Q: Second Life, why go there?
A: To understand Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
I wonder how many people know what Second Life is? Of those who know what it is how many think it’s just a game? How many others think it’s a seedy sex place on the Internet? How many people visited this page because they wanted a voyeur’s window into the much publicized, yet little understood shadowy behaviors of avatars? How many people immediately left when they saw this post was going to be about Shakespeare’s Macbeth?
The virtual world of Second Life maintains layer upon layer of synthetic realities, and it is intriguing to see how some people extend understanding of humanity through ‘virtuality’. I was introduced to ‘Foul Whisperings and Strange Matters’ when I went to a Gronstedt Group meeting organized by Anders Wildcat. Over 25 avatars met on this small island that lies nestled deep within the virtual world of Second Life. Our Macbeth Island guide was an avatar named Anya Ixchel (Angela Thomas) who was up at 4:00 am in the morning (pre-dawn in Australia) to tell us about the virtualmacbeth project which she helped to create. I returned to the island a few days after Anya’s talk to explore on my own and take a few pictures (see below).
Foul Whisperings and Strange Matters takes a new approach to understanding Macbeth. You do not land upon the island to watch the drama unfold, you actually become part of the action. Throughout the installation you can find copies of Macbeth, and when you touch the book note cards are activated on your screen. These pose questions, encourage you to look around where you might be standing, and deliver short speeches for your contemplation. In effect you become Macbeth experiencing his descent into madness. However, the full drama comes alive when your avatar falls under the control of unseen hands, and voices intrude upon your thoughts…
As I was drawn deeper into the maze of Macbeth’s mind I saw no other avatars, I was alone in the drafty castle corridors with only ghostly apparitions for company. I was intrigued by the thought that I was using the social platform of Second Life, yet here I was wandering the imaginary space in isolation. What struck me most about this is that my usual experience of Shakespeare is a social experience, plays are social creations that require a cast and aim to be realized on stage. Yet, here I was on my own and because of my virtual isolation in the Thane of Glamis’ castle I was, perhaps, a little closer to Shakespeare? Closer to the images Shakespeare saw in his imagination? This thought caused me to then wonder what Shakespeare himself would have made of 3D virtual environments?
The virtual environment of Macbeth Island is a fascinating place to visit and wander around, there are many intriguing details to see, and some macabre surprises (which I won’t reveal here). I do share one object of interest that is to be found in the throne room, the wunderkammer (see above) this is a cabinet of curiosities, used to symbolize Lady Macbeth’s influence on Macbeth’s mind. Each item on the wunderkammer produces a sound effect, but some of the sounds don’t match the object, a technique used by Anya Ixchel to unsettle visitors.
Anya Ixchel designed the island in 2 hours, and the NMC (New Media Consortium) team took 6 weeks to carry out the build. However the project itself did not reach completion for 6 months as it took that long to develop the brief, build, tweak and test everything. The result is a simulation that provides a vivid glimpse into the future of education through simulation.
For more information about Macbeth Island
Visit Macbeth Island: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Macbeth/44/51/54/
Visit virtualmacbeth Wiki for more information: http://virtualmacbeth.wikispaces.com/Island+Guide
See more photographs on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/virtualmacbeth/