Sunday, November 28, 2010

Not Your Usual Second Life Winter Fare

The Destinations Tab in Search has a list of special winter builds to enjoy this season - lots of skating and sledding and visiting Santa. I decided to check out a few less obvious seasonal displays. The first is the beautiful Winterfell - a good time of year to visit if you haven't before and even if you have.

Next I went to see what had happened to Mysterious Wave in the deep freeze that's hitting much of the northern hemisphere. I found a sled full of gifts being pulled by Rudolf the Red Nosed Crow.......

There are some striking and mysterious images here - a fun place to play with the camera!

Not wanting to neglect physical activity I then went to the Cheek Cow Golf Club. They've done a spectacular job of winterizing the course.

You might still lose your ball but it's so gorgeous you won't care. :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hypocrisy in Second Life

I need to begin by saying this is a very personal issue for me. Not just the whole "I'm a woman" personal but "knife to the throat let's play games little lady" personal. Stop reading now if that makes you uncomfortable.

I've been at more than one dinner party over the years where alcohol induced conversations got around to men vs women issues and the types of behaviour which men considered acceptable (but made the women noticeably uncomfortable). In one case a man (a senior Corporate executive type) announced there was "no such thing as rape". I asked him what kind of research he had done to arrive at that conclusion. Didn't make me too popular. On another occasion I brought all conversation to a halt by asking if "Mike Tyson would have gotten his boxing license back if he'd been convicted of raping a man". You can probably detect my bias from these examples.

The depiction of violence against women in Second Life has bothered me greatly from the very beginning of my residency. I've tried to convince myself that "consensual" means I should be tolerant but I've never succeeded. A new exhibit has made me stop deluding myself and stop ignoring the topic and has forced me to confront one of the most appalling (to me) aspects of this issue.

Is This Turning You On? is an exhibit by Scylla Rhiadra and utilizes images from inworld groups and shops to address those who participate in violent role play asking them why this type of thing is sexually exciting. You can find out more about the exhibit itself here. It's very powerful and the images are extremely disturbing (and yes at least one involves sexual violence against a man) - be warned, don't go visit if you are very sensitive to this type of display.

Scylla has counted over 400 groups devoted to rape, snuff and Dolcett role play. 400 of them. Think about that. Some have few members but some have upwards of 1400.

One of my biggest problems with this type of activity and the depictions of it in Second Life is the blatant unapologetic hypocrisy it demonstrates. If there was a religious component to what was being presented the outcry would be deafening. The fact that it is just primarily women makes it acceptable. Don't believe me? Put a male avatar wearing a yarmulke in one of those contraptions and have another avatar slice his stomach open with a knife and you'll hear no end of complaints and cries of "OMG this can't be tolerated". Put a swastika on the wall and there would be demonstrations and demands that the person be banned for life. Make it a naked woman and people just shrug.

John Norman wrote the Gor books in reaction to the women's movement of the 60's (he must have felt very threatened). One of the many things the movement achieved was the recognition (in many places) that domestic violence was not a "private family matter". It was finally accepted that society would not tolerate you doing something to a "loved one" that would get you arrested if you did it to a stranger on the street.

I think it's time that we recognize that violence (particularly for sexual purposes) against women and men isn't acceptable ... period. The lack of religious or political motivation does not make it tolerable.

As a final note - I don't consider the "milder" forms of this role play acceptable either. Gor isn't benign - I don't care how many butterflies and "kind" owners there are. Subjugation and "discipline" are degrading and abusive. The next time you see a Master/Slave out shopping or wandering around - ask yourself this ..... If the person crawling on all fours was a Jew and the person holding the chain a Palestinian - would you be so tolerant?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Second Life - Pteron & Windlight

I had some time today before the opening of a new art exhibit so I went to Pteron and played with Windlight. If you haven't been there, you should go - especially if you want to play with your camera!

Yes each of these photographs is of exactly the same scene - the only difference is the Windlight and (in some cases) shadow settings.

All of these Windlight settings are part of the set created by Torley - you can download them yourselves here.

I'm sure there's a todo list on my desk somewhere. I'm equally sure this wasn't on it - but it was fun. :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Off the Wall in Second Life

There are some new "Destinations" categories in Second Life search, one of which is "Strange" ... well I couldn't resist. I started with Off the Wall which is described as follows:

Beneath the giant lightbulbs is a sensory overload of fun quests to complete for prizes, constructed by equally colorful characters. Don't miss the many crazy references to geek culture, video games, Internet memes, and more.

I would describe it as a combination of cartoon/steampunk/adventure game/acid trip. Oh and totally addictive fun! :)

When I realized at the beginning that this was going to involve "game" and quests I looked to see who was online and invited Dale Innis to join me. I figured (correctly) that this was the one person who should be able to help me solve the puzzles. Very few of the resulting photos actually downloaded successfully so the one of Dale wearing an alien head is unfortunately lost. You'll have to go get your own I guess.

The creators of this marvellous/frustrating/joyous/skillful/surprising build include Rachel Breaker, Delmore Oh and TOASTXOR Stoop. And the build is gorgeous. I met one adventurer who was there primarily just to enjoy the sculpts because the quality is so high (of course he was distracted by the game play as much as the rest of us).

The task you are given is to dig up treasure. Simple enough, until you realize you first have to get a shovel which requires solving an adventure game. You also need to find keys - there are more than 100 of them above and below ground (you don't have to find all of them but you want to find as many as you can). There are also mini quests here and there and you can earn (and lose) currency which only functions on this sim. In other words - you'll wind up, as we did, spending hours finding the most amazing things and doing the craziest stuff and enjoying yourself enormously.

There are also shops around the sim (or as Dale described them "money sinks"). If you like quirky or bizarre this is the place for you!

I don't know how to adequately describe the surprises which await. Just when you think you've got a good handle on what's there you'll enter into a pharaoh's tomb and wind up in an underground maze or find a hidden indoor beach. And throughout you're acquiring keys and adventure items and meeting characters who want to trade those items - oh and the mini quests. Just try collecting enough batteries to recharge that robot!

Do go visit Off the Wall - it's a magical place to spend some time. Take your friends because you'll need all the help you can get!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Second Life - The Realm of Mystara

Avoiding stress makes me even more stressed but sometimes you just need to escape for a while and, since I haven't explored anything for a few days, I decided this morning to turn my back on real life and visit a fantasy world.

Mystara is a "lost forest and water Realm, rich with mystery and intrigue". Created as a Medieval Fantasy (Free Form) Role Play community it is full of fairies and elves and satyrs and countless other fabulous beings. It is also a gorgeous build.

Situated on an archipelago, this is a heavily wooded Realm with numerous hidden places in addition to a minimal number of 'traditional' structures. The landscape and the inhabitants are the real draws.

You can visit as an observer, just wear your tag and obey the rules and you are free to look around. I admit I was a little uncomfortable playing tourist but I appreciated the opportunity. :)

Be warned before you go however, it is not all sweetness and light in Mystara. It has a dark history and there are tricksters and villains as well as heroes in the mix. You might find it suits you perfectly.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Victorian Vernissage in Second Life

I attended a Vernissage this morning to preview the new exhibition of works by Callipygian Christensen entitled Sepias of the Far East. All of the photographs were taken inworld and they are stunning.

Artists at a Vernissage are often still at the stage of varnishing their works (hence the name) and Miss Christensen was no exception.

You can see the exhibit at Calli's at Tamrannoch (which is located in Caledon so Victorian clothing would not be out of place). An opening reception will be held on the evening of November 18th from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm SLT. If you can wait that long to visit you will be rewarded with good company, friendly conversation and discounts. :)

I could not resist this winter scene.

And it appears I managed to achieve true gender neutrality (or at least gender confusion). At the very proper Victorian reception I was addressed as both Mr. McMillan and Miss McMillan in equal measure. Fun!



My pose is, of course, from Gesticulate!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Second Life - Considering Virtual Justice

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not
be lost; that is where they should be. Now put
the foundations
under them.

Henry David Thoreau



This quote appears at the front of a new book called Virtual Justice - The New Laws of Online Worlds by Greg Lastowka. The author is a Professor of Law at Rutgers University and has written for a number of publications on such topics as CyberProperty and Virtual Crimes.

Far from a "dry academic" tome I'm finding it interesting, thought provoking and educational. One quote from the acknowledgements forward should give you a clue to his approach:

..... I feel obliged to note that this is a book about law that strays fairly far afield from my professional comfort zone. I make extended forays into medieval history, airplanes, and professional sports simply because I could find no better way to say certain things about virtual worlds.

Professor Lastowka appeared today on Metanomics and his conversation with Beyers Sellers generated a lot of interest and a LOT of chat (some of it was even on topic).


The book begins with a look at three different castles and uses them to "introduce some basic observations about power, technology, artifice, and law." The idea that "feudalism" has had a strong influence on virtual worlds found a sympathetic audience even without an explanation. I think people sometimes like to feel downtrodden even if they aren't sure why they should feel that way. Just in case you're starting to think you're downtrodden too - understand that he's speaking about influence on the law as it relates to virtual worlds not your landlord's right to demand Droit de Seigneur cybersex.

I haven't finished the book yet and I don't plan to regurgitate it for you once I have. He covers all the hot button topics (including copyright) so there is plenty of food for thought and debate. I do think it's worth a read and I believe it will generate a lot of discussion which will be healthier if all of the parties doing the discussing have actually read it. :)

The good news is that a pdf version of the book is freely available to read online and/or download (then if you like it you could go buy it). If you need more incentive than just curiousity, go watch the video of his Metanomics talk first. Both are intriguing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Second Life - A Petrovsky Flux & Machinima

There are times I almost regret exploring Second Life. The talent and intellect demonstrated by so many of the residents can make me feel really really inadequate.

A Petrovsky Flux is one of those builds that can render me speechless. Hosted by the Spencer Museum of Art, this creation by blotto Epsilon and Cutea Benelli is nothing short of outstanding.

My friend Cyberloom was one of the many who blogged about their installation at Burning Life 2008 - this creation takes many of the techniques utilized there and expands and refines them in a wonderful way.

I don't know how to describe it in a manner that makes sense but, in addition to the beauty and wonder of the build, you will be delighted by its collapse and seemingly organic reconstruction. Fly up to 100m and just watch for a while before you explore (and be careful when you're on the ground, things might land on you).

Luckily this is one of those occasions where you don't have to just take my word for the beauty of an inworld build. The brilliant machinimatographer Toxic Menges has created a piece which should convince you to visit. :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Second Life - Could there be a Viewer App for that?

Barcelona Plaza

Disclaimer! I'm not a coder, please remember that as you read this. The limited amount of understanding I have on this subject is based on conversations with others and some online research. What I do have is an imagination and the apparent need to extrapolate from tiny bits of things to create full blown "what if" scenarios. All of the inaccuracies and misunderstandings and sheer foolishness contained herein is mine own and nobody else is to blame.

Mojito Sorbet brought this to my attention - and frankly if it was written in greek I'd have no less chance of understanding it. But she and Gentle Heron spoke long enough to give me glimmers of hope for something I think could have a lot of potential. My attempt to contact Dzonatas Sol was in vain (wildly conflicting schedules), however my scripter friend Cris Lefavre spent some time trying to steer me in the right direction (remember none of them are responsible for my lack of understanding).

At the moment, those with the necessary technical abilities can create a Third Party Viewer with the functionality they feel is missing from the Linden Lab offerings and, assuming they clear some hurdles, make it available to the residents of Second Life. I can remember T Linden talking about V2 and saying that people could create a different version of the viewer for different categories of users (such as builders). I had an image of my desktop with multiple viewers for different tasks and tried to see how flipping between them was going to be a positive experience. I failed miserably.

SnowStorm 375 (as I understand it) is concerned with creating code which hooks into the main viewer and offers functionality that way. There are limits to what can be achieved with this right now - but I think it will be expanded given the creativity of SL residents. Imagine if instead of somebody compiling a new viewer to provide some functionality they created an "app" or "plugin" for your regular viewer. Imagine if hundreds of technical wizards did that and Linden Lab could continue to work on the platform and simply (well nothing's simple but you know what I mean) offered and maintained the "hooks" for your specialized app.

Virtual Ability

One of the many problems with the demands for tools and functionality in the viewer is that, as important as these requests are to the community with the need, they might not be a high priority for the whole user base. So getting the biggest bang for the buck out of limited resources would require LL to work on those things which improve life for the most of us. This leaves many of those requests, much like orphan diseases, to languish without the attention they deserve. But what if the technical resources in those communities, or technical wizards willing to support those communities, could create solutions for those who needed/wanted them and make them available without having to compile a new viewer?

I doubt that the number of potential "apps" would rise to the level of the iPhone offerings but over the years there could be an extensive range of tools developed and we users could pick and choose the ones we wanted.

There are a lot of inherent security issues with this approach I'm sure. But there again the Apple model might be useful. I can forsee a category in the Marketplace for "Viewer Apps". One which only included those whose developers had submitted them for approval - I'm guessing there would be a way to ensure that non-approved plugins would not be able to function with the main viewer (or maybe I'm just hoping that's true).

So there's my wild-assed vision of the future. One viewer. A stable and powerful viewer with a range of apps available for tools and specialized functionality. I obviously had too much time on my hands this week. :)