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.
I have a few preoccupations when traveling in the virtual world. The first is an ongoing interest in adult learning in its various manifestations:
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:
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
A: “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
– Kurt Vonnegut (Quote taken slightly out of context.)
Cyberloom is returning to Locus in this post, at least that is where I begin. The truth is DB Bailey showed me a glimpse of the underworld… There is a special place to stand high up in the mountain tops of Locus, and once you have located this perch you can use your camera to zoom down through the pixel thin rock crust to see a great cavern reveal itself below. DB explained to me that this is a place that can be glimpsed but never visited. My first attempts to use the camera disoriented me and I fell off the cliff face into the cold sea far below. On my second attempt my avatar eyes were able to penetrate the rock wall.
The underworld looked a friendly enough place, there were swirling gas clouds and strange abstract shapes moving through the steam and/or smoke. DB said this location was his favorite place in Locus, he said he liked the ‘painterly effects’ conjured by the gaseous haze. After DB left (to move furniture around the tepidarium and check the large naked giant was sleeping peacefully) I took the opportunity to pan my camera around the underworld of Locus. I discovered I was able to swing the camera around and peer out from the underworld into Locus.
You must go to Locus and seek out the underworld for yourself and I know that it will look quite different for you. I imagine that is part of the mystery that constitutes the underworld? That is, it is some form of mirage metamorphosing into different hallucinations for each of us? The most intriguing aspect of this strange journey is that DB Bailey invited me to examine the furthest extremes of his avatar-made island. He designed the space in 3 dimensions, it is a space we can venture into and explore yet it is all an illusion. The virtual world of Second Life invites us to indulge ourselves within the illusory space, it coaxes us into its very center and we oblige by operating our avatars so that they accord with the illusion. Now, the intriguing invitation handed out by DB Bailey is for us to travel with our virtual cameras to the extreme edges, or limits, of the illusion to see what happens next. At the very least we see the illusion begin to fracture…
Speaking for myself, I keep returning to wander this illusionary world of Second Life because it shows me ideas in visual forms, and juxtaposes those images with their accompanying thoughts, in random fashion. This process (a visual version of the die game in The Dice Man) reflects each individual player’s own mind and preoccupations. It can also generate new insight and understanding into ourselves and others in both our First and Second lives. In other words ‘playing’ Second Life can be a thought provoking process for some of us because we hover around its seams chasing some philosophical insight or other. Mind you, I end up with more questions than answers and feel very much an amateur trying to play the game of another book. I am referring to Herman Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game“a game which is an abstract synthesis of all arts and scholarship. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.” (Wikipedia)
On the other hand, perhaps a simpler way to say all this is to describe this shared virtual space as a consciously shared dream? But then, what is a dream? It could be described as the ‘join’ between our conscious and unconscious worlds. But the dream analogy feels too easy and dismissive because the surreal vagueness of dreams can be like a drunk having a profound turn of thought. (Difficult to credit dreams and drunks with too much attention because they so easily slip away later with a ‘did not meanit’or ‘forgotten it all’message).I am joining DB Bailey now and encouraging you to intentionally stand at the very brink of the virtual world with (relatively speaking of course) a fully functioning conscious mind, and see how far you can go with your camera before the scene before you begins to disintegrate.
There is a group on flickr called ‘Bug Hunters of Second Life’ that helps people figure out what has gone wrong with their display when the Second Life illusion breaks unexpectedly. I once found another flickr group that invited people to submit their photos of random SL aberrations but I cannot find it now (there are 3,682 flickr groups with the Second Life tag after all!) This invitation from DB Bailey to balance on the edge of what is visually possible in the virtual world, then deliberately pan out of world with your camera is like being given the Subtle Knife. The subtle knife can cut portals through the boundary fabric of different worlds thus enabling the characters (of Philip Pullman‘s ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy) to walk through to alternate realities.
There is something poetic about seeing my virtual camera as a subtle knife… I am off to cut another portal… see you later aligator…in another reality crocodile.
Second Life, a ‘place’ to change your mind in many ways and many times. Those of us who like exploring virtual worlds do so for many different reasons. Clearly some people allow themselves to be swept into the alternative reality afforded by the immersive experience, they might describe themselves as ‘living Second Life’. Meanwhile, others are drawn by the shifts in perception that a virtual world can generate. This line of thinking might be drawn on a continuum from the feeling aspect of experience to the thinking aspect. We virtual world travelers could all potentially position ourselves somewhere on this continuum. I would also factor into our elected position an elasticity; that is, we could each draw a bubble around ourselves that shows the degree that we move up and down our own selected reaches of the feeling/thinking virtual experience.
Some people happily spend their time in-world as their avatar projection of themselves interacting with other avatar projections. They all become players within their projected play, calibrating their virtual relationships according to their agreed upon version of shared virtual reality. I would put these people and their avatars at the feeling end of the continuum. At the same time I would say they have powerful anchors that orient them to their location in a greater picture of space and time. That is, travelers in virtual worlds know they are sitting at home watching their computer screen where they are also answering the phone, planning meals and reminding themselves to unload the washing machine.
Many people simply accept this is how they are within the virtual world as they access it from the physical world, they don’t ask deep philosophical questions they just ‘do it!’ Others find themselves having a different type of experience while hovering more towards the thinking end of the continuum. We self conscious ‘thinkers’ wander the virtual world, play with our avatars and interact with others in the 3D space but we constantly try to align everything so that it makes some kind of sense. We find that the hook that brings us back again and again is a question, actually it is more like a string of questions. Second Life is more of an experiment for those of us hooked on trying to figure out the virtual world experience. I would say it is a ‘Glass Bead Game’ for us, a virtual place where we can explore both ourselves and our understanding of reality. By that, I don’t mean virtual reality versus physical reality (virtual world v the so-called real world) I mean reality itself.
I waited 21 days for this dragon’s egg to crack open. I read that they are best kept at room temperature, away from radiators or bright sunlight. At night the egg would glow and emit a high pitched squeak, and it became sizzling hot on the day the egg finally broke open. When the egg cracked there was a blood curdling screech that seemed to come from the egg rather than the pathetic looking wrinkled occupant.
The baby dragon is cute in an ugly way and appears happiest perching on my shoulder. (I am not sure if it can fly yet.) I found that whenever I took the small creature off my shoulder it had a temper tantrum that involved firing spitballs of red hot lava (hence its name Spit-Wrath). This shoulder perching has become less of a problem since I found a fire resistant leather jacket (an acquisition that has improved the quality of life for us both). Now when it sneezes, or burps, my clothing just smolders slightly. (The leather jacket also protects me from its needle sharp claws.)
Spit-Wrath has a constant stream of smoke coming out of its nostrils, this smoke has a pleasantly mild perfume reminiscent of burning sage. The one problem with this dragon sage smoke is that it gets in my eyes and makes them water so for the time being I have opted to wear goggles.
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!)
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?)
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!
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!
I have been experimenting with building in Second Life! Just a tiny little bit! Nothing ambitious! I am slightly embarrassed about my modest attempts when I know so many fabulous builders. On the other hand there are others who think that it will take years to master so they avoid it altogether. That is, some people think you need to know about programming and ‘whatnot’ to build, or you must be a bit clever with computers and technology generally. Well, its easier than you think! Another thought is to beware ‘experts’, those who mystify what they do to make it seem more difficult!
I will be teaching a class introducing people to Second Life in September and this has motivated me to start building classroom spaces. At first I wistfully wished to be very stylish, and monochromatically beautiful, along the lines of Alpha Auer’s Syncretia Sim. But the truth is I can’t pull off such sophistication in Second life or Real Life (sigh…) I quickly gave up such notions in favor of creating a friendly virtual place for my students.
Well (small fanfare of plastic toy trumpets) I created some simple chairs for one small meeting space. (I plan to build a number of meeting places on the island.) My thought, as I built these chairs, was to opt for the ‘Not Possible in Real Life’ approach. Why put legs on my chairs? I could not think of a good reason (and legs would spoil the line) which means that I now have floating chairs. I added cushions (for comfort) and for the practical reason that the seat must be rotated every which way, to achieve the right seating position for my ‘sit script’. (It is much easier to spin a cushion than a chair!)
This dabble at very modest building was intriguing as it had me wondering about the social presence of virtual furniture. Just think how a spiky chair would look compared to one with a cushion. The effect would be different, a distraction. No spiky chairs then! The social presence of furniture is intriguing, it got me thinking how there are layers to the social presence of virtual environments. Second Life bloggers (including myself) have spent endless hours attempting to comprehend the social presence of our own avatars (virtual navel gazing?). Taking a look at the effect of virtual environments, and what goes into creating their atmosphere, is like peeling away another layer of the social presence ‘onion’.
For some reason, I found that it helped me to wear a Star Trek uniform, and take advice from a little alien called ‘Greypet’ as I twirled hollowed-out prims. Maybe it’s time for more virtual navel gazing? No time just now. I have more building to do! I am quite proud of my Second Life Landmarks gallery with pictures hanging on walls of water, maybe I will blog about that sometime? Though it sounds more exciting than it is, but you have to start somewhere after all… eh, Greypet?