Wednesday, February 03, 2010

My other life

So I have a confession. I have been unfaithful. Yes, unfaithful to my blogging friends. You see, one of the reasons I haven't been around as much is that I started playing Second Life (SL) over the holidays.

From what I know of my readers here, my guess would be that few of you are Second Life personalities. (I can imagine one of you being there, however....) Unfortunately, I am. I can live in my imagination quite well -- for better or for worse. But here are some of the things I've done in my time playing in that world and some observations:

1) Meeting people around the world. Because my only pseudo-free time runs from about 9:00 PM to midnight, most of the people I have met have been in Europe or Oz, with a few American West Coasters who are night owls. So I've got "friends" from Portugal (I can only speak with this person through a translator), France, Holland, Scotland, Israel, England, and more. I've met, bizarrely, two other linguists and am friends with some guy in Washington state working on his PhD. He's got one son, and I swear we are living parallel lives. One time I was "dancing" with a French woman and made a joke about Occitan (I'm sure you all have at least one Occitan joke [it's another Romance language spoken in a region of France]) and she announced she was Occitan and started speaking in it. To me, that's a great treat.

2) One of the main things I do is go "dancing". Most of my favorite clubs have DJs who play jazz and standards. Oh, and one 80s rock club. The DJ is a person who is playing music on their computer which streams in to the simulated region you are in. The DJ also has an avatar who stands in the DJ booth while playing music. I then chat at the club with friends I've made there and periodically dance. Dancing involves asking a person to dance and then choosing dance animations for the avatars on the dance floor. This could be considered weird, but I enjoy it fairly well. The dancing really functions as an excuse to chat. It's strange to walk up to someone you don't know and ask them about their life. But you ask them to dance and then chat away while the avatars do their thing. Of course, one does not need have dancing animations to speak, but they serve as an ice breaker for me.

3) I attend live music events. These are technically done the same way as the DJing and dancing. Some real person performs on their computer at home. This is then streamed into the simulation for everyone to hear. The musician will also have some avatar with a singing or instrument-playing animation going. These events are live and done by a real person, but, since they are mostly by someone just at their computer, they can be limited. This most common music event is a singer singing in front of backing tracks. In other words, it's glorified karaoke. I've also heard a couple guitarists and a pianist. Often I use SL as a juke box. You stick your avatar in a sim with a music event and then do work while you listen.

4) I've been to two readings so far. This naturally could be of the most interest to my author readers here. In one, we all gathered at the top of this tower, had our avatars sit on pillows, and he read the first chapter of his sci fi work. You can turn on voice chat, so the reader just reads into his computer's mic while we listen. I've joined another group that has great potential. The sim is of a coffee house, so there are all these couches lying around to sit on. They do poetry readings, and I've talked to the sim's owner about getting play readings going.

5) You can watch movies inside SL as well. One of the oddest but fun experiences was a sim I found that's dedicated to showing Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies. For those who do not recall, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a show where they play bad old movies and crack jokes through-out. In this Sim, all our avatars sit in a movie theater and crack jokes about the movie as well. It's a sort of meta-MST3K.

6) For me, SL has really spurred my creative ambitions. I've started singing to backing tracks for fun again. I created two characters once and brought them both into SL, where I practiced dialogue for some fictional scenes in my head. In theory, one could use SL to develop parts of your writing. And in theory one could really create fictional works of art in the SL medium. In theory. I was dreaming tonight of learning to play the piano again. I imagined trying to create the fictional world from that NaNoWriMo novel inside SL. My biggest idea was doing live theater inside SL. A hundred issues with it, but in theory one could have people perform a show and invite an audience. Your "set designers" are people who build the sim for the show; your costume design is done by people creating avatars and clothing, etc. If you built up a whole program, you could sell tickets and have people come for a night on the town. I don't know if I will ever do any of these things -- perhaps I will just wander around places listening to music and cracking jokes -- but it's always good to be inspired.

7) Maybe it's the places I go, but I've found it intriguing that, if they are telling the truth, most of the people I've met are like my blog readers -- intelligent women with a mean age of about 44 or so. The stereotype of online games is that they are dominated by people in their 20s. Perhaps if I was in rave clubs, not jazz clubs, I would be meeting different people, but so far the people in SL are not the stereotype.

8) Other sims have allowed me to go surfing in Kauai, do a go-cart race, walk in the sewers of a haunted island, search for a hobbit's missing items, and solve puzzles in a weird dystopian Myst-like world.

There are drawbacks to the place as well.

1) The major one for me is time. I have enjoyed myself immensely, but I don't have time for enjoyment. I seriously have to watch time I spend doing anything, including SL.

2) Lots of people are looking for love in SL. Some want real life love, meeting people there, and others want second life love. I've got in my profile now that I'm married and only making friends, but you still have to watch what you are doing. This is particularly a drawback when you are "dancing". It means I meet more women than men (though my male friends list is slowly growing). But my blog readers are 80% female, and there's nothing weird here, to it must be navigable in SL, too.

3) In the same vein, I haven't figured out yet how my second life relates to my first one. Some people are in there just as themselves playing around and we happily discuss their families and children. Other people take the completely opposite tack. They play characters in Second Life and make no connection to their real life at all. The most common avatar is a fantastically beautiful human (you only rarely see an avatar that's been made dumpy), but there are all sorts of other creatures running around as well -- vampires, trolls, bunnies, foxes, human-animal hybrids, robots, monsters and demons, etc. (A couple days ago I was at a jazz club doing homework and one of the couples dancing was a bunny and fox. I thought it was really cute. You may have other opinions.) I've swung back and forth between real me and character. I've met a number of people just being me (not using my name and such, of course). Then I will decide I don't like this and try to create a character. And then I'll decide again that I like meeting people as the real me. I can't figure it out. It's the same issue that most of us have with a blog -- just how anonymous or how personal shall I be?

4) Of course, one can ask -- why not just do these things in real life instead of second life? Watching an animated avatar is not actually dancing. (But reading a book about war is not the same as being a soldier, and yet I assume no one here thinks that reading is inherently weird and bad. Though I have met such people in my life who can't see the purpose to imagination.) There's a fundamental point to that, but notice that I have been giving examples of how the second life fantasy has inspired real life things, such as singing and playing the piano. A few days ago I wandered by a new Waikiki night club. I've never been to a night club in my entire life. I've been to bars but was horribly bored. I prefer 4 friends in a coffee house making jokes to 40 people in a bar standing around screaming over the music. But, if I enjoy my chatting and dancing in SL, I was wondering if I might like it in real life, too. Maybe I will be inspired to drag N out on the town some night.

I can guess how my second life adventure will end. Possibly, I will become bored, or, more likely knowing myself, I will finally decide I've spent too much time and uninstall everything.

Anyone else here ever ventured into these virtual worlds? Post anonymously if you wish.


fairyhedgehog said...

I joined Second Life some time ago but for some reason neither of my current computers will run the software. I wasn't there long enough to get really involved but I'd love to.

Meanwhile, I'm playing Echo Bazaar, which is much more limited but still fun.

Robin S. said...

Hmmm. I don't know anything about this. Gotta read this post more thoroughly so I can 'get' it.

Sounds kinda cool.

pacatrue said...

Hedgehog, that was my experience as well. I joined last Spring and at first I wandered around some sims, but nothing really stuck and I stopped using it for months. Just like everything, it can take time and luck to find a nitch for you. And, just like any game or activity, it just won't be for many. My only real nitch right now is that I hang out with some friends and attempt witty banter. I'll take a look at Echo Bazaar. It's new to me.

Robin, yeah, i think my post assumed people were already familiar with Second Life somewhat. The most obvious way we could use it is to do readings, like you had imagined using Skype for. Of course, if we are only doing a reading, Skype might be easier.

fairyhedgehog said...

Paca, it wasn't that I didn't like it, it was that my pc wouldn't run it any more, and nor will the laptop I'm using.

writtenwyrdd said...

I tried it and found it boring as hell. I prefer playing Sims on my computer if I want to waste my life away.

Some friends of mine actually attend Unitarian Universalist church services in Second Life. I think that's really weird, but who am I to judge their choices.

Just remember when you start drinking too much virtual beer and drag home avatars whose name you don't know that you were WARNED! ;)

Phoenix said...

I pointed a coworker of mine to this post for ideas on how she might be able to add more virtual socialness to her life since she works from home, her hubby is overseas, and she craves more interaction.

For me, though, even blogs are too much of a time suck. Except I accidentally visited a word game site recently and have whiled away far too many hours in the past couple of weeks that could have been better spent putting words in a manuscript instead...

Thanks for the detail here. You might have helped one lonely soul discover some virtual companionship!

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I had a look at SL a year or so ago. There are some cool things about it, but I needed another time hoover like a hole in the head and quit cold turkey. I miss nothing about it except Femke Paradies. Keeping up with y'all's blogs, compulsively checking Duotrope to see if any stats have changed, teaching my kids new cuss words, trying to keep the family in clean knickers *and* get some writing done seems to be enough at the moment. I haven't even done the last couple of exercises over at EE's and my blog is looking pretty sorry...

pacatrue said...

Second Life can definitely be a time suck. Whether or not it's a useful time suck depends on what you do with it of course. Same as reading, talking with friends, or whatever.

I wrote this post because I thought people might have heard of SL, but no know what goes on in there. OK, what goes on in there is tons of SL sex, but that's another post. A few other things happen periodically as well.

Since I wrote the post, I haven't had much time to play it at all.

sylvia said...

I pretty much consider life to be a time-suck. Whether people spend their free time playing golf or reading books or watching television or sleeping or chatting in virtual worlds makes very little difference.

I personally choose books and virtual worlds but it is frustrating to me sometimes to have to justify that. The comments range from "Any idiot can write a blog, why would I want to read day-to-day shit from an unknown?" to "I couldn't imagine sitting in front of a computer all evening."

I've learned to hold my tongue and the conversation then drifts to the latest episode of Lost or the shenanigans of [insert moviestar name here] and what films are coming out.

Often I get pitiful looks for not having seen any recent films, as if somehow that is a more acceptable past-time. And when I say I don't watch television, I always receive a response of "yeah, I don't watch much either but $FAVOURITESHOW is totally worth it."

Fine, I don't play many computer games but $FAVOURITEGAME is totally worth it. Why can't I have that slack?

*mutter* Yeah, I'm a bit defensive on this issue. :)

Anyway, I have had a wander around in Second Life and I found it intriguing. It definitely needs time to learn - there's a great article actually about the SL "newbie" experience and visible aspects of it, as obvious as levels in a traditional MMORPG.

For me, the draw of the game wasn't enough to make me make the effort but then, I have a very healthy online social club (two, actually, if we count this wonderful group of writers!) and I enjoy playing RPG games.

I tend to do better with structured gameplay, I had similar issues with Metaplace which was an SL-like idea but with a web-browser interface.

(It's since gone under, I think because it didn't entice people like me and it didn't offer anything extra to the people using SL)

(I'll stop going on now, sorry)

I second FHH's recommendation of Echo Bazaar as a game though - the designer is a linguist and it shows. :D

But it's not really a community thing, just a fun turn-based game.

There's an intro here:

Echo Bazaar

Ello said...

Dude - I am such a Mennonite but what the heck is Second Life?!!!

And will I be sorry I asked?

sylvia said...

Calling Dr Paca!

You might enjoy this month's book for the chat:

I think you really need an understanding of virtual worlds (and some tolerance for 2nd person point of view, which I found difficult) but it's an intriguing "next gen" view.