Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Community in Second Life

The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.

William James


           During my wanderings across Second Life (SL), I’ve come across many communities.  Many of these have themes such as 1920’s Berlin, nudism, steampunk, the Regency Era, Gor, or BDSM.  (Yes, I know sex and nudity seem to outweigh other topics but I’m not saying this is a scientific survey.) 
Sometimes, I come across a community which is just a group of people joined by the enjoyment of each other’s company and common interests such as music, dance, or just hanging out.  Recently, I visited one such sim and this story describes my experiences there.  (Don’t worry, everyone, including me, kept their clothes on.)
The sim is Beau Belle Village and I first visited a short while ago after Morgana Nagorski invited me to the Unified Hearts Revisited exhibition there after one of her art exhibitions openings.  I was intrigued by what I saw in terms of visible beauty of the sim, the camaraderie of the residents, and the hospitality of the event’s hostess and one of the sim’s owners, May O. Mingzi. 
May, at that time, offered to give me a tour of Beau Belle and I subsequently took her up on her offer.  Recently, I returned there to meet her and look around and learn about the sim. 
I rez into Beau Belle and meet May who is waiting for me.  May is one of the three owners of the sim.  The others are Bluebell Broome, one of the original founders, and Kelly Cross. Actually, Kelly joins May and me as we begin. 
May was brought to SL originally by a number of (Real Life) RL co-workers who had done SL, so that was one factor in her decision.  Another was her past roleplaying in her life, live action roleplay (LARP), and Dungeons & Dragons, and that sort of thing as she puts it. She was at Great Wolf Lodge and played MagiQuest. So May thought it might be fun to do SL. But strangely enough she’s never been involved in a roleplay sim here inworld.  May juggles her SL and RL.  In the latter, she has a full time job as a writer (that’s real writer unlike yours truly) and editor and has a ten year old child.  She is also a photographer in both lives and maintains a photo shop in Beau Belle. May generally handles publicity and events – the recruiting for and hosting thereof.
Kelly was looking for something new online and thought it was a game at first.  (I think many of us made that mistake.)  In RL, she’s in the IT field.  In SL, she’s the owner and operator of Kelly’s Closet. 
I ask if it would be fair to say curiosity brought both of them inworld.  They reply affirmatively.  
As for Bluebell, she is known for her hats and cozy woolen attire (in both SL and RL).  Her rez date inworld is July 2007.  In RL, she works in the film graphics and effects world, and has “an unstoppable passion for art, craft and design, which emerges in Second Life in the form of a passion for building”.  She built many of the buildings in Beau Belle, rather than buying, and created most of the textures herself with her camera and Photoshop/Gimp.  Bluebell says that if anyone sees anything that’s not just so, to blame her, and she'll come and fix it. 
Beau Belle began years ago with Bluebell and several friends who had ambitions of creating their own community, based on the principles of fairness, friendliness, openness, and creative design values.  After a brief faltering start on another sim, they bought a quarter sim, which is the north-east corner of the current Beau Belle.  She and the other co-owners started building, planting trees, renting out homes, and starting a small community.  They moved through a half sim and finally to a full sim which Beau Belle’s current plot.  (BTW, Beau Belle Village has a great blog with history, owner profiles, upcoming events, and other information for those looking for more.  I sourced part of this story from there.) 
          May and Kelly explain to me the groups that comprise Beau Belle’s community which May describes as a mixed use sim.  The three venues are the coffe shop (Belle’s), the Leonard Cohen Club (LCC), and Kelly’s Closet.  The latter two are private clubs but all work together for the mutual benefit of the sim.  In addition, there are many homes and shops.  The entire sim is modeled on an English village.  There are also private sky islands. 
          Belle’s, the coffee shop is intended to be a community center, so it's more integrated with the "English village" look May explains to me.  While Kelly’s Closet has a more contemporary club feel to it.  Kelly’s is intended as a location to give the transgendered community a nice, no sexual club to hang out at inworld.  LCC has mostly European members. 
          May and Kelly guide me through Beau Belle.  We start at the coffee shop and move to Kelly’s Closet.  We visit the game room where a variety of board and other games are available for residents.  I go upstairs in windmill.  (Very accurate detailing BTW, I visited several when I once lived in Holland so I know a little something about this.) My guides tell me that there are hidden rooms across the sim for their guests’ enjoyment such as the VIP Lounge which I’m shown but asked not to say where it is.  (Go visit for yourselves, it’s worth the trouble to find and see.  Enough said.)  I’m told there are other secrets to be found as well.  (Hint, hint.)
          I see the homes where May and Kelly live and am impressed by their comforts and appointments.  May has some photographs from our mutual friend, Hitomi Tamatzui, hanging on her walls.  (Kelly, thank you for letting me raid your refrigerator.)  I see where the village green bordered by residents’ homes and where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade began. (Seems wherever I go, SL or RL, there’s one of these parades on March 17th, even in Singapore!) 
Time does not permit me to see other sites in Beau Belle such as the fishing docks, a cannon where one can shoot themselves out of (whom am I to say), cars to drive, a meditation spot, and a snuggle cave.  We also don’t have time to visit LCC or the inworld dating service, iMatch.  (Don’t worry, I have more than a few good ideas for future stories.) 
By this time, Kelly has to leave to handle Village business and I do want to be mindful of May’s time.  Of which we have enough for her to show me her photo shop, Hearthaven, where I see her works.  Definitely worth a visit to see some very good photography especially if you need to fill an open space on a wall in your SL home. 
I thank May for her time and hospitality.  I ask her to extend my thanks to Kelly who did not plan to spend part of her evening touring me around.  I then take my leave.
I’m impressed by Beau Belle Village and the community that Bluebell, Kelly, and May, along with many others, have built and maintained.  There is a vibrant, diverse group of people from across the world who have either made their virtual homes here or have included it in their inworld social lives. 
There are issues in running a community like this. Sadly, griefers seem to appear when there are events.  As for finances, May says Beau Belle is not a commercial sim.  It’s not about making a profit.  Rents and tips cover about 70% of the operating costs.  May and the other co-owners are making a serious commitment of their own time and monies to keep the sim alive.  They try to keep the place active, are on almost every day, and like to believe that they are not absentee landlords. 
May keeps a full schedule of events running at Beau Belle and the calendar is available online. 
I encourage all who are looking for a fun place to visit and hang out inworld to drop into Beau Belle.  Support the shop keepers and leave some tips in the jars placed around the sim to help offset some of the costs.  If you’re looking for a place to hang your hat and take up residence inworld then check Beau Belle out.  The sim adjusts for the seasons so drop by if you’ve visited before, things will have changed! 
I’ll return in the future for some more stories, there’s a lot more to see and write about.  Maybe I’ll run into you there!  (Please don’t use my presence to stay away.  You can just avoid me if you prefer.) 
I want to thank May and Kelly again for taking the time to show me around, answer my questions, and raid Kelly’s fridge. 
As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 
Below I’ve included a few links to pictures of Beau Belle Village.  Pictures are fun but, trust me on this, go visit for yourself, see the place, meet the people, and have a great time! 
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. 4  iMatch Offices

Photo No. 7  Belle’s Game Room

Photo No. 8  Windmill

Photo No. 9  Crypt

Photo No. 10  Village Green in Autumn

Photo No. 11  Another Seaside View


1 comment:

May O. Mingzi said...

Thanks for visiting, Web! We hope to see you again some time soon. And it was my fridge you raided, not Kelly's -- ha ha!