Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pappy Enoch Tours Hobo Island

Location: Hobo Island

Pappy Enoch was itching to get a look at Hobo Island, the region built by Orhalla Zander, SL’s hobo king and philosopher-king in Cinemax’s “Molotov Alva and His Search for a Creator,” by Douglas Gayeton.

Pappy spent his time wandering above and below ground at Hobo Island. The images here give some sense of what Pap encountered. It was, Pappy notes, the first time that he actually needed the little “torch” that all avatars carry in their inventories. The subway tracks were pitch black, and he actually got lost!

After emerging from the darkness, Pappy met with a group of island residents. As he and I have both found at the Caletta Hobo Railroad Infohub, almost everyone was friendly. One avatar (not pictured) was rude to Pappy, claiming that the Shiner’s accent was an insult to poor people.

I find that curious for a few reasons. First, Pap is a trickster by nature, and he loves to pull stunts that expose the shallowness of the cults of beauty and possessions in SL. And second, Orhalla Zander himself seems to revel hobo vernacular, as the description of the infohub makes plain:

“It be dah home fer deh homeless tah enjoy sl, fishin n sleepin in dar boxes. Com’er down n relax.”

So that’s proof-positive that the creator of SL’s hobo culture knows the difference between celebrating and mocking subcultures that transgress the boundaries of consumerist, “he who dies with the most stuff wins,” “new and improved,” and “more is better” thinking.

Pappy adds “Mistophur Zandar ain’t no snot. He understands whut po’ boys like mee needs in a fake wirld. Whee hoo! They gots theyselfs a still n’ Shine which are the second best White Lightnin’ in Secund Life!”

And when you die in real life, you’re just dead. Your stuff may as well have been virtual; somebody gets it when you are gone. So come on down to Hobo Island, as I plan to do, and visit a fascinating online subculture.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ask Di: End of the (Fake) World?

Di poses
by Dianna Defiant, Guest Writer
Location: Our Virtual Advice Desk

Dear Di,

I'm so afraid that Linden Lab will go out of business! If they do, I will lose all my good friends and all my Second Life inventory?

Am I being neurotic? Should I be planning for my Third Life?

Yours fretfully,

Scared Silly

Dear Scared Silly: do realize it's fake stuff...right??

If SL goes bust you won't need the stuff anyway... As for your friends, if you are really worried, exchange email addresses with them. If they don't have one they want to give out, have them make a free one in their avvie's name. Lots of people do that. Then you can keep in touch no matter what.

And if SL goes under, you can always join World Of Warcraft, or OpenLife, or another virtual world. I have a feeling they will keep cropping up. And BTW, if that's your biggest worry, you're doing pretty well!


Questions for Di? Iggy will forward them to her! E-mail iggyo -at- mac -dot- com

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Second Life Lesson from The Hollow Earth

Tekelili Tantalus, like me, enjoys the cyclopean, monster-haunted dreamscapes of H.P. Lovecraft’s short fiction. When I ran across Tantalus’ island, known as Hollow Earth, I found free cavern boats to ride and a mysterious city underground, set amid the huge crystals and flowstone of an Openspace simulator. Only one part of Tekelili’s region is dedicated to commerce; he is a talented designer of furniture, jewelry, and other accessories with a Lovecraftian aesthetic.

While no shambling horror got me during my visit, I wondered constantly about another threat to Hollow Earth itself. Like others who have set up their SL homes in “Openspace” regions in SL, Tantalus must soon make an expense choice. For those readers who do not understand the fury in-world over a recent Linden Lab decision, consider Tantalus’ situation. By January 9, 2009, he and other Openspace landowners must convert their regions to a more expensive “full” (though, admittedly, more flexible) type of simulator or face a 66% increase in fees for the current spaces they use.

To be fair to Linden Lab, many residents purchased Openspace sims and, unlike Tantalus, used them as cash-cows to set up the equivalent of malls or apartment complexes. This violated the spirit of the Openspaces to provide low-usage regions to connect areas by water, wilderness, or air (these features inspired subcultures of flyers and sailors). To many in the SL population, the sudden decision to increase fees on users who ran small businesses, rented out land, or set up entertainment areas hurt not only those breaking the rules for OS regions but also these entertainment-minded avatars in their sloops and biplanes. To many, it seemed as if Linden Lab no longer wanted their business. Even my students, who are in-world only to work on their assignments, began encountering in-world protests.

Metaverse-watcher Gwyneth Llewelyn, at the end of a long and well crafted post to her blog about the Linden decision, still could not fathom their motives. One thing is certain, however; the downturn in the real-life economy has its virtual counterpart, and even before the Openspace decision, cash-strapped landowners were leaving Second Life or dumping their virtual real estate. Meanwhile, older residents recognized a shift of emphasis to customers who could in theory provide Linden Lab with a more consistent revenue stream. This is ironic; corporations can now build their own private virtual worlds for business-only purposes, but as one of Llewelyn’s respondents noted, to reach potential customers they need a well populated social world online:
To focus on corporates at the expense of individuals is suicidal: the corporates are only likely to have any long-term interest in SecondLife as a platform so long as there are a large number of people using it as individuals.

And what of individuals like Tantalus, whose $1000 or so of annual maintenance fees go to the company?
I'm planning to bite the bullet, and upgrading it to a full SIM, rather than risking the Homestead script limits as an inconvenience to those who visit the store and the caverns. I'm planning to do this sometime toward the end of next month, most likely, but certainly before the Jan 9th deadline on conversions. So, I guess I'm stuck doing exactly what LL prefers, but, in this situation it is the best choice.

So, Hollow Earth's future is that it'll be more costly, but, the extra beauty that can be added will be worth it. I've deliberately kept down the prim count and script levels currently, as it's on an Opensim, but when it's at full sim status I'll be able to invest a great deal more detail in the caverns. The village will increase in size, there'll be creatures, underwater details, and likely even some more caverns to find for a curious climber.
As I wandered the non-Euclidian spaces of Hollow Earth, I fretted that while Tantalus’ clever visualization of HPL’s landscapes might endure, we’ll see fewer such hobby projects in the future.

Incidentally and ironically, Tekelili Tantalus’s first name is the piping sound made by Lovecraft’s polymorphous Shoggoths, monsters made long before human history to serve the needs of godlike beings called Elder Things. Eventually the Shoggoths grew clever and destroyed their makers, and the Elder Things’ Antarctic city, at one point the wonder of the earth, became an icy wasteland.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Big Media Leave SL

Self Portrait, late 2007
Location: On Pins and Needles

This is, to be honest, a fearful placeholder.

It's a time when Reuters, CNN, and for all I know, other mainstream media outlets have stopped, or greatly scaled back, covering Second Life.

When SL does appear in the news, it's for fluff such as the recent story of a massively overweight, housebound and unemployed UK couple whose avatars (and owners) divorced over a case of in-world infidelity. Such SL residents are too often depicted, explicitly or implicitly, as the norm.

My current "In a Strange Land" at Media General may not survive the industry-wide downsizing of Second Life Coverage or the latest redo of the Times Dispatch's Web portal. In the blogs list, there are the usual ones for mainstream topics: pets, parenting, popular culture, post-election sour grapes by a conservative blogger.

No mention of Iggy, Pappy, Second Life, or virtual worlds. While my Media General blog has not been yanked, it is currently buried. Is that accidental? I've written my editor.

Stay tuned. Before you all (if there are any of you :) fire back with tirades against corporate media, let me be clear: writing for the mainstream is important, be it in a blog or print publication. 3D virtual worlds will one day be as common a part of our Internet usage as Web browsers are today. We pioneers in these strange lands need to set the tone for the masses who will join us on this side of the screen.