Behind the Digital Looking Glass

This was a fun weekend, I was invited to go to Philadelphia and visit Surreal Farber, a long time friend of mine who dates back to the days of Anarchy Online with me. Meeting Surreal was just that, Surreal on many levels intellectually, personally, and exploring the fine line between the digital and real worlds. Being that I was in the area I had to also meet up with FlipperPA and Jennyfur, whom I had already met in real life and worked with during the Second Life Community Convention. Unlike the SLCC, this meeting was very different as in it was the first time I’ve meet someone outside of my state lines to just meet and hang out.

I did learn a lot about myself, and about these sorts of relationships that one develops in the digital world. Yes, they are real, and yes, they are very tangible, and we very much reflect our personalities, or a slice of them, through our digital persona’s. It is very interesting how in our wishes, wants, and natures through the virtual worlds we participate in, regardless of it is something as open as Second Life or something more traditional as World of Warcraft. Our representation in the virtual world is a reflection if it is just a slice, of who we really are. Through virtual worlds, we get to explore true desires, wants, or experiences, relationships, friendships.

After meeting Surreal, I have a new prospective on those friendships and relationships I’ve developed through my virtual time, especially in a manner that I had not considered. A true friendship and relationship transcends any barriers, lines, or material things, it is a real enjoyment of the others company. In today’s net where many people are looking for the replacement of love or hopes of love, they probably should look for a person they can enjoy, regardless of locale or situation one should be able to enjoy the others company.

Lessons Learned

After reading about the Torrid Midnight saga, and listening to her recent explication about what has happened on the recent Secondcast episode, you see a cautionary tale about the pitfalls about Second Life. Torrid Midnight has decided to take a break from Second Life, but more importantly you hear a story of a woman whose life was changed by Second Life. In the episode Torrid speaks about how before SL she had not ever heard about Photoshop or any of the programs that is required to use to create clothing and designs, programs that seems to have mastered if you take a look at any of her designs. The cautionary tale begins with Torrid’s reflection of possibly going back to school and “have been doing things that I’ve not done in three years since I’ve started Second Life. I’ve been outside a hell of a lot more…”
Unlike other MMO’s, Second Life is VERY addicting for several reasons. Mainly it is a social world without the requirements of leveling, doing quests, or performing mundane tasks to succeed. Second Life is very much about handing the user control of their world and letting them do what they wish. It can become a world where you explore you inner most fantasies, create a world that is entirely based on your imagination, or create a profit on these things. The ability to turn your imagination into a product, service, or something that can be turned into a real life income is one of the many reasons why Second Life has gotten the sort of wide media attention of late. It is also the virtual worldness (if that is a word), the ability to meet people, to experience a truly social and real interaction through this interface over the Internet that is very real. MMO’s have this ability to simulate real, complex, and emotional relationships that pass beyond the virtual plane, but usually in the form of elves, orcs. In Second Life that ability of relationship creation is performed in spaces and with avatars that best represent us.
To succeed in this world, you have to work hard at it, and while doing that you begin to create, build and develop long lasting relationships with people that you may have never met before. It allures you, draws you in, and captivates you in a way only rivaled by the real world. The recent drama surrounding the Torrid Midnight happens on larger and smaller scales on a consistent basis. What happens when it the world that you have become a staple of, an important figure collapses on you? This is where the cautionary tale beings. Torrid, hounded by this drama is the cause of her leaving Second life, but what does she return to? There’s an entire real life that she admits being disconnected from, even that her life has changed from being a daredevil, risk taker to being wrapped up by digital drama and ego bruising. Granted the beauty about Second Life is that you do develop new skills, learn about yourself, perform tasks that you may have not thought about doing, even learn about the computer, but you run the risk of being entrapped in its world, begin loosing grasp of the real world that you inhabit, and even remove yourself from it. The best comment of the podcast is “it only kind makes sense… to be in Second Life… if there is something that you feel that you can do there… that kind of enhances your real life.” Second Life is not the answer to your problems; it may be some sort of placebo or may be a place where you can hide from what ever you are afraid of in your real life but one’s real life must be addressed, enjoyed, and balanced with what one does in Second life.
As for Torrid Midnight, I wish her the best of luck in what ever she wishes to accomplish, but I hate seeing such hard lessons learned from such a messy event.

Real World Business in Second Life

I finally decided to explore this new phenomenon in Second Life of real world businesses entering the virtual world of Second Life. It first sparked my interest when I heard about American Apparel entering SL with their own store where they would sell virtual copies of their real life goods. I thought that it was just a fluke until recent news of Adidas entering the fray with their own build and store. I decided to visit both places, check out what they were doing and what this phenomenon was.

The American Apparel build really seems like a huge store made in their design. The build sticks to their slick minimal-modern look, but it seemed very empty and plain (although there are plenty of gratuitous butt shots which I liked!). I was even more surprised when I looked around and saw Aimee Weber’s name and face all over the place, the same owner of Midnight City and Preen had done this build. Midnight City is a robust, bursting with life build even when no one is there (which seems very rare). Sounds of the city emanate throughout, cars and trucks moving, sirens, jackhammer, etc. The American Apparel build was just one huge store. There seems to be a potential for hanging out, with really nicely designed chairs, but there no animations in them as you would expect in most Second Life furniture. There seemed to be the possibility of it being an event space, but I don’t know if it is used in that capacity or not. What would be really interesting would be to have events regularly at the space, bring some Second Life talent to host a party every now and then.

What I did like about the build and the sale pitch. Buy something in Second Life and you can receive a code to purchase something from their online store in real life for 15% off. That may actually get me to an American Apparel store to purchase something!

The Adidas build seems to suffer from the same syndrome but differently. Done by Rivers Run Red (who I met at the SLCC), the Adidas build offers Second Life replicas of their shoes. There are two versions which you can buy for $L50 each. The first being the Microride Astronaut (which don’t seem to fit with my feet) and the second being the Microride High Jumper. The shoes do look very cool, and more importantly they both have actions which you can turn on that perform different functions. For instance if you activate the High Jumper’s, you will bounce up into the sky, when you land you will bounce again; the Astronaut’s ability is that you will hover around. The build, looks representative of their brand, and there is plenty of space to bounce around with the new shoes or hover, but that is about it. The space doesn’t seem to lend it self well to other events, or the potential for future development. Once again, another empty build.

As much as I enjoy watching real world companies enter into the digital space of Second Life, I feel that they have to do a bit more than just show up. Host events, parties, offer something more than just a store, pull in world designers together. For instance, Adidas could have easily had a showcase of sneakers, each done by a different in world shoe designer, that included the Astronaut and High Jumpers functions. The American Apparel build could be more than just a store, but a lounge, maybe featuring music from new artists, maybe having events every so often. As nice as these builds are and these ideas are becoming, what is missing is their impact onto the virtual worlds. A lot of these people are seemingly showing up, and that seems to be good enough for them.

How personal is your personal digital space?

It seems that the space between two avatars is slowly closing. Things in Second Life seem beyond the point of “control”, as in the world is becoming a controlled chaos. This isn’t a bad thing. In Second Life, you have the chance of meeting any particular person from any background on any day in any location. With the option of meeting a vast number of friends in a very short period of time, the ability of your friends mapping you and teleporting to you, or having them see you online, the question that is posed time and time again is how personal one’s digital space is.
Lately, even I have had to re-evaluate my calling cards because I felt certain pressures such as: having too many calling cards, being IMed by (seemingly) everyone in Second Life, all of the time, responding to everyone demand, even being mapped a few times by customers, friends, and acquaintances when least expected. Even my home location, a personal house that I’ve built, seems to get plenty of visitors during the week. All of this leads me to ask, how personal is the space I’ve created for myself, that was meant to be a personal space?
This article made me realize that I’m not the only one asking this question. Even in our virtual world of Second Life, we all want and need some personal space. How to achieve that personal space is the other question. Some techniques have worked, such as placing a platform or room 500m in the sky, outside of normal flying and viewing range. Yet even then that can be compromised. In a recent patch, the ban option was changed to provide better enforcement, but still does not resolve other potential space infringing issues. You can also become stricter about who you give your calling cards out to, again one doesn’t need a calling card to be found.
To answer the question, “how personal is your personal digital space?” the answer is not very. With all of these tools, it is very hard to “hide” for a specific period of time while in Second Life. Like in real life, the creation of a personal space is by making a very clear definition of what your personal space is, and it has to be made clear to others what that personal space includes. Some may be offended, hurt, or consider you a five letter word that starts with the letter “B”, there is a reason personal space is not called everyone space, virtually or not.

Second Life’s Security Problem

Yesterday it was announced through the Second Life Blog that their database was compromised. This database only contained information about the account holder, such as name, address, and their password. Linden Lab has then decided to force everyone to get a new password, even making the option to reset the password easier. While many are upset about this action, I have to say that these things do happen, sometimes there is no possible way around them. Security breaches occur, passwords are stolen, game sites and companies get attached. While Linden Lab now has to figure out how to ensure this doesn’t happen again, users have to ensure that they have a better password to use. If you need help or a guide, here’s one from PCWorld.com on how to toughen up your passwords, and another (but older article) on the same subject. Regardless of the issue, make sure that you have a strong password, and a good place to store them.