« January 2004 | Main | March 2004 »

Thursday, February 26, 2004

NEXT THURSDAY, HIGH NOON: THE GREAT EXPEDITION, REDUX!

Two hundred days past, in late July of 2003, I set out on foot to document the full length and breadth of the in-world, in all its marvelous flora and fauna, and spectacular human achievements. Two hundred and twenty five days to that day-- that is to say, Thursday, March 4th at Noon, as time is reckoned in Standard Pacific-- I shall reenact that trip, in a world made anew. I invite all who read this to meet me on the far South-Eastern shore, and join us on that journey North.

But be forewarned, you who would accompany me. For in those seven some months since, the world has grown twofold, as if a full continent of land had risen from the sea, joining with the homeland on the North, West, and Southern shores. What was then two score and seven regions, or simulators, has grown now-- not counting dis-contiguous islands-- to four score and twelve. (Peruse the illustrations to the right, to gain a fuller sense of that growth.)

With that proviso stated, I now seek the un-intimidated to go with me. I shall need a party of brave scouts, braver soldiers, and wanderers and visionaries of all stripe. If you count yourself among that number, dear reader, then read on.

THE EXPEDITION'S BOUNDS As before, I will travel on foot through every region (that is to say, "simulator") of Second Life, and in each, make for its very heart, pausing there at the center to make a Daguerreotype (that is to say, "screenshot") of myself, my party, and the surrounding area. The first expedition took two hours and twenty minutes; at twice the size, and a Northern archipelago that I must double back on, once I reach its tip, I entirely suspect the voyage all told will take at least twice that-- but likely, an hour or two more. (See the expeditionary map to your right.) I shall also write and send one or two posts to my online journal, during the trip, to make a report from the scene, and this will of course contribute more time, to the journey.

So in your accounting, expect a trip that begins at Noon, Pacific Standard, and ends at Six or even Seven in the O'Clock. (Those who must depart before the trip is complete may bid farewell without feeling shame; those who must join the party in the middle of its journey will be welcome, no matter their tardiness.)

THE PARTY I SEEK

- SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE (UP TO FIVE)
We will oft be traveling through treacherous territory, in the free fire regions of Jessie and Rausch, and perhaps find ourselves in just as much jeopardy, in other damage-enabled areas. To prevent any interruption of the trip by armed bandits or griefers, I shall hire seasoned veterans of foreign wars to scout out dangerous territory, ahead of us, and to guard the convoy-- and most important, my person.

- CARTOGRAPHER
To make the trip without redundancy, it will be necessary for us to go on a path that will take us sometimes Northwest, sometimes Southeast, and so on, in every direction. Therefore, I require a good man or woman to carry the map by my side, to make sure our path is sure at all times.

- WHEELED TRANSPORT AND OTHER GROUND CONVEYANCES, AND RIDERS OF SAME
For those who prefer this means of travel-- and for giving succor to those who weary of the walk.

- DIRIGIBLES AND OTHER AIRBORNE CONVEYANCES, AND PILOTS OF SAME
The same as above.

- JESTERS AND ENTERTAINERS AND THE CHEERILY INSANE
Self explanatory.

GRAND SUM OF THE PARTY: 25, MAXIMUM

In the last expedition, I was accompanied by a soldier and a minister and a madman who carried a cross on his shoulder. This one, I trust, shall be even grander and yet more bedlam. Contact me, and reserve your place on that convoy across the continent!

Posted at 07:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

IMMOVABLE OBJECT MEETS IRRESISTIBLE SQUIRREL

Yesterday afternoon, a squirrel asked me to be a volunteer in an engineering experiment.

"I'm over in Cardova," Relee Baysklef explains. "And I've been working on a new method of moving super heavy physical objects, and percision-controlling smaller ones. But there's a problem: it tends to fling people at high velocities through solid walls. I need someone to stand inside of a booth for a few minutes while I fly it around."

The squirrel teleports me into Cordova, puts me in a metal booth, locks me in, and levitates me around the simulator awhile. Somehow, though, I eventually wind up on the outside, flailing.

"I think that this method of moving is too unstable," she decides, as I hit the ground.

"Well, you see," she explains, when I ask her what the purpose of all this is, "one of my hobbies here on Second Life is lifting super heavy objects. Until the vehicle scripts came along this was mostly impossible... I'll show you one."

A giant iron cube materializes on the ground in front of her. "Technically," the squirrel explains, "any [building block] prim that is 10x10x10 [meters] is a super heavy object. There are some tricks you can use to lift them. I just recently discovered a new one."

She points at the cube, as it lifts, improbably, upward. "Watch this... one lifted superheavy object! The amazing thing is I didn't even use a script to do that." It begins twirling end over end.

"Spin baby spin!" says the squirrel.

I ask her how she can do this. "Well, first you need to make a super heavy object. Then, you create another prim, which is non-physical. Select the super heavy prim, then select the non-physical one, and create a point-to-point joint. Then if you move the non-physical prim, the whole thing will move. There it goes," she says, smiling, as it makes its way airborne once again.

"I was one of the first people to ever lift super heavy objects," Relee says, with evident pride.

"This is a pretty strange hobbie for a squirrel," I tell her.

"Yeah," she says, "I'm a pretty strange squirrel." Actually, she's a Canadian college student learning how to program, with an emphasis on developing computer games. "It helps me practice scripting. And working with physics. And trouble shooting!

"Mostly," adds the bushy-tailed heavy object mover, "I do this for fun, though."

Posted at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

RATED BY THE DEAD!

I found the dead David Foster Wallace fan sprawled on the telehub near the Welcome area yesterday, a black corpse lying in a pool of his own blood.

"Are you dead, sir?"

"Quite," the corpse tells me.

His name was DuPlessis Guillaume, and when he talked, his hands didn't make the typing pantomime that avatars usually do, in Second Life. Instead, a ghostly clattering noise emanated from somewhere near his gory chest.

"So I see!" I say. "By foul play?"

"Nothing so terrible," says the corpse. "I fell from a high place. I don't have so many specifics."

"I'm the in-world reporter, so I need to report on this."

"Ah, yes," says Guillaume. "Enjoy your blog."

I thank him profusely. "Some of my best fans are lying in pools of blood when they read me."

By now, two women have stopped by, to scrutinize the carnage.

"I have to admit it's better than the puke bunny," Mysturuy Zaius says, finally, and her friend Suggie Liu goes, "Ewwww."

I turn to Mysturuy. "A bunny was puking?"

"Yeah," she says, casually. "I'm sure you'll see him around."

"I actually enjoy lying here," the corpse continues. "Get to see all the avatars coming in through the hub. Actually, [I] just thought Second Life needed a bit of Second Death."

"Oh," I say, "so this is some kind of Munchausen’s syndrome, a plea for attention?"

"Actually, not many people notice the dead body. Most just drop off the platform, or try and kick me off it.
I try and shift back to my spot when nobody's looking. Actually, this is the first conversation I've had with people as a corpse. The most I've done so far is just rate people as they pass."

"You haven't rated me, and I've been here awhile," Mysturuy Zaius huffs.

Every now and again, one of DuPlessis Guillaume's arms reaches up, sickly twitching. "That's just an accident of the animation," he explains, sheepishly. "When I look around, it makes me twitch."

By now, a few more residents have arrived, and are peering down at him. Meanwhile, I check his profile, and notice that the corpse has only been a resident for less than a month.

"DuPlessis," I say, "I see you're new. Did you come to Second Life to die?"

"To look around, predominantly."

"He's waiting in line for his rebirth," Louis Michelson interjects, and then yells: "Teleportation kills! Walk instead!"

"Alas, poor DuPlessis," I say, "I knew him, Horatio. A man of infinite jest."

The quote from Hamlet's speech about Yorick's skull is the first thing that makes DuPlessis, well, a bit more animated. "Hamlet, are you making reference to the book Infinite Jest, or 'poor Yorick'? I'm flattered that you got the name reference."

Turns out, "DuPlessis Guillaume" is a character from David Foster Wallace's massive novel. I ask him if DuPlessis dies in the book, too. "Pretty sure," he says.

"Wow, they called in the army," Suggie Liu says, impressed. And indeed, two men with combat fatigues and assault rifles have shown up, to join the crowd.

"Uh oh," one of them (Draigar Liu) announces, "We got some sorta bio hazard here."

Once again, DuPlessis' dark arm raises off the platform, rattling in the wind.

"I guess," says the corpse, embarrassed, "if/when they get custom animations [created], they will be able to make a better twitch."

Posted at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

ROWDY RAUSCH

"Hi Hamlet, why don't you report on the new sim Rausch and how annoying it is [for] Clyde residents bordering it to get shot at all the [expleted deleted] time and having to clean up bullets and crap?"

It was bound to happen. The Lindens opened a new combat-enabled simulator, last month, and as has happened in the past, the violence eventually started to bleed out into the neighboring territory. And even though Camille Serpentine has a giant, child-eating dragon on her property, it isn't enough to scare off all the combatants. Or teach some of them how to clean up after firefights.

"The bullets aren't de-rezzing, and landing all over the place," says Camille. They end up all over her yard, leaving her to walk around picking them up like so many cowpies of brutality. "Some are real small and others are 'missiles' fully scripted... there are a bunch of small bullets all around so I'll have to return everything on my land that doesn't belong to me."

After threatening to report them to the Lindens, most of the combatants have calmed some. Others haven't; some are even using "push guns", which are able to toss an avatar several dozen or hundred meters into the air. "I got wonked the other day," says Camille. "Down the hill and under that building behind you. Also, they chase each around and into here, and continue shooting."

Camille's friend Pepplar Sklar happens by, and adds more to the eyewitness report. "They used Camille's land as a DMZ zone and build area for Sunday." Constructing weapons and fortresses in a safe area, without the owner's permission, before marching North into the kill perimeter.

"Meanwhile," Pepplar adds, "using me for target practice every few hours."

What's more, a mobster element has come in, too. "I have people offering me 'protection'," says Camille. (It's a dangerous area, lady-- be shame if anything happened to you, wouldn't it? That sort of thing.) So far, though, she's resisted the racket.

I flew into Rausch last night, to take a look. Only a week or so ago, the land was totally unused, and I'd assumed the sim hadn't brought in the kind of combat the Lindens were hoping for. Conflict keeps springing up in Jessie, the other combat area, but since residents can own property and create permanent buildings there, Rausch was apparently meant to be the place where war gamers could go and rage, without disturbing homeowners. Rausch is a "sandbox" simulator, in which objects built there are erased overnight, and I wonder if people are less attracted to fighting in it, for that very reason. What's the point in fighting, if you've got no property to fight over?

But now, a few forts in Rausch are springing up, so it looks like a few residents at least are giving the old (temporary) ultraviolence a try. And meanwhile, as before, disturbing the more peaceable homeowners, nearby.

"Phillip Linden told Drift Monde that they may put in a wall that blocks bullets," Serpentine tells me. "But they should move the whole sim and make it an island."

Posted at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, February 23, 2004

RAILROAD PUBLICITY

I've been wanting to write something about Athos Murphy's 19th century railway project, for some time now. It's rather hard to miss, with a track that begins at a mountainous station in Slate, and then winds its way through the hills and fields of several simulators. Thing is, it's usually my policy to hold off on covering projects like this, until after their official christening. Too many ambitious schemes fall by the wayside, for one reason or another, partly completed and abandoned. So I wanted to wait on writing about the railroad, until its premiere ride.

Athos Murphy's publicist, however, had other ideas.

"Picture the train completed," Cori Sunshine e-mailed me, in her
first press release, "it's up and running, passengers on board. We
ride throughout Second Life, taking in the scenes as they pass by,
sim by sim. Suddenly we enter a killzone, the train is highjacked
by bandits, we're robbed, and sent on our way."

It's also the first press release on an in-world project, written by an in-world publicist, that I can recall getting. And that says something, I think. It's one thing to build railroads or skyscrapers-- that's industrial era. But now there's PR, too-- and that's information age, baby.

Cori actually gained some prior experience in publicity, when she co-created and launched SLive, a streaming radio network operated by in-world DJs. "I own the station, basically," Cori tells me. "Phinz does the tech work for me, and I do the PR. I'm better at getting people involved, he's really good with the techie things."

Which is also why Athos brought her in to promote his railway, as he explains while tinkering on a passenger car: "Athos just wants to build stuff," he says. "All the negotiating and revisions take away from prime modelling time." With promotion in the hands of Cori, and scripting by Christopher Omega, he believes the train will take its first trip in a couple weeks. "[Omega's] got the basic physical objects in chained motion effect working," says Athos, "but having them follow [the] track and behave like a train, well... it's coming along."

"I want to see this train cover most of the world," Cori tells me. "We will try Crimson next, then Mocha or Mauve, and head South." Laying track as they go, seeking and gaining permission to build through Linden territory and private property alike. And here, Cori also brings her skills into play.

"I just walk up to [property owners] and speak to them about it, Hamlet," she says. "Just approach and sell the idea to them."

"Anyone resist so far?" I ask.

"Not yet," says Sunshine. "Not with me, anyway. I basically want to know if they aren't keen on the idea, what it would take to change their minds. I'm not afraid to negotiate if that’s what it takes."

"There's a lot of negotiation," Athos interjects, "and reassurance that we'll respect their ideas and views."

"Well, we're going to get this train through," Cori Sunshine says to him, smiling. "Everyone has a price."

Posted at 09:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

BLOGGING WITHOUT A NET...

For the three weeks or so that I've been blogging New World Notes, I've interspersed "live" entries, written and posted an hour or so after an in-world event happens, with longer pieces ("Sitting Pretty", "Repairing the Builder") that are compiled from a longer interview or series of interviews which actually took place days before their posting. This week, I'm experimenting with an all-live format: entries will be written while in-world, more or less right after they take place. Which means I'll be online this week more often during peak periods: in the morning, when European residents predominate, and the early evening, when most US/Canadian residents come out to play. If NWN Live works, expect it to become a regular thing. And if you see me in-world while I'm at some interesting event or visiting some impressive project, don't be surprised to read about it-- and you-- here, that very day.

Posted at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Friday, February 20, 2004

BONFIRE OF BROKEN DREAMS?

Nick Rhodes, Second Life's only known Frenchman, owns an airy art gallery in Tan , where he exhibits elegant photos of glamorous women-- taken by him, and other photographers of the beautiful female form who are of his artistic caliber. (At least, in deference to Michi Lumin, as female beauty is traditionally defined.)

However, I'm not here for the art, right now. I'm standing on the deck of his gallery, trying to figure out the meaning of this bonfire of desire in front of me. A grand piano, an animal skin rug, an objet d'art, gold-trimmed bathroom fixtures and oak furniture, a slideshow of Nick with a series of lovely women, all thrown together into a pile and set ablaze. An anonymous tipster brought me here, but neither Nick or anyone else is nearby, at the moment, to explain the meaning of these burning things. A scandal, a heartbreak, an aggressive artistic/political statement? All of these things, none of them?

Investigation's afoot. More information as it arrives.

Posted at 02:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

SITTING PRETTY

Used to be, when female avatars and male avatars would sit down, in Second Life, they more or less sat the same: Hands loosely laid on the lap, legs slightly apart. (Or as one resident waggishly put it, “Sitting with your junk hanging out.”) This didn’t sit well, so to speak, with many residents, especially some women. (And one assumes, some male residents who play as women.) It just didn’t do to put on a skirt or a dress, and attend an in-world fashion show, for instance, then end up sitting more like a stevedore at a sports bar, than a society lady. Quite a few complained to the Lindens.

The solution came last month. The Lindens implemented a tweak to the default sitting posture, for women. Now, when a female avatar takes a seat, her legs and feet are kept together, and pointed at a slight angle to one side; her hands are folded together, too, and placed on the opposite thigh. So it was a decidedly feminine way of sitting.

A few women, however, weren’t too happy with this solution. Leading the protest was Michi Lumin:

“I give up. I'll put on mascara and saunter around daintily,” she raged in a community forum. “I look like a prim and proper missy-miss now, and have NO choice in the matter... What are you guys going to do next, make us curtsy?”

After protest from her and a few others, the Lindens added a fix, so that women who didn’t like the new feminized sitting posture could revert back, if they chose, to the original, gender neutral position.

Michi, however, wasn’t too pleased with that workaround, either.

“It's pretty damned obvious that Linden Lab has made a judgment,” she wrote in another heated post, “on there being a proper way for women to sit and a proper way for men to sit, with a pacifier thrown to the few complainers-- yeah, the few females on SL who don't want to look like Barbie™ dolls.”

When I finally caught up with Michi, she was in Abbots, one of the new simulators, and she wasn’t doing much sitting. For that matter, it wasn’t even entirely clear if she was supposed to be a female then, either. She was a purple dragon with samurai swords and leather pants and a “Re-elect Richard Nixon button” pinned to her jacket. She was busy helping build a new Cold War-era radio tower, the kind designed to survive a nuclear attack. The plan her and her friends have is to construct a bunch of these towers, across many sims, and install a system of laser transmitters that communicate to each other via bursts of light, which are then translated at the sending and receiving ends into text. (In other words, it will be a much more elaborate way to do what is already possible and easier via Instant Message. It’ll just be a lot cooler.)

“What can I say,” Michi tells me, after she explains the project, “we’re geeks.”

She takes a break from jiggering with her purple laser, to demonstrate to me the source of her anger.

“I can't seem to get people past the notion that there are many women who would never be caught dead in a skirt,” she says. Michi sits down on a chair on the deck of a nearby luxury cabin. “Do you see how ridiculous this looks?”

Thing is, she’s still wearing her dragon avatar, so the feminine sitting posture doesn’t look that much more ridiculous than, well, a dragon sitting on a chair in the first place.

So she puts on her human female form, and tries again.

“It's just discouraging I guess that folks seem to believe that behavior is divided that sharply and unblurrably across gender lines,” says Michi Lumin. She does acknowledge how divisive her crusade on the matter may have been. “It's real hard to skirt (mind the pun) the border between getting my point across and sounding like some kind of feminist, though... It's just tough [because] 90% of the folks out there are happy as a clam, real life and Second Life, taking their [prescribed] gender roles on.”

“[D]on't you think it's possible you're reading too much into this?” I say. “I don't sit in on their design meetings, but I don't quite see Philip Linden sitting down and saying, ‘Let's turn all women into decorative objects!’”

“Oh no no no,” says Michi, “I'm not thinking they actually said or felt that. As a matter of fact, Colin Linden told me that my posts really spurred quite the heated debate in the office. I don't think it's that outright [an] intent, Hamlet, no... I'm more saying that that was the effect, and that the effect wasn't considered that big of a deal by Linden Lab.

But how many women even objected to the feminine posture?

“Oh wow,” says Michi, counting, “at least ten.”

“To be fair to the Lindens,” I say, “that's not a huge number, proportionately.”

“Well, no, but how many did they ask? I don't know. I don’t know how many reported the original problem, either. I do think, though, that it's often assumed, among guys, that sure, dudes can vary from dude to dude, but there are certain things that all women like. Women vary just as much as guys do, really,” she finishes, smiling.

“I mean, Hamlet, let me ask you this - how would you feel if they made you sit that way?”

“Hmm,” I say, “good question.” And it really is, because it takes me a bit to answer. “If it took a bit of jiggling to my [posture how I wanted],” I finally say, “I wouldn't mind too much.”

Trouble is, Ms. Lumin explains, jiggling the posture doesn’t work everywhere. Changing a woman’s seating posture to a gender neutral position requires a complex series of customized avatar movements, known as a “script call”. And since scripts have a tendency to sometimes cause technical problems or confusion-- not to mention consternation, when someone scripts their avatar to perform an obscene gesture, say-- they’re forbidden in certain regions. Like the Welcome Area, where new residents arrive, when they first enter the world at large.

“It doesn't work in Welcome,” says Michi, “and that's where I spend most of my time. Since it is a script call, it won't work in no-script areas.” Michi works in the Welcome area as a volunteer who helps orient newcomers to Second Life. “I'm a Mentor, and spend a lot of time there, and new users see me. I make a first impression, you know? Basically, if you're sitting prim and proper, demure, and prissy-- that’s what it says about you. If you sit with legs bent, hands on laps, it doesn't say much.”

“On the other hand,” I say, “a female avatar sitting ‘like a guy’ is also expressive, but in a different way, and one that a lot of women apparently didn't like, enough to complain to the Lindens.

“Well, is it really sitting like a guy?” asks Michi. “I'm on a college campus most of my day. I look around, and everyone sits rather generically. Pretty much the same, in the real world. I didn't see anyone sitting with hands clasped on one legs, knees locked and looking like a princess. Anywhere. Not on the bus, not on the subway...”

I point out a factoid I happen to know, about one of the largest MMORPGs. The female avatars that players have to choose from there are almost all “sexy” in a traditional sense: big breasts, thin waist, shapely hips, and so on. The company who created the game got a lot of flak from many women, for falling into this stereotype. But as it turned out, the art director for that game was herself a woman.

“Well,” says Michi, at that, “I'm sure she was designing what would appeal to the supposed target demographic, Hamlet. She was doing her job.”

“I dunno, Michi. Even here, given the choice, most women create sexy avatars.”

“I know,” she says. “I know that. But I really, really, don't want to be like most. Doesn't mean I want to be 'fugly', but I've had people remark that even my human avatar is 'different'. I mean, a fedora and Lennon shades, jeans and plaid socks... it doesn't exactly speak of 'supermodel'... I like to think of myself as more 'sharp looking' than sexy.

“However. The reason it bothers me, Hamlet, is it's something I've had to deal with all of my life. Presumptions of what I do like, what I don't like, what I do want, and what I don't want. It's tough. Most of the WORLD wants to be a certain way. And when you don't want to, well, it's hard to make an argument for it... I'm not saying it's some grand conspiracy. But I can't deny the frustration.”

I ask her to give me a concrete example.

“All right, well, you know the Cold War communications stuff I talked to you about? There's a local group that goes out and looks at that stuff [in real life]... All guys, of course, except for me. Now, I go with a male friend of mine, but easily all of the guys assume I'm a tag-along… they seem to say, ‘Who's girlfriend is she and why is she here?’

Then she gives me another.

“When I worked for a government agency a few years back, doing coding work, one of the guys came by and lectured me on not installing 'unlicensed shareware' on the machine. Talked down to me, told me what shareware is, what software is, etc.

“The program in question was one that I wrote.

“I told him that I had just licensed [the program] myself, so it's legitimate, and if he had a problem, he can call me at my number and take it up with... me.” Or as she puts it, “I'd like to thank me for flying Me airlines.”

Still, returning to game development, I point out that the vast majority of gamers are still young men.

“That's changing,” insist Michi, “I know that's changing. Myself and my [female] friends fly in the face of that absolutely. We've been gaming since 8 bit [computers], and let me tell you, some are more rabid gamers than I. The ‘assume everyone online is male’ is kinda becoming a bit of an anachronism.

“Well, slowly,” I say. “Even Second Life, I think, is still largely male (though many of the hardcore residents are women.)”

“Well, sure, it is,” Michi says, frowning, “but really, assuming that all women want to be femmy caricatures is going to kind of ensure that the ratio doesn't equalize so much.”

As we talk, someone named Zate Kojima has discovered the radio tower built by Michi Lumin and her friends. It’s standing on top of a picturesque forested ridge, and Zate doesn’t like what it’s doing to the view. “HISS... evil Ming!” Zate yells, pointing a finger at Ming Chen, one of Michi’s collaborators. “IT’S THE CREATOR OF THE UNORTHODOX BUILD IN NATURE!!”

“Dang hippies,” Ming Chen shouts back.

Kojima keeps going, heedless. “HE has made this magnificent land into a dirt hole with his uncanny building... HE! Has stained thy sacred land widst THY FILTHY objects!”

“So in the meanwhile,” I continue, “when you're in sims where you'd end up sitting pretty, you'll just stay on your feet?

“Seems like that, Hamlet,” says Michi, smiling. “Probably a good summary. But I do want to say, one more thing? I may be kind of fiery. I might be loud and argumentative and sometimes crass. But, one: I appreciate Linden Lab and the Lindens, every last one of them. If I wasn't so enthusiastic about this world, if I didn't love it so much, it wouldn't upset me so much. Second, I am a Mentor-- so please, everyone should approach me for help IN SPITE of my wrath.

She grins. “I bark loud, I rarely ever, ever actually bite.”

Posted at 07:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

PROMISED LAND

And lo, in that time of the second week in February, beyond the rocket launcher and the two giant snowmen, there appeared by the Lindens' grace to the people of Linden, a valley. And beyond that valley, where once was naught but ocean and utter void, stood now verdant land. It was a land of forests and hills and wide plains, and the number of those various regions, or "sims", as the people of Linden so named them, were one score and two. And the names bestowed upon them were very like the names of the wilds to the North and South of the Lindens' own home, in the Area of the Bay. There was a Mavericks and a Muir and a Montara, and many more besides. And the people of Linden rejoiced, and began their bidding. Estates were sold at auction for sums great and small, for tracts both humble and kingly. And the building began in great zeal, and it was good. (Or at least so it seemed, at the start.)

And the scribe of Linden set quill to keyboard, and girded himself to account for what transpired, it that new land beyond the valley (and the rocket launcher, and the giant snowmen.)

Posted at 04:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 12, 2004

REPAIRING THE BUILDER

Bob Bunderfeld cries sometimes, when he plays Second Life. But mostly, he stays in-world anyway. “The pain can be so intense,” he says, “that I actually have tears running down my cheeks without me ‘crying’.”

But Bob runs the Slate Neighborhood Association (with Zana Feaver), and it’s not a job he wants to put aside, just for pain. Since his nomination to the position last fall, he’s helped lead this group of fourteen who own most of the Slate simulator, setting about to improve their land.

“We built the parks,” he says, “and the Slate Community Store. We contacted Ryan Linden, who made the lake deeper and a bit wider for us. We put up public docks, so people who have boats would be able to have a place for them."

He will, however, suspend these duties for a time, come the middle of next month.

“I will play my last on Saturday, March 13. I will be traveling to [a nearby city] the day before surgery, so I can have a good night's sleep before checking into the hospital at 0530, the morning of surgery.”

I ask him if he’ll throw some kind of going away party, before he logs off.

“Well, I dunno,” says Bob. “I don't plan on dying or anything that extreme, but I suppose I should have some sort of get-together, just in case.”

“Oh I didn't mean it that way...” I begin.

“I understand, but I'm also a realist, and I should have that time before [the operation]. The reality of this situation has hit me today, when I met with my attorney to fill out my living will… you gotta think of everything in major surgery.”

At least, he adds, smiling, “My psychiatrist thought I was handling it pretty well.”

You hear stories of residents in Second Life, who have real life disabilities or serious illnesses-- deafness, bedridden infirmity, and so on-- and you hear how being in-world has helped them, given them an alternate conduit for human contact, say, or an untapped creative urge.

I hope to tell some of their stories, in coming months. This, however, isn’t one of them. Though when I first started talking with Bob, I did naively assume that he’d tell me that playing Second Life helped him cope with his illness, somehow.

“Actually,” says Bob, “No. Playing with Arnold-Chiari Malformation constantly reminds me of my condition.”

Because he has ACM, his brain’s cerebellum protrudes into his spinal canal. And so, “the amount of Pain I'm in when sitting in front of the computer is pretty high… If you ever had back pain before, you can understand this. It's radiating pain that exists in my neck, shoulders, and mid to upper back.” It’s not so much using the mouse or keyboard, though. “It's just the sitting that really hurts.”

“So if you don't mind [my asking],” I say, “why do you still play, then?”

“Because I enjoy playing. ACM has forced me to stop doing many of the things I loved doing, but I can't allow it to force me to stop living. I enjoy SL, and therefore, I play it until my pain is so high I can't stand it, then I go lay down for a couple hours.”

But if it’s exacerbated by sitting, why not, well, play standing up?

“I hurt standing, and walking, and coughing, and sneezing, and hiccupping,” he says. “I've been in this pain for three years. At first it was just a nagging pain, something you could live with, but it was there. It increased quite a bit after I was in a car accident.”

He talked with his neurosurgeon recently, to discuss the particulars of the operation. He told his doctor, during the procedure, “if something drastic happens and I will wind up as a vegetable, to just let me die on the table. It really is a scary thing coming up.” He says that then smiles, and then he smiles again.

“They are going to put a hole in my skull, open the Dura, and possibly the amber. If they open the amber, they will be forced to ‘shave’ off part of C1 to make room to work. Then they will ‘shrink’ the herniating brain part by cauterizing it. Thankfully the area that is herniating is [a] non-needed part of your brain. They call it the Cereberal tonsils. If you want to get all the scoop, head over to www.wacma.com, a site dedicated to the Arnold-Chiarai condition. You can even see pictures of surgery in progress there.”

“Ah, OK,” I say, already queasy.

“I'm still waiting to hear from my doctor if he will make a video tape of the surgery, so I can watch it later.” He grins. “Should I put you down for a few copies? They would make great gifts.”

“We can show it at Linden Lab after our lunch meeting,” I say.

“Or before you actually order lunch,” Bob suggests, “and then save money!”

We laugh a little more, at that. “But the doctor doing my surgery has done over 300 of them,” he continues. “They have never lost a patient, nor have they ever had a patient turn out disabled. So, while it's a very major surgery, they have had great success so far.”

“You're in good hands,” I tell him.

“Yup,” he says, “and I've got an even bigger hand watching out for me.”

So for the next month, he’ll be working at his beautification projects, in-world, as he usually does. “I've made a commitment to a group of people here in Slate. While I understand they are doing great without me being here all the time, I want to do all that I can to help. The people are what bring me to play, and they understand when I say, ‘I need to go lay down now’.” As for when he emerges from the hospital, post-op, “I can't think of a better way to recover then being able to sit here in Second Life without pain.”

Late last night, I took a stroll through Slate. It’s an eclectic neighborhood community, and a tranquil one, with homes of wildly diverse architectural styles, nestled among trees and bordered by the ocean, and running along a mountainside train track, the deep lake. Bob’s home is a rustic wood cabin, with a stained glass memorial to 9/11, and sliding glass doors that open up to a deck looking out on the sea.

“Our purpose is to make Slate the sim everyone wants to go to. The sim everyone wants to live in,” Bob Bunderfeld had told me, earlier. “The sim that pushes the envelope for how Communities can exist.”

“[How will you] determine that you've reached that goal?” I asked him then.

“A people without a vision are doomed to fail. The vision therefore is never able to be reached completely. That is how you can keep it going, to always improve upon what you have already done. You should never reach your final goal. Otherwise, you were shooting too low.

"We also are helped because we have a vision of what we want to do here," he adds. "Therefore, we have a purpose. And that really helps all of us continue on.”

Posted at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack