Thursday, December 25, 2008

Under the Tree: A New Page from Linden Lab

Location: New SL Home Page

Merry Christmas, ya'll.

I must admit that I consider the new SL home-page quite a Christmas Present. It's slick and, despite the sniffs from design-prima-donas ("Puh-leeze! Black backgrounds are sooo 2001") I think it showcases the variety of SL experiences well. To wit:

  • Despite the paucity of non-human avatars on the page, the avatars pictured are not merely blingtards and shopaholics furnishing their Barbie Dreamhomes.
  • Some standout content appears alongside the pictures of avatars: Mexican pyramids and other worthwhile builds. Not one image of Svarga, by the way--sour grapes by Linden Lab that its creator is selling the property?
  • An admission that some residents to come to SL for sex. The language is coy, under the "pixel perfect romance" window: "dating, flirting, dancing and more." Read that "more" in any way you please.
  • Photos of real people who do not look like Dilbert. I think that marketing ploy will convince potential residents that SL is more like the Sims. That may not be great for older residents, who do not view SL as a game, but it's good for marketing because it positions the product as less creepy and more familiar to a mainstream demographic (who may just build Barbie be it).
  • Emphasis on "gaming within the world." I think that may be counterproductive, since roleplay and not video-game-style action is the hallmark of SL. Right now, it cannot complete with gaming because of lag and graphics, though that may improve.
What else strikes the eye, other than the complete absence of virtual hillbillies?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pappy on the Run: Hobo Hideout

Pappy & the Hobo King

Location: Hobo Island

Two legends (one in his own mind) of Second Life met up recently at Hobo Island. This makes a nice finale for 2008, my second year in-world.

Whatever the fate of SL, as our economy forces more and more of us to live like hobos, it's comforting to know that Orhalla Zander, the king of SL's hobo community, bought an island for the pretend poor-folks to call home.

Enter Pappy Enoch, who recently left Richmond Island "becuz WUN--they am sum'fin called a 'Zonin' Corn-mittee' a-fixin' to purtyfy stuff up 'round hear and TU--My orful sistur, Jezzy-Bell, dun figgered out whar I lives."

Jezzabel has promised to "kill that fat rascal dead" over grievances from real life, including:
  • $500,000 in fines, payable to the Commonwealth of Virginia, for the moonshine still that Jezz was found running after Pap ran off to Second Life (that is 135 million Linden dollars)
  • One glass eyeball--cornflower blue--that Pap owes his sister, for the loss of Jezz's real eye in a roller-derby match against the notorious Big Bertha Bodacious of the Cornville C-Cup Crushers.
  • A 1972 Pontiac Trans-Am 455 SD ("jist becuz, boy...stop axin so many durn questions!")
Since at last reckoning, Pappy had 36 Linden dollars, a fake still, a fake dog, a battered 1988 Ford F-150 (also fake), and 300 jugs of Shine in his SL inventory, he decided to run for it.

He reports that Hobo Island is a most friendly place, and the King himself can be found sitting on a barrel from time to time, making things.

Meanwhile, a certain hillbilly hellion is reported to have begun searching hobo locales in SL, including the Calleta Railroad Infohub.

Trouble comes to Calleta

More in 2009. Happy New Year, ya'll!

2008: Iggy Looks Back at Second Life

Location: Richmond Island

I had the chance to read carefully Tenchi's post about SL's future. There are a few areas where I disagree, but I think our experiences as users have been quite different. Here are where I see the promises and challenges for Second Life in 2009.
  • More stability for our content. Virtual worlds must include user-created content to retain educators like me. Right now, there is still to much instability in lost items in our inventories, gridwide crashes, and more.
  • De-escalating system requirements. Educators could, for the most part, care less about the fanciest graphics. I do not think Linden Lab is being wise in constantly ramping up the minimum specs for RAM and video cards. It has always been heartening to see a company provide cross-platform clients, but it does little good for me or my students when we begin losing access mid-semester. I realize (I was hammered for this on an e-list) that Linden Lab serves an international clientele and must roll out critical updates and cannot wait until the North American semester ends. It might be reasonable, however, to recall that Windows boxes tend to have a three-year lifespan, and Macs a five-year one, before their vitals become too old to run most current software.
  • Advertising to grow the user base. This is not needed for educational users: SL is already well on our radar, and with the EDUCAUSE recognition of virtual worlds as mature technology for the classroom, Linden Lab can try to expand the user base for social users again. I'm not a marketing guru, but SL needs more efforts like the CSI: New York campaign from last year.
  • More for Premium Users. That $72 a year probably does not add up to much, but we'd pay even more if we got more. I discount the cost of the 300 Linden Dollar/week stipend because most Premium users I know use the stipend to buy items in-world. I suspect that much of this "cash" never leaves SL but circulates like Monopoly money. Why not give Premium Account-holders off-grid data storage for inventory? Why not give us a little bit of non-transferable free land again? An update of the old First Land program comes to mind.
  • More partnerships with premium builders. The departure of Svarga's creator bodes ill for SL, as do the diversification of efforts by companies like Rezzable and Electric Sheep. We need these geniuses to make the sort of content we mere mortals cannot.
  • A better first hour. I know that the Lab is working on this, but the old Orientation Island experience, and the current SL interface, are not intuitive for newcomers. That's why, in my opinion, 90% of new SL users do not stay around.
All of these are tall orders for Marc Kingdon and Linden Lab. I hope they pull most of it off, or I fear that 2009 will be a year of steady declines for Second Life. That's why I'm already looking at other virutal worlds: this technology will mature and become stable. In 2009 we will find out if Linden Lab can figure out a way to survive in the new era.

Friday, December 19, 2008

OpenLife: Lonely as a Cloud

Mojobox in a pileup

Location: In an "Avatar Pile-Up," high above OpenLife
By Guest Writer Mojobox Kane

Those Lindens must know how good they have it. They laugh at our puny attempts to populate a better grid...

I'm the cloud in the midst of that pile-up you see. It's the sort of goofy login error that Second Life used to have a lot. I'm ready to party like it's 2006!

I suspect that eventually other virtual worlds will be nipping at their heels, but NOT YET.

Of course, being a cloud means that I don't have to worry about fashion, drama, or griefers (they pass right through ol' Mojo).

The OpenLife folks are persistent and have released an updated client for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Perhaps in time I won't, to quote William Wordsworth, wander about "lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o'er vales and hills."

Meanwhile, I'll download the latest updates from OpenLife to see if, at least, I can become the Frankenstein's Monster again...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Potty-Humor in SL

Yes, someone coded this
Location: FairChang Lost Isle Region, Shopping

No, this entry will not run in the Times Dispatch. I just have to wonder--why make this?

"Because it's cool and because I can" is a great answer: from a 13-year-old boy.

I have to admit, I did laugh at the overflowing "fountain o' poop" demo, as well as the maker's explanation that the toilet can be hurled, grenade-like, at someone before it explodes.

Well, we have something to look forward to the next time Philip Linden gives an in-world talk.

Speaking of Philips...when South Park ran its hilarious Christmas Special with the talking turd "Mr. Hanky, the Christmas Poo" my wife and I laughed hardest--in a crowd I might politely describe as a bit coarse--not at the ongoing poop jokes.

We bent over double, while no one else got the joke, when Stone and Parker decided to have Philip Glass perform at the town's banal and non-offensive "holiday" pageant.

I'm hoping to find that sort of mockery in SL--for now, however, it's flying-turd sight gags.

Happy Solstice, everyone! And those other holidays, too...

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Second Life Story on BBC: AND NO SEX!

Location: BBC News Home Page

It's delightful to have found this story about the business potential for SL. Tip of the Hillbilly tophat to Cynthia Barley for alerting me.

I'm sick of the "SL=sex" coverage that so often dominates mainstream media notice, now that the hype of the 2006 era has worn off.

As the journalists look afresh at SL, they'll see real work being done by educators, savvy corporations, and start-ups such as the Internet consultancy shown here. This Englishman uses SL for a platform for meeting his clients without burning fuel to commute.

Looks like the future to me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Manifesto for Staying or Leaving Virtual Worlds: What Do Educators Need?

Location: Blue Mars Web Site

With the launch of Sony's Playstation Home, we have a viable alternative in terms of graphics, if not community, to SL. I do not know anything about content creation in Home, however; to this academic it's the defining characteristic of a richly textured virtual world. Blue Mars, a yet-to-be-released virtual world (that coy woman is a Blue Mars avatar) promises unparalleled graphics but, and this is key, no user-created content.

I enjoy Dusan Writer's posts a lot, and from Dusan's old site, I ran across a post on "Leaving Second Life" from February. It would be good reading for a future class, when we study the psychology of virtual worlds. It's also influencing my thinking for an ongoing project, an academic article with the working title "The Holodeck Paradox."

A few call-out claims of Dusan Writer's:
  • "persistent 3D social spaces are at their most basic level experiences"
  • "at their most complex level, they’re new ways of creating, interacting with, and sharing concepts"
  • "virtual worlds have the power to be so compelling that we, consciously or not, decide that these worlds have more appeal than the real world" (this echos philosopher Jean Baudrillard's point about any "hyperreal" environment)
  • "The feeling of presence and the ability to share documents, pictures, and objects in a 'space' brings a deeper and more intuitive engagement" [than, say, teleconferencing]
Thanks to Writer's blog, I got a peek at Blue Mars, from Avatar Reality Inc. It appears, unlike OpenLife, to avoid using any Linden Lab open-source code. It's stunning, from the screen shots shown; here's a Blue Mars landscape.


Yet of course such projects always show us only the finest images captured on high-end computers. In fact, I'd argue that Linden Lab's splash photos on their Web pages are often delightfully dowdy--rather like snaps in a crazy family's album.

SL Splash Pic

If Blue Mars' makers are not merely blowing steam at us, " A 3D casual game in Blue Mars can be developed for the same cost as a 2D Flash-based game." That would be a powerful incentive for residents and developers in SL to give it a try.

But it's not enough for academic users who are not in SL or other virtual worlds to play games. That's not why I came. Other than my fetish for virtual racing in SL, I'm drawn to builds like the virtual Globe Theatre, House of Seven Gables, or Dante's Inferno.

As for Blue Mars, its launch has been repeatedly delayed. The company's site shows no updates past August of this year, and a few scatter-shot Google News searches show a spring 2009 roll out. Whatever the real-life economy does to new ventures such as Blue Mars or Home, the points Writer makes remain valid for those seeking entertainment in a virtual world. In time, the exodus to virtual worlds that Edward Castronova describes will reach the tipping point...whether that helps or hurts SL remains to be seen.

Here's a sign that some pioneers are already setting up camp elsewhere and plan to make virtual life easier "on the other side" for their fellow refugees.

Exodus Project

But will they really leave? And what will academic residents and (more importantly for Linden Lab) inventors need?

The operative issues for this academic, and others I've spoken to at and beyond our weekly Roundtable, remain:
  • User-generated content must be present to attract the educational community (Blue Mars' approach is to work with professional content developers)
  • Free or very cheap accounts must be available for student users
  • Hardware and software requirments must be relatively low and cross-platform (I won't join a virtual world without Mac OS support; others will feel differently). SL is mixed in this regard, because it does not support laptops well, and most of my students now use PC and Mac laptops. A few have been stranded by LL upgrades mid-term
  • The world must be stable enough to let projects thrive (Second Life has a mixed record here, though it's still better than OpenLife, the alternative I know best)
  • A world must enable gateways to non-vw content. That would mean being able to share Office documents and non-SL files within SL. I hear rumblings that Linden Lab is working on a solution to this. It would be a boon to academics in-world
  • The interface must be intuitive for new users (Home and Blue Mars promise this; SL-based virtual worlds fail pretty badly).
I realize this is beginning to become a manifesto. Perhaps that is needed.

I must part company with Writer on a key point about social users; while I agree broadly with this statement, as Linden Lab tries to lure more governmental and academic residents who will pay tier for their own islands, this point will matter less and less:
Is there a role for a virtual world platform that goes in the opposite direction of cartoon rooms and game-derived avatars? It’s all about the shopping and socializing. They may suck up the early adoption curve because of the technology requirements, but if they can keep people for the shopping and the socializing they may be on to something.
Writer is talking about Blue Mars, but for most educators, shopping is not why we come in world with students, except perhaps to study marketing by content-creators. Socializing is essential to engagement in and beyond class.

But buying hair and chatting are not what this technology is all about: our universities are not going to exploit the rich potential of virtual worlds until more is done to assure stability, interoperability, and security of any content we create.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sony's Home Launches

Location: Sony Playstation Home Web site

It's hard not to be excited when a major company rolls out a new virtual world. Sony's much-anticipated Home came out today from Beta-testing.


Home's greatest drawback is that Asian and European users will not be allowed on the same grid as US users. That was done, I understand, for legal reasons.

And that is awful. Home's graphics and avatars are promising...well, the guy in my pic is superbad..approaching my conception of Mojobox Kane, our OpenLife correspondent. The woman needs a stylist. That said, the lack of a worldwide community is a show-stopper for me.

One of Second Life's best draws is its international audience. My German class-mentors, Tenchi and Cynthia, could not collaborate with me in Home. I'm not even sure SL would still be around had its population been balkanized by region. The number of concurrent users is simply not large enough. Moreover, many of the language initiatives that educators are doing now in SL would be moot. Even my own students practiced their second languages this semester, and one of them interviewed two Germans involved in virtual soccer--in German and at length. Then he translated their remarks.

So for those reasons I'll pass Home by, even though Sony is giving it away to Playstation users. Since I don't own any consoles, I'm out of luck.

But I wish them well. The debut of Home marks another milestone in the attempt to bring virtual worlds into the mainstream.

Google's Lively has bombed. Will Home? It has an automatic user base and they, like some gamers who use SL for planning and socializing, may use Home to hang out between bouts of shooting stuff.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Exodus From Second LIfe?

Location: Reading Chair

While reading over a student's final project on racial identity in Second Life, I looked up the profile of Erika Therian, made famous when she switched race and was treated harshly as a dark-skinned woman. This greeted me:

“Since I can no longer find the heart to recommend SL to new ppl I am relinquishing my mentor status”

Therian has been in-world since 2004, and it bothers me greatly that she'd write this. Moreover, she's not alone in claiming there is a problem in the metaverse. Tenchi's recent column discusses the ongoing issues that have led her to drop her premium membership (and sell me her land).

Then, more ominously than all of us "little people," there is Svarga.

Read Wagner James Au's post on this, but in short: the wonderland of SL is for sale, because its creator, Laukosargas Svarog, feels that the expenses are too great and promised performance increases for SL are too slow in coming.

Then there's Sidewinder Linden, a coder of note who has just left Linden Lab. He brought the contentious Havoc 4 "physics engine" to Second Life, and that has changed our experiences in-world (some curse it, others cheer it, 'nuff said).

One wonders...what is Linden Lab planning? At a recent meeting, one employee of the company reacted quickly when a participant asked "Is Second Life dying?" Company Line: NO.

For the rest of us, it's just an uneasy time to invest time in this fake world.

Götterdämmerung for Newspapers?

Okay, I cannot resist the German term: the blog now has a German co-author, Tenchi Morigi. Wagner's music is booming from my NPR station, part of "Performance Today," one of the few classical-music programs that does not make me feel that weasels are rending my flesh.

And The Tribune Company has declared bankruptcy. I suspect that many more newspapers in the US will follow. Advertising revenues are tanking, as is readership.

While Second Life has not caused this twilight of the newspaper gods, the virtual world is part of a larger phenomenon that has eroded readership: in North America and Western Europe, we have reached nearly ubiquitous Internet access, at the signal-level if not the socioeconomic level.

Our eyeballs are elsewhere. From games to virtual worlds to Web 2.0 sites, we are too busy to read the paper. Unless one is over 40, commutes by subway (as in New York, where many papers survive) or lives in a rural area without high-speed Internet, I'd wager that news is ever more frequently consumed online.

While newspapers have had a glorious history, their next chapter will feature the survival of a few giants who "get it" online, like the New York Times, or papers that tailor their business models to the new reality, buy news from outlets like Bloomberg, and lay off many of their own reporting staffs.

This is not a healthy development, but it seems inevitable. It's an open question of whether the Net can ever match the depth of good journalism that the US had in its Postwar years or the investigative work done after the 70s. As more and more news outlets turn to "infotainment" to survive, I'm not optimistic.

2008 - Some thoughts after the hype

Its not been a full year since I made a frist resumee of my first twelve months on SL and I am already summing up again. Well I could of course have stuck with the strict year cycle, but I think that won´t change a lot since the curve of my SL currently moves quite homogeneously with the current developements in SL so I will use the classical habbit from TV to use the day before the years end for a look back on the past year.

First and most likely 2008 was a year of change for SL. CEO and CTO stepped back and new people took over the job. This created quite some hope with the people of SL (including me) since they were hoping that it would improve the user experience which they longed for.

The truth looked a bit different though. LL proved once again that they are a commercial venture in first place and not the caring gods of a world created by our imagination how the claims always want to make the users believe.

The open Sim debate showed this more then clearly. Launching a product and not calculating the possible impact on the grid was a rather typical behaviour. The huge success of the open space sims immedeatly ended when they were going for their share of the cake and announced a dramatic increase in the sim price. At the same time several decisions caused even more uproar in the commercial community like the massive pressure that was put on landprices by simply releasing more and more mainland effectively cutting the landprice to pieces.

Additionally the proclaimed year of stability still echoes in quite a lot of heads but the reality looks different here as well. The current viewerrelease causes even more crashes then the older ones (some people say 1.19 was the best viewer released so far and have switched to onrez Client) and in the worst cases some long term users are left stranded because they cannot comply with the client requirements anymore. This is especially bitter since the Linden representatives do not get tired of assuring that their first goal is stability and reliability which are two factors that never have been really reached or to make it worse never have been taken seriously.

I think that everyone should have come to the conclusion that LL is not a group of virtual messiahs that serve the better of the virtual people but a commercial company that will actually only improve their services noteably when the dollar isn´t flowing anymore. The loss of 250 open space sims might be a first warning sign here and if more will follow perhaps they will rethink their policies finally. At the moment SL has quite a monopoly of the most progressed plattform of its kind but others will follow and those are most likely ventures not to repeat such mistakes.
Since I do not own mainland anymore (for quite some time now) I have decided to downgrade to basic and not buy Linden Dollars via the official Website but only use licenced Exchange website since I think that is the only way to make them understand by limiting the cashflow.

On the personal side of my SL the second year has also been quite different from the first one. While the first one mainly was coined by the aspects of learning, year two was mostly about using what I have learned, passing it on to others and helping them to find their way. This included quite some exploring and meeting new people but on the same hand loosing touch to quite some of them as well since they left SL from one day to the next.
A friend of mine once stated that everything SL runs 5 times as fast as in RL and seeing those dear people vanish seems to prove that quite impressively.
Apart from that I noticed a certain change in the quality of people I meet on the grid. While last year I met quite somem nice people whom I liked to talk with these occasions became rarer in 2008. This was not because I was in no mood to talk but the people I met didn´t really get past the usual 3 word introduction or tried getting me out of my clothes on the spot. the general quality of people using SL seems also to be slowly decreasing. This goes hand in hand with the slow loss of creative potential since the leading heads of the creative community draw back their support and release less things because they are disappointed of Linden Labs policies which do not encourage content creators to invest their time into Second Life anymore.

I think that the hype about SL is pretty much over and a lot of people originally interested in it turned their back on it. This combined with the current ambition to disappoint long term users could result in a dangerous mix for Linden Labs helping other ventures indirectly. I am pretty curious how the next year in sl will turn out and what it will bring. I hope that LL will not continue making the mistakes it did in 2008 for their own good.
If things won´t change? Well since I have lended my crystal ball to someone else it will be hard to judge. If no surprising fresh candidate will appear on the scene in 2009 SL will continue to "rule" the metaversal plattforms but will further sinking popularity due to unreliability and a rapidly decomposing user community.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Iggy's Syllabus: Build It! Report

Group two interior

Location: Richmond Island

It's almost "showtime" for the first-ever building project I have asked students to do in SL. And on Friday, an eminent group of educators from the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education will make a SL tour of many spaces--including Richmond Island.

I was a little worried, over the weekend, at the fairly empty lot where the students would be working. Their assignment was carefully written to indicate how the building, writing, and project decisions would be divided.

Socrates at work

What WAS I thinking? After all, the students are competing with each other...and soon enough, avatars began popping onto the island to hang up photos and begin the home stretch for Build-it. In the image above, Socrates Turbo begins to prepare the interior of his group's gallery for the photo essay they will co-produce.

Socrates on the roof

I put a radar dish on the roof of the group's building, just before Socrates appeared. Why? No idea, any more than I know why the group put a search-light there. But one does not question the Steampunk aesthetic: just cobble it together.

The balancing act is a fine one. One or two students share each of these roles: head architect, archivist, and project manager. In addition to the group work, however, each writer must find a photo that expresses a fundamental claim about SL and link it, in-world, to a 500-word wiki about why the claim is important and the assumptions one can draw from that claim.

The project puts a modern spin on a few 2500-year-0ld (plus) rhetorical strategies. I just hope the projects look good in the end. If not, an outside consultant has been hired to fix up any last-minute gaffs.

Git er Dun!

Only the best at Richmond Island!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Holodeck Paradox, Part 2

Location: Real-Life Front Yard

A little before 7am this morning, I caught this image from Nature's graphics engine on my camera. It's an exceptionally nice sunrise for this time of year; I use it not to illustrate what virtual worlds lack (sunsets can be stunning) nor what we humans should be doing instead of using virtual worlds.

It is a marker, however, for the distance we must travel if these illusions are to seem real. I'm tired of the hackneyed "get a first life!" from folks who probably rush home to see a certain TV show or structure their lives around a football season. Neither of these pastimes, pleasant though they may be, are half as interactive as virtual worlds. Yet they share one characteristic at least: they do not yet engage all of the senses.

Castronova's notes about Star Trek's Holodeck, in his book Exodus to the Virtual World, have me thinking of what many gamers and virtual-world residents fail to notice in the world of matter. The Holodeck delivered convicing simulations that stimulated all five senses. So far, virtual worlds and games engage speech, sight, hearing, and in very limited ways (feedback on game consoles) touch. If Castronova is correct, when we add pleasant smells (this is a hyperreal world a la bad smells) and ratchet up the level of stimulation sufficiently, the exodus from our world to virtual worlds will become complete.

"More room for me," I'm tempted to say, since I'm embarking on my usual fall activities that get me out of doors a lot to see nuances in the landscape. But we might try somthing else, even as we stop to say "great build" (as I did recently when I peeked at Dartmouth's virtual version of Dante's Inferno). So join me in my autumnal musings on the following real-life phenomena:

  • The Antitwilight: Earth's shadow rises up the sky on clear morning and afternoons, just at sunrise and sunset, when the air is not humid. Look for it opposite the sun; a purple band of shadow, in colors no virtual world can yet render, appears.
  • A Thousand Shades of Brown: Leaf-watchers often give up when the branches are bare; think again. "Brown" is not as boring as one might think. Walking the boundaries of a twenty-acre lot recently, I started checking the hardwoods and the forest floor. The bright sunlight of early December gave way to twilight, and I noticed how leaves go from their fall hues gradually to a rich brown (oaks are particularly nice). Even on the ground, there are more variations in color than I'd never seen before. In virtual worlds, ground textures, even when rendered from photos, cannot capture this nuance yet.
  • Silence: The silence of autumnal woods is not complete; it is punctuated with small sounds...a Red-Headed Woodpecker's hunt for food, a single call from a squirrel or a distant hawk. While virtual worlds have a good soundtrack in the best regions I've visited, the sounds are usually not this subtle or startling when they break the screen's silence.
  • Winter Skies. The dance of Jupiter and Venus a few days ago was stunning. With clear skies, Orion burns bright over our house every winter. Even in town the sky is amazing. In the country, it becomes a work of art so bright that when the moon is down, the stars cast their own shadows. Last month in the country, I watched the Milky Way in all its subtle infinitude arch over my head.
That's four gifts, from the best graphics engine of them all, that virtual worlds are no where close to matching. I'd welcome suggestions of others.

At present, however, I would guess that without a couple more generations of comuting power and increased bandwidth, a Holodeck-type simulation is a distance promise (or threat, if you please). The first ones will only be able to render, say, a single building's interior or a small natural space in all their complexity.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pappy Offers Second Life Technical Support


Iggy's Note: Play "Arkansas Traveller" in the background for the full effect...

Caller: This am Pappy's Corn-putin' support?

Pappy: Howdy, ol' son! Hoo am yu?

Caller: Why, Pap! Don't yu recollect yo' own cuzzin', Euripides Junior Hawgwallup?

Pappy: HOO-WEE! Junie! YU gots a corn-puter?

Caller: Yep. N' I wants tu jine up wif yu in Secund Life! They say them Lindens am losin' kustumers sum'fin feerce. I reckons we Enoch Holler folks kin slide on in...

Pappy: I dun got to this fake wirld early...but y'all kum on ovur!

Caller: I was a-fixin' tu du jist that, Pap! But my corn-puter am busted! Kin yu help mee?

Pappy: Sho kin! Let's commence wif the yo' corn-puter runnin?

Caller: Runnin? Heck no! I bin hear awl day n' she ain't moved an inch!

Pappy: No, no, Junie! I means, am the corn-puter workin' propur-like?

Caller: Well, why the Sam Hill didn't yu say THAT? Nope, she ain't wurkin' no more'n yu used tu du.

Pappy: Now don't git persunul...go ahead an' pick up the mouse.

Caller: Heck no! Mah cat does that! What's that got tu du wif...

Pappy: Oh mah gawd...see that-thar plastick thang on a string whut looks like a plumb-bob? Move it around sum.

Caller: Dun did it. HOO WHEE. She's a smokin' wurse'n a hippie in Cuzzin Flem's patch o' Panama Red!

Pappy: Qwik! Shut Winders!

Caller: Huh? They ain't open! It's tu dang cold hear!

Oh fo'git it! Pull the plug out'n the wall!

Plug? Lectric wun? Ain't got no plug....

Pappy: How yu runnin' it, then?

Caller: I dun telled yu alreddy it ain't runnin, boy!

Pappy: Dagnabbit! How DU YU MAKE IT WORK?

Caller: Ding-bust yu tu the hot place! If'n I knowed how tu make her wurk, why wood I be a-callin' YU? Yu sho' nuff ain't tu far frum a fool...

Pappy: Only gots a phone line beetwixt us! [disconnects caller]

Bee dawg if'n I are a-gonna stick wif this-hear job! I'm a gonna git me sum easy wurk, like rasslin' fake alligaturs!

Second Life Land Baron?

Remember Woody Allen's Love and Death? His father, a Russian peasant, owned a small piece of land. It was so small, in fact, that he kept it in his jacket.

I feel like that, because I've purchased my first SL property. I needed to move Pappy to his own place, because we are planning expansions of the area on Richmond Island for student projects.

Tenchi Morigi is consolidating her land-holding in SL, and as a result she gave me the plot where the Stability Now! headquarters had once stood. It's not completely free, of course. For those who have never owned land, it's the way Linden Lab rakes in real money. For Premium residents like me, after my first 512 square meters of owned land, I pay a "tier fee" to the company each month. In my case, it's $5 US a month.

Not bad for the "Hellbilly Home Place," so our rip-snortin' hillbilly family can terrorize the neighbors.


These include some creepy place called "Vile Chapel." At least it's so far up in the air that I had to fly there in the car to find it.


But a vampire's paradise has nothing on the even creepier virtual suburbia on the other side. Pappy went over there to have a look..only a matter of time until we all are on the ban list.


Since I'd rather have vampires come after me than to dwell in the suburbs (in either life), I have to wonder: why do avatars move into these dreadful places-that-are-no-place? It's bad enough in real life, but in Second Life, where anything can be done or made, why? Perhaps, as the housing market collapses and real suburbia hits the skids...the hollow dream of conformity can struggle onward in this irreal place.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Holodeck Paradox, Part 1

I've been reading Edward Castronova's compelling Exodus to the Virtual World, one of the best books yet on probable social effects of these technologies.

One of Castronova's key points concerns the increasing realism of virtual worlds; he compares them to Star Trek's Holodeck. I'll call his idea "the Holodeck Paradox": if the Holodeck were able to deliver a perfect simulation of the perfect personal fantasy, why would anyone on the Enterprise do anything else?

And as virtual worlds approach a "real enough" level of simulation, what will be given up in our real lives as we spend more time in-world(s)? Right now, SL is laggy and not as stable or intuitive as other forms of entertainment. Alternative social worlds--I'm not talking games here--are rickety like OpenLife (in my experience) or cartoonish, like the IMVU boopsies pictured above. My ideal lifestyle is not that of a Bratz dolly.

But virtual worlds will improve: when they have the GI Joe Adventure Team down, I'll be lost in virtuality. So let's take stock. Castronova is not afraid of using empirical and personal evidence. So I'm going to take inventory of my own life over the past two years in-world in SL:
  • Less time with books and DVDs. I don't watch TV, except for an occasional clip or entire episode over the Internet. I am again reading more (working on only three books now) than a year ago but my pace has slowed . The writing, posting photos, and leaving comments in the blogosphere, not the actual time in-world, seem to be what devours my free time.
  • Less time with face-to-face gaming. I never went for online games, because I'm more a gamemaster than player. When playing or refereeing, my interest was never about "leveling up" but about creating virtual places and adventures in my many role-playing campaigns (for more than 30 years). I rarely had time for more than a weekly "nerd night" with the usual suspects, but now I do not spend much time designing RPG "runs" and don't set up a massive WW II board game every so often and play it solo.
  • Less patience for idiots. I've never suffered them lightly, but I have less and less patience in real life for stupid people since I began associating more often with clever SLers (idiots abound there too--I just walk away).
  • Less money spent on hobbies. I build fewer model aircraft (I'm OCD that way) and collect fewer classic GI Joes (the shelf is full, too). Yet while these nerdy hobbies have yielded to "stuff" acquired in-world, other hobbies continue as they were before I made my exodus to virtual worlds. These survivors tend to be physical or spiritual: biking, gardening, a yoga practice, and do-it-yourself projects.
  • More time writing. Now this seems paradoxical indeed, but the virtual world has given me subject matter for informal blogging, fiction, and academic articles.
Overall, my hobby time and not my personal time with friends and family (none of them are idiots) has been altered by my time in-world in Second Life and, more recently, OpenLife.

The Holodeck may well arrive one day, but perhaps the slowness of its development will give others time to adapt habits and hobbies to a transformed notion of leisure time. Meanwhile, some tough adjustments will be made. I strolled across the quad to observe a class, and fell in with a colleague who knows about my work with SL. He is not taking a winter break to a mountain cabin because both kids and his wife cannot leave high-speed internet. They need it for their World of Warcraft lives.

There's a world of a story in that lonely mountain cabin, waiting to be told.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Run, Pappy, RUN!

Shoppin for guns tu kill Papp...
Location: SL gun dealer's shop

Iggy's Note: Intercepted message to a Second Life Gun-Dealer:

I wants tu thank yu fo' givin' a poor Hillbily gal a chance tu kamp. I plans tu get me 1400L tugether so I kin buy them-thar .44 Magnums yu got. Then I kin BLAST that fat rascal brothur o' mine, Pappy Enoch! Whee hoo!

Keep up the bizness o' deth. I luvs shootin' stuff, espsheshully stinkin' pole-cat brothurs hoo owes mee munny n' a glass eyeball (I lost mine in Roller Derby tryin' tu pay back taxes when Pappy run off tu Secund Life). He won't pay no restitushun to our famberly, but I am a-gonna make him pay a heavy ol' price :)