Reviewing My Second Life

Suke sitting thinking_001

Yesterday I added a post to Cyberloom, and I realized that it is three years since the last post was added to this blog! All I can say is time flies when you are preoccupied! Today, I have been reviewing some of my 190+ earlier posts. The reason for this review is that my friend Suzanne asked me to send her the link to this blog. Gosh, I thought how to guide someone through a blog about a peculiar hobby visiting the Metaverse? Well, Suzanne, I hope that this post will help.

I began writing this blog in 2008 when I was an Adult Education student looking into online education for my Certificate in Advanced Studies. One of the first things that hooked me into the virtual world was the discovery that I could interact with it. In an early post, I wrote about this in a piece titled: Living in a Painting: Introducing Second Life and Windlight. I had discovered I could take photographs and adjust the lighting in a virtual 3D space reached by my computer. Strange that this machine of glass and metal and tiny computer chips could open up such a vast and visually imaginative realm.

 

Sands of Time_006
Majilis al Jinn. Sands of Time by Calein Flux

 

I have a few preoccupations when traveling in the virtual world. The first is an ongoing interest in adult learning in its various manifestations:

Self Directed Learning Exercise #2: Virtual flying

Maslow’s ghost in a virtual world 

Second Life – Simulations#1: Watch the monitor my darling while the gentlemen go by…

Another recurring theme concerns a stack of sketchy questions about who we are as we connect with each other across the room, across virtual space and multiple time differences? Here are some of these posts:

Social Presence Theory & Second Life

My blog is my connectome…

Fear of the ‘Stopping Point.’

 

Ars Simulcra_001
Reunion by Andrek Lowell 

 

Virtual Art is another area that fascinates and my approach to the work of Metaverse Artists stems from when I was a photographer working in London, and I would help artists by photographing their work for publicity purposes. I soon found that Second Life was teeming with incredibly thoughtful and talented artists. I also saw that there was a problem in that if you did not enter the 3D online space via your computer, you could not see and experience the work of these artists. This lead me on a mission to record the work of virtual world artists, here are just a few:
Archetypal Robots and Giant Donuts

“its not real art is it?”

The happy jellyfish tree

Love Dot

Over the years, I have created a series with the title: “Second Life – Why would you go there?”

Second Life – Why would you go there? #1: To look at books!

‘Second Life – Why would you go there? #2: To be creative and express myself!

‘Second Life – Why would you go there? #3: Deep Sea Diving 

‘Second Life -Why would you go there?’#4 Foul Whisperings 

‘Second Life – Why would you go there?’#5: To practice Tai Chi in Narnia

‘Second Life-Why would you go there?’#6 To enjoy the nocturnal art of architecture

‘Second Life-Why would you go there?’#7: To stand at the edge of the underworld 

Second Life – Why Would You Go There? #8 – To be a dancing banana

Second Life – Why Would You Go There? #9 – To walk into panoramas (and perhaps even take a ‘kinetic’ shopping trip?)

Second Life – Why Would You Go There? #10 – For Weird Fiction on Halloween

Image locations in Second Life:

Majilis al Jinn. Sands of Time by Calein Flux

Reunion by Andrek Lowell on display at Ars Simulacra: NMC’s SL Artist Showcase Island

 

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were…

The-Return-Tower-View-Final

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we would go nowhere.” – Carl Sagan

I recently acquired Photoshop CS6 and I have been having a wonderful time experimenting with layers. Layers are a really clever tool that allow you to stack images on top of each other. You can alter the degree of transparency of each image and at the same time erase areas of one picture to allow another to show through. There is a random aspect to this layering and blending that creates a game of visual serendipity. I have taken the opportunity to play with layers of ‘reality’ by combining the imaginary spaces of virtual worlds like Second Life with my tangible world or ‘first life’.

VP-The-Returning-2

The two photographs in this post show the beautiful temple built by Marcus Inkpen. Sadly, this temple has long since vanished into the ether (see earlier post “The Returning has Departed” for more information). It is intriguing to capture an image of something that existed virtually and now exists no more; it is like dropping into a dream with a camera, the layering of pictures allows memory and imagination to blend and create yet another world that never was…

Immersed in the imagination and smog of Bryn Oh

cyberloom joins the mob (of Bryn Oh admirers)
cyberloom joins the mob (of Bryn Oh admirers)

I had the opportunity to visit NPIRL artist Bryn Oh’s island Immersiva recently. What a strange haunting place it was! It reminded me of the North of England when the coal mines were still working, with their ugly/beautiful slag heaps and devastated landscapes. Immersiva rises out of a cold, gray sea and strange tracks criss cross the island’s foggy, damp landscape. The fog was so dense I could almost feel it prickling my avatar’s delicate lungs. Figures emerged from the gloom here and there, sometimes these were other avatars, and sometimes they turned out to be eerie statues.

I landed at Immersiva and I was met by a child figure with an old 50s pram
When I initially landed at Immersiva I was met by a child figure with an old 50s pram
The child seemed to be pointing at the lightbulb man
The child seemed to be pointing at the light bulb man

Bryn Oh requests that visitors follow instructions to set their environmental settings so that they can achieve what could be called Bryn Oh smog-light. I followed these instructions, but then I strayed into playing with the settings in an attempt to render a cold winter’s day with watery sunlight. Immersiva represents a post-apocalyptic world, and the fog helps conjure up an atmosphere of lost hope and ruined dreams. Still, I justify my modified lighting with the thought of how brief spells of sunshine can give additional poignancy to emotional and physical devastation!

Bryn Oh's ferrisquito
Bryn Oh's ferrisquito

The uninhabited island is haunted by the Ghost in the Machine, and poems lie carefully scattered about the mournful land. They are written on the curled pages of school exercise books, each poem tells a fragmented story of ill fated love. Is it a tragic tale of the doomed love of two runaway robots? Or, is it a story about a human who falls in love with a robot? Perhaps the poems tell of two humans and one becomes ill, the other thinks she can save her sickly friend by carrying out some ghastly experiment. The poems convey deep longing yet are tainted by an agonized regret that generates more questions than answers…

Irrevocably statue of two runaway robots
'Irrevocably', a statue dedicated to the memory of two runaway robots

The artist goes to great lengths to provide extremely precise lighting instructions before abandoning us in the dense fog. (Did you hear that muffled Bryn Oh laugh or was it just my imagination?) I warn you, Bryn Oh smog-light plays tricks on your mind. It is intriguing to be given such specific guidelines, as  Bryn Oh has mastered the art of understatement, these initial directions are merely her introduction.  She knows how to give just enough poetic information to captivate her visitors. The sculptures do the same, they conceal hidden chambers where secret surprises lurk out of sight. The art of imagination lies in always leaving room for others to bring their own references and questions. Too much guidance and control shuts imagination down, kills it dead. Immersiva is like a strange aquarium where we are held  like translucent jelly fish manipulated by an unseen power!

More on Immersiva in my next post. In the meantime, take a look for yourself!

Please also see: Not Possible IRL for a post on Immersiva and Bryn Oh by Bettina Tizzy, and Bryn Oh’s own blog Bryn Oh

Multiple intelligences running amuck in VR!

The water cave meeting place
The water cave meeting place

I am continuing to play with prims! I decided that if I am stepping away from being ‘realistic’ then I can play with whatever catches my imagination. I just need to be able to identify what I want to make and know its purpose. In this case, I am making another meeting place for students to chat together (almost a ‘classroom’ but less formal). I want to create a space that ‘feels’ like a place where people can meet to share conversations. In Second Life we conjure up illusions, and if it’s a good illusion, we actually end up sharing it with each other. We interact with objects in Second Life but we are also interacting with each others imagination.

I keep trying to identify where else we share imagination in this way? Certainly in books we enter the author’s imagination. Here in the virtual world we enter the imagination of many others, and we can be there simultaneously (or visit days and weeks later). In the case of Second Life elves, and IBM staff, it is possible to have 200 avatars sharing the same ‘imaginative’ moment simultaneously. This is done by using the connected corners of 4 separate sims to form a giant virtual elven circle or conference center. (Imagine shuffling the sim corners when no one is looking so that elves and IBMs are all mixed together at the next meeting!)

An English friend in Second Life once described the experience of going to see her team (Manchester United) playing at home. Everyone in the stands experienced the same intense emotions simultaneously, the highs and lows. The sheer excitement of watching their team playing was amplified by the thousands of fans gathered together. There is no way Second Life touches on that degree of shared emotion, but I am thinking about Second Life as a shared imaginative experience, not a shared emotional experience. (There are people in Second Life who also achieve shared emotional experiences but this blog does not venture into those zones of SL, sorry!)

Water glass class room and sunset
Water glass class room and sunset

Now I am wondering who the virtual world appeals to the most, are there particular personality types more drawn to sharing the experience of virtual reality than others? Are we simply ‘fans’ of virtual reality? Or does virtual reality appeal to particular types of people?

If we apply Howard Gardner’s theories of Multiple Intelligences to Second life then it might be fair to say it appeals most to individuals strong in Visual-Spatial intelligence? But then, I can see Interpersonal Intelligence at work with the social web aspects of Second Life, drawing the extroverts into perpetual local chats and IMs where they can talk the hind leg off a virtual donkey. Ah, but perhaps those are the Verbo-Linguistic folks typing away like crazy, or chatting with their little green ‘voice’ lights pulsing above their heads ? The Logical-Mathematical intelligences must be the programmers and scripters (and precision builders) laying down the digital weft and weave of Second Life, establishing the world for avatars to immerse themselves within. I won’t leave out the introspective, slightly introverted individuals, who tend to turn into Second Life bloggers (rumored to number around 2,000 or more). Many bloggers are applying Intrapersonal Intelligence and some even transcend this to reveal moments of Existential Intelligence! This list of intelligences goes on, but I will stop here guessing that Second Life attracts the least number of folks with strong Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence as they will lack the patience to sit still long enough to allow the virtual world to rez. (Ah, but then could they be hanging out in the zones not covered by this blog by any chance?)

This shows hold my water textures building is a bit 'skew-wiff'
This shows how my water textures building is a bit 'skew-whiff'!

Well, after that meander around Gardner’s theory I return to my new interest in building. I love to photograph the light on water in the first world and this fascination is drawing me to play with water textures in the virtual world. In first life that would mean water fountains, and ice sculptures, in Second Life it means I can build sparkling water caves at sunset!

Chatting with a friend and his companion crow Charlie by the light of the digital stars
Chatting with a friend and his companion crow Charlie by the light of the digital stars

Take the Multiple Intelligence Test and see (or confirm) your own areas of strongest ‘intelligence’. This is a theory that educators have found useful but it is a theory only! Don’t take it too seriously! It’s just another way of looking at yourself, a bit like astrology! That makes me a visual-spatial fire sign with intrapersonal water rising!

Chasing windmills in the sky

PhotoHunt

Traveling through Sound Art created by Edo Autopoiesis. Location Harmonia

Second Life™ is a giant collaborative exercise where creative people make everything in the synthetic world. A great part of the magic is seeing all these different imaginative manifestations co-existing side by side. Lesser mortals, like myself, are tourists in Second Life; we travel around exploring, we are an audience that interacts with the creations around us. We are not passively sitting watching (as we would be in front of a television) instead we are moving through and are able to become part of the scene we see.

Sound Art

Listening to ‘Sound Art’ described by Edo Autopoiesis’ as ‘A sound installation resonating with Second Life wind’. Visit Edo’s (real name Edo Paulus) website to hear for yourself.

I may not be able to write computer scripts, design islands and houses but I can photograph what I find with my virtual camera. I can capture images of what I see in my computer monitor, and I can compose freely from what I see; and create my own visual relationship with the artificial space. I can’t do that when I watch a movie as my view of the scene is (by necessity) decided for me by the director. But in Second Life I feel I am photographing my imagination meshed in with the imagination of others around me.

Trickster avatar

Trickster avatar created by Max Hatfield swanning around Sound Art windmills.

I once spent weeks writing a paper about imagination and I got completely stuck trying to understand how I could see things in my mind’s eye. What was my mind’s eye? Where was it? How can I see images when I close my eyes? Where are those pictures lurking in my mind? It was not a productive line of thinking and I wrote some embarrassing rubbish for my paper! There is, I discovered a need to ‘walk upon the water’ sometimes. Don’t look too closely or you will sink, eyes up, look around and keep on going! Let imagination roll around, avoid constraining it with too much reason!

Trickster avatar and Sound Art

The Trickster again.

Second Life is shared imagination; it is a land where imaginative people share their far-fetched imaginations; and it is a random world of the possible, the improbable and the utterly impractical. The only difference between the virtual world and the real world, is that we know the virtual world is a metaphor.

‘Second Life – Why would you go there? #2

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Neon Dreaming 2 by Glyph Graves. Firespire 39,148.4

Q: ‘Second Life – Why would you go there?
A: To be creative and express myself!

Perhaps it would help to point out that Second Life is literally what you make it. The ability to “create within virtual space” is possible because Linden Labs handed over the means to build and organize the virtual world to its users. That said, some people cannot manage this kind of freedom; arriving in SL they find there is no structure; they have to make decisions about what to do; feeling lonely and aimless they leave never to return. However, others thrive on this kind of freedom.

The Dutch think tank EPN state in their report ‘Second Life. The Second Life of Virtual Reality’:
“It is striking that those surveyed who spend considerable time in Second Life frequently belong to the creative or IT professions. These professions offer relatively high incomes and are populated by those who call themselves “producer”, or who make things. It appears that a creative vanguard (IT and creative professionals) has ensconced itself in Second Life.”

The report talks about creative and IT professionals, but you will also find plenty of other people who work in rather less obvious creative professions. I have met accountants, educators, social workers, nurses and students amongst others; who are also using Second Life to create things from jewelry and poetry to virtual furniture, islands, and flying saucers. In my view, they are all making art. Not the kind of art you hang on the wall. This is art you immerse yourself in and share with unexpected (and often funny) results.

Second Life is unpredictable on many levels from platform crashes, system ‘lag’ and some bizarre manifestations of human behavior on one end of the spectrum. At the other end, we have imagination unleashed with beautiful environments, live music, art exhibitions and cutting-edge educational classes (and the list goes on). This is art where you are invited to participate, interact and ‘share the paint’.

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UFO and Greenie Bear by Light Waves and friends