midday for the trip home?

Chat logs are another thing we take for granted that would be of inestimable value in the real world. No more arguments about who said what to whom – it’s all there in black and white! Of course, all the daft things you said at that party after one too many bottles of Absinthe will also be recorded for posterity, so maybe this is one Second Life innovation we may possibly not want to become reality!

One of the simple features that I love is being able to take all my worldly goods with me wherever I go. No need to pack for holidays and the fraught business of weighing cases and endless deliberation about just how many pairs of shoes you can get away with – you can take the lot, including the kitchen sink, (not forgetting, the car, bath and intergalactic mega-cruiser!). No problems with lost passports or tickets either… they’re in the inventory too! I love being able to change whenever and wherever I want – just having that facility in real life would be such a fantastic thing.

Closely linked to a real life inventory would be real life permissions. The ultimate deterrent to thieves and burglars – just set everything you own to ‘no transfer’ and you’ll stop them in their tracks! Even if you did manage to lose something, it’ll either turn up in the ‘lost & found’, or you can just rez another copy – simple.

There are, of course, limitless possibilities that a real life ‘edit appearance’ option would give us. I don’t think I’d want things to go as far as being able to completely change your identity – that’s just asking for trouble and really doesn’t qualify as a ‘small thing’! Nevertheless, it could afford us a myriad of opportunities to improve our lives in lots of ways:

No more struggling with those fabulous jeans you bought a while back, before the diet ‘slipped’ – a few small adjustments… shave a tiny bit off the hips and waist and, once again, they’ll fit like a charm! The same goes for that lovely new outfit that you just can’t get in your size, or that was obviously intended for a body, the shape of which has never existed; once again, a few judicious alterations to the bits of you that matter… one perfectly fitting outfit. Shoes too tight? – just take your feet down a size; want to make a ‘big’ entrance at the club? – pump up those boobies! It’s your body, so why shouldn’t you get it to behave?

Then there’s the really basic things that we don’t even think about in Second Life but we’d kill for in real life. Things like a volume control, a mute button and the ability to know that your fiends are around. Wouldn’t it be great to have a real life ‘busy’ option and an ‘AFK’ option for those times you just want to stare out of the window and daydream?

There are many, many more Second Life features that I’d love to see in real life; some, I admit would be the big, flashy features that everyone would have in their ideal world, but it’s the small things that would really make a difference for me because some of them really are a big deal!

Next Patient, Please!

Posted on May 27, 2011
BY STAFF WRITER FERAL MOSSRIDER (Writing as Fearless Moonslider)

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather recently, so when it came to writing this week’s Moonletters’ article, I decided to cheat a little and get somebody else to do the hard work for me. Perhaps it was my poor, afflicted state that was the inspiration for me to ask for a contribution from one of my learned relatives, Dr Fearless Moonslider MD(SL), MTed.

Doc. Fearless has recently completed a study of Second Life related afflictions, which he was more than willing to share with you. He was hoping that Shauna would publish the full 140-page academic paper but, thankfully, he’s agreed to provide a more layman-friendly version, which I’m sure you will find to be of interest. Over to you, Doc!…

It is one of the fallacies of the virtual community that it is possible to engage in the online experience with complete impunity. My recent exhaustive study has confirmed that this is not strictly true: As with any pursuit, whether for business or pleasure, there are inevitable inherent risks. My investigations have led me to believe that there are in fact a number of Second Life afflictions that can beset the unwary user – some case studies of which I will present in this paper. Whilst distressing and embarrassing, most of these ailments are only short-lived and will resolve themselves over time, failing that, they can often be treated by one dose of a simple treatment, which can be expressed in the formula:

Re-bake(x3) Relog[+clear cache]

————————————– = Back to normal {perhaps/eventually}

(frantic clicks)x(random keys)

I’ll turn now to the principal Second Life induced complaints which can manifest themselves in any avatar, regardless of sex or species.

The Vapours – The most obvious symptom of this particular ailment is a tendency to exhibit all the qualities of cumulonimbus, but without the benefit of a silver lining. The affliction can be rather disconcerting – although we may seem to ourselves to be as formless and ethereal as patchy fog on an autumn morning – to others we may appear completely unchanged from our normal appearance. The obvious downside to this state of affairs is that we may have absolutely no idea that we are completely naked in a crowded room. The prognosis for this particular condition is: Scattered showers, eventually clearing to a sunny disposition.

Proto-primitivism – Known more readily by its common name – ‘being Ruthed’ – this unfortunate condition can cause regression to extreme noobidity. Typically, it can be recognised by a perma-tanned complexion, jerky movements and dull, lacklustre hair. One of the more unusual side effects of the condition is that, no matter how hard the victim may try, it becomes impossible to remove underwear which, becomes biologically part of the sufferer’s skin. Becoming ‘Ruthed’ can therefore be a very effective form of contraception and may help prevent unwanted prim pregnancies.

Invisi-enza – A strange and perplexing condition, where not only do you lose sensation in some parts of the body, but you also suffer the apparent loss of the affected areas. Although dramatic in appearance, it’s not as serious as it might initially appear – the missing bits are still there, it’s just that you can’t see them. Invisi-enza tends to be a temporary affliction, from which recovery can occur swiftly and without warning – rather unfortunate if, at the moment of re-appearance, you happen to be flashing invisible ‘V’s at someone, or you’re caught kicking your neighbour surreptitiously up the butt with your previously invisible foot!

Double Hirsute-algia – A disturbing, mainly cosmetic condition where the victim may suddenly sport an extra growth of hair in addition to their usual barnet. The unfortunate victim is not only unaware of their striking new look but would almost certainly be mentally scarred if they were to find out that they have sprouted a rather unflattering black mullet, which appears to be making a successful takeover bid for their scalp – to spare their sanity, it is therefore vital that you never inform a sufferer that they have been afflicted. There is no known cure for this condition, which will spontaneously clear up of its own accord, just as suddenly as it appeared. (Note – this condition is not to be confused with ‘bad hair’, ‘bed hair’ or ‘freebie hair’, which are quite separate, easily cured conditions).

Triple-jointedness – A peculiar and rather amusing condition which causes the victim’s body to suddenly assume a pose that is painful and defies all normal biological and skeletal convention. A sufferer may suddenly find their hip joints as flexible as soggy spaghetti, with their ankles dangling somewhere around their ears. Another common variation is the extended arm, which points somewhere to the middle distance, at 180 degrees to its normal angle. A severe case may result in the sufferer’s neck becoming flexible to the point at which they can give a passable rendition of the famous revolving head scene from ‘The Exorcist’.

A related condition is ‘Monkey Bar Syndrome’ – whereby the sufferer finds they are incapable of lowering their arms and are therefore forced to wander round with both arms fully extended above their head. A simple, though crude, treatment for MBS is the addition of a football scarf, held aloft – at least the sufferer can then pretend that their sorry state is completely intentional!

Complete Disco-ordination – Nothing to do with 1970′s dance venues or ‘Saturday Night Fever’, there is some doubt that this an actual Second Life medical condition. Sufferers appear to be incapable of negotiating doorways, climbing stairs or making any sort of movement without walking through other people. Some schools of thought prefer to consider all these are symptoms of either complete incompetence or lack of mouse handling skills, rather than a real medical affliction.

To conclude, there are a number of Second Life related medical conditions which can affect anyone at any time, these are quite separate from those mental conditions peculiar to Second Life (to which my next paper is to be dedicated). My only advice is to always wear protection and, if you do happen to get caught out, grin and bear it – there’s not much else you can do!

Talk is Cheap

Posted on June 3, 2011

Is the impact of these difficult fiscal times starting to be felt in Second Life? I ask because over the course of the last couple of weeks the writers for Moonletters appear to be showing a somewhat more guarded approach to matters of a financial nature than we are used to seeing.

I’ve detected a slight undercurrent of indignation about the sometimes poor attitude of some store owners towards their customers and those who support them, along with a note of concern about the ever-rising cost of keeping abreast of content and new developments. Then there’s the thorny issue of ‘tipping’ and financially supporting inworld entertainment venues, which has raised it’s ugly head on more than one occasion just recently in these pages, and elsewhere in the metaverse. Could it be that the cost of SLiving is starting to be felt a little more keenly than perhaps we’re used to?

Maybe we are feeling the pinch, but one of the beauties about Second Life is that sometimes the most rewarding of experiences can be the least costly. I remember a family member who would always buy a toy for her pet cat at Christmas and then was invariably put out when the moggie in question turned its little feline nose up at the hand-crafted squeaky mouse and spent the rest of the day chasing the ball of paper the toy was wapped in! I’m sure too that we’ve all been told stories of how, when we were toddlers we would always have more fun playing with the cardboard box, rather than the expensive toy that had been packed in it. In these difficult times, perhaps we should be applying the same sort of principles to Second Life?

Any cyber-geek fundamentalist will delight in mortifying us seasoned Second Life residents by reminding us that our virtual world is nothing more than an internet chat room with a funky graphical user interface. Our normal reaction to such a statement is to throw up our hands in horror and invoke the Linden Lab mission statement – The Tao of Linden. To admit they might be right is, of course, heresy… But, is it time to consider embracing the fundamentalist view? More than that, what if I was to say that to do so doesn’t necessarily compromise our assertion that Second Life is far more than ‘just a chat room’ and, in fact, is in complete harmony with the stated wider aims of Second Life?

Before you lynch me, allow me to explain:

There are moments I’ve experienced in Second Life that have summed up for me what my virtual lifestyle is about; occasions that are treasured memories I can recall in detail, even though they may have occurred some time ago. There are occasions that I’ve been more myself, more open, more vulnerable than at any other time; moments that have made me laugh, cry, pontificate, argue, listen and become more involved with my fellow residents than in any other situation… What are these special, important, valued occasions? – They are, perhaps the most simple and basic of situations we can contrive in Second Life: They are times spent in the company of others, simply talking.

The dictionary definition of ‘chat’ is: An informal conversation (n); to talk in a friendly and informal way (v). This is something that Second Life allows us to do, par excellence. However, unlike a traditional internet chat room, Second Life allows us to contextualise our chat and sets us at our ease, so that we feel we are having a real life conversation: We forget that we’re typing at a keyboard and become a talker, a listener, an observer.

The illusion is so strong that we can become uncomfortable if things don’t seem to fit into the context we are imagining. So we find that if our avatar is standing in conversation for too long, we’ll start to fidget uncomfortably, until someone suggests sitting-down. Then, when we sit, it somehow feels right; we relax, and the conversation continues. If our AO shifts our focus from the person we’re speaking to, we struggle – just as in real life, we need that eye contact… even body language comes into play: Unless we’re comfortable with what our avatar’s body is saying to those with whom we’re chatting, then we ourselves are discomforted. In the same way, if those to whom we are chatting are projecting the wrong message through their own posture, our conversation can be stifled.

So we meet to talk in the same manner that we would choose in real life – in pubs, gardens, our homes and public spaces and, when everything comes together, it can be a revelation.

I’ve had some fascinating philosophical conversations in Second Life, covering a vast array of subjects and at levels that range from flippant and humorous to deep and soul-searching. I’ve laughed and joked with friends, had serious personal discussions, talked business, pleasure and everything in between. I’ve shared insight, ideas, inspiration, feelings and unimportant, everyday chit-chat and I can happily ‘waste’ hours, idling away the time in happy conversation with friends.

Second Life is great at bringing people together – we can converse one-to-one, (even at a distance), or as a group, to the world in general in open chat or with a few special people in a crowded room. The possibilities are endless, greater even than those we get in the real world. It is a fantastic and wonderful thing, so let’s not forget the simple pleasure of good conversation as we fly, teleport and do all the other remarkable things that Second Life allows to indulge in! It’s free too – talking to friends costs absolutely nothing, but the rewards can be rich indeed.

I’ll return, if I may, to the Tao of Linden, which states: ‘There’s love in the spirit of our mission, the enjoyment we take in each others’ company, the style and humor we have at our best.’ It strikes me that you couldn’t find a better definition for the cameraderie, the sense of belonging and the joy that is felt when good friends can get together for a proper, old natter!

Funnily enough, it was chatting with a friend that inspired this article!

That’s Another Fine Mesh You’ve Gotten Me Into!

Posted on June 10, 2011

At last, it’s finally on its way! The announcement has been made that, all being well, the entire Grid will be mesh-enabled by the end of August. Don’t hold your breath though: mesh support was first announced in August 2009 and originally slated for implementation this May… the words ‘slippage’ and ‘oops!’ come to mind!

This, apparently, is good news but a vast swathe of Second Life residents will be scratching their heads in puzzlement and wondering exactly what this means to them. Will mesh revolutionise Second Life?; Will mesh change our world beyond all recognition?; Is mesh the ‘holy grail’ of building tools? I’ll try to keep the answer as non-technical and simple as possible… No!

In order to understand the meshy world, there’s a few things we need to grasp:

· Despite what we might think, mesh isn’t at all new and it’s been here, implemented in Second Life, right from the start;

· We need to understand what Linden Lab will be letting us do that is different, when we have a mesh-enabled grid;

· Mesh isn’t the ‘holy grail’ – it’s way too complicated to get to grips with for a great many of us and, sadly, there will be hidden ‘costs’, although the Lindens are keeping exactly what those will be under wraps at the moment;

· The world won’t end, become a better place overnight or become significantly different when mesh comes – most of us probably won’t even notice anything different for ages!

I’ll try to keep this simple – not just for your sakes, mine too – the complexities of mesh are such that if I try to go beyond the very basics, my brain shrivels up and I turn into a gibbering idiot! Plus, more significantly, there will be people reading this who actually understand such things and it will be terribly embarrassing to be told I’m talking nonsense by those who really do know what they’re on about!

So… just how revolutionary is mesh? Not very, is the simple answer. It’s the basis of pretty much every proprietary game out there, even Second Life has mesh oozing from every electronic pore but, for the most part, it’s hidden from us. Take your bog-standard cubic plywood prim: How many faces does it have – Six? (OK, who said four? – bottom of the class for you!) – well, sort of… Actually, technically speaking, it has 324 faces! You see, each side of that simple cube is really composed of 18 polygons – in this case triangles – all joined together in a regular pattern, or ‘mesh’, (if you don’t believe me, create a cube and press [CTRL]+[SHIFT]+[R], (or something equally wacky, if you’re using a Mac!). Every one of those polygons has three 3, so our cube has 6x18x3 faces! You may be wondering why on earth go to all this trouble and, if we were going to stick with a simple cube, you’d be right, but we’re a demanding bunch and we don’t like everything in Second Life to be uniformly cubic, so we give our cube a little twist, or cut a chunk out of it, or we hollow it out; we might even make it flexible, so it can wobble in the wind. It’s when we get creative that we start to expose all those faces that we’d forgotten about the elements, giving them all sorts of fun and exciting angles and the great steam-powered physics engine of Second Life has to work out how all the different physical effects, (wind, light, gravity), are going to interact with each and every one of those faces.

Everything made from prims in Second Life is composed of these little triangles – millions of faces, all interacting with the virtual world and zillions of calculations going on all the time, just to get them to behave themselves! Fiendishly complicated.

Up until now this ridiculously complex scenario has been kept relatively simple by only using regular polygons – yes even for sculpties – they all look, behave and bend and twist in the same triangular fashion… however, lurking beneath the calm pixellated surface, we find their bourgeois cousins: Irregular polygons. These little monsters are all sorts of shapes resulting in meshes that are no longer ordered and as predictable as a Brit not winning Wimbledon – welcome to the world of messy meshes! It is objects made from these critters that Linden Lab will be allowing us to import into Second Life with the advent of mesh. There are other differences too but my brain is starting to hurt, so I’ll just stay with this one theme!

What benefits does having irregular polygons bring? Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to look at our own avatar – yes folks, those sneaky Lindens have been using irregular polygons for years behind our backs, (well, actually on our backs, and every other bit of us too!), because avatars, unlike prims are constructed using irregular polygons. That’s the secret to smooth curves, realistic musculature and lifelike body physics. Sadly, we then manage to utterly destroy the illusion by creating 7 foot giants with huge chests and boobs that bounce like water-filled balloons. So, theoretically, meshies will allow us to build a more fluid, organic and realistic world. The other big difference is that it’s possible to make a ridiculously complex object from just one mesh – if we were to apply our current way of thinking to this, it would mean we could create a whole house, with fitted kitchen, tv and furniture and it would effectively only be one prim! Attractive though that might seem, there are some horrendous drawbacks…

The first problem arises from the complexity of mesh – all of those zillions of faces and calculations are costly and someone has got to ‘pay’ for them. Linden Lab are keeping very tight-lipped about just how they are going to calculate the cost of mesh objects but it’s a reasonable assumption that if you were to build Windsor Castle out of a single mesh, there’s no way you’d be getting away with it being valued at just one prim. The likelihood is that meshes will contribute towards your prim allowance based upon their complexity… the more intricate the mesh, the more it’s going to cost you. It’s likely that you’ll see changes to the way that avatar and prim rendering costs are calculated too and let’s not even think about the possibilities for lag!

You won’t be able to create a mesh object inworld either, at least not for the foreseable future. Meshes follow the same basic principles as sculpted prims and are created using the same third party applications that are currently used to create sculpties. So unless you’re already pretty handy when it comes to 3D modelling and rendering, you probably won’t be creating your own meshies outside Second Life either. This alone is likely to limit the use and popularity of mesh objects and will keep their creation firmly in the domain of those with plenty of time, brains and an awful lot of patience. Then there’s the challenge of getting the darn things into Second Life itself, the mechanics of which won’t be a problem but, that aside, there’s a very good chance that it’s going to cost you. Our friendly Lindens aren’t letting themselves be drawn on this but there’s a good chance we’ll be asked to part with our hard earned Linden dollars to import meshes and an equally good chance that the more complex a mesh, the more it’ll cost us to import.

There are some real benefits to using meshes – mesh clothing, for example, is likely to bring a whole range of improved wearables… bra straps that don’t follow the contours of your body are a frequently cited benefit, (although, if your don’t wear a mesh top over it, your straps will more than likely poke through!). We’ll probably see the demise of the sculptie, in favour of the meshie but I think it’ll be a very long time before the immediacy, simplicity and sheer fun of the old plywood prim is ousted by the new kid on the block. In all probability, mesh will mean that some parts of Second Life will, undoubtedly, be better, but it’s not going to happen overnight and mesh is certainly not going to take over the world, at least not in the immediate future!

That Ain’t Working!

Posted on June 17, 2011

Anybody who has ever shown any degree of talent or aptitude in any particular direction, especially if it’s anything in the creative arena, will at some stage have been on the receiving end of a comment along the lines of; “Oh, you’re so good… have you ever thought of taking it up professionally?”.

The fact of the matter is that most people faced with this question, whether they are musicians, artists, writers, dancers, actors or happen to dabble in any one of many other creative pursuits with any degree of success will almost certainly have considered the possibility of pursuing their own particular medium at a level that goes beyond the purely recreational. There’s a certain attractiveness to becoming successful at something you enjoy and, let’s be honest, if you’re a budding writer, for example, wouldn’t you rather be earning a crust working from home and doing something you love, something that energises and enthuses you, rather than that nine-to-five office job that you have to suffer, just to pay the bills?

Speaking personally, I think I’m probably the exception that proves the rule – I’m more than happy just to write for fun – I’ve no desire for fame and fortune through my writing, or any wish to be published in my own right. Ask me why I’m sat up writing this article at 2:30 in the morning, for example, and I’ll tell you it’s because I enjoy doing it, not because I want to be a rich and famous author! Yet, for every person like me, there will be a thousand who would love to make the transition from enthusiastic amateur to seasoned professional.

The same must be true for Second Life – in this regard, the virtual world offers plenty of parallels with the real world and opportunities for those with the skill, the will and the self-belief to be successful enough in Second Life to support themselves in real life. It’s not the pipedream that some might suggest it is either: I vividly remember hearing about someone who I believe was the first Linden dollar millionaire, a person who very successfully rented out accommodation on a Second Life space station – no matter how you choose to describe it, a million Lindens translates to a serious amount of hard cash – pull that trick off a few times and you’re laughing all the way to the bank!

In fact, land sales and rentals have historically been big business in Second Life, with prime plots hotly contested and prices driven artificially high by bots, much to the frustration of those out to make an honest buck; but what about the other potential money spinners that might be found in Second Life?

Let’s be under no illusion here – making proper money in Second Life is possible but, like any equivalent real life occupation, it takes a real investment in time and cash; dedication; long, long hours; the right contacts; and, quite a bit of luck and good fortune. Certainly, there are content creators out there who are making a living from inworld sales but they are few and far between: Their daily lives revolve completely around their virtual lives and what they create is top quality, relentlessly merchandised and ruthlessly protected against those who would seek to make spurious reproductions for their own gain.

Land, property and content creation aside, it’s difficult to see how it’s really possible to make any sort of a living from Second Life – I suppose there’s always the possibility of being ‘discovered’ as a musician or artist in Second Life and making the transition to the real world – stranger things have happened, (there was YouTube and that Bieber guy, for instance: You don’t get much stranger than that!). However, let’s be realistic… it’s a one in a million occurrence and surely, if you’re that good, you’re going to be discovered in real life, way before somebody stumbles across you in Second Life, anyway?

So, for the vast majority of us, cutting our real world ties and becoming supported wholly by our Second Life exploits is, frankly, not going to happen in a lifetime of blue moons! However, that’s not to say we can’t lower our expectations just a little and take a more pragmatic and realistic view of becoming self-sufficient. Most of us, at one time or another, have entertained ideas of making enough hard cash inworld to cater for all our Second Life needs and, consequently, needn’t be burdened with the burden of injecting real money into the Second Life economy. This is eminently achievable and is also within the reach of a good many of us, if we’re prepared to put sufficient effort in to make it happen.

Here’s the catch – all of those things that you have a talent for, that you do now because they’re fun and you enjoy them, have a nasty habit of becoming less fun and ever more demanding, the more important they become to underpinning your Second Life presence. It’s not just a Second Life thing – the same is true in the real world; I can speak from experience of real life parallels – when something changes from a hobby or pursuit into something that is relied upon to pay the bills, there’s a very real danger that it can lose those most essential ingredients of enjoyment, spontaneity and the recreational element that makes it something we love to do – it becomes something we ‘have’ to do and that can change every thing.

It’s no different in Second Life – let’s say that we thoroughly enjoy designing and creating our own range of clothing as a fun thing to do, so we decide that this would be a great way to pay our way in Second Life. Great fun, at first, but then when the rent falls due and we need to sell more and more to cover the cost; when competition from other designers forces us to drop our prices and increase our output; when we’re up all night, creating that new range, when we’d rather be spending time with friends, or in bed… just how enjoyable is it then?

The simple fact of the matter is that there’s no such thing as making a fast buck in real life or Second Life, in both worlds it takes hard work and self-sacrifice. That’s not to say that if you have the will to persevere and pursue your dreams you won’t, one day, achieve your goals – but choose your path wisely and don’t expect to make a killing, or even break-even in the short term… it’s far more likely to be a long-haul. That’s not to say you won’t see success along the way – having been a Second Life resident for well over a year, it’s come as quite a shock to me to realise that for the past four weeks, for the first time ever, I’ve been supporting my Second Lifestyle entirely from funds raised inworld – it’s a great feeling but I’m not going to let myself fall under the illusion that I can sustain it without support from outside the virtual world and, if I’m honest, I’d rather be out and about having fun, than taking Second Life seriously as a money making venture!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting the entrepreneurial spirit in Second Life, all I’m saying is, don’t let the need to become self-supporting or successful take the place of the sheer enjoyment, fun and fulfilment that we can derive from doing all those things in Second Life that we’re good at. It is a great feeling when somebody compliments us on our work and says that it’s good enough to make money… but do we really want the hassle and hard work that will bring when, in the alternative, we can happily carry on just as we are, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves in the process?

Life’s hard enough as it is and it’s a wise person who takes the time to consider whether they want their Second Life to be equally demanding, simply for the sake of success!

Who am I?

Posted on June 24, 2011

You might be forgiven for thinking that a great many people who use Second Life are suffering from some sort of identity crisis. Certainly, there are many for whom Second Life allows either an escape from the real world or the chance to explore and experience different lifestyles and alternatives to reality – there’s nothing at all wrong with this and that’s not really the area I’m concerned with. In fact, it’s once we get inside the virtual world of Second Life and the way that we behave when we’re there that I find far more interesting.

You might think, for example that once we have chosen our name, adjusted our shape, skin and hair, found a suitable AO and dressed ourselves in our favoured attire that we would be in a position where we could happily state ‘this is my virtual identity… this is who I am’ – and yet, I do wonder whether this is really the case.

Let’s start with the way in which we create our avatar: Some of us may choose to create an onscreen presences that reflects the real-life person, even down to the way we dress, whilst others will create an idealised ‘me’ – something that we’d like to be or might aspire to. Then, there are those who choose to be utterly different from their real world persona… there might be many reasons for this, anything from roleplay, to wanting to stand out in a crowd, or simply being different ‘just because we can’. Second Life provides us with the means to ‘customise’ our identity, or not, depending on our personal preference to any extent we want. That. in itself does not scream ‘identity crisis’, if anything it points to someone who has a very strong grasp on their identity which, in the real world, they may be unable or unwilling to explore to its full. Alternatively, Second Life gives us the opportunity to ‘hide’ behind an identity quite distinct from the real person and experience life through interacting with the virtual world and those around us in a very different way to that which we are used to.

Again, I’m not convinced that having a separate identity in Second Life is necessarily a sign of confusion, however things become more interesting the deeper we dig into a person’s virtual life.

Take profiles, for example, where we can glean a vast amount of information about the people we meet. Back in the pre-Viewer 2 days, when we had a tab devoted exclusively to ‘First Life’ – and to a lesser extent in later viewers, where we only have ‘More Information’ – we often find that great myth: SL=RL.

I often chuckle when I see that particular assertion, or any one of its variations, particularly when the profile happens to belong to a scantily-clad neko, or a Gorean overlord… here SL quite patently is not at all equal to RL, it’s actually quite different, unless of course the real person behind the avatar is feline, purrs continually and has a tail, or walks down their high street clad like Conan the Barbarian, with nubile slave girls in tow! Surely the proper equation should be: ‘SL=What I’d like RL to really be like’? This to me says that here is someone whose fantasy/idealised life is actually nothing to do with the real world but, in their minds, they so completely identify with their characterisation that the lines between the two worlds have become somewhat blurred. The confusion is often easily brought to the fore – try asking Conan about his real life and you’re more than likely to find him rather reluctant to reveal that his real name is Timothy and that he works behind the fish counter at his local Tesco’s. You see, Timothy doesn’t really mean SL=RL: What Timothy wants, is to forget that he’s a fishmonger altogether and immerse himself as much as possible into his Second Life identity.

There’s another phrase, often seen in profiles that interests me… ‘Remember, there’s a real person behind the avatar’. It speaks volumes to me that anyone should feel the need to state this rather obvious fact and it makes me wonder whether we have here the complete opposite to Conan?

Does this kind of assertion mean that here is a person for whom their avatar is merely a point of connection – a means of engaging with others, so that they can be brought close enough to emotionally connect with the person sat at the computer screen? Again, you’re likely to see this in the profile of someone who presents in Second Life as a mythical creature or an animal but, in my experience, not so often in the profile of someone whose avatar resembles a ‘normal’ looking person. What is the message here? Could it be that the avatar’s appearance or their activities are an invitation to enquire further? Should the profile perhaps be saying… ‘There’s a person behind this avatar who is every bit as interesting and intriguing as the pixels you see before you’? I’m pretty sure that the sort of person who broadcasts this message would be far more open to sharing personal details than Conan ever would.

Let’s also consider the relationship that we have with our own avatar. I’ve heard people say that they ‘become’ their avatar when they are inworld, whilst others will impose a kind of psychological barrier and speak of being their avatar’s controller. Some of us refer to our virtual selves in the First Person, whilst others keep their distance and talk about their character as a completely separate entity in their own right: “Feral went snorkeling yesterday” – neither approach is necessarily wrong or right, it is purely a matter of how we wish to identify with our creation. In my experience, those of us who see our avatar in terms of ‘myself’ are less likely to be comfortable with alts, or even screen names and will prefer to keep their own primary identity within clearly defined boundaries, even to the extent that changing appearance and skin are not activities easily undertaken. Those who keep some sort of distance between their real life and Second Life identities however, tend to be more than happy to change at will and may have several alts that they employ whenever they feel the need.

I’ve only looked at the tip of a very large iceberg in this article – there’s a vast amount that can be discussed, analysed and theorised about on the subject of Second Life and identity and, personally, I find the whole matter fascinating and intriguing. Don’t let it bother you though: Second Life – for whatever reasons you are here – is primarily about exploration, learning and enjoyment… whoever, or whatever, you wish to be whilst doing those things is entirely your choice, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!

Zen and The Art Of Second Life

Posted on July 1, 2011

I’ve often thought that there’s something very zen-like about Second Life – this ‘world within a world’, that exists without materially existing.

For Second Life residents, the virtual world is in equilibrium with the real world – a harmonious existence, where the one world cannot exist without the other and yet both exist separately and distinctly, completely independent of the other. The two worlds are in a tension, at once pulling away from the other, whilst being drawn to the other at one and the same time – the ying of the one world completes a circle with the yang of the other.

I realise that there’s a danger when writing such esoteric stuff of losing not only the reader, but eventually oneself in a mishmash of ill-conceived quasi-philosophical mumbo-jumbo. So, rather than go rambling off on some obscure attempt to try to explain how Second Life is the path to enlightenment – whilst on the way, creating a gesture incorporating the sound of one hand clapping – I’ll constrain myself to just a few observations that serve to illustrate my could, conceivably, be my point. What you choose to make of them is, of course, entirely up to you!

The whole world within a prim

Here’s an enigma: The humble prim, a simple sphere at its most basic – like a miniature world – contains within in it the whole of Second Life. A few simple distortions, a change of size, a few textures applied here and there and it’s transformed into a wall, a door or a window. Prims become the clothing we wear and the world we build around us, both ‘natural’ and constructed. Yet, what has really changed? Any difference is merely cosmetic – it’s all just a change of appearance – in all practicality, nothing at all has really changed… our object is still only 1 prim, its original properties still exist, no matter how much we might have altered them… Remarkably, pretty much our whole virtual world is actually contained within that miniature world!

An economy built on nothing

Where does all the money go? That’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves, time and time again in the real world… No matter how hard we try, it disappears far too quickly; but there’s an altogether different angle to consider when it comes to Second Life. Even though real currency, of course, flows in and out of Second Life, real currency has little meaning within the virtual economy. We may be virtual millionaires, yet paupers in the real world and vice versa. No matter what, the majority of the money we make and spend inworld will return to exactly where it came: Second Life. There are no banks, no interest to be made or stock markets to invest in – in Second Life money simply moves around in a never-ending cycle. If we inject money into the economy from outside, there will be those taking it out into the real world, whilst in between, all that Linden cash really does have no meaning whatsoever in the real world… for all of its value, it is valueless.

An insubstantial reality

Perhaps the biggest conundrum of all is the nature of Second Life itself – a world that ceases to exist, the moment we log out and yet, continues to exist even without our presence. It is a world that, for us, is intermittent… available on demand, called into existence and terminated on a whim – yet whilst we are absent, it continues without us. Whilst we are abroad in our real world, people are visiting our homes and our shops in the virtual world, our prim dogs will bark and suns will rise and set with absolutely no regard to us. For us, at these times, the world of Second Life exists only in our memories and thoughts… but what sort of a world is this anyway? How real can a world of pixels and textures be? We cannot touch it, smell it, feel it or become physically part of it – yet, it is as real to us as the physical world in which we live and who is to say what becomes of the real world when we log in to our virtual lives?

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Here, at least in Second Life, is a question for which there is a definitive answer. The sound of one hand clapping is simply whatever we choose to make it – the answer lies only as far as our choice of sound file that will accompany our one-hand-clapping gesture.


Posted on July 8, 2011

I was recently passed a link to an article on the BBC website about recently published photographs of Andy Warhol. In these photo’s, Warhol plays with the viewer, changing his appearance through the use of clothing, make-up and wigs; the results are somewhat disconcerting. According to the article: ‘Then aged 53 and one of the most famous artists in the world, he was toying with his own identity and the notion of how changing your appearance could change the way you are seen by others.’ – there are quite obvious parallels here that can be drawn with Second Life.

Even to the most casual observer, it is quite clear that the overwhelming majority of Second Life residents tend to portray themselves as something quite different from the real world reality. This may not always be completely intentional – it takes a considerable investment in time and effort to create an avatar that shows even a passing resemblance to the real person behind it – and many are perfectly happy to accept that their online presence will only ever loosely resemble their real selves. Even so, a significant number of people will make carefully considered judgments about how they wish to appear in Second Life and will consciously decide to present themselves such that their appearance will influence the way in which they are perceived by others.

Stop for a moment to consider the way in which the natural world places such emphasis on subtle misdirection and fakery to achieve its ends… flowers that masquerade as insects; ruffs, manes and displays used by animals to impress and inspire fear; and mimicry for protection and self-gratification – so it should come as no surprise to find that we use Second Life in much the same way. Even though we’re perfectly aware that the majority of us are not endowed with bodies that bring gasps of admiration from those around us, once we’ve entered Second Life, a ‘regular’ body is a rare thing ideed. Although we know that standing 7 feet tall, with the ‘perfect’ build is nothing like the reality, that’s precisely how many of us choose to represent ourselves, and the way we portray ourselves alters the way in which we are perceived by others.

I find it very hard not to equate the avatars with whom I interact to the person behind them – unconsciously, my mind assumes that there are similarities between the two, even though I know that it’s highly unlikely. If your avatar is tall, dark and handsome, I’ll almost certainly imagine you as tall-ish, dark-ish and handsome-ish in real life. If your avatar has large boobs, long flowing hair and legs that go on forever, that will also be the mental image that I will have of the real you. Often it can be difficult to reconcile a real life photo in a profile, or a voice, with the pixels that are standing in front of us – the appearance has significantly influenced our perception of the real person. Of course, we may never be privy to a resident’s real life attributes and, that being the case, one of our primary means of identifying with them is through the physical attributes of their avatar.

Why should any of this matter? In short, it matters because even in a virtual world we unconsciously apply real life principles to virtual situations. Whether I like it or not, my behaviours will be influenced by the visual cues I’m given by those around me – if you’re dressed in a smart business suit, I’ll perceive you altogether differently than if I run across you barely dressed and covered head-to-toe in bling, or dressed in a black cloak, chalky skin and sporting fangs… the way in which your avatar presents itself will directly influence my reaction and the manner in which I interact with you. In the same way, I’ll see you very differently depending on whether you appear as a true-to-life, faithful representation of an everyday person or a 7 foot tall god/goddess… if this wasn’t the case then elaborate costumes and bodies wouldn’t form such an essential part of roleplay: Any old body or clothing would do for any situation – clearly, this isn’t the case and our minds need to have those essential visual clues in order to enter into the spirit of the game. Recently a Second Life friend of mine lost their hair, (as we all do from time-to-time!), not only did they look very different but there was also a remarkable change in the way I reacted to them. In an instant they were transformed from someone I felt comfortable with and easy to respect to a person that I might have difficulty taking seriously – someone I’d previously have laughed with was now someone I felt I could laugh at! I found that quite a disturbing experience: Appearances really do make a difference to the way we treat people.

In real life, if I want to intimidate you, I’ll hide inside a hoodie and carry a baseball bat; if I want to succeed at an interview, I’ll dress smartly and pay a visit to the hairdressers; if I want you to feel comfortable in my company, I’ll dress like you and match your body language – the same is true in Second Life. Some may consider this to be manipulative but mostly it is a completely natural and normal state of affairs – and we all do it. Warhol wanted to see how changing his appearance could change the way that others saw him – changing how we look is an incredibly powerful tool, not only in real life but equally – perhaps more so – in Second Life. So, next time you hit the ‘edit appearance’ tab, maybe you should spend a moment considering that you may also be editing the way in which people treat you and, ultimately, how you will be perceived in Second Life.

Link to BBC article – Photos show another side of Andy Warhol

The Times They Are a Changing

Posted on July 15, 2011

Is it my imagination, or are the demographics of Second Life changing? I’m seeing a quite definite shift in the new wave of residents, and I’m not altogether sure about how I feel about it!

On the one hand, we have the traditional Second Life resident, like you and I, for whom Second Life is primarily a diversion from the real world. Of course, there will always be elements of real life that we bring into Second Life; we may talk about the events of our everyday lives with our friends, for example, but by and large, Second Life isn’t particularly somewhere that we’ll bring real life into if we can help it.

On the other hand, we have a new generation of residents – the fruits of Linden Lab’s latest recruitment drive, nurtured by the expanding range of features that Second Life is developing – this alternative generation are people for whom Second Life is just another social network. We might call these particular residents the generation of Social Networking Or Twitter Socialites, (SNOTS, for brevity).

Let’s be fair, social networking has revolutionised the way individuals communicate and, whether we subscribe to it or not, the likes of Facebook and Myspace are not only here to stay but also form the mainstay of the way that many hundreds of thousands of people organise and share their lives today. These social networks have become a way of life for many of the people who are now becoming new residents of our virtual world and that, in conjunction with the efforts that Linden Lab are making towards integration of Second Life with these networks, inevitably has implications for all of us. Is it any wonder that the people who are becoming part of Second Life now might view it very differently to the more traditional way that we may be used to?

So, what are the outward symptoms of the SNOTS?

Chances are, they’ll have a telephone number name: FeralSmith7342, for example. Perhaps not as attractive as the names we’re more familiar with and perhaps without the character of some of the names we’ve bestowed upon ourselves but we’re not necessarily concentrating on creativity here – we’re concentrating on connectivity! SNOTS have two basic requirements for a name: a) It’s unique and simplistic; hence the numbers, and; b) It de-personalises the avatar but signposts the person behind it; so it’s quite likely you’ll see a real name incorporated into it.

SNOTS also have a habit of creating a profile that explicitly connects with the real person. Consequently, you can expect a real life photo – even in the Second Life section – and, beneath their beaming face, (which is probably the same one you’ll see on their Facebook homepage), they’re more than happy to tell you who they are, where they’re from, they’re age, e-mail and even telephone number.

Since Second Life, for SNOTS, is simply a fancy social network – another branch of the real world – there seems little point in laying down any real foundations in the virtual world. As a result, the average SNOTS’ profile will contain no picks, or indeed anything that might tie them to anything other than the real world. In a way, they are ghosts in the machine – a part of the whole, but somehow disconnected with their environment. There are some exceptions to this rule… These are the Business Opportunity Recruitment Entrepreneurial SNOTS, (BORES, in short), who view Second Life as a fertile ground for their business ventures. Usually these business ‘opportunities’ have little relevance to Second Life itself and involve the seeking of investors and participation in activities across the wider Web. BORES will have profiles that invite you to join their – usually obscure and unclear – master plan to get together a group of people that will harness the power of the internet in a revolutionary and yet undiscovered manner. BORES tend to TP into groups of people and offer unsolicited invitations to set up multiplex virtual cinemas, courtesy of YouTube, or perhaps tell you that they’re looking for people from all over the world to create the world’s biggest advertising company.

Both BORES and SNOTS tend to spk in txtspk 2U – rather annoying 4 most of U.

It’s not that I’m averse to change or that I have anything against social networking, neither am I going to attempt to argue that Second Life isn’t a social network in itself. I do, however, feel a pang of concern about the new ways in which Second Life is being both sold and perceived – I quite like to have my own little world to escape to, where I don’t have to be concerned about what’s happening in the real world, who’s doing what and who ‘likes’ my latest pithy missive – Second Life fills that role admirably and I can’t help but be just a little grouchy about the trends I’m starting to see develop around me.

Part of the Art

Posted on July 21, 2011

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t spend all of my time in Second Life having fun and chatting about nonsense – only most of the time! Now and again, I have been known to indulge in the odd spot of meaningful, intelligent and even intellectual conversation.

Take, for example, a recent conversation I had with a friend about art and artists: Not a subject that I’m particularly well qualified to commentate on but, nevertheless, one that I do have an interest in. I suppose that one of the difficulties with ‘serious’ discussions about art is that it can be difficult to be objective about such a subjective matter – a quality that some artists purposely use in the execution of their work. Consider Tracy Emin or Damien Hurst – artists whose work sparks controversy and debate, with critic and layperson alike questioning whether their creations even constitute art forms, whilst others will argue equally strongly about the artistic value of those same works. Whatever you might feel about their work, both these artists have succeeded in engaging our interest and stimulating our feelings – if the primary purpose of art is to provoke a reaction from the beholder – whether that be “ahhh” or”ugh!” – then these artists have been eminently successful.

If that wasn’t enough, our perception of even an individual piece of work can change, depending on the circumstances – the same picture on a sunny day can evoke a far different response when it is viewed in a cold, dark room so, in effect, our own presence and how we view the piece can itself contribute to how we perceive what we are observing. In the course of the conversation with my friend, I recalled the views of an artist I used to know – they created interactive art… pieces where the observer contributed to and became part of the installation, if only temporarily – effectively, the observer would become part of the artwork. Without elevating Second Life to the lofty heights of a ‘work of art’, (although I’m sure that there are those who would argue that to be the case), we find ourselves in a similar position once we enter the virtual world.

As we pore over our computer screens, watching events unfold in front of us, we naturally assume the role of observers and, of course, there’s an enormous wealth of eye-candy laid out for our perusal around every corner in Second Life. Just as in the real world, the artforms of Second Life vary wildly and not all will be to our taste – also, many of the things we see and experience were never intended to be viewed as art and yet they may still appeal to our artistic temperament, in much the same way that some examples of real world architecture can speak to us on both a practical and an artistically expressive level.

Nevertheless, Second Life is not primarily intended to be in any way a work of art – certainly we will find there is a significant amount of art, for art’s sake, within the virtual world and there is little difference in this art – presented through the medium of pixels – to that delivered through the medium of paint and canvas, photographic images, sculpture or any other more familiar medium. However we are far more than simply observers in this world: We are participants and, much as the way in which we interact withthe real world around can result in artistry – both intended and unintentional- so too can we expect artistry to emerge from our interaction with our ‘other’world. There is, however a subtle, yet significant difference – we have little choice over how we deal with the real world: We are compelled to be part of it and often we only have minimal control over our circumstances and environment.

Not so in Second Life – here we have almost unlimited control over every aspect of our virtual lives but, more importantly,our avatars are our projected selves; actively participating and shaping the world we inhabit. Not only that, but even those pixel representations of ‘us’ are also a canvas upon which we work our artistry, from our bodies to our clothing, we have little to constrain our creativity and our freedom of expression.

Unlike real life, the artistry of Second Life cannot be an abstraction – a representation of a reality that, if we choose to, we can touch and taste and explore… we will never be able to physically connect with the virtual world – it doesn’t truly exist. Consequently, those things of Second Life that we find aesthetically pleasing – whether we choose to acknowledge them as art or otherwise – can never truly be a representation of reality, because they are themselves the only ‘reality’ that can exist within the boundaries of Second Life… therefore, in Second Life, art is reality and vice versa.

It’s not the simplest of concepts to take onboard – and it is only a concept; I don’t expect anyone to embrace it necessarily. However I would suggest that we should possibly consider Second Life to be a form of art. If that is the case, however we may choose to describe it; interactive, participative, performance art, or whatever, then it means that each and every one of us – in the physical world – are the artists whilst, at one and the same time, we are also, unequivocally, as much a part of the artwork we have created as the paint that is daubed on the canvas by the painter’s brush.

You may, of course consider all this to be nonsense, but before you dismiss it outright, let’s return to the essence of art itself: It is completely subjective – one person’s art is another person’s trash – and I’d suggest that proposing Second Life and indeed, ourselves, to be an expression of art is no more radical than to say the same of a pile ofbricks or tyres, an unmade bed or a shark in formaldehyde.

Second Life (Fat Free)

Posted on July 29, 2011

Is Second Life a drag? Do all those options and preferences give you a headache? Have you ever wished that Second Life was simple, straightforward and user-friendly? Of course you have! – Well, fret no more, Second Life Lite (SLite) is about to burst on the scene!

SLite has been designed, (some might even say ‘thrown-together’), to take the very best bits of full fat Second Life, but without all the tiresome and confusing paraphernalia that we don’t really need. We’ve been given a special sneak preview of the Alpha release – and for our readers, here’s an exclusive review of the next generation Second Life:

Grid – The SLite Grid is simplicity itself: Basically, it’s just a flat, featureless square which instantly brings a number of benefits over the existing Grid. Landowners no longer have to waste hours terraforming their land any more, and there’s no need to muck about with sea levels, windlight settings or textures – everything is standard and non-editable. Complementing the simple landscape is an equally simple navigation system – every Sim on the Grid is listed in a single, large-format, scrolling sidebar; this simple innovation renders the current teleport system completely redundant. Simply select your destination from the (non-alphabetical) list and, with a single click, you’ve arrived at your destination. Brilliant!

Themes – SLite will no longer offer the ability to modify your avatar, with all that fiddling about and frustration it involves. The new system avatars will come ready-clothed – to change outfits, you’ll simply ‘wear’ a different standard avatar. This brings huge advantages… no hours wasted on trying to create the perfect body; no need to trudge through endless malls to find an outfit, (and therefore no need for residents to waste their time and go to the expense of creating clothing or setting up shops!). Instead, everyone can just get on with the serious business of enjoying the mad and crazy world of SLite.

Of course, you may want a bit of variety in the way you look and this is where ‘theme packs’ come into play. A mere $24.99 will purchase a theme pack, which will contain at least 3 themed avatars, (in male, female and furry versions), each in a different themed costume, themed accessories, a themed Linden Home and a free themed Linden bear. There’s a huge variety of themes to choose from, (currently 6, in all), which should be enough to keep everyone more than happy, including, ‘Harry Potter’; ‘Barney the Dinosaur’; ‘The Rolling Stones’, and; ‘Hairdresser’.

Turning to that other great frustration of Second Life – building and construction – SLite does away with building tools altogether. Every resident is allocated a free Linden home on registration, (although tier must still be paid), and every theme pack purchased allows you to replace your home with a themed home anything up to three times a year. Once again freeing you from the drudgery and complexities of content creation and thereby enhancing your overall SLite experience.

Communication – Communication has been simplified in SLite to allow practically anyone to communicate with others without any difficulty from day one. Private chat has been removed altogether, eliminating those confusing chat tabs and solving the embarrassing problem of typing in the wrong box. Group chat, however, has been enhanced and will now be the only method for group communication – group notices have been done away with too and instead will be sent via group chat, (and conveniently replicated in open chat and simultaneously sent by e-mail), doing away with the tiresome business of having to close dozens of group notices every time you log on.

Whilst on the subject of groups, SLite limits membership to just 5 groups – 40 is way too confusing – which groups you are a member of will be determined by the current theme pack you have installed. A further enhancement enables seamless Facebook and Twitter feed integration, which will provide realtime updates in open chat, keeping you fully up to speed with what’s happening in the real world.

Niceties – The system gestures have been upgraded to include some of the most popular expressions, including ‘HOO!’ (full screen version), ‘What is this place?’, ‘I crashed again’, and ‘I want to do teh sex!’. Avatar physics have been simplified, with only 3 settings – ‘Off’; ‘Completely unnoticeable’, and; ‘Blancmange on a trampoline’. You can also purchase a Lag Upgrade, which fully enables all the lag features of Second Life we’ve come to love, complete with automatic updates every time a new type of lag is developed – the upgrade is $14.50, but is a once-only payment.

Viewers – Again, simplification is the name of the game, SLite will only run on its own dedicated viewer and, for ease of support, it won’t run on any third party viewer. Installation is straightforward – although you should note that some knowledge of the Windows’ Registry Editor tool will be required (NB – Mac’s are not presently supported). Installation will automatically permanently delete any other viewers, all chat logs and anything you have in your inventory – so, if you want to retain any of these, you’d be wise to install SLite on a completely different machine to the one you currently use.

Our Verdict? SLite is bound to meet some opposition from the same sort of people who’ve resisted Viewer2, but if you want an easy-to-use, no-frills Second Life, with none of the pitfalls that customisation and complete freedom to control every aspect of your experience brings, (who wants that sort of freedom anyway?), then SLite is definitely the way forward!

[Disclaimer – SLite is complete fiction and any resemblance to any aspect of Second Life, now or in the future, is purely coincidental… if Linden Lab introduce anything remotely resembling SLite in future, please don’t blame me!]

All in the Mind

Posted on August 5, 2011

Staff writer Feral Mossrider has had to take a short break this week following a quite distressing incident with a temp rezzer and the contents of her entire inventory. All being well, she’ll be back next week. In the meantime, if anyone has a script that will enable clothing to be worn for more than 30 seconds, please let Feral know!

Close relative Dr Fearless Moonslider has once again stepped into the breach, with a follow upto his recent paper on Second Life induced medical conditions. This time he discusses some of the mental health issues endemic to Second Life…

Hello fellow seekers of knowledge! I had intended presenting this paper as a contender for the Nobel Prize for medicine, however when I was asked to again contribute to Moonletters, I naturally leapt at the chance – better than a Nobel Prize, any day!

Unlike those medical disorders that are peculiar only to Second Life, almost all the mental afflictions that can be observed in the virtual world have their real life counterparts, however the manner in which they are exhibited in SecondLife usually has its own distinct twist. Outlined below are some of the most common mental conditions that are endemic to the virtual world.

SL Paranoia: Perhaps the most prevalent of all conditions that can be observed in Second Life – mild cases of SLP can rapidly escalate to become a serious debilitating disorder, for which there is no known remedy. A typical case of SLP will base itself upon a resident’s conviction that they are being excluded from events taking place around them. Random pauses in IM conversations will be construed as signs that other conversations are taking place to which the resident is not a party; discovering a friend has an alt will be seen as evidence that things are being kept from the resident, or taking place ‘behind their back’ – in advanced cases, the resident will be convinced that all their friends either have, or are alts, simply to exclude them from the real fun that is happening all around them without their knowledge.

In its final stages, the sufferer will become convinced that everybody hates them and that every message, event and social gathering is a personal attack on them by everyone else in Second Life.

Hyperegotism: In many ways, the opposite of SLP, a hyperegotist will be completely convinced that everybody loves them and can’t get enough of them. This will be evidenced by the way in which they will invite themselves to, and then dominate, any social gathering – usually inappropriately – whereupon they will barrage all around them with IMs, monopolise group chat and have the only important opinion on any subject that might currently be the topic of discussion.

Although hypoegotists will always have something to say constantly in group chat – which will effectively swamp any other conversation going on – what is said is almost always total claptrap and will, in fact, turn everyone within listening distance into instant enemies, rather than the friends, (and possible sexual partners), that the sufferer believes them to be. Sufferers of this sad condition will also tend to pad out their meaningless conversations with equally meaningless gestures, often incorporating music, which does nothing other than infuriate all those around them.

SLychosis: A well documented condition where the sufferer finds themself suddenly incapable of distinguishing between Second Life and real life. Symptoms include trying to fly in real life; looking for items of clothing to wear to work that only exist in Second Life, and; giving your Second Life name when answering the phone.

In severe cases, there may be instances of ‘crossover’ – for example SLT will be used, unconsciously, to tell the time in real life and vice versa. In such cases, the sufferer would be well advised to limit their time spent in either real life or Second Life until things become clearer, (if they ever do!).

SL Schizophrenia: This commonly occurs when a resident has more alts than is strictly necessary. It is evidenced by feelings of utter confusion upon login, resulting in questions like: “Who am I?”; “What am I doing here?”, and; “Why is my friends’ list suddenly empty?”.

SL Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: A peculiar mental condition brought on by the sufferer’s physical stature. Typically, it will be experienced by residents with ‘normal’, real-world sized avatars who, when surrounded by ‘normal’, Second Life sized avatars will develop feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and tiny-ness. Such feelings may result in overly-developed defence mechanisms such as acerbic wit, caustic repartee and extreme competitiveness in Second Life pursuits. Eventually, the sufferer will become convinced that they are abnormal and will start to think that everything in Second Life, from poseballs to buildings has been purposely created with the express intention of making them feel small.

Alien Hand Syndrome: Although extremely rare in real life, this condition – where a sufferer’s hand or other body parts take on amind of their own – is very prevalent in Second Life.

AHS sufferers find they have no control over parts of their avatar, which constantly lands them in embarrassing or interesting situations, despite their every effort to avoid them. Any excuse that “It wasn’t me… My avatar acted of its own accord” or any attempt to blame lag or any other outside influence will generally be met with unbelief and scepticism until, eventually, the sufferer feels themself to be such a social pariah that they will instinctively avoid any interaction with other people.

These are the most common conditions that can afflict Second Life residents – there are a multitude of other, less well-document ailments that may also be encountered – however, with recognition, and proper care and rehabilitation, there’s no reason why any of these should pose a real obstacle to enjoying a happy and fulfilling Second Life. Indeed, there are practitioner within Second Life medical academia who would argue that some, if not all, of these conditions are actually a pre-requisite for getting the most out ofthe virtual world and should, in fact, be encouraged wherever possible!

Second Life Field Guide

Posted on August 12, 2011

The extraordinary diversity of lifestyles and approaches that people take to Second Life can occasionally lead to confusion and even embarrassment. Whilst we may feel perfectly at home amongst our usual circle of friends, a visit from a stranger whose interests are not at all within our normal experience can throw us into a bit of a quandary. We want to make them feel welcome and at home but we’re not sure how, and the last thing we want to do is come across as rude or ignorant.

That’s why I’ve come up with this handy field guide to the more common forms of Second Life that you may come across in your travels. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list and I don’t make any claims as to its accuracy, but you may find it useful for dealing with those more ‘esoteric’ moments, when faced with somebody with whom you share absolutely no common ground.

Noobs: Everybody’s favourite – noobs are characterised by their jerky movements, system avatars and tacky freebie clothes. Any noob not displaying these distinguishing characteristics is almost certainly an alt, even if they demonstrate other classic noobisms, such as banal questions, demanding money or free stuff, going into ‘edit appearance mode’ for no apparent reason and wanting to do “teh sex.”

There are two recommended approaches to take with noobs: The first being gentle guidance and education – some people even go so far as to provide a notecard to give away, with handy hints and tips, together with useful landmarks to decent freebie outlets – this is generally met with the response “What is this?”, after which the noob will never look again at what they’ve just received. You should be aware that if you give a noob anything, or even talk to them for any length of time, they will want to be your friend – you should discourage this: Remind them that friendships develop over time and that they should take the time to get to know people before asking for friendship… this is probably the best piece of advice you will ever give anybody.

The second, slightly more fun approach is to shoot them on sight!

Ancient noobs: A rare breed, but you never know when you might come across one – these will often demonstrate some of the outward signs of noobishness, yet without the inane questioning and more annoying qualities that most noobs instinctively display. Their profile will say they are at least 4 years old – an enigma that will be resolved if you spend the time to get to know them: Ancient Noobs will have rezzed a long time ago, spent a significant amount of time in Second Life and then, for some reason, stopped logging on… probably for a few years.

Consequently, ancient noobs are likely to be articulate, accomplished and knowledgeable about many aspects of Second Life, but will also be totally confused by the changes that have taken place since 2006. They speak a strange dialect and talk constantly about ‘camping’, ‘bot hunting’ and Sims that no longer exist. Ancient noobs are a fascinating species that are well worth befriending – however, don’t ever try to give them style tips or mock their appearance; they’ll sort themselves out, eventually.

Furries/Tinies/Nekos: Easily distinguished by their habit of looking like animals, although they may not necessarily be furry or, for that matter, any particularly recognisable animal species. The key to interacting with this type of avatar is to take your cues from them. If, for example, you’re approached by a shaggy fox, wearing top hat and tails, who tries to engage you in conversation about the state of the economy, it’s fairly safe to assume that they’re happy to interact with you in the same way as somebody without fur. If, however, you’re approached by a dog, who says ‘woof’ and rubs himself against your legs, with his tongue hanging out, it’s unlikely they’ll want to talk politics – try tickling them under the chin instead.

Tinies may often look like furries, only much smaller – it’s unlikely you’ll run into a tiny unless you happen to wander on to a tiny Sim; easily recognised by an overpowering sense of cuteness and whimsy. Tinies tend to be happy folk, although, despite their diminutive size, it would be well to try to keep on their good side – a tiny bite can be painful! The rules are quite simple – be respectful, try not to step on them, keep them away from water and, no matter how much they may plead, never, ever feed them after midnight! (I may be a little confused on some of these points!).

Nekos are an enigma, even to other nekos. The cat/human combination varies considerably as does the degree to which any catlike characteristics may be exhibited. Nekos originated from Japanese cosplay – which puzzles even the Japanese – and somehow found their way into Second Life, which is now a neko stronghold. It’s hard to know what to suggest when in the company of these catlike beings, although if you find your companion is arching their back, hissing and spitting at you, it’s a fair bet you’re doing something badly wrong. I suggest the best approach is to tread with caution and invest in a pocketful of Catnip.

Vampires: Second Life vampires form a whole sub-strata of society, with their own complex rules, hierarchies and affiliations – all of which are way too complex to even begin to cover here. There are basically two types of vampire you need to know about, unless you plan on becoming a vampire yourself: There’s the type that will bite you on sight, and the type that won’t bite you but, instead, will happily chat to you and explain all about the vampyric lifestyle. Unless you particularly enjoy being bitten, avoid the first type. If you happen to run into the second type and you don’t want to be bitten ever again, ask them for a garlic necklace, they’ll happily oblige. Vampires have their own particular style when it comes to dancing and hairstyles – don’t even try to imitate either, without first becoming a vampire yourself – you’ll just look very silly.

Role players: Whilst out of character, indistinguishable from you or I, other than a distinctly ‘interesting’ theme to their groups and a comprehensive set of ‘rules’ that will be outlined in their profile picks. Once they’re in-character, it’s another matter altogether. The golden rule to remember is that role players take what they do extremely seriously and they do not appreciate being interrupted in the middle of a battle/space-warp/orgy/routine by some plonker asking the way to the shops. Always remember, if someone is wearing a great big sword, it’s unlikely to be just for decoration!

Lindens: Everybody is convinced that one of their friends is a closet Linden – this is almost guaranteed to be the case, although it will never be the person you think it is, and they will never tell you if they are. If you ever meet a Linden in an official capacity they’ll do one of three things; a) ban you; b) ignore you, or c); give you a bear, (To be absolutely clear… that’s a ‘bear’, not a ‘beer’!). Don’t ever offer a friendship request to a Linden, (why on earth would you want to, anyway?), just in case they accept and then you’ll be stuck with the stigma for the rest of your life.

Ordinary people: Don’t be so daft – there’s no such thing!


Posted on August 19, 2011


There’s a vicious rumour going around that I don’t like noobs – nothing could be further from the truth… Why, every time I see a noob, I just want gather up those cute little noobish features in my arms and give them a lovely big squeeze. We were, after all, all noobs once – indeed some of us manage to hang on to the odd noobish trait well into maturity, (well, we like to think of it as maturity anyway!).

As we grow older and put aside our noobity, it becomes all too easy to sneer at those younger than ourselves, whilst wearing our superior expressions of disdain and thinking that we were surely never that bad, but be warned – it may be time to wipe that smug smile from our faces, for in my pursuit of the truth at any cost, this fearless reporter has stumbled across undeniable evidence that noobs are, in fact, the future of Second Life! They are better equipped and more able to deal with the rigors ofthe virtual world than we ever imagined and, in the struggle for ultimate survival, you may be surprised to find they are not the poor, weak, helpless creatures we imagine them to be. In fact, the evidence suggests that the longer you’ve been a resident and the more used to ‘home comforts’ you’ve become, the less capable of survival you are – against a day-old noob, you don’t stand a chance! Today, Moonletters can exclusively reveal my findings… may I introduce: Supernoob!

Supernoob is no pushover -beneath that awkward smile and cartoonish hair, despite the clumsy gait, charity shop clothes and “rampnt tpyos” there lurks an avatar superbly adapted to their environment and to the art of survival. Just as a tiger’s stripes – at first so gaudy and obvious – merge into the forest to hide the ferocious predator in the shadows, Supernoob’s apparent handicaps serve to cleverly disguise his hidden abilities to become master of the virtual world.

We may laugh at the clownish attempts to walk in a straight line, the clumsy negotiation of doorways and stairs and mock them as they career about the sky, on a collision course with buildings until crash-landing in a heap, but be warned… such buffoonery has a serious side: Supernoob’s apparent inability to master the basics of movement is actually a sophisticated and highly effective defence mechanism. Supernoob is faster, better and more agile than his older relatives: Don’t believe me? Then try catching one… while we stroll along with our expensive AO’s, Supernoobs prints off ahead in that funny jerky way, leaving us trailing in his wake. Don’t think being sneaky will help either – those ‘hilarious’ misjudged attempts to negotiate obstacles will defeat any ambush or trap we might set -Supernoob will never take the regular route and, instead, will bounce off doorways, fall off stairs and wander about in a totally random fashion in a manner guaranteed to give any of our feeble attempts to capture him the slip.

Supernoob is also astonishingly well equipped to deal with any situation. Whilst we may moan about our bloated inventories, they pale into comparison when compared with Supernoob’s repository. All that time we spend organising and clearing out the trash leaves us with clean, organised and tidy wardrobes, full of clothing and hair -Supernoob, on the other hand, is constantly grabbing anything and everything he can lay his hands on… weapons, vehicles, avatars – you name it, he has it, and he’s not afraid to use it, either. Whilst we fumble our way through our neatly laid out folders, desperately trying to locate something to protect ourselves with, Supernoob can click just about anywhere in the clutter of their own inventory and whip out a melon launcher or banana cannon at a moment’s notice.

Not only does Supernoob have the advantage when it comes to weaponry, but he is built for combat. That tattooed-on hair, painted on clothing and those clumpy shoes may look to be the poor relation to our own attire but, when every moment counts, Supernoob is designed to be every bit the lean, mean fighting machine; and he is able to use that most destructive weapon of all – lag – to achieve victory. We may look the part, but all those re-size scripts hidden away in our hair, shoes and clothing make us as sluggish as a slug, slugging its way through a slug of treacle and, while we’re being lagged into the middle of next week, Supernoob can pick us off at leisure, before sprinting off across the next Sim boundaryand teleporting away faster than we could even contemplate ourselves.

Supernoob is by nature a magpie and an opportunist: He will take anything and everything in his path, (provided it’s free!), whilst leaving evidence of his passing wherever he goes. If you come home to find a block of flats in your living room, a tree house in the street and empty boxes scattered in every corner, you can be sure you’ve had a visit from Supernoob. His strategy is simple – leave enough things in enough places and some of it is bound to be either assumed to rightly belong there, or will never be discovered by the landowner – he can then set up home, rent free: A suitable base for the foundation of his new empire. Supernoob has no need ofmoney, therefore no need to spend time labouring – he can dedicate himself entirely to self-promotion.

Supernoob’s character may jar the more sensitive of us; he may come across as crass, insensitive and arrogant – this is all part of the plan. Supernoob will not waste time on niceties but will instantly ask for your friendship, which you will find difficult to refuse. Once ensconced in your friends list, he will start to make ever increasing demands on you which, as his friend, you will feel obliged to succumb to. Many conversations with Supernoob will begin, ‘I want…’; ‘I need…”;”Give me…”; and, “What is this place?” – this last question is indicative of Supernoob’s insatiable thirst for knowledge: Knowledge, after all, is power. Many people may find Supernoob to be rude and intrusive – this is perfectly true – consequently, he has evolved a much thicker skin than his older counterparts, (several pixels thicker, in fact). This enables him to teleport into the middle of a social gathering, ignore those around him and talk over any conversations that may be going on, all the time making demands for freebies, money and sex, with complete impunity and without any sign of remorse. This not-so-subtle display of power will guarantee that he is the centre of attention – even if you try to ignore him, you’ll be constantly aware of his presence, dominating the proceedings. In one final derogatory assault on our sensibilities, Supernoob will then leave as suddenly as he arrived, usually departing with a caustic comment; a final blow that leaves us feeling inadequate and used – exactly the effect he desires.

Supernoob’s greatest triumph is the manner in which he has fooled us for so long, lulling us into a false sense of security. ‘Awww; poor noob… can’t even walk straight’, we think to ourselves, when all along, his greatest strength has lain in convincing us how weak and helpless he is.

Beware the noob -he’s not what he seems!

What’s in a Name?

Posted on August 26, 2011

The etymology of names is a fascinating and intriguing subject that leads there searcher into ever-wider fields of discovery. Personal names may be historical derivations of trades; such as ‘Smith’ or ‘Hooper’, may be based on locations; ‘Brooklyn’, for example or could even relate to somebody’s personal attributes; perhaps ‘Little’ or ‘Gaunt’. Names can be corruptions of all sorts of terms and variations on a theme – and that’s just in Western cultures! In fact, naming conventions are intrinsic to a vast number of cultures: A person’s name can reflect their heritage, position in society, when they were born or even which child of the family they are!

Names too, need not be fixed – many people choose to change their given names and, with the advent of the internet and e-mail, most people will be known by a whole range of different aliases and identities too… which brings us to Second Life.

It’s only comparatively recently that Second Life has offered new residents the option to devise their full name, ending the frustration that so many endured for yearsof finding a suitable system-allocated second name that they could relate to. This, in turn has created a whole new area of frustration – that of trying to come up with a unique single-word name that conveys what we want to say about ourselves and, it has to be said, some residents have done so with far more success than others.

It may seem a small consideration to those outside of Second Life, but our user names are a big deal – not only are they our unique identity, but we use them to express our character and say something about who we are. Choosing a name is fraught with difficulty: A name that might seem quirky and fun when we sign up to Second Life may well become something we, and our friends grow to rue as time goes by – of course, by then, there’s nothing that can be done about it. As a noob we may think it’s hilarious to be known asIvorBigUnAndImNotAfraidToUseIt123456789 Resident, but the novelty will soon wear off, as the embarrassment factor grows exponentially. Equally, incorporating a clever key combination, numbers instead of letters or Unicode characters into your name is just plain irritating for anyone who attempts to spell it and is best avoided, unless you really do enjoy winding people up.

I’ve said before that Second Life residents are a creative bunch – this is particularly evident when it comes to the names by which we elect to be known. There are some avatars whose brilliantly descriptive and evocative names tell you as much about their owner as a whole page of text would do. Compare these to some of the more impersonal appellations that have started to proliferate in Second Life -particularly since the introduction of single-word names – which can more closely resemble e-mail addresses than individual identities and contribute little towards creating character and depth for the resident employing them. It would seem reasonable to assume that, just as creative and descriptive names can tell us much about the avatar, can the naming convention adopted by a resident also tell us something about the nature of the person?

Does, for example, a well-crafted name that has quite obviously taken much thought and consideration reflect the person who chose it? Would it be fair to assume that the same level of detail and thought would have been given to the avatar also… to the character, the style and the way the person is portrayed? In short, a person to whom Second Life represents an extension of their experience and personality – even if the Second Life presence is actually completely different to the real world persona? And is the opposite also true… does a name that appears to have been chosen purely for utility and convenience suggest a person behind the avatar for whom Second Life is just a game or another means of networking? Which is more honest and which is more appropriate to a virtual world is an argument to which there are no hard and fast answers – we will all have our opinion but it will, in no way, be the definitive one: Like so many other aspects of Second Life, the name by which we choose to be known can be a powerful thing – it may mirror our soul or equally, be a smokescreen behind which we can hide; it can endear us to those around us, or create distance; provide a welcome or a warning. Our name can invite enquiry or create a wall between us and others, we can even use it to provoke or mislead… who would expect Lemondrop Butterbean to be ablood thirsty slayer, or Megadeath Blacknight to be a fan of breedable kittens… such is the power at our command!

Our names wield power over us, the very people who’ve created them, also: In much the same way that anthropomorphism of a cartoon animal – turning, for example, a skunk into a womanising Frenchman -enables us to both relate to and connect with the character they represent, so too our names provide a bridge from the real world of our flesh and blood bodies into the pixellated forms of our avatars. They enable us to see the character we have created in terms of a ‘person’ – that character on the screen changes from a computer-rendered sprite into a ‘being’: It’s not pixels, it’s Persephone Bluebird, and not only in the eyes of ‘her’ creator, but also to all those ‘she’ comes into contact with. In creating identities for our virtual selves – which are us, and yet can be very different – we no longer think in terms of ‘what are we doing on that screen’, but instead in terms of ‘what is she doing’. In effect, we create our own 4-inch Frankenstein’s monster and imbue it with its own life, through the bestowing of a real and tangible identity.

In this fashion, it’s possible to live vicariously through our avatar – experiencing, sharing and interacting as he or she would; our real bodies relegated to passive observers, watching our creations enjoy their world, of which we can never really play any physical part.

What’s in a name? Surely it is that indefinable, yet infinitely precious concept of ‘self’?- the very essence of who we, and maybe even our creations, really are.

Identity Theft

Posted on September 2, 2011

Funny things happen all the time in Second Life – when people gather together allsorts of mayhem can ensue. Recently, I was a at a gathering where one of the group sprang a little surprise… they suddenly appeared as one of the other people present. Dressed in similar attire and sporting a distinctive trademark hairstyle, this person managed to pull off a surprisingly passable attempt at becoming their willing victim’s twin! In the conversation that followed, the mimicker commented about how simple it is to commit identity theft in Second Life, which got me thinking.

Is it really that simple to ‘steal’ someone’s virtual identity and, in doing so, masquerade as their double? I’m not talking about taking control of somebody’s account, rather I’m thinking of attempting to create to ‘clone’ somebody’s avatar -taking on their appearance, attributes and behaviours. When you consider all the possible variables this would entail, it’s not so easy as it might first appear. Certainly, we might stand a chance of finding the right body shape and skin but then it all becomes horribly complicated. Even the most recent convert to Second Life has the ability to change their appearanceand make themselves a completely unique avatar through the simple expedient of a few minutes experimentation with ‘edit appearance’. In this way, even the most popular of shapes and most widely available skins can be changed beyond all recognition and, without knowing the precise slider settings, any attempt at imitation is going to have to rely on, at best, educated guesswork.

So, it maybe technically possible, but the practicalities are such that you have wonder why on earth anybody would want to go to that much time and effort, just to resemble somebody else. Having said that, I’m not entirely sure how I’d feel if I was to discover that I had a twin masquerading as myself; I’d certainly feel bemused and perhaps more than a little freaked out – I’d certainly be questioning their motives for doing so.

The chances of it happening, however, are pretty negligible and, unlike the real world, identity theft in Second Life isn’t quite the big deal that it might be; at least, that’s what you’d imagine. I’ve been somewhat surprised recently to discover recently that our Linden overlords are actually rather touchy about virtual identity theft and consider it to be as serious an issue as breaching intellectual property rights. I’m not talking about the obvious issue about ordinary residents pretending to be Lindens either – that is, quite rightly, something that has never been tolerated – the particular point in question has come to a head with the implementation of mesh.

You may not be aware that Linden Lab won’t permit anyone to upload a mesh object into Second Life, without first registering with them to do so – the registration process requires completion of a short ‘tutorial’. The tutorial, which is simply a short series of questions deals, quite sensibly, with the issues of intellectual property rights, making it emphatically clear that it is forbidden to create meshes that resemble characters from television and movies, on the basis that such characters may be copyrighted in much the same way that logos and slogans are.

You may argue that to be a fair point but, in my mind, it’s an area frought with difficulty. Let us say that I create a male mesh avatar whom I intend to be a hit with the women… and, in order to compound his appeal, I create him with a little mesh kiss-curl in the middle of his forehead – nothing at all wrong with that, until somebody decides to dress him up in a red cape and Superman shirt. Do I then fall foul of intellectual property laws for daring to create and upload a naked Superman avatar?

Or what about my mesh schoolboy geek avatar? If some clever so and so should happen to equip him with a pair of glasses and a lightning scar tattoo, am I then guilty of infringing Harry Potter copyright? In fact, even without mesh, it’s pretty simple for just about anyone to jeopardise their account, simply by modifying their avatar in a way that could conceivably be construed as copyright infringement. I can’t help but wonder whether you’d be treated with equal distain if you created a three foot high, pot-bellied avatar and and happened to call him ‘Superman’, despite the fact that he might bear no resemblance at all to the character – would the simple act of ironically calling him by that character’s name cause me to fall foul of the rules (even if I gave him away free and had no intention of making a penny from him)?

However, it gets worse… Linden Labs’ tutorial at times borders on the paranoid: The Lindens are at pains to makes it very clear that – quite apart from their copyrighted characterisations – film stars and such like may have intellectual property rights over their own appearance. Yes, you heard me right – you’d think God, or some other deity, or at the very least, their plastic surgeon would own those particular rights, but apparently not. Consequently, if I should happen to create an avatar that resembles my favourite film star, (how close the resemblance needs to be is unclear), then once again, I could find myself in hot water.

This, of course, is bordering on the patently ridiculous – can you imagine a film starsuing someone in the real world because they happened to look similar to them, or even dressed like them and pretended to be one of their characters, (and,let’s face it, if you wanted to call yourself William Shatner in real life, you’re going to dress up in Star Trek uniforms… you’re not going to attempt to pass yourself off as anything resembling the ‘real’ everyday Shatner!). If that was to happen, every Trekkie convention would be a goldmine of litigation and George Lucas would be rubbing his hands with glee every time 6-year old child unpacked their Darth Vader costume for an afternoon fighting the Resistance, (this particular ‘Resistance’ being the snotty-nosed kids from across the road!). Imitation, is apparently the sincerest form of flattery – but not if you’re in Second Life: In fact, imitation in Second Life could well be considered a criminal offence!

It all seems just a little bit unreasonable to me. Nobody’s reputation is going to be damaged by the actions of an avatar that looks like them in Second Life and, with the best will in the world, even the greatest virtual entrepreneur is going to struggle to make any sort of living out of selling virtual Bruce Willis lookalikes, or are people getting so precious about their over-inflated opinions of themselves that they think that any rendition in their image – even thought it may be tethered to the virtual world of Second Life and is non-transferable – is worth some form of recompense from their fans and supporters – what complete and utter nonsense! If that is indeed the reality of the situation then perhaps it’s high time I started hunting down all those Feral Mossrider lookalikes in the real world and demanding they pay up for the privilege of looking vaguely like me!

There is another way of looking at the whole sordid affair… I happen to think that Linden Lab, (and possibly the whole of the fat-cat-copyright-lawyer world too), have a completely flawed basic premise. If anything, since all content in Second Life is user-created content, then surely it is those content creators who own the intellectual rights over their unique creations? If there was any justice in the virtual world, we’d be able to take film stars to the cleaners for having the temerity to resemble our creations! Now there’s something for the lawyers to mull over!

In Search of Spirituality

Posted on September 9, 2011

Assistant Editor Paypabak Writer’s article earlier this week, exploring some of the offerings that Second Life proffers for those of us seeking to feed the soul and find enlightenment, prompted my thoughts towards one of those areas I would normally avoid writing about.

It’s not that I personally have any axe to grind when it comes to faith, spirituality or beliefs, rather it’s a subject I tend to avoid discussing in the public arena because it can be rather divisive and opinionated. If nothing else, people can hold strong beliefs about what they believe – and rightly so – and unfortunately, when it comes to ultimate and universal truths, there are no universally acceptable answers.

However, those things aside, there remain underlying questions which share a commonality across all of those areas in the virtual world that could be considered as pertaining to spirituality. In a nutshell, does Second Life have any legitimacy in a person’s spiritual journey?

Certainly, the wide variety of Sims, groups and places in Second Life with a spiritual flavour would seem to suggest that there’s a fair bit on offer to those who wish to get in touch with this aspect of their life – however, it’s never wise to simply take things of this nature at face value. The serious seeker really should question the intended purpose of the places or groups they are interested in, before committing themselves to anything. Just as in the real world, it is wise to understand exactly what one is dealing with, if only to ensure that it’s going to meet one’s own, individual needs. I’m not implying that there is necessarily any danger inherent in finding our needs have been mis-matched with what is available from the source to which we go to meet them, however it does mean that the chances of having our needs satisfied diminishes, whilst the likelihood of disappointment and disillusionment increases, if we fail to find what we are looking for in that particular place.

So, what are the questions we should be asking? Firstly, we need to ask ourselves what exactly are we seeking: guidance; teaching; understanding; fellowship; a divine presence; inner peace…? Perhaps that, in itself, is a question we’re unable to answer – often the search for spirituality is a quest to fill an indefinable gap in our lives – however, having some sort of handle on what it is we are looking for provides us with a basis for asking the next -critically important – questions relating to the specific places that we go to in order to have those needs met.

If I may draw some parallels here: We wouldn’t go a library to buy books, since we understand that a library’s primary purpose is to provide us with access to a whole range of publications on a borrowed basis – we dip in and out at will, but our level of commitment is very much on our own terms. We may stay for an afternoon’s reading, or we might borrow a book or two for a few weeks, before returning them and moving on to a fresh selection. However, we can’t necessarily apply the same principles wherever we find books… should we attempt to try and borrow a book from a bookstore, we’ll have little success and are likely to experience a rather negative reaction! Here, we’re expected to make our choice and make a personal investment, following which, our book of choice becomes our own property. The bookstore’s ethos is very different from that of the library; they are in the business of selling books and their success is measured on the number of volumes sold.

Similarly, in Second Life, as in the real world, sources of spiritual enlightenment – if I may call them such – may have widely differing agendas, and it is very much in our interests to ensure that wherever we may go to find spiritual sustenance also has an agenda that is matched to our needs. We need to be sure we are not misled or that we misinterpret what is being offered – we should be prepared to ask a few straightforward questions about the group, place or individual that we are approaching. Primarily, we should be asking what is their purpose? – Are they, for example, a source of information, or a teaching organisation and do they instruct and offer guidance? What is their philosophy – is it one that requires a tangible commitment from us? Is it restrictive, open or does it allow complete freedom to choose our own ‘way’? Do they merely offer a ‘service’, such as a place to meditate and reflect and, if so, what is the focus of their intent? Only by finding the answers to these questions can we be sure that we are getting what we are looking for and any legitimate source will, I’m sure, be more than happy to answer all your questions.

There is another question we need to consider which is not so easily answered because it calls into question the fundamental validity of Second Life as a spiritual medium. It is a question that applies on two levels, both personal and in respect of where we seek to find our spiritual experience. Simply put, is what we are seeking intended to transcend Second Life and have meaning in our real lives?

If we have no intention of carrying Second Life spirituality into our real lives and wish to keep it permanently within the virtual world, then we are essentially only roleplaying – this, to some, may be considered inappropriate and offensive, but it can be argued that it is no more inappropriate than roleplaying at being pregnant or any one of a number of accepted inworld practices. In this scenario, it is incumbent upon the roleplayer to ensure that what they are doing is in tune with those they share their ‘spirituality’ with – there is potential for conflict, for example, if you become a Second Life Buddhist because the robes look good on your avatar, and you then join a group for whose members Buddhism represents a complete way of life. Then there are those who really are seeking eternal or spiritual truths – this surely begs the question, what is there to be found in Second Life that cannot be discovered in a more tangible form in real life? Surely our first port of call should be to tap in to real experiences and the reality of following a spiritual doctrine, or path of discovery within the real world, than something that resembles it inworld. Isn’t this akin to trying to become a follower of Islam by reading books on the subject, for example? There’s also a very real potential for developing a split ‘spiritual personality’ – if, for instance, we follow Hindu principles inworld but we struggle to apply them conscientiously within the real world – how does this sit with our quest for spiritual peace?

These are areas we really need to consider before even considering Second Life as a vehicle for spiritual enlightenment, which is not so say that the virtual world is incapable of meeting our spiritual needs. Those who have questions of a philosophical, religious or spiritual nature can find ample opportunity to discuss and debate with others inworld. Similarly, those who in the real world find themselves disenfranchised, out on a limb or simply find it difficult to connect with more traditional or institutionalised forms of spirituality can find greater freedom and latitude within Second Life than perhaps they are able to outside the virual world, permitting them the opportunity to develop in ways that they may otherwise be denied. Then there is the simple act of engaging inworld with others who are of a like mind and all that is to be gained from sharing experiences, giving support and providing encouragement and insight, which can serve to build faith and aidus on our journey.

I am certain that – whatever means we choose to find it – the truth is out there,however I’d urge caution if we expect to find it lurking somewhere in Second Life. Certainly there are elements of Second Life that can nurture our spiritual nature but the virtual world is only a part of who we are and can never hold all the answers.

Here Be Dragons

Posted on September 16, 2011

Whether we choose to admit it or not, there’s a part in most of us that wants to believe in the fantastic and magical. Whether it’s dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies or mythical creatures, in some small way we’d like them to be real. A quick glance at publishers’ bestsellers lists or a rundown of the top movies from recent years serves to confirm that myth and fantasy are big sellers and have a huge fan base.

As children we have no problem believing in fairies, monsters and magic but as we grow up we realise that such things are the stuff of fantasy and imagination and really have nothing to do with the way the world works. We make sure that’s where they stay too… we relegate them to story books and films and, for the most part, those who do stubbornly cling to the belief that such things may exist – the crypto-zoologists and fantasists – are kept firmly in their place, dismissed as cranks and crackpots; marginalised to the edges of polite society. Of course, we try keep an open mind, just in case… Maybe Nessie really does swim in the peaty depths of Loch Ness, but we wouldn’t want to stake our reputations on it.

That’s us – stable, reliable and down to earth, but just watch us the minute welog in to Second Life

Once we leave the confines of the real world, we’re suddenly more than happy to let our imaginations run completely wild and embrace the weird and wonderful. Once we’ve changed into our pixels a magical transformation takes place, no longer are we the cynical, matter-of-fact individuals that keep our feet firmly planted on the ground at all times…. Suddenly the rules have changed and all those childhood thoughts and memories that we so safely keep hidden from the world at large begin to come to the surface and run amok. Placed in an environment where we can be what we want, we let our imaginations run riot and embrace the unlikely: Monsters, werewolves, vampires and dragons… You name it, we’ll be it, and nobody blinks an eye.

It’s not only the extent to which we’re prepared to let ourselves go, but also the way in which we accept the most fantastical manifestations in a completely matter of fact way that surprises me. Should we happen to run into a zombie whilst we’re shopping for socks, we take it in our stride; we chat casually with the fauns and fairies on the dance floor, treating them no differently to the more prosaic forms of avatar around them and, if we happen to run into a giant, fire-breathing dragon as we walk down the street, we’re more likely to stop and pass the time of day with them, than run away screaming.

Could it be that the virtual world allows us to ‘switch off’ the rational, common sense portion of our mindsthat we feel the need to bring to the fore in the real world, allowing us the freedom to suspend disbelief completely once we log in to Second Life? I’m sure it’s not a conscious decision – we don’t ‘decide’ when we log in that we are going to indulge our suppressed childhood desire to be a unicorn or horned demon – it just happens, as our minds suddenly find themselves unleashed in aworld where nothing is impossible and magic can – and does -happen routinely.

Second Life removes the barrier that the real world imposes – the one that says, ‘The impossible cannot happen here’ and, by removing that barrier, it also removes the stigma ofplaying out our fantasies. In a world where ‘dressing up’, roleplay and fantasy are perfectly respectable and normal pursuits, which co-exist amongst more mundane activities, we have the freedom not simply to be ourselves, but also to be whoever and whatever we have always dreamed of.

All too often in everyday life, an interest in the more esoteric, and perhaps imaginary, things of the world is considered something to be kept behind closed doors at best – at worst, we think of such interests as unhealthy, perturbing and as signs that perhaps we are not ‘all there’; yet, it is these very avenues of thought that have produced some of the great classics of literature, cinema, art and popular culture. There was a time, not so long ago, when a fertile and wide-ranging imagination would have been considered something to be encouraged and nurtured- in the modern world, it seems that to admit to being a free-thinker of this sort is to be marginalised and derided; what effects this may have on our society is perhaps worth considering. People will always have feelings, aspirations and desires that the real world will be unable to satisfy – if we ever get to a stage where living in a fantasy world, populated with the incredible and fantastic is considered an aberration, to be avoided and frowned upon, then how will we satisfy our imagination’s needs?

Human nature is such that we have always needed to escape the mundanity of real life and indulge ourselves in a fantasy world of our own creation. Second Life is no substitute for a fertile imagination but it does prove that we’re not alone in needing to escape- more importantly, it reminds us that there is nothing wrong with living in a fantasy world and that it is perfectly possible for worlds, both real and imaginary to co-exist, happily, side-by-side.

Community Spirit

Posted on September 23, 2011

It was always better in the ‘good old days’ – at least, that’s how it always seems when we start reminiscing and thinking about the past. Put a bunch of people of a certain age together in a relaxed social setting, perhaps with a little liquid lubricant and it won’t be long before the topic of conversation turns to how times have changed…

Ah, those were the days – a time when everyone was everybody else’s neighbour, your front door was always open, children played in the street and respected their elders and a good night out was an evening at the ‘local’, singing songs around the honky tonk piano. Yes, those were the good times, we sigh, a time when we had a real sense of community… not like today.

Before we get all dewy-eyed and nostalgic, I’m well aware that the ‘good old days’ were rarely as good as we tend remember them but you can’t deny that, as a rule, our sense of community has somehow become, if not lost completely, rather watered down over the years. These days we don’t leave our doors open, we double-lock them and leave our lights on; the neighbours don’t pop round for a natter and a cuppa – in fact, many of us barely know who are neighbours are, and we’re nowhere near as gregarious as we once were, preferring our own tight-knit groups over the company of those from the wider community.

I’m not qualified to say whether the way that society is changing is a good thing or not, and I’m no social engineer with all the answers at my fingertips, but I would suggest that if you want to see a true sense of community in action, you could do worse than consider how people interact in Second Life.

Our virtual community seems to embrace many of the qualities that the ‘old-fashioned’ communities of the real world considered to be important. Second Life draws people together, through groups, shared activities and interests, and the localities that people call ‘home’. In doing so, it encourages us to interact in a way that we seem to have lost the knack of in the real world –through conversation, recreational activities and simply spending time in each others’ company. The greater degree of separation that the virtual world imposes upon people means that if we want to get to know one another, we have to ask questions, be prepared to share about ourselves and, in short, show a real interest in each other. Unlike the physical world, we don’t have reliable visual, contextual or social clues that can inform us about those we share the virtual world with and so, the only real way in which we can become close is to show a genuine interest in one another’s lives. This ultimately requires a degree of trust – to disclose information to others about our real selves is an act of trust and to be the privileged recipient of such information requires us to be trustworthy: In Second Life, an even greater degree of trust and trustworthiness is needed – we are, after all, dealing with people whom we may never see, speak to, or ever spend time with in a real-life context.

Perhaps it’s that degree of trust that’s missing from real world society today and that is maybe one of the root causes of the breakdown of communities and community spirit – we don’t leave doors open because we don’t trust people; we don’t speak to our neighbours because we don’t want to entrust them with knowing our business; and, we avert our eyes in the street as strangers pass, because we are suspicious of their motives. Many of us will admit, for example, to feeling threatened when a total stranger wishes us good day, causing us to look suspiciously back over our shoulder, after they’ve passed.

Yet community spirit is alive and well, indeed thriving, in Second Life… here, it’s second nature to say ‘hello’ to complete strangers and to turn up in the midst of a group of people we don’t know and feel that we can join in. There’s a strong sense of community too in those places that residents have set up home –we look out for each other, worry when people fail to log in and we show our concern about those who are sick or in difficulty – when, perhaps we might not even notice in the real world. When there are problems in Second Life, we rally together, we help those in need with their questions and we give freely out of our resources to encourage and support each other; whether it’s tipping the DJ or handing out gifts to noobs – it just comes naturally.

In Second Life, we take a pride in our communities in ways that seem to elude us in the real world – we support events, work towards the common good and, wherever possible, we make the effort to spend time with one another – not just at social events, but also by opening up our homes and simply taking time to be in each other’s company – getting to know one another better.

It seems that Second Life contradicts the usual contention that the internet and computer ‘games’ are isolating and promote anti-social behaviour – in my experience, quite the opposite is true – Second Life encourages community spirit, develops social and interpersonal skills and promotes trust between people… that can’t be a bad thing.

Mark my words these are the ‘good old days’, so let’s enjoy them and make the most of the time we have with our friends, neighbours and communities – perhaps we virtual residents have a few things we can teach the real world about community spirit?

Banned Books

Posted on September 30, 2011

It was surprisingly challenging to come up with a book to write about for Banned Books Week – not because it’s difficult to find suitable books, but for quite the opposite reason!

The number of books that have been banned or found themselves on the wrong end of censorship is staggering – and that’s just counting the ones on the American and UK library lists. Worldwide, there must be hundreds of works that for one reason or another have fallen foul of the establishment. Everything from Shakespeare and classic works, through to children’s favourites have caused raised hackles including, most ironically, Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit451′ – the main theme of which is the censorship of books!

With so many to choose from, selecting just one proved impossible; so, I’ve chosen two very different novels – although both deal with the same subject, albeit from differing perspectives. I think that both also have relevance to Second Life, since both deal with the question of society and moral codes.

William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a disturbing and believable account of a group of young boys, marooned on an island when their plane crashes. Faced with the reality of surviving in an alien environment, without the stabilising influence of adults, the boys define their own version of society. The initial team spirit, practicality and concern for the weaker among them degenerates into tribalism, superstition and ‘survival of the fittest’, with horrifying and shocking outcomes. Anarchy reigns supreme and the voice of reason falls victim to resentment, marginalisation and, ultimately, is overwhelmed.

In contrast, in ‘Brave New World’, Aldous Huxley presents us with his nightmare vision of a world so rigidly governed and orchestrated that freedom of choice effectively no longer exists. Absolute control over morality, birth, life and death falls to the state – one’s role in life is predetermined in the test tube, societal norms are indoctrinated from birth and enforced through state manipulation of consumerism, drugs, procreation and religion. The rights of the individual are unimportant; people are resources, whose purpose in life is to be productive, to consume and to be shared for the common good.

I found it interesting that, along with some of the usual reasons that novels have been banned – sex, profanity, racism and political inference – Lord of the Flies was also challenged on the grounds that it was “demoralizing in as much as it implies that man is little more than an animal”. This statement seems to suggest that, even in the most novel of circumstances, human nature is capable of adhering to a higher moral code, rather than descending into anarchy and bestial behaviour – a sentiment that is expressed in the book; voiced by the naval officer at its conclusion, when the boys are rescued. Anyone who witnessed the events of the recent riots in the UK will know that this is not so.

The book has resonance with some aspects of Second Life – in many ways, the virtual world is isolated from society in general and its residents have free reign to create their own worlds, complete with moral and ethical codes that may deviate from those of the real world. Unsurprisingly, it is not difficult to find examples of tribalism, controlling and manipulative behaviour and even superstition in Second Life, however it is rare to come across outright organised anarchic behaviour. Certainly we’ll find the odd griefer and example of antisocial activity from time to time, but these are in the minority and rarely cause any real concern. On the face of it, there seems no real reason why Second Life society remains stable and manages to avoid the descent into anarchy and destruction – something that, in real life, we’re unable to guarantee in every circumstance.

I think there’s a simple reason for the anomaly – although Second Life is in effect an ‘island’, it is still connected to the mainland of the real world through our real presence. Neither are we prisoners in Second Life, we have the freedom to leave whenever we wish and the freedom to go wherever we want on the Grid at any time. In this way, we are constantly exposed to diversity and change, and our awareness of ‘community’ develops. Unlike the boys, left alone to their own devices and having to fend for themselves, as best they can – we are never alone and are unlikely to lose touch with the wider community of Second Life: A community which nurtures and sustains us, but also provides a point of reference and stability whenever we may need it.

Turning to Brave New World, there are many synergies to be found between the challenges raised against the book and Second Life society. However, for the sake of brevity, I intend to consider just one – perhaps an unusual choice, too!

Brave New World received numerous bannings for its portrayal of sexuality – specifically, the way in which it depicted promiscuity and sex with no need for commitment. Only the most blinkered of individuals would fail to recognise the parallels that exist in Second Life – and, although we may choose to disassociate ourselves from such things, or simply ignore them, we must acknowledge that many of the behaviours that the novel has been criticised for are not only rife in Second Life, but tolerated and encouraged.

In the book, such things were endorsed and proliferated through teaching, religion and the guidance of the state. The picture in Second Life is somewhat less straightforward, although I’d suggest that the position maintained by the Lindens on the subject is allied to the position of the state in the book. Of course, it is nowhere near as explicit as in the novel – Linden Lab would never blatantly endorse promiscuity or deviant practices, however, by failing to set any particular standards, (other than those required by law), and even allowing land to be specifically designated for ‘adult’ use, it could be argued that the Lindens are willing, at the very least, to turn a blind eye to activities that some residents may consider immoral and unacceptable. Personally, I proffer no opinion here, other than to suggest that if questions of morality can be used to justify the banning of books, who is to say the same premise cannot also be extended to the banning of virtual environments?

Two books -two extremes of society… but where exactly does Second Life fit in?


Posted on October 7, 2011

A recent trawl through the less explored regions of my inventory turned up a few interesting finds. In much the same way that anarchaeological dig reveals our prehistoric history, dredging up the distantremnants of avatars and outfits past can provide us with a window into the Second Life evolutionary progress. I wonder just how many of us are loathe to consign our previous identities to the trash can and instead squirrel them awayto redundant folders – forgotten, but never entirely lost to posterity? When it comes to housekeeping, even the most assiduous of us seem to have a soft spot for the past and find it hard to dispose of things that remind us ofthe ‘good old days’, even if we’ll never use or wear those items ever again.

Quite co-incidentally, Linden Lab have recently been thinking along the same lines with their SL Evolution discussion… perhaps it’s a case of great minds thinking alike?

I’m not so sure that Darwinism applies to Second Life, however, as a perusal of the long-lost portions of any long-established avatar’s inventory will reveal, there is certainly a well-defined process of evolution at work in the virtual world and, not only can we re-visit our own pasts on a nostalgic journey of re-discovery but – unlike the real world – we can observe this same evolutionary process taking place, in all its various stages, all around us. For all its diversity and variability, it’s surprising how alike our individual Second Life journeys can be, to the point where there are distinct, recognisable evolutionary stages that almost every one of us passes through. Here then are some of the initial findings on avatar evolution that have been revealed through the infant science of SLarcheology…

Avatar Neoresidentus –  The earliest known recognisable avatar. A.Neoresidentusis characterised by a shambling gait and distinctly sub-optimal motorfunctions – the advantages of opposable thumbs are easily outweighed by an inability to negotiate simple mental and physical challenges. Another classic characteristic of this early stage of evolution is the complete sense of bewilderment shown by these avatars: Everything seems to confuse and confound and, despite having grasped the rudiments of movement and language, little use is made of them and avatars of this period will often be observed to stand for long periods, apparently in a state of extreme shock at the knowledge they are sentient beings. Poorly developed brain function permits little original thought, whereas the ‘fight or fight’ reflex is highly developed – so much so that perceived threats, inability to progress in life and any failure to understand the new world around them can result in permanent extinction within a short space of time after first rezzing. Evidence of this primitive evolutionary stage has been surprisingly well preserved, with excellent examples to be readily found in the ‘library’ layers of most inventories.

Avatar Nooboratus –   Those who do survive are well on their way to making their first primitive footsteps on the road to perpetuating the species. This is a testing and difficult period of pre history, full of challenging scenarios and potential snares as the evolving avatar begins to develop key thought processes – intelligent thought is however still a long way off, as are many of the social and rational components of existence that we would recognise as demonstrating the capability to be called a member of society. A.Nooboratus is primarily a learning stage on the evolutionary ladder, characterised by a compulsion to touch, click, or press anything in the immediate vicinity in order to see whether a response can be elicited. Whilst a superficial physical resemblance to A.Neoresidentus may be observed, there are some striking evolutionary developments – this new avatar has grasped a rudimentary understanding of communication and will attempt to interact with those around it, often in a hectoring, demanding manner reminiscent of the ‘terrible twos’ stage experienced in parenting children in the real world. This is a critical evolutionary stage that underpins future development – lessons learned here are likely to form the basis of primal memories which will endure for generations to come. Despite an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding, this primitive avatar is intolerant of instruction and will prefer to find its own evolutionary path, without the assistance of others.

Avatar Neanderthalis –  A landmark evolutionary stage… for the first time, we see social groupings and the rudiments of settlements; avatars depart from a nomadic lifestyle and begin to establish roots and societal connections. We also see a huge diversity in forms and lifestyles appearing as A.Neanderthalis grasps the concept of ‘self’ and becomes conscious of its own appearance and how it is perceived within the group. Interestingly, this can give rise to a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ phenomenom as, with limited resources and little experience, individuals seek to build their own identity using whatever they can find – consequently, avatars of this age may appear to be poorly rendered; and hair, clothing and appearance may be of lower quality and execution than that seen in earlier avatars. This stage of development is characterised by a ‘hunter gatherer’ mentality – the avatar will roam the plains of Second Life, sometimes in large groups, seizing practically anything that it can lay its hands on, resulting in hugely swollen inventories. We also see the first stirrings of religion appearing, with thousands of converts slavishly worshipping at the altar of Freebie. Numerous sub-species are also evident at this stage, although many die out, being unviable in evolutional terms – these include, A.Blingoextremis; A.Griefertacticus, and A.Copulatoloticus. Despite this being a period of great change and progress, there is very little evidence to be recovered from SLarcheological study of the inventory record – it is thought that as higher intelligence develops, many of the key markers for this important evolutionary stage are lost or disposed of, having being superseded by many artefacts that are still readily recognised today.

Avatar Sapiens –  The most recent Second Life evolutionary cycle. Here avatars have developed rational thought and highly sophisticated social structures. Communication has evolved significantly and we see a strong focus on creativity and group mentality. Enjoying a lifestyle of relative ease, compared to their ancestors, A.Sapiens can savour the luxury of recreational time and frivolous pursuit. Some would argue that avatars have now reached their ultimate evolutional heights but there is evidence that further change is nevertheless, still possible…

Avatar Protomeshyconceptiform –  Is this the next evolutionary stage? Some social scientists are postulating a whole new leap forward as avatars capitalise on Viewer2 technology and evolve into mesh-based constructs.

Who knows what the future will bring, when we consider the remarkable events of the evolutionary past?

For Free, or Not For Free? … That is the Question!

Posted on October 14, 2011

Karma Avedon’s article about Kirsten’s Viewer last Sunday raised some thought-provoking questions around the subject of Third Party Viewers (TPVs) in my mind; thoughts that I’d like to share with you, if I may?

Second Life is somewhat unusual in that the majority of its users don’t actually use the official software that is provided by its creators, preferring in many instances to rely upon viewers created by third parties who have no connection with Linden Lab. This, perhaps unique, situation has come about through Linden Lab making the source code for their Snowglobe and Snowstorm Viewers – the basis of Viewers 1 and 2/3 – freely available to anybody who wishes to obtain it, even going so far as to maintain a list of‘approved TPVs’, created by those who have taken advantage of this generosity to create and distribute their own versions of the Second Life viewer.

This seems an illogical state of affairs –traditionally, the rationale behind open source code has been to encourage the collective expertise of developers to take a package and, as a community, make it even better – like, for example, the hugely successful Open Office suite of programmes. Working on this premise, we would expect to see the official Linden Lab viewer to be a state-of-the-art piece of code, with infinite possibilities, incorporating the very best that developers from around the world have to offer. Instead, Linden Lab appears to shun the efforts of others completely and prefers to continue development of its own viewer in isolation, following its own specification and path; whilst outside the confines of Linden Lab, a whole raft of TPVs proliferate alongside the official viewer and, in many cases offer advantages in stability, quality and features that a very large proportion of residents find preferable to the official option. It speaks volumes that Linden Lab’s own viewer is neither the leader in the popularity stakes, nor top of the list for stability!

Can we really complain though about something that is, essentially, provided to us free of charge? Do we indeed have the right to make demands of Linden Lab, or for that matter TPV developers, to incorporate features, functionality or even user-friendliness into something to which the vast majority of us contribut very little in the way of funding, support or even helpful feedback? It’s a bit like being given a free car by the manufacturer, along with free servicing and new model replacements for life, and yet we complain that we don’t like the colour, or the seats are uncomfortable! (And, can we have a surround-sound music system, alloy wheels and better quality roads to drive on thrown in too?).

I wonder sometimes if Second Life residents really know a good thing when they see it. An enormous number of us contribute very little to Second Life, as a whole, at all… there are those who’ve been around for years and still only have a ‘basic’ account, who are happy to be hosted on Linden Lab servers for nothing; log in, using their free viewer, and may well be making a fair profit from their inworld business to boot! It would never happen in the real world and, despite the fact that these days it’s a very rare thing indeed to find something genuinely for nothing in our daily lives, we expect it from Second Life. Worse still, if it doesn’t fully meet our expectations, we feel quite justified in complaining… it’s freebie-it is gone mad!

We do seem to have a bit of a freebie culture in Second Life – where we feel entitled to get a whole range of things for nothing – I’m sure I’m not the only one who, as a noob, kitted out their wardrobe with every free item I could accumulate. Before sanity eventually settled in, you’d find me at the freebie malls, devouring every item on display, like a fashion-obsessed swarm of locusts. Although those days are long gone, I’m terribly grateful to all those content creators who made that possible – without them, noobhood would have been so much more difficult… And then there were the money trees, (remember them?), how many of us, I wonder, spent those first 30 days of our SLife swooping across the Grid, from tree to tree, in the vain hope that we might one day hit the jackpot?

When it comes to freebies, there are some particularly polarised views – to some, they are anathema: Bad for the economy, bad for business and bad in the way they make people feel entitled to receive something for nothing. I’m in the other camp: If designers and content producers wish to give away the fruits of their labour, then it’s their choice – I recognise such things for what they are though; whether they are old, (sometimes, second rate), content ‘only fit for noobs’, or a gift designed to entice you to spend time and money at somebody’s store, then I accept that’s how it is… so, I have no right to demand a different colour, size or range to that which is freely given, and I accept that with good grace. There is another type of freebie – perhaps the best kind- those that are offered for philanthropic reasons or simply to genuinely encourage the betterment of Second Life for all… barrels of megaprims; fullperm scripts and sculpts; TPVs; even, I’d venture to suggest, the Moonletters’website, all fall into this category. Yet, it is this last particular group of ‘freebies’ for which we feel most entitled to stake our claim, and sadly, those that we complain most bitterly about and demand action be taken when they fail to liveup to expectations.

I wonder sometimes whether we truly appreciate the amount of hard work, time and effort that goes into producing some of the things that we completely take for granted? How often do we put ourselves in the shoes of the designers, builders, creators and programmers who, so often, work tirelessly to produce something that makes Second Life even better, then give it away for nothing, only to be met with: “That menu is in completely the wrong place and when are you going to make it so it runs on Windows 3.1?” -surely our appropriate response should be “thank you”?

Failing that, perhaps all those hard working souls should put their feet up for a bit and, when we’re unhappy with the quality of their product, simply say to us… “Well, you fix it then!”

Faster than the Speed of Thought.

Posted on October 21, 2011

Way back in the days before computers, typing was a bit of an artform – it was considered a special skill; the preserve of those who took the time and made the effort too btain a typing qualification. Successful typists were measured in words per minute, with both speed and accuracy high on the list of requirements for the job.

As progress marched ever forwards it became possible to hide one’s mistakes, at first through judicious application of correction fluid, then with the birth of the electronic typewriter, it became possible to correct whole words at the touch of a button: No longer did a slip of the finger or a small spelling indiscretion mean the loss of a whole page… typists became experts in the cover-up.

Change rattled on, like the clicking of the typist’s keys – the word processor burst onto the scene – and with it: Spellcheck! – Things would never be the same again. There was still a distinction between those who typed and those for whom computers were tools for business or fun but, over time, the lines of demarcation became blurred – ability to type, (if only single-finger style),became a necessity for every computer user.

Sadly, this new generation of ‘typists’ rarely progressed beyond ‘enthusiastic’ amateur stage, and little has changed right up to the present day.

When it comes to writing, I’m a demon for wanting to get things right – I’ll double and triple proof read every piece; eyes peeled for spelling, duplication and poor grammar. Even so, I still miss the odd errant error – there’s nothing more mortifying than reading through your copy and picking out the glaring mistakes that suddenly materialise, seemingly from nowhere, (Just don’t tell the boss!); but, put me in Second Life and it’s an altogether different story!

I suffer from that common problem which afflicts so many Second Life residents – when I’m inworld, what takes place in my brain only vaguely relates to how my fingers interpret those thoughts. Throw in the pace of many Second Life conversations and the multiplicity of participants and concurrent themes and it’s a wonder that so many of us manage to string together a coherent sentence at the best of times! Certainly, I know what I want to say but, by the time my finger tips have hit the keyboard, things have moved on… desperately, I try to compensate -re-writing, correcting, interjecting – on the fly, but to no avail. The result is both a travesty of the English language and a shocking inditement of my mind’s inability to keep abreast of unfolding situations, whilst staying in full command of my body’s motor functions. That is not so say that there isn’t the occasional moment of triumph when, thought processes surging ahead, my brain stays in masterful command of the situation, only to find that I’m thinking too fast for my poor fingers to keep pace – the result is all too often indecipherable gobbledygook.

Atrocious typing is by no means the sole preserve of Second Life: It proliferates throughout the world of electronic communication – it even possesses its own nomenclature – Typonese… the art of communicating through typo’s. It’s probably fair to say that advocates of Typonese would go so far as to defend it as a form of language in its own right and would balk at the mere suggestion that there might be anything at all wrong with its usage. It is fair to say that, provided the gist of what is being communicated is understood by the recipient, there is essentially nothing to debate here – communication is about making oneself understood and not necessarily about the method or language adopted, as anyone who has attempted to haggle over souvenirs at a market stall in a foreign country will attest to. Even so, us Second Life residents tend to be a finicky bunch and, for many of us, our seeming inability to type a simple sentence when we’re inworld aggravates us intensely, denting our pride and causing a great deal of personal irritation.

There are, of course aids to assist the lexicographically challenged – some viewers incorporate spellcheckers in the chat window – there’s nothing quite like seeing your poor spelling highlighted with a squiggly red underline that miniscule fraction of a second before you hit the ‘enter’ key, sharing your mangled verbiage with all around you. The full misery of the situation then unfolds as – Second Life residents, being the kind souls they are – everyone within earshot roars with laughter at your faux pas, before committing it to immortality, in gesture form, ready to be re-visited, ad nauseam, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In the final analysis, there is only one safe way to spare ourselves the indignity of typo-turmoil, and that is quite simply, to never type. Although doomed to remain silent for the extent of our Second Lives we will, at least, do so secure in the knowledge that our words, or whatever might try to pass for them, will never hurt us!

Voice chat, anyone?

Know What I Meme?

Posted on October 28, 2011

I’ve come across a fair few articles recently in various places bemoaning the fact that Second Life is becoming more and more like those dreaded social networking sites – insert Facebook, or other favourite site you love to hate here – everyday. These merchants of doom argue that things like web profiles and some of the other recent Linden innovations are the thin end of the wedge, and it’s only a matter of time until Second Life is whole subsumed by the monster that is social networking – effectively becoming Facebook with avatars.

This, of course, is complete nonsense! Such fears spring from a fundamental misunderstanding of how we interact with Second Life and how it is completely different from pretty much all the social networks that we are so familiar with in almost every aspect of our daily lives. What is odd is that the differences between the two are actually quite simple to appreciate and, once pointed out, are glaringly obvious – yet, there are huge numbers of residents it seems, who are living in fear of that day when they will log in to find themselves unwitting members of Face Life, (or maybe, Second Book!)

Let me set your minds at rest – it isn’t going to happen: For those of us who still haven’t quite worked it out, I shall explain…

Second Life is activity-based – it is a virtual environment that demands we get involved and do things. This might be shopping, dancing, building or almost anything that can be done in the real world, with all the additional bells and whistles a virtual world lets us enjoy: Other social networks are passive -they are effectively fridge doors. We use them to post our notes, reminders and messages; to stick up those pictures that don’t merit a frame and as a handyplace to keep things that help us to engage in real world activities.

Second Life isn’t geared in any way to be a ‘fridge door’ – it lacks the accessibility, the convenience and the immediacy that defines a dedicated social network and, no matter how connected to the outside world we may try to make it, we will never change the fact that almost everything that takes place in and around Second Life is concerned with Second Life. As for social network sites, they are basically a product of real life – whether used to pass comment, make arrangements or interact with other people, hardly anything will relate solely to the network itself – they are outward looking, fast, accessible, convenient and all-encompassing, and they have an immediacy that Second Life just hasn’t got.

There are, of course, points of connection and even areas where the two can crossover – Second Life has its web profiles, where you can ‘follow’ other residents and comment on their ‘wall’ but this is a facility completely ignored by a large proportion of residents and one can only conclude that, for an awful lot of people, it adds nothing to their Second Life and is very much an optional extra. Likewise, social networks have their ‘interactive games’ but – if we stick with our fridge door analogy – these are the equivalent of those magnetic letters you find on fridges which can be re-arranged to spell rude words… hardly engaging! Whilst a social network might be able to inform us that George Bore is listening to Shakin’ Stevens, only in Second Life do we have the option to listen-in and shake our booty with a few friends in an environment that looks and feels like a club. Similarly, whilst it may be great fun to throw a virtual tomato at a friend and have the moment recorded for posterity on their wall, it’s a very different thing to letting rip with a potato launcher or a celery grenade in Second Life! Similarities between the two virtual environments certainly exist, but the way in which they enable us to interact with our virtual environment and the others who share it are worlds apart.

All of which brings me to the subject of memes. According to Wikipedia, a meme is an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture – essentially, in the same way that genes influence the way we look, memes influence the way in which we act and, like genes, memes are passed from person to person. With the advent of the internet, the potential for memes to be created expanded exponentially and are even used, via the internet, (and increasingly, in popular culture), as method of marketing and influencing, through viral campaigns etc. (Although, I’d have to argue that a lot of so-called internet memes are actually quite limited in their scope and fail to have any lasting or measurable impact on culture or society – but that’s another subject altogether!).

Here’s my point – the phenomenom of social networking and Second Life are both memes in their own right: They are self-perpetuating and are likely to exert little influence over those not already within the spheres of life that they happen to connect with. There will, inevitably be people who are sold both on the idea of Second Life and that of social networking and participate actively in both, however they are both very distinct and different trends, so much so that both are perfectly capable of standing in their own right and spawning their own cultural trends and their own memes, specific to their own virtual environments.

I can’t speak for the social networks but it’s easy to spot the memes peculiar to Second Life… resident’s names turned into gestures as a form of greeting and the way that ‘popular’ typos are adopted as standard forms of speech, to name but two – these, of course will never find their way into mainstream culture, or for that matter into other social networks, nevertheless they are highly valid within their own environment i.e. Second Life –and, in the same way that these memes won’t take over the virtual world, neither will social networking become intrinsic to Second Life. They are both following completely different evolutionary paths and, common sense says that it is far more likely they will each go their own way on completely divergent paths, rather than come together as one… good news perhaps, for us!

Whose Property?

Posted on November 11, 2011

I realise this isn’t the first time that I’ve considered the theme of intellectual property rights and, if I’m absolutely honest, it’s not a subject that bothers me particularly – which may prompt you to wonder why on earth I appear to be so fixated with it! I promise you, it’s not me who’s obsessed with who owns what … but an awful lot of people in Second Life seem to be hung up on the whole thorny question.

Plagiarism is, of course, indefensible – passing off somebody else’s hard work as one’sown is a pretty reprehensible practice; even more so when it’s done for profit or gain. In the real world we see objects of desire all too often replicated en-masse in order to make a fast buck off the backs of legitimate concerns. However, what seems a fairly straight forward argument can often be muddied by mitigating factors… If designer labels were affordable for the masses, would the cheap imitations have any real appeal? Likewise, if it weren’t for the easy availability of market stall knock-offs raising the profile of high-end products, would we even know half of those designer goodies existed? Neither is the morality of such things as cut and dried as it might be – whilst the vast majority of us would throw up our hands in horror at the thought of someone getting an academic qualification on the basis of someone else’s work, far fewer of us would have the same qualms about knowingly purchasing fake D&G or Versace – especially if it was dirt cheap!

I wonder if we feel the same way about Second Life? Do we attach real world morality and values to our virtual objects of desire? If anything, I’d suggest that the waters are even murkier when it comes to Second Life. Unlike the real world, it may be impossible for us to know whether what we’re investing in is the real thing and we may only ever find out we’ve been the victims of copybotting or plagiarism when we receive that dreaded message from Second Life that certain of our inventory items have been removed by Linden Lab and been substitutedwith an ‘IP Replacement’. Those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of that and have felt aggrieved should perhaps spare a thought for how the original creator of the content must feel – so much for a victimless crime!

The problem is exacerbated in Second Life because, unlike real life market stalls, copied content is rarely sold on at a discount price, and therefore readily identifiable. I was shocked to discover recently a range of freebie skins being sold on the Marketplace for L$300 a piece by someone who was quite definitely not their creator.

Sadly, this difficult state of affairs is a breeding ground for paranoia, something that becomes all too obvious if you’ve spent any amount of time engaged in building in Second Life – and this is where things get really complicated! There’s a huge range of building materials available, covering every eventuality and price range – everything from textures through to sculpt maps and ‘kits’ for creating all manner of builds. Many of these are sold with the express intention that they will be incorporated into other items that may be passed on or sold and will consequently either be full perm, copy/transfer or mod/transfer. The general rule with such items is inherently sensible and goes something along the lines of…

‘You can resell or transfer this item as long as it is incorporated into your own build – it is not to be sold or transferred ‘as is”

That’s a straightforward premise that licences the buyer to make use of their purchase in a constructive and profitable way but one that also protects the original creator and the integrity of their intellectual rights. Simple you would think, until we consider the dodgy ground of sculpted prims. Whereas anyone can, if they’re prepared to make the effort, come up with a reasonable, if not identical copy of a standard prim, through their own endeavours, sculpties are a different matter altogether, requiring a completely different range of skills and a lot more creativity to produce, what is essentially a unique, difficult to replicate object. It’s only reasonable that something of that nature should be protected and considered the intellectual property of the person who, thought up, designed, created and imported it into Second Life.

Flicking idly though the marketplace recently, I stumbled upon a sculpt I really needed in my life -the price was right but, in the end, I didn’t buy it. Why? I was disturbed by the approach taken by the creator in ‘protecting’ their rights – the product description was all of two lines of text, followed by almost a full page of blurb about the dire consequences of incorrect usage, with links to Linden Lab’s TOS and their power to disclose real life names and addresses for the purpose of instigating costly legal action! Personally, I’d never have dreamed of passing off what I intended buying as my own work, but I was so terrified than I might somehow breach the terms of my licence to use it, I decided not to bother.

I can see the difficulty with sculpts – creators can’t protect their work by just selling the prim; it’s a simple matter to make a copy of the sculpt map and, indeed, most creators provide a sculpt map anyway and although a degree of protection is afforded by making it no copy/trans, all a fraudster has to do is take a screen grab and they have their very own ‘original’ – it’s complete plagiarism, but apart from relying on the integrity and honesty of purchasers, there’s very little that creators can do to stop it. This has led to ever more subtle terms and conditions which, if nothing else, far from affording additional security has probably confused the issues even further.

My favourite – and most confusing – sculptie purchase has to be a Celtic cross with a rather interesting quirk. The sculpt map is sold along with a script -you simply pop the script into a prim and the script creates the sculptie, with your name as creator, then deletes itself. The licence is fairly standard -both map and script can be sold as part of my creation, but not simply sold on, however there’s nothing at all that tells me what I can do with the item that has been created from those core items – the Celtic cross, that bears my name as creator. Am I to presume that the sculpt map that is the basis of that prim is part of ‘my creation’? Can I make a million crosses and sell them on, secure in the knowledge I’m doing no wrong? I really have no idea what the creator intended -I’m afraid the whole area is a mine field of doubt and complexity, which has left me utterly confused!

I’ve no doubt that things will become even more convoluted as mesh takes a firm hold but, as to what can be done about it, I really don’t know… Any ideas, anyone?

The Ultimate Guide For Noobs – In Two Easy Instalments!

Posted on November 18, 2011


So, you’re new to Second Life, you’ve made your first tentative steps off Welcome Island and you want to make your mark in this crazy, eye-popping, mind-blowing brave new world. Where do you start? You’re acutely aware that everything about you screams ‘Noob!’, but you want to be taken seriously, show a bit of class and stand out from the crowd – here’s the deal though, you’re on a tight budget, (OK – I’ll rephrase that; you have nomoney and you’re not about to start splashing your cash on Second Life just yet!), and you have absolutely no idea about how to go about making things happen.

Fear not, this top ten guide to Second Life coolness will take you by the hand and lead you gently along the road to success…

1 – Don’t Panic!

OK, so I stole this from Douglas Adams, but it’s probably the single most important thing to keep reminding yourself. Arriving in Second Life is very much like being transported to an alien planet – if you freak out, you’ll get nowhere fast… so, just relax, enjoy the experience and, if things do go horribly wrong, count to ten and think things through. It may be embarrassing or just plain weird to find yourself naked in a crowd of people, stuck inside a bit of furniture or break dancing in the middle of the street -but none of these will ever kill you and, you can always ask for help, teleport away or log out… but never, ever panic!

2 – Ditching the noob look

That avatar you chose when you signed up… is it really you? The first time you go to a crowded place, the horrible truth will dawn on you – everybody else looks so much better than you do; they walk and move naturally and you desperately want to be like them. Here’s what you do – find a quiet place and spend some time playing with your appearance. Open up that ‘Library’ folder in your inventory and play around with what’s in there – you can mix and match, try out different eyes, skins and shapes. Still not happy? Try tweaking your look by using ‘edit appearance’ – just about every part of you is adjustable and you can customise your look to your own unique tastes!

Next you need to get yourself an Animation Overrider (AO) -this will stop you walking like a monkey! Type it into search and see what comes up, or hunt around the freebie malls – there are plenty of decent free AO’s out there, and you can use different ones, as the mood suits you. While you’re at it, see if you can pick up some decent freebie hair too!

3 – Getting togged up

Listen carefully – I’ll only say this once – stay away from noob stores and freebie malls! You’ll be sorely tempted to avoid this particular piece of advice: The lure of freebies is strong, but stand firm and resist it. In Second Life, you tend to get what you pay for – clothes you find in these places may cover your nakedness but they’ll almost certainly make you look as if you’ve clothed yourself at a village jumble sale! Avoid ‘bling’ too- you think it looks cool; everyone else thinks it looks completely naff! The more you sparkle, flash and shine, the less seriously anyone will ever take you.

This is what you do – go to the Second Life Market place and spend lots of time treasure hunting – there are some fabulous clothes, made by top class designers being offered completely free of charge, but you do have to hunt them down, and it’s a process of methodical and thorough searching for the bargains! (Just remember that many of the free Marketplace items are demos – they’re clearly described as such – if you really want to make a fashion statement by walking round with a big ‘DEMO’ sign over your head, great… But, for now you’ll probably want to steer clear of those particular items!) Next, get inworld and go on a serious shopping spree… many, many stores offer quality free gifts if you join their groups – do it! (You’ll usually find the group joiner by the front door). Many stores also have ‘LuckyBoards’ or ‘Lucky Chairs’ – these display a letter for a limited time; if your name begins with that letter, you can claim the prize. I’ve seen L$2000 items offered as prizes on some Lucky Boards!

Finally, read up some of the Second Life fashion blogs -these will give you the inside information on free fashion and are also a good source of information for ‘Treasure Hunts’, which you really should check out. A typical hunt will involve visiting lots of locations to find themed prizes – good fun and a great way to fill your Second Life wardrobe! (Try some of the blogs recommended by Moonletters).

4 – Home sweet home

You’re looking good! You’ve lost that noob look and you’re wearing some decent threads… you’re starting to think about setting up home. Stop! Think carefully about what you really want – although not unheard of, finding somewhere free of charge to live in Second Life is very difficult. If you really want your own place, the chances are that you’re going to have to pay for it – either by buying land or renting accommodation. If you don’t wantto fork out any cash and just want somewhere to get changed in privacy, there are plenty of ‘changing rooms’ you can use for nothing – or simply fly up to a few hundred metres and get changed in the sky, where no-one’s watching!

If you’re completely serious about finding somewhere to live free of charge, you could consider partnering someone who owns property, (the Second Life equivalent of marrying for money!) – not really recommended – or you may be fortunate enough to find a job or vocation inworld that offers accommodation – chances are though, that you’ll need to invest your own time and effort into earning theright to live there!

A word of caution – an empty plot of land is not an open invitation to take up squatters’ rights and rez that freebie mansion you pickedup recently, neither should you just move into any empty house or room that you may come across as you explore… It may look empty but somebody owns it, and is paying for that privilege – it’s not yours, so don’t even think about claiming it!

5 – Making friends

This is probably one of the most important things to do in Second Life – and it’s the one thing that noobs get hopelessly wrong. You wouldn’t ask someone directions to the shops and then immediately ask them to be friends in real life, nor would you randomly pick out complete strangers in the vicinity and ask them to be your best buddy! The same holds true for Second Life – please don’t do this: It puts others in an awkward position and refusal often offends. Don’t ask people for money or ‘stuff’ – Second Life people are generally very generous and will often offer noobs gifts, help or landmarks to useful places – but don’t ever expect this as a right!

Take time to get to know people – hang out with them for a bit (ie. not just for 10 minutes – a friendship offer sometimes comes weeks or months – maybe never – after getting to know someone!), talk to them, share a few landmarks with them… in fact, why not wait for them to ask you to be their friend, instead of the other way around? A useful thing to note is that most people prefer to talk in open chat, rather than in IM with strangers or when they’re in a group.

Fill out that profile! Use it to tell people what makes you tick and who you are – and read other people’s profiles too. The groups in someone’s profile, they’re profile picks and all the other things stashed away in there can be a real goldmine for sharing interests and information about one another, without ever having to ask… They make great starting points for conversations and can tell you a great deal about the individual, for example; if you take the trouble to read someone’s profile and find that they have a partner, it’s not likely that they’ll respond positively to you trying to chat them up!

Similarly, exercise restraint when meeting people, particularly if you don’t know them well. Questions about real life, where they’re from, or anything of a personal nature are rarely welcomed coming from a stranger. Stick to Second Life and what you can glean from their profiles and you shouldn’t go far wrong.

That’s it for this week’s tips – more to come next week, when I’ll be providing you with some indispensable inside information about Second Life, including the big question everyone wants the answer to… How do I go about making a huge pile of virtual money?

The Ultimate Guide For Noobs (Part2)

Posted on November 25, 2011


Last week I looked at the basics of stepping up a gear as a new Resident in Second Life and taking on a more convincing appearance. Hopefully you also gained some pointers as to some of the more fundamental things that every self-respecting avatar needs to have a grasp of if they intend making their mark in the virtual world.

This week, I’m going to concentrate on how to progress much further than simply having a decent change of clothes – I’m assuming you’re in Second Life for the long haul, so looking good and knowing the basics is just the starting point. Here’s a few more tips to launch you towards Second Life success!

6 – Staying out of trouble

Just like the real world, there are dodgy customers in Second Life. Until you know what you’re doing and what you really want to get out of Second Life, be wary of seasoned residents who are eager to make your acquaintance or seek your friendship, particularly if you’re unsure about some of the groups and picks in their profile.

Of course, you may be intrigued about becoming a vampire or a member of someone’s ‘family’, but do your research first – anything you do in Second Life should be your choice and although it may only seem like a ‘game’, you might be surprised at how deeply it’s possible to engage with Second Life – so, don’t take sweets off strangers, don’t accept lifts from strange men and always remember you can politely decline any invitation, or leave at any time.

Remember too, as a resident, your behaviour affects other people – brash, bullying and obnoxious behaviour isn’t going to make you any friends. Be respectful of other people’s wishes and be aware of the standards of behaviour expected in some parts of Second Life – do this and you’ll get on just fine.

7 – Jargon and quirks

Second Life is full of it’s own jargon and has lots of little quirks that can be completely confusing for the beginner. Relax! If somebody starts wittering on about frame rates, sculpties and draw distances and you have no idea what they’re talking about, just ask them to explain – the vast majority of residents will take their time to talk you through the technical intricacies of Second Life, (and will enjoy doing it!)

Similarly, if you’re not sure how something works, try asking for help – (“can someone tell me where I click to dance, please?”) – failing that, clicking on likely objects or sitting on them will often achieve the desired result, or at worst will result in a humorous anecdote for you to retell in later years!

8 – Plan for the future

This might seem a strange thing to be thinking of when you’ve only just started on your Second Life journey but a common sense approach now will save you a whole heap of hassle later on.

Remember what I said about staying away from freebie malls? No matter what you might think now, believe me, you will never have any use for a box full of 500 different houses, vehicles or cat ears. Just because you can get everything imaginable – and quite a few things you’d never have imagined – for nothing in Second Life does not mean that you need them – you don’t! If you insist on squirreling away 300 pairs of fishnet stockings and latex boots now, you’re only making work for yourself in the future, when you’ll spend hours deleting them!

If you absolutely must have them – can I suggest you create a ‘Pending’ folder with the date you made it, in your inventory. If you still haven’t opened it within a month, you never will and you can safely delete it, there and then.

Now is also the perfect time to get organised. Most noobs treat their inventory like a dumpster, throwing everything in there completely randomly. Spend ten minutes a day now to organise everything properly or be prepared to spend ten days trying to make sense of it some time in the future. When you have to search through a 10,000 item, haphazardly organised monster, just to find a pair of shoes, you’ll wish you’d paid more attention to me! Create sensibly named folders -’Summer clothes’; ‘Boots’; ‘Guitars’… and religiously put things away in them as soon as you get them and you’ll thank me, I promise you.

9 – Making a fast buck

I’ve left this until almost last because it’s one of the least important things you need to know in Second Life as a newcomer. Let’s put this simply – making a decent amount of money in Second Life is just as difficult as doing the same in the real world.

If you’re really serious about making money, here’s some hard facts – it will take a lot of your time; it will take talent, perseverance and commitment; it will cost you money, (probably real money, as well as Lindens); and you are very unlikely to become rich.

Still want to try it? Fair enough, you’ll need to find something you’re good at, maybe writing, playing music or DJ-ing, and then find an outlet for it. Most things like this will attract ‘tips’, although these will never reflect the outlay in time and effort you’ve put into what you do. As a noob, you’ll, no doubt, be tempted to try pole-dancing or something similar… By all means, give it a go, but it’s not that lucrative and, to make anything like worthwhile money, you’ll first have to invest in a suitable body and attire, which will probably cost more than your first year’s tips put together.

Alternatively, you can teach yourself to build – find a sandbox somewhere, (just type ‘public sandbox’ into search), and play at creating things until you can do it well, then you can consider selling your creations… this, I’m afraid will ultimately cost you money, although the return can be worthwhile – the same applies to creating clothing.

What… you still want to try making a fast buck? OK – provided you’re no more than 30 days old, type ‘money tree’ into search. Yes, in Second Life, money really does grow on trees for noobs and, with a bit of luck, after a day’s searching you should have more than enough to buy a couple of beers. There are also still a few ‘camping’ spots to be found in Second Life – nothing to do with tents -basically you stay sat in one spot, for which you’ll be paid a fixed rate for your efforts – expect anything up to L$10 an hour for the privilege. A variation on camping, sends you to various beacons, where you’ll have to hang around for a fixed amount of time to claim your reward. You’ll also find collectable coins (usually worth a fraction of a Linden) and surveys that pay real money – you can do the same on the web and make more. Frankly, you can find better ways to spend your time!

10 – Enjoy

A fairly obvious tip, but one that’s easily forgotten. Second Life should be fun – if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t come along with false expectations -it’s not World of Warcraft or The Sims, neither is it slick, fast or instantly gratifying. Keep an open mind, be prepared to explore and, above all, enjoy the experience!

Friendly Advice

Posted on December 2, 2011

It’s confession time! I, like most people have my bad habits, particularly when it comes to knuckling down and writing some copy for Moonletters – I am a world champion procrastinator and if I can find anything at all – and I do mean anything – that will serve as a distraction or as an excuse not to write, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to take advantage of it!

Ruling out all those diversions involving snacking, one of my favourite procrastinatory habits is to randomly read blog entries from days gone by, including delving into the archives of Moonletters – this is what I justify as ‘research’, when really it’s just an excuse to avoid doing some work. However, I feel quite smug about this particular week’s bit of ‘research’ because, in between the articles about trampolines, L$7000 dogs and cookies, (apparently our beloved editor will do anything for one… that’s cookies, not dogs or trampolines!), I’ve spotted a recurring theme. Interestingly, it’s also a theme I’ve noticed aired on a number of Second Life blogs recently and one that regularly seems to crop up in conversations inworld – it is the subject of friends.

I promise to try not to trot out the same arguments that have been more than adequately covered by numerous other commentators but I would like to consider the whole concept of Second Life friendships from my own particular point of view.

Let’s start by considering what exactly it is that causes us to add someone to our list of friends in Second Life:-

I’d suggest that there are three categories of friend – firstly, we have those people that we trust, talk to and who hold a special place in our hearts. They are those whom, whether in the virtual setting or not, we would happily consider to be our friends . Many people have discussed the importance and value of this type of friendship, including several previous articles within the pages of Moonletters, and I’m sure none of us is going to disagree with the consensus of opinion that these people are very precious to us – they are the sort of people whose friendship transcends Second Life. I don’t intend to elaborate any further on this aspect of friendship – other people have already written with great eloquence on the subject and it’s something that we all intrinsically understand anyway.

The second category of friend, according to my model of the virtual world, is the ‘business partner’ – someone that we work with, or have collaborated with in some way, either at present or in the past; people for whom the creation of a working relationship is a helpful and useful tool. Such people can, of course, also be ‘proper’ friends but, these aside, I’m sure that many of us have business associates in our friend lists that are solely there for convenience and ease of communication.

Finally, there’s the group I find most interesting – all the others. Here we find the casual acquaintances, the one-off meetings, the occasional crony and maybe even the odd ‘frenemy’. It’s interesting that, limited by our options in Second Life, these have to be all lumped together as our ‘friends’, without any other distinction – and indeed for many that may well be the most fitting description – whereas if we were on one of the popular social networks we might find it more appropriate to describe them as ‘followers’ and those whom we ‘follow’. In a real world scenario, we might even go so far as to call some of them stalkers!

We tend to go through a whole lot of angst and soul searching when it comes to the relationships that we share with this last group. How many of us have agonised over pruning our friends’ list, befriended a noob on the spur of the moment out of a sense of duty, (and then instantly had second thoughts), or pondered over that strange, yet common place situation,where we see the because a ‘friend’ never makes the effort to contact us, yet we’re just as guilty of never contacting them?

I think part of our dilemma arises from the way we tend to equate these Second Life friends with our real life experience. In the real world, casual friendships tend to end either through conflict – usually betrayal of some kind – or they simply drift for one reason or another. Some ,of course were never meant to be in the first place… how many of us have exchanged contact details with a holiday friend, or on a training course or similar, knowing full well that neither party has any intention of ever getting in touch? How many real world friends appear on our Christmas card list, yet we never see them -even though they may only live 10 minutes away? And how many people are we more than happy to keep at arm’s length as friends but would cringe with embarrassment if forced into spending time in their company?

All these scenarios are perfectly normal and acceptable in the real world, and each has their Second Life equivalent – unfortunately forus within the virtual world, because of that pesky friends’ list – it all becomes a lot more complicated.

The problem is that, within Second Life, befriending somebody and perhaps subsequently ‘unfriending’ them are both very deliberate and conscious actions. Just as in the real world, a Second Life friendship can take a long time to develop and the relationship can grow almost imperceptibly from acquaintance to friend without us noticing. When we do notice, however, is the point at when the fun starts – the formality of the request ‘Will you be my friend?’ creates an artificial state of affairs that we don’t necessarily experience in the real world. Being added tosomeone’s list creates sometimes unreasonable expectations; it creates a status that requires mutual understanding and is open to individual interpretation -which can often be widely divergent. Similarly, removing someone from your list can result in a huge sigh of relief from both parties – although neither may be aware of it – or alternatively may be taken as a declaration of war by those who perceive themselves to be the ‘wronged’ parties… it’s a real minefield!

Personally, I treat my friends’ list like an address book -it may well contain the names of people who are personal, special friends, along with business associates and ‘hangers-on’ – but being in my list is no reflection upon those who appear there. It conveys no special distinction or implies any favouritism. Some of my greatest friends are not in my list and I’m not in theirs, and it matters not a jot! There are also extremely good friends in my list with whom I’ve rarely shared an IM – even though we both know the other is logged in.  Conversely, I have people in my list that I’ve only ever met and spoken to once – perhaps I should delete them but I really don’t see any point – like any address book, I’d expect to find names of people I’ll never contact, people I wouldn’t know if I passed them in the street along with people I might see or speak to on a daily basis. At the end of the day, there’s no big deal about being in my list – our paths may cross frequently, or never at all… the important thing surely is that when those paths cross, we both come away the better for it happening?

Writer’s Dilemma

Posted on December 9, 2011

It’s been one of those days when the words just won’t come,
still, a Moonletters’ piece will have to be done,
but, with no copy to send, I confessed to the boss –
“When it comes to this week’, I’m at a bit of a loss!”
She gave me that stare – the one that strikes fear
“Those just aren’t the words that I like to hear!
Try something different… how about a poem?”
I nodded and legged it – time to be going!

Now I’m stuck for a theme, and there’s no way of knowing
if my poor style of rhyming is going to be showing.
And there’s one more thing, to add to my strife,
my poem should really be about Second Life.
But what can I write about? Lindens and lag?
This poetry thing can be such a drag!
Perhaps I can find some popular themes…
Meeros, and breedables and other such memes,

Or maybe I’ll do a rhymed fashion review:
‘Go shopping here – it’s where I go too!’
They’ve got Midnight Mania and a great lucky chair
and their clothing looks fab – I have to be fair.
But really, I tend to be more of a geek,
into pixels and scripting – a bit of a freak!
Give me some prims and a plan I can follow –
I’ll knock up some objects – you’ll have them tomorrow.

Not really the subjects of poetic notion:
It takes more than prims to stir the emotion.
So, what if I write about banning and griefing,
the cost of living inworld, and intellect thieving?
Subjects that stir emotions and angst…
But I really don’t think I’ll get many thanks!
People want poems about flying and romance,
of beautiful sims and the odd poseball dance.

I’m really not made for such eloquent stuff –
I’m better at Landmarks and rezzing in the buff,
I’ll talk about teleports and happening new places
and whether your HUD can pull funny faces,
but please don’t ask me for flowery word-smithing:
When it comes to my brain, that bit is missing!
I’d rather be geeky and write about typos
than waffle on, ad-nauseum, in pleasingly light prose.

So please Shauna, I beg you, take pity on this writer
and don’t ask for poems, not even to spite her,
I’d much rather write about Second Life’s times
in terms that are simple; precise, with no rhymes.
‘Cos when it comes to poems I’m sorry to say –
that this time the Editor, won’t get her own way!

Deus Ex Machina

Posted on December 16, 2011

Sometimes my mind wanders off into a fantasy world – a strange place, full of ‘what ifs?’ and ‘I wonder?’. Much of the time it does no harm, and ideas just bumble around my head until they run out of steam – It’s usually just supposition and benign thoughts on my part, but occasionally something of merit finds its way to the surface deserving further thought. On this particular occasion, I’ve christened my singular flight of fancy ‘SuperHapticSL’ – not the most tongue-tripping of titles and, to be honest, somewhat of a misnomer too, but I thought it sounded pretty good!

Before I plunge onwards, it’s probably sensible to try and explain what I’m on about! – Haptics is basically the ‘science’ of touch; more specifically, within a technological setting, it deals with the way in which we interface with and control our techo-toys. Mice, keyboards and touch screens are all examples of haptic devices, although we’re more likely to associate haptic devices with developing technology in gaming and 3D environments, where things like sensor gloves, force feedback controllers and even cutting-edge, future possibilities, like holographic acoustic radiation devices, are all part of the fun. Even so, I think the days that we’ll find ourselves sat in front of our computers, 3D helmet in place and gaming rigs attached are unlikely to make any huge inroads into how we interact with SecondLife. Games might well be be suited to that kind of system but I’m not so sure about virtual words – can you imagine jigging away for 3 hours at a time infront of your laptop, with an imaginary dance partner, whilst trying to follow conversation in local and juggle a couple of IMs at the same time? Or just contemplate the potential for disaster that attempting to fly -whilst forgetting it’s all virtual – might have, as you throw yourself flat on your face across the kitchen table!

Somehow, I think we’ll be sticking to the keyboard and mouse for some time yet in Second Life. So, putting aside haptic devices for controlling Second Life, what about considering how Second Life itself might possibly reach out to touch the real world? Haptics recognises that tactile experiences work both ways – that’s why force feedback devices were developed – and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Second Life could extend its tendrils outside the virtual world in very practical ways…

All the talk at the moment is about ‘The Internet of Things’, cloud computing and smart appliances – networks where humans are unwelcome… Welcome to a world where traffic lights talk to each other to warn of oncoming ambulances, where your central heating will discuss the optimum time to come on at night with the local weather centre and where washing machines chat about their state of health so they can make sure the engineer brings the right parts next time he’s passing! It doesn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to work your computer into the mix and, in doing so, introduce Second Life into the loop.

Let’s take a typical scenario that most of us are familiar with: You’re enjoying yourself in Second Life but, inevitably you’re struck with a craving for a cup of tea and with it the dilemma that we’ve all faced at sometime or other… Do we, a) Go and boil the kettle, waiting an age for it to be ready, brew up and then return to Second Life, having missed the most exciting thing that’s happened all day; or b) Dash to the kettle, turn it on and dive straight back in Second Life, only to realise half an hour later that we’ve forgotten about the tea… repeat, ad infinitum; or c) Try to combine making the tea with going to the loo, feeding the cat and grabbing a snack -all in 30 seconds flat – and hope to goodness we don’t end up putting the cat in the loo, weeing in the kettle and grabbing a handful of Felix to munch on as we desperately flail around trying to get things sorted!

Now, picture the same scenario, but with a Second Life that interconnects and communicates with the real world in much the same way that we ourselves connect to the virtual world…

SuperHaptic SL, with no input from us at all, senses from our central heating controls that the room we’re sat in is rather warm and dry; conferring with the kettle, (as we explore a brand new Sim, oblivous to the background chat being whispered between our household appliances), Second Life learns from the kettle that it hasn’t boiled for a couple of hours and it’s long past the usual time for our evening cuppa. Just to make sure, a quick conversation with the fridge confirms that we’ve not raided it for a cold drink all evening. Second Life decides it’s time we had acup of tea; tells the kettle to get started and, just before the boiling point is reached, an IM pops up for us inworld – it’s our kettle: “[20:24]Feral’s Kettle: Tea’s up!”

That’s not all … following instructions being sent autonomously by Second Life, the kitchen light pops on- saving us from stumbling in the dark – the kitchen radio turns on and, calling up text-to-voice software from The Cloud, Second Life wirelessly transmits local chat to the radio, so that we don’t miss a thing. Cup of freshly brewed tea in hand, we return to our post – Second Life dims the lights for the best ambience and sends a quick note to our electric blanket to warn it that now would be a good time to start warming the bed, since the latest on the weather from The Cloud suggests there’ll be snow overnight. As an after thought, Second Life passes the message on to your alarm clock – if the roads are bad tomorrow, an earlier start will be needed!

And, whilst all this has been happening, we’ve been shopping for virtual shoes!

It’s not as far-fetched as it might once have seemed; the advent of cloud computing and smart devices makes the possibility of Second Life having the capability of reaching into the real world and controlling it a very real one. More to the point, it raises the possibility that Second Life could even influence the world around us to accommodate what is happening inworld, in our second lives…some of us might welcome such a bold proposition but I can’t help thinking that with it comes the potential for manipulation and control in ways that are intrusive and maybe even damaging? It’s quite a disturbing thought to consider that, in the next few years, we could be in a position where Second Life could not only have a profound effect on our lifestyle, (as for many it already does), but could also tailor our lifestyles, without us realising, potentially taking the reins from our first lives!

As technology becomes ever more integrated and discrete, we should maybe be careful that weare not on the road to creating a Frankenstein’s monster that will one day turn on us and make us its servants.

There is just one small thing that I find rather reassuring in this potentially nightmarish scenario – given the dismal performance that Second Life generally provides in relation to all things technical, I can’t imagine it could ever cope with manipulating our real lives… it’s probably going to struggle with making that cuppa! How much lag do you take in your tea?

Christmas Surprise

Posted on December 23, 2011


Christmas Surprise

‘Twas the night before Christmas
and in Second Life’s night
not a creature was stirring –
No avatar in sight.

Every resident missing;
are they out, on the town?
No! They just can’t log in –
the servers are down!

So, taking his chance,
with residents at bay,
Santa called up his reindeer
and jumped on his sleigh.

But you’d have been puzzled
to look in his sack…
It was empty going out,
and full coming back!

For Santa’s not doing his usual chores,
dropping down chimneys, ignoring locked doors.
He not leaving presents under the tree
and eating mince pies, left out by me.

For he has a plan
whilst there’s no-one around –
A new Christmas gift
from which joy will abound.

He opens his sack
and into that bag
he collects unbaked textures,
failed gestures, and lag.

The broken inventories
are inspected with care,
then packed off to the elves
at the workshop for repair.

He gathers together
borked scripts and poseballs,
refreshes their settings
and new contents installs.

He gathers up the tools
used to grief other users
for disposal in his sack…
That’ll teach the abusers!

Then as dawn breaks, on Christmas Day, bright
He looks back on his work and he smiles with delight.
And as we log in and find our world changed,
a broad beam fills his face at the things he’s arranged.

And so Merry Christmas to SL residents,
Father Christmas is hoping you’ll love your presents:
A world that is full of good things, and not bad…
In short: A Second Life, that you’ve never had!

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