Friday, September 15, 2006

I know that I said I would do more stories on Burning Life. I know... I know.. but unfortunately I kept getting distracted with all the cool shiny things happening elsewhere. Add in the unscheduled down time earlier this week and several dashes of Real Life and its a recipe for missing the boat. Maybe next year I can do some better coverage of the event. My apologies.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of going to a meeting for the Kuurdian Expedition. What the Sam Hill is that? Basically, its a group of folks that are grouped together to discuss and investigate the new synthetic worlds, virtual worlds. At the NMC ampitheatre on the in-world NMC Campus where the meeting took place, Intellagirl Tully was their guest speaker. Intellagirl is a PhD candidate at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana studying. What is interesting about this is that Intellagirl's class meets and works exclusively in Second Life.

It was my first "presentation" in a virtual world.

The talk started well enough. Intellagirl handed out a package of notes on image slides that you could reference for the presentation. The point being made was the appearances of individual avatars as forms of communication among others in the world. Much like a character created by a writer or a roleplayer, avatars communicate detailed information about the person behind them or playing them. What does this silent communication tell us about not only our communications in the real world but the virtual world as well?

In particular, I enjoyed this quote which she used to sort of kick things off. "It's important to remember that 'avatar' comes from sanskrit and it means "descend" in as a god descending into a material form and just as each of you is a person who is far more than your avatar, you have 'descended' into this world in a very particulat form for a reason. It's not a spiritual thing, persay, but a very deliberate choice."

In order to understand this a bit more thoroughly, she put us through a small experiment where those in the audience that felt comfortable enough were to take off their normal avatar skins and their clothes. We were to replace them with substitute skin textures she had given to us in the initial packet. I, of course, jumped in with both feet. What ended up happening was that, in world, we were stripped of our visual identity. I also noticed that since I have avatar names turned off, I immediately began to have a hard time remembering who was who in the discussion.

In much like a tribal way, there was discussion as to how adornment of the avatar can almost silently place someone within a certain strata of prestige within some social circles of Second Life. Some individuals at the discussion confessed to spending hours on the avatar, tweaking it and building it. I, on the other hand, had not done much at all since coming into game. I currently must be in the real cellar dwellers, the homeless rats of Second Life, since I had a basic avatar and a free account. I wonder if its the same as walking in a real world bar wearing a dirty unwashed coat, muddy shoes, and a stained shirt? Was my virtual appearance on scale to someone that hadn't showered in a few weeks?

The presentation continued and the discussion was lively. And, again, I have to gush and say I absolutely love this stuff. What is being said if one person is wearing a long-necked, purple martian outfit, another is a skeleton with a top hat, and the other appears to be a female glamour stripper looking for a good time and some fast cash? Sterotypes fall into place easily, the martian could be a sci-fi geek, the skeleton could be someone who identifies with the Goth culture, and the stripper could be a middle-aged housewife with curlers in her hair.

But, in reality, it may not be the truth. The stripper may be a guy, the long-necked martian may be a woman taking her break from her writing career, and the skeleton might just be a medical student. Appearances are perhaps a good first indicator but, just like in real life, you still have to actually talk to the person to understand the choices they have made with that appearance.

A subtle sense of that presented itself when one person attending said they had a hard time taking anyone in a furry outfit seriously because they equated the furry look to cartoon creatures. Interestingly enough, one of the attendees, quickly switched over to a furry avatar about the same time the original speaker showed her "obese woman" avatar which she had intended to use at some point to judge other people's reactions. The humor, on my side of the audience seats, went up a few notches over the entire conversation. But, right there, it pointed to the underlying points Intellagirl was discussing.

The whole talk also got me wondering if the level of self-confidence, on a deep personal level of the player with themselves and who they were in real life, had anything to do with the choice of the avatar itself? And not only that but what about a self-confidence with the operating system of the game? What if someone was REALLY sure of themselves on both levels? Would they feel complete to simply wander around the game as a single white unassuming sphere or would they have a crazy humanoid-like avatar which caused other players to gawk in awe?

Lots of questions and not alot of answers. Such is life on the frontier, eh? Regarldess, Intellagirl gave a very interesting and thought provoking presentation. I look forward to hearing more about her studies and more about how the cross-overs are happening between the real world and the virtual one.

For more information, you can check out Intelligirl Tully's webpage or head over to the Synthetic Worlds Initiative which sponsors the Kurrian Expedition which, ah-hah, I am now a member of!!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"I've got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lad. A whale of a tale it's true..."
--Sung in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

When I called up the Events page, I had to read the entry twice. "Fishing tournament?" I said aloud. Fishing in Second Life? Being a fisherman since the age of five, well, fisherkid, I had to see this one. So, I teleported over to Heart's Enchanted to see what it was all about. As I rezzed into the area, there they were, a handful of avatars lit by the light of the moon, all with fishing poles, standing along several docks. Some were even sitting on the local mushrooms as Fletcher Meadowbrook was doing here.

I grabbed what they call a tournament pole, walked to the edge of the peer, and typed in the code for it fling my virtual bait out into the virtual ocean. At the same time, I quickly worked my way through the notepad of instructions. What? No stinky worm fingers? No oily fish? No on-target casts and hesitant yet skillful retrieves with an underwater bait? No. A window popped up after about thirty seconds and informed me that I had not caught anything. Well, at least that part was on target with my real-life fishing experiences. Once again, I cast out for a lunker.

Around me, the announcementof fish being caught filled the chat box. Along with the names of the fish were points they were worth and the amount of XP (experience points) the pole was acquiring after each cast. Thinking I was perhaps in a bad spot (it happens in fishing it might just happen here as well!), I tried to manuever around on the dock.

And fell in the water.

As you know, in SL, its not that big of a deal. Except for the whole embarrassment factor...

Eventually, as I dried off and started catching fish, I also started figuring it all out. Send line into water, wait for fish, get fish, tally up points, and then do it again. Do it as often as you can in an hour period and the person with the most points wins the tournament. At first glance, it sounds rather boring. There does not appear to be much going on above the surface. But, fortunately, there is alot going on under the waves. The folks over at have designed a rather clever and addictive way to spend an hour of your SL time by taking a very simple game and immersing it with hidden structures and scripts.

You can go fishing anytime you want at the various fish camps so, like real fishing, it can be a solitaire event as well. There are different kinds of poles and bait which controls the type of fish you are likely to catch. The pole is a program which records the XP it has acquired from different fish and it, itself, levels up thus improving its ability. You also get reward points which can be cashed in like tickets at an arcade for fun things like charms for you pole or, on the high end, better poles and clothing.

Of those fish, there are over 150 different kinds, some of which are rare and collectible. There are fishing quests where you try and catch certain fish which hold certain things which are needed to complete various "Quests." To top it all off, sometimes the fish and items will contain random surprises. With fish names like "Your Momfish", " DINNER W. BUTTER", and " Bulbous Broohaha" the sense of humor that this is a lighthearted recreation to what some real life folk take very seriously is evident. And yes, unless you want to rack up the reward points, you have to pay cash Linden to get the bigger and better pole and bait packages.

The fish themselves, as a magical SL type of taxidermy, are gifted as objects you can keep in your Inventory. What better way to prove that you did, in fact, catch that super rare fish! From there you could hang it on your wall. Make a sign! Make a table!

I'm not even going to get into the fishing tours and tournaments they have.

I mean it as a compliment when I say that Neo-Realms have taken a persistant trait among human beings and turned it to their favor to power their game. Hope and expectation. Its used in casinos around the world, in marketing campaigns for breakfast cereals, and collectible card games. Maybe that next pull of the slot machine will bring the riches, maybe the next booster pack will have that much needed rare, and, of course, maybe that next catch will land me the uber-rare RED GYRADOS!

And the thing is, with the added levels, its much more enjoyable then pulling the handle on a slot machine over and over and over and over.

There is another element there as well which can easily be overlooked, the social one. Much like when folks hang out and play Tringo,
GreedyGreedy, or any of the others, you can hang out on the dock and chat a bit while you wait for the next fish to hit your hook. Being a real fisherman, I can appreciate that quite a bit. What else is there to do when you are standing on a dock or sitting in a boat for several hours? Chat, have a soda, catch some fish. Even as the tournament was under full swing, a few folks chatted about all the 911 tributes happening in-world and some offered some of their opinions. When the tournament was over I struck up a conversation with the fisherwoman next to me, Sarah Braess. This was her first time trying out the game. Liking the variety of the fish and the experience was on her way to pick up a beginner pole and try the non-tournament fishing scene.

And, yes, I spent nearly the last of my meager funds to pick up a $L16 beginner set myself. I called it "journalistic investigation." I caught the fish shown above, thank you. And a sea-monkey! I'll let you know when I catch the fierce Red Gyrados.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

So, I came a bit late to the party. Isn't that supposed to be stylish? I'm talking about the special event happening in Second Life right now called Burning Life. Burning Life is a homage to the huge event that happens out in Nevada on the playa in the Black Rock desert which is called Burning Man. A huge field of interactive artworks and displays that would be wiped from existance on Sept. 18th. To quote the Linden Lab page about it,

"On Monday, September 18 Burning Life will disappear once again - objects and land ownership will be wiped, leaving participants and visitors with a lingering suspicion that it was all a wonderful dream…"
I thought one of the things I could do in order to get this blog kick-started would be to wander over to Burning Life and write-up a quick tour. Right. Once I teleported into Burning Life, I realized there was no way this was going to be "simple." Displays of all kinds surround you and the possibilities for commentary and rants are endless. I decided to take five minutes and pick the first thing that REALLY caught my eye. I made it all of 30 feet before being stopped dead in my tracks by a monstrous image coming into form directly in front of me.

I'm a long standing dragon fan and all-around fantasy geek. Started with Tolkien, of course, and made its way through novels, RPG's, and the usual course of things. My eight year old ("I'm also nine...") boy has gone nuts over dragons, carrying around his Dragonology book and talking about dragons as possible field research for our next camping trip. Well, there's a quote from the movie "Jaws" that is strangely apt...

"I got a taxidermy man back and he's gonna have a heart attack when he sees what I brung 'im."

I think its the scale that REALLY made me pause. For the first time in all my life I was able to see and experience just how massive and amazing a full blown, epic-sized dragon would look like. We're not talking Elliott from Pete's Dragon. No, no, no, we're talking Smaug from the Hobbit!
And, its more then a static statue, the molten rivers are animated and a steady steam of smoke comes from its nostrils. It's the giddiness you feel at a really cool parade float times 10. Well, at least it was for me.

So, I explored around it a bit more and eventually, came to realize I could do something else.

I could sit on it.

And, as I did so, I realized I would be making an entry about it. I'm afraid I don't have any sort of cool philosophical rants though. No connections or allegories to discuss. Nope. Just this sweet little boyish smile on my face, you can almost see the sticky pits of cotton candy stuck on the cheeks, and a feeling that could be summed up with, "Dude, its a dragon!"

It would appear that I am a simple, simple man.

In pursuit of more knowledge, I discovered that the piece, which can be found in Raudf, had been constructed by Jakkal Dingo. Jakkal owns an avatar store called The Werehouse over in Bruin. Saying goodbye to my smokey friend, I headed over to see what I could see.

Once in the shop, I was greeted by Kayla Stonecutter. On the wall is a display of the large range of anthromorphic animal avatars that Jakkal offers in her shop. For those that are new to all of this, avatars, or "Av", are things you can buy, or make yourself, which you can then put on and wear. I know I may get stoned for saying this but for the newbies out there, think of them as costumes you can change from time to time. Some folks would call them Furries but, well, although close, it seemed different to me. I've yet to be able to put my finger on it. In essence, there was very little "cute" involved in them. They seemed very natural and I guess you could say the store is aptly named. They had a werewolf look to them. Having a long standing affiliation with my favorite Trickster-spirit Coyote, I was happy to see a Coyote Avatar in the mix.

But not just coyotes, but lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my! Gryphons, wolves, all manner of creatures realistic and mystical. I even came across dragons. Hey, wait... that looks familiar!

And this was the big reveal of my adventure. After speaking briefly with Kayla, she informed me that the massive statue in Burning Life was actually called "Drakkoinfernis" and it was simply a magnified version of one of Jakko's created avatars. Calling it up on the display board, it was easy to find.

Kayla was even nice enough to grab her own version of the avatar and show it off. The wings moved, the jaw could move, and it was capable of actually roaring and breathing fire. I was unable to get a decent shot of the fire. As, she toggled the action, I could almost hear my two year old laptop's graphic card wimper a little as the flames came out of Kayla's mouth in the form of medium-sized grey squares. I made a note to start looking to upgrade soon.

This is where I wax poetic. It was the information that the huge statue on the virtual playa was, in fact, an avatar that got me spinning a bit. Its one of those things were you begin to see the flexibility and freedom inherent in the creation system of Second Life. In a way, it was a paradigm shift for me because I had never considered the fact an avatar could be simply modified to be a massive statue. Upon hearing it, my first thought was, "Well, duh!" but until then, I'm not sure I would have concieved it. What other game or virtual world has such scalability? And its a scalability which is present to the entire virtual Second Life world. From the tiniest workings of a small Second Life watch, to the grand designs found on the Burning Life playa, you can begin to see the scale. But, from there, is it not easy to see that it could also be applied to a business? How you live your life? Do you want to be a dragon or do you want to be a DRAGON! Its at that point when one realizes that Second Life is anything BUT a game. In fact, its no more a game then, oh, say the life your living right now. But, of course, some would say thats a game too, right?

And within all of THAT, there is a secret.

It is those specific moments where my simple brain, brought up on "Pong" and "Pitfall", makes me feel like a caveman in the opening scene of "2001."

It's such a delicious feeling. Trust me, I'll try to have more on this as the adventures continue along. For now, join me over the next week as I continue to poke, prod, and explore the Burning Life displays.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Its been over a year! Wow...

I decided to revisit, dust-off, and revamp this old journal this morning. I also decided to bring it over here from its previous location elsewhere in internet space. Why is that? Well, the anser to the second is that it will do until I can get my own blogware up and running. The answer to the first question is because my most wonderful partner looked at me this morning after I was going off about a virtual event I attended last night. She looked at me quite pointedly and said, "So, write about it."

She says this to me alot. It might be because she is tired of listening to me go on and on and on about the subject of the "virtual experience." Since she herself does not play computer games, I am willing to entertain the idea that this is, in truth, the matter at hand. It may also be because she likes my writing. Regardless, the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. I am enamoured with the idea of the "virtual world" or the multi-player game experience. After five years of several experiences and watching things evolve in the online gaming world, I had a lot to rant on. This was unfortunately unleashed on several of my friends and family members.

What is it, exactly, I am ranting about? The simple fact that when I look at what is going on with virtual worlds/online gaming I say to myself, "Something is happening here." Its why I initially chose the username I did because I feel that right now, under our very noses and disguised as a game, there is a new frontier opening up. And not just one! Most are willing to call it a game, a pasttime, a way to relax, and leave it at that. However, I think there is something much more powerful going on. I've had these thoughts and theories for two years now and it took my amazing partner to look at me from inside the towel she was using to dry her showered hair this morning and say, "Write about it."

That frontier is what I will be exploring and commenting on in this journal. My main focus will be Second Life but I will not restrict myself to that experience only

Call it a game, call it an experience, or call it a distraction, I'm setting off to take a closer look at these other worlds. I want to explore and dig a bit in what I find, and also more importantly, I want to look at the way they are impacting our "real" world.

Join me?


For interest's sake, I thought I would re-post the first entry in my original Frontier's Horizon blog. Check out the date and the funky avatar from my first account in the homemade kilt! I'm not sure I can define exactly why I left Second Life the first time. Boredom? Money? Time? I have no idea. All I can say is that it firmly has my attention now!

Jul. 3rd, 2004 | 10:10 pm

Others have come before me and for many, this is nothing new.

The original settlers have long since arrived and built up the land I am standing upon. My portal, an older vessel with a 1/2 gig processor creaks and groans. But, it gets me here. It gets me to this place that I call a new frontier. One of many...

On June 16th, 2004 I arrived. I did very little. It was more of an experiment to see if my computer could even handle the strain. Surprisingly enough, it did. I was happy with that and after walking around a bit, I logged off. I wanted more time to explore, to really immerse myself in it and, well, to really see if my computer could take a crowded room full of avatars or streets full of buildings.

I waited a few days for my vacation from real world work. On the fleeting edge of Summer Solsitce, June 22nd, I took my first few steps into the world. It took quite a bit of time playing with the settings but I discovered I could move about quite well. It was an exercise in patience as my screen would slowly fill but it was well worth it.

I did all the things that beginners do. I moved around, explored, and interacted. I made some friends, danced, and I gambled. I made my first bit of clothing, a kilt, to show my love of Celtic culture. I met a vampire named Chalice Mysterio and we talked about tarot. She showed me where someone had made a replica of Stonehenge. She took me to her vampiric castle. It gave me one of the first experiences of how someone could shape this world to their liking. I bought a painting I found in a store in the eventuality that I might own land one day and have a house. At a nightclub, I danced with a dragon. Finally, at the end of the week, I managed to acquire a modest plot of land. As I did all of this an awareness of the enormity of it all began to sink in. I won't bore you with my amazement, you would not be here if you did not feel at least some of the same.

This was something other then a game. There were no levels. There were no required quests. There was no structure except what you decided to upon. This was.... something else. Something started to come forward, the sense that *something* was happening here in this tucked away other world. Something involving community, creativity, magic, and dreams all rolling up together and interacting, spilling over, into the real world. From downloading what I thought was a *game* I stumbled upon a new frontier. A frontier that is being explored and redefined every day.

In many ways, it can be compared to a dream-state. Have you ever had a dream where you are just positive, upon waking, that you've visited another world, another time? The feelings stick with you for the entirety of the day after you awaken. But, the memories start to fade and you wish, just wish, that you had a way to get back to that dream, if only for a little while?

Sound familiar?

There is time enough for me to write on that later and I will. It is, after all, the purpose of the journal. For the meantime, I'm settling in. I've got a little beginner cabin placed on my small bit of land. I'm learning how to build. I'll be hanging the picture soon, placing furniture. Of course, I'll be reporting and commentating. But for now, I'm happy because from the front door, I can see the sunrise as it comes up and over the horizon.