Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Is Second Life?

My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.

Ashleigh Brilliant

Recently, while talking with my friend, Perryn Peterson, the question of what is Second Life (SL) came up.  (Perryn’s quicker on the uptake on these weighty questions than I am, I kept thinking he was talking about its system architecture.  Fortunately, for the sake of our friendship, Perryn’s patient.  Very patient.)

The question came about during a discussion about my recent story about MadPea Productions when we discussed whether or not SL is a game or is it something else.  This got me thinking, what is a game and if SL isn’t a game what could it be?  And what proofs would I have once I make a determination?  (I’m on thin intellectual ice from this point on.  I take full responsibility for whatever mistakes in logic or faux pas I make from this point forward.  Perryn, your reputation is safe.  I bet he’s feeling better already.)

 I turn to Wikipedia for a definition of what a game is.  I read, “A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool….Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction.”

OK, I have to something to go on with this.  SL, at least in my humble opinion, is not exactly “structured playing”.  Especially where I’ve been hanging out.  Enjoyment, except for the masochists, I think everyone I’ve met inworld is there for a good time.  But, hey, being in a bar on a Friday night for a good time doesn’t make it a game.  (Don’t go there.)  Educational tool, probably not since Linden Lab killed the educational institution discount. 

Let’s take a look at the next set of criteria.  Goals?  One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard leveled at SL by noobies is what do they do once they get in there.  As for rules, other than Linden Lab acting as some sort of deus ex machina chaperone, I don’t think so.  Challenge, somehow I don’t think the authors of the definition had working through the new SL viewer in mind.  And, finally, there is interaction.  Definitely a lot of that of that in SL and not just in the adult sims. 

The other thing about a game is that there’s generally winners and losers.  (Alright, alright, yes, I know.  There can be draws.  But, you get the idea?)   SL is far from World of Warcraft  There are no points to score, gold to accumulate, or hidden prizes somewhere down there in the virtual Cracker Jack box.  Sure, maybe occasionally you run into some rude jerk but that happens every day in Real Life (RL) too. 

Right about now, I’m comfortable with saying that SL is not a game.  There may be games contained within, residents may certainly play games with each other, but SL is not a game.  (Even if they don’t know they’re playing.) The next question is then, what is SL if it’s not a game?  This one is not so simple to answer. 

I go back to Perryn.  He feels SL is an extension of RL.  That’s heavy.  I think about this for a while and maybe he’s onto something. 

What do we do when we come into SL?  I ask this from a personal level, not a technical one.  Many of us form relationships with other residents.  How many friends do we have?  Have many of us have partners inworld who may not be our partners in RL?  (Please don’t feel any obligation to answer that one, it’s rhetorical.) 

Next, don’t many of these relationships lead to communities?  Recently, I’ve written about vampires, steampunks, furries, and goths to name but a few of the groups I’ve encountered since joining SL.  How many of these people engage in these types of activities in RL?  Except for a minority involved with cosplay, not many I’d hazard a guess.   

Finally, how much time does a typical resident put into his or her SL persona?  Anecdotally, some SL residents have told me they are in SL over ten hours a week.  Sure, some are probably less, others more.  My point is that people are spending decent amounts of time inworld. 

Now, some may say is SL just another form of social media?  I don’t think so.  Here’s why. 

First, borrowing from my friends at Wikipedia again, “Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as ‘a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.’“  What I’m suggesting is that the SL user-generated content is actually RL in another format and is an end in itself enabling RL.  The anonymity of SL is irrelevant.  What matters is that SL permits people to engage as they would in RL.  Social tools like Facebook and Twitter merely facilitate that. 

My next point is SL develops new relationships and communities while social media merely facilitates existing ones.  I use myself as an example.  (Always a dangerous thing to do.)  All my friends in SL are people whom I met there.  None are my RL friends.  (And, yes, I do have RL friends.)  The communities I’ve met inworld I wouldn’t have encountered in RL.  In RL, I don’t use Facebook and Twitter to meet new people.  Reconnect with old friends, yes, but I don’t go trawling for new friends in social media.  (Considered socially unacceptable by many.) 

Finally, developing SL’s user-generated content as well as the relationships and communities takes time.  This is many times leveled as a criticism of SL and the advantage of social media.  I submit that as in RL, relationships in SL take time to build and nurture.  People are hurt in SL every day.  I see many resident profiles where they ask others to remember that a real person is behind the avatar when they interact with them. 

So, where are we now?  SL is not a game because it doesn’t meet the criteria of a game and it’s not social media because it’s not a tool. 

SL is an extension of RL.  We all start in SL with a blank page which we need to fill. Isn’t this akin to being born and having to develop?  Each of us takes our own frame of reference into SL just as we do into RL.  And, as in RL, we can be hurt in SL but then we can be happy too.

I would be very interested in knowing how others feel about this question.  Please send me your thoughts with the following contact information. 

I would like to thank Perryn Peterson for raising this philosophical question with me and then taking the time to discuss it.  Not to mention, encouraging me to write this story.  As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 1: Perryn Peterson

Photo No. 2: Vampyr Empire Landing Pentagram

Photo No. 3: Steampunk Airship Tower

Photo No. 4: Luskwood – Furry Sim

Photo No. 5. Lost City of Gothika

Photo No. 6: Vampire Wedding Party

Photo No. 7: STEAM: Hunt!5 Wrap Party

Saturday, November 19, 2011

One of the Most Interesting Second Life Residents I’ve Met (I): Morsmordre Furman

Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.

One of the more interesting and pleasant aspects of exploring Second Life (SL) is meeting new and interesting people across the grid.  Recently, I had the good fortune to meet one such person and I decided to call out with a story about her and her life inworld.  I hope my readers find her as interesting as I do.

I first learned of Morsmordre Furman from my friend, Perryn Peterson,  when I interviewed him for my story on STEAM: The Hunt5.  Morsmordre had designed and built the five trophies for the hunt.  Perryn, who is a very interesting person in his own right, suggested I meet her and off I went. 

I arrange to meet with Morsmordre at her private workshop in Rundas.   Actually, her workshop and home is a skybox and has to be seen to be believed. 

When I arrive in her workshop, I’m struck by its resemblance to the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I’m also struck by the various steampunk objects about in various states of construction.  Morsmordre tells me that was the idea and she finds the grid fantastic for building. In Real Life (RL), she wears glasses and even with her new pair, she does not see very well when it comes to some aspects of the SL interface.  So, she likes that she can compensate for that in SL. 

Another interesting aspect of Morsmordre’s workshop is the very obvious lack of a steampunk motif despite all the steampunk projects lying about.  She says “steaming” it up would take too much time away from her other building projects so she went for the mid-twenty-fifth century look. 

Morsmordre takes me to see the five trophies that will be awarded to the winning merchants at the Hunt5.  (At this time, the hunt is not yet over and the winners have still to be announced.)  She has based their design on an historical piece that had actual cogs engraved on it.  The design is supposed to be a gold filled engraving based on one of the more difficult RL methods of metal work.  The work will stand out regardless of which trophy it is and gives them all a consistent appearance. 

I’m beginning to realize that this woman really knows her Victoriana and not just its appearances.  She gets into how and why things were made the way they were back then.  I tell her that I haven’t met anyone quite like her yet in SL.  She modestly replies that she just likes to relax in SL and be herself. 

Morsmordre’s workshop is new but her house isn’t.  She tells me that she’d built her first house upon arriving in SL but it a “bit awful” as she puts it and freely admits to having building help since.  In SL, Morsmordre often uses a wheelchair and is working on a proper Victorian one.  She also has prosthetic leg made for her use in SL which is based on an actual 1885 model and has a ball at the ankle joint instead of a foot.  Morsmorde researches extensively in reality so that she can get the right feel and shape.  She looks at picture and then tortures prims more than modeling as she puts it. 

In RL, Morsmordre is disabled and talks openly about it.  She finds that many people in SL use it as a gateway since going out into RL on a daily basis is too difficult. 

Returning to steampunk, Morsmordre says many people feel that it’s simply about gears, cogs, and steam.  She believes that true steampunk is a mixture between the romance of the upper class overlooking the abject poverty and struggle of lower and even middle class living and then adding in modern and futuristic technology.  Just slapping a cog on something and calling it steam doesn’t necessarily make it so.  She continues that true steampunk is about finding the right balance between the science fiction of the era, modern sensibilities, and the Victorian aesthetic which is also quite medieval. 

Morsmordre believes that future generations will look at the twentieth century as a sort of technological puberty.  The Victorian Age was technologically a childhood.  Thus, the hopes, dreams and the overall outlook assumed that by the time we would be born the world would be free of all farm animals and plant life because that would be better for some.  She concludes saying that not all the ideas were wise ones. 

She feels that the twentieth century is the rebellion of the teenage technology showing  that its creators were not all wise and the brilliance of some individuals’ work as used by men and women is fallible. 

By now, I realize that I’m dealing with someone very different than a mere scripter.  Morsmordre has definitely given some serious thought to the Victorian Age and what it means for steampunk.  Not to leave this topic on a pessimistic note, she hopes that the current century will continue to mature and as technology reaches a more adult way perhaps it will end up being as hopeful as our ancestors dreamed. 

Morsmordre begins to tell me about her recent activities role playing a Victorian doctor in SL.  This is in conjunction with her significant research into historical medicine.  I make the mistake of asking if she’s modeling herself on Dr.  Watson.  She quickly retorts that she prefers Sherlock Holmes because she feels she is more like him.  (My fault, I should have seen that one coming.)  To her, Watson is the observer, Holmes represents action.  She is also fascinated with the RL man who inspired Holmes, Joseph Bell, whom she considers to be the forefather of forensics. 

I confess to a soft spot for Watson because he’s the scribe.  (Hey, writers don’t have too many heroes!)  Morsmordre replies that for her, Watson is outside the story which is why she prefers Holmes.  She finds it a very neat technique.  (I think I’ve just been very politely put in my place.)  Although, she does find this odd because she blows off steam by role playing in SL which is basically writing, 

At this point, Morsmordre takes me through the magic door in her workshop to be promptly deposited in the very proper Victorian drawing room of her home.  (While moving along, I comment on how Whovian this is.  Morsmordre replies how she loves Who and has a collection of sonic screwdrivers and Dalek bits in her inventory.  This woman definitely has it all.

Once we arrive and I’m being shown around, Morsmordre tells me that her friend and landlord, Katherine Melina,  had put this home up for her.  Originally, this was the Builders’ Brewery House from last year’s hunt.  Her pet cats are around except for the few strays who have managed to get downstairs into her workshop.  (OK, did you catch that?  SL has some seriously good programming in case you haven’t noticed.) 

This is when Morsmordre offers to show me the largest breedable cat in SL.  We go outside and I’m introduced to Hulk.  Not only is the largest cat I’ve ever met in SL, he’s the largest living (Did I just say that?) anything I’ve ever met in SL.  Morsmordre warns me not to try petting him because he’ll launch me off the sim into freefall if I do.  (Remember we’re in a skybox.)  She says it’s really funny to watch folks being being tossed off down to Rundas. 

Her sim, both inside and outside on the grounds, is a work of art mainly in the steampunk genre.  Her landlord is also a steampunk. 

By now, I’ve seen Morsmordre as a sculptor, scripter, role player, philosopher, and Victorian enthusiast to name but a few occupations.  I tell her she reminds me of Captain Nemo (one of my literary heroes) from Jules Verne’s works.  She accepts my compliment and says that she merely peruses the things that interest her. 

Moremordre begins to tell me of other projects that she’s working on, a Victorian lab specimen and a steampunk based breedable.  Moremordre says she got into building out of a want for all the shiny things that she would never spend Linden$ on. 

I ask about the impact of the recent hunt on her revenues.  She tells me that her revenues increased 20% in the first week and have gone up 40% subsequently.  Chatting with the engineers, she has heard that this has been one of the busiest hunts on the record.  Other sources of revenue for her are tip jar (please contribute if you see it) and special orders.  Her recently opened shop, The Bitten Prim,  still doesn’t have much new merchandise but soon will, so come on down! 

We teleport to her store in Mieville and she shows me around.  This is will be her main location and is right next door to Kat Melina’s shop.  Kat introduced her to both Mieville and Perryn Peterson.  Morsmordre also has a SL group associated with her shop called Prim Biters Anonymous. 

By now, I’ve taken enough of Morsmordre’s time and I take my leave from this very generous person.  Once again, I consider myself fortunate to meet a person like her who is possible only in the world of SL.  Someone, who is overcoming her own disability in life and all its complications to live out a full life inworld.  She has friends, a business, and a growing reputation within the steampunk community. 

I would like to thank Morsmordre Furman for meeting with me and talking about her life and her business.  I would also like to thank Perryn Peterson for arranging my introduction.  As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on CNN iReports or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 1: Morsmordre Furman

Photo No. 2: Morsmordre Furman’s Home

Photo No. 3: Steampunk Microscope

Photo No. 4: The Hunt! Trophies

Photo No. 5. Morsmordre Furman’s Drawing Room

Photo No. 6: Hulk, the Largest Breedable Cat in SL

Photo No. 7: Bitten Prim Logo

Photo No. 8: Morsmordre Furman’s Cats Morsmordre Furman

Welcome & Thank You!

     If you're reading this then you have followed my stories about Second Life (SL) from CNN iReports to my new blog and I thank you!

     While I'm grateful to CNN iReports for giving my start earlier this year when I started to post my SL stories, their recent upgrade left me without the functionality that my readers liked about my stories.  So I came over to Google's Blogger which I've used before for Real Life (RL) activities. 

     I plan to continue my SL stories here and will from time to time post on CNN iReport when the format is appropriate for the subject.

     I had to scramble to get this blog together so it's far from perfect and any omissions or glitches are solely my fault.  I would love to hear from my readers should there be any recommendations for either improvements or stories.

     Again, welcome to my new blog and thank you for coming over!