Departure from Second Life: one story

For the duration of the four-plus years I’ve been involved with Second Life, I’ve known Wolfie Rankin. He’s been one of the driving forces behind the ABC Island community since its launch back in 2007, and has also been outspoken on a range of issues, including his perspective on furries. For me, he’s been an enduring Australian presence in Second Life, so I was more than a little surprised when I discovered this week that he’s decided to cease his involvement. I commissioned Wolfie to write a piece about his decision, which is shown below. Obviously it’s his opinion only and each person’s reasons for departing or entering Second Life are different, but I still thought it was well worth sharing.


For the past five years I’ve used Second Life. Being fairly shy it helped me to come out of my shell, to find new friends, and discover that I could do more than I thought I could.

And during the time that I was recovering from cancer treatments it was a real boon, it lifted my spirits and made me feel wanted and needed.

Others who had a serious illness or were stuck in rural locations found they too could meet like-minded people, and found sanctuary within this virtual world.

Despite all the slagging off about Second Life which came from both the public and the media, those who used Second Life, and made the necessary connections to make it worthwhile, found it to be a wonderful experience.

One of the things worth trying is what they call Machinima. If you have wished that you could be an animator, but had no drawing skills to speak of, then this is brilliant. Just build a set in world, bring in some characters, direct them, film them, then edit the results with something like Sony Vegas, add music and effects, then upload to Youtube. The quality of what you can create here is astounding. and I would highly recommend trying it, even just for a bit of fun.

Five years ago, I was asked by several people to give Second Life a go, which I was reluctant to do as I never considered myself to be a gamer, and from what I knew of Second Life at the time, it was some sort of game -therefore I wasn’t interested.

Then I saw a report on Channel Seven about Second Life and thought that perhaps it had some merit after all, so being the curious type, I logged in.

The first time you log in, it can be a pain. It’s possible to end up lagging away on an island full of grey people, which is incredibly frustrating, and I feel we lost of lot of potential users who got caught in that situation and logged out thinking that was what Second Life was.

I checked into Second Life with a couple of friends who wanted to create an island just for us, this would cost serious money, I tried to stop my friend from going this far, but the next thing we knew, we had an island of our own. It’s a cheap proposal for a corporation, but a bit rich for individuals.

This gave us a private place of our own where we could meet and chat about our day with others. We could log in from anywhere in the world and somehow get the feeling that we weren’t all that far away at all. Those who put down Second Life by saying that we should only meet friends in the real world are so lucky to have their entire ensemble of friends, family and co-workers within walking distance of each other, and yet they still cling solidly to their mobiles. Most people have friends and family who are very far away, and if not for the phone or computer, we’d be back to pens, paper and envelopes. My friends were a mixture of American, English, Canadian and Australian – there was no way that we could meet for coffee at the local café on a daily or weekly basis.

I had a pub in Second Life, which I thought was lovely and airy, something like a Queenslander. I made it as comfy as possible, and we used it for events and get-togethers, but mostly it was just my home. Ahh yes, the disputes. I would log into Second Life and appear at my pub, on this island, to find that objects I had placed, had been moved to odd places, as though a three year old had got into crayons and tossed them everywhere. That, or that an item was returned because it was taking up too many prims (the constant talk of prim usage is annoying). The land itself could be altered too, which led to other irritations such as finding the nice flat land that I once had, was now the slope of a hill, and everything I had placed, including my home, was now buried… or the land was now a sunken valley, and all my trees and flowers were floating in the air.

This tended to be the result of selfish actions on the part of another island manager.

If I write a blog post, it remains there, it’s fixed, I own it and nobody can move it or alter the wording, I prefer things this way.

I left the private island and spent most of my time on ABC Island, Abi and the island staff were very reasonable, and there were few arguments, and certainly most of them were easy enough to resolve. ABC felt like a better home for me than Eragon. The problem here was that I really tried to get things going, but it was always difficult.

I would spend a week writing Rockit, my virtual quiz show, only to get about eight people showing up. We tried getting Pool into ABC Island… Lilli did an awesome job with the architecture, Abi gave us a hand, and we were all set to go. but when the ball was out of our court – as in Pool doing their bit, or the ABC doing theirs, everything stalled, whether it was legal issues or disinterest, I have no idea. This was fairly standard.

The idea for ABC to get into Second Life was a bold one, and one that we supported as a group, but the problem often seemed that ABC had forgotten us, there was a lot that we could have done with that island, but the volunteers could only do so much.

ABC has TV and Radio and web-based material. Having Second Life is a logical step if you’re going to experiment with as much of the digital world as possible, but I don’t think that it was handled as it should have been.

ABC had CSIRO people coming in for a few weeks, when ABC Island was new, to talk about science, something that went down exceedingly well. I was asked many times by a lot of people, if we’d ever have the science discussions again, it seemed to have been most peoples favourite ABC Island event – it was mine too. I tried to lure various science people into Second Life to do this, but none were interested.

There were things that we would have liked to have done, but we were blocked because we were not ABC staff – I suppose that’s understandable. The volunteers all felt like there needed to be someone from ABC who was there a fair bit, someone who not only worked with ABC but also someone who really enjoyed and understood Second Life, that would have helped so much.

If ABC is serious about getting experts from segments of New Media, they should send talent scouts into places like Second Life and say “You look like you know what you’re doing, would you like to work for us?”

Second Life has a vast potential, but often sadly that’s all it has. Perhaps it’s too new, perhaps something like this should have turned up twenty years into the future, when most people would look at you like a moron if you thought the internet was full of axe murderers.

I tried very hard getting people to come into Second Life. I mentioned it on mailing lists, forums and Twitter but nobody cared. “That sounds like crap”, they’d say, “Why would we want to do that, when we can just email each other?”. “I use Skype to talk to my friends”, “I use Facebook” and the oh so original, “Get a real life” which I’d heard nearly a million times. Sure there were technical reasons too – some had old machines that couldn’t handle Second Life, others had poor internet access. Fair enough.

Second Life has great potential, but people will never see that potential if they don’t at least try it. Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?

It’s funny how users of one social media will happily use one or two things and mock another. People don’t bother to research the software themselves, just rely on sketchy rumours, and if those rumours are bad, well tough.

I signed up and researched them myself to see how viable they were, and to be honest, there’s only a few that seemed not up to scratch, as far as I’m concerned, Myspace being a great example, Here’s something which is trendy to mock, but to put it bluntly, it’s a cow of a thing to use.

I loved Second Life, I really did, but not enough of you dared to try it yourself. I was there, I would have been delighted to have helped, and did help people on numerous occasions. I wanted others to see a potential and see how far they could take it… some did very well indeed…

Anyway, after five years of trying to bring people in for a look and waiting in vain, of dealing with arguments about prims and lag, of being whined at, and banging my head against a brick wall as projects simply stall because nobody seems to care – I know there are those who continue use Second Life and love it, and to be honest, I’ve had a lot of good times in there myself – but it just got to a point where I didn’t feel like I was happy there anymore, so I just walked away.

Wolfie Rankin.

‘Alter Ego’ finally hits the small screen

Alter Ego Poster SmallIt’s coming up to a year since Alter Ego was being completed, and finally SBS have committed to a screening date. It’s showing next Monday, 14th December at 11.25pm. More on the screening time later, but first:

The Mini-Review

I had the opportunity to watch Alter Ego a few months back. Directed by Shelley Matulick, this documentary takes a very close look at Second Life from the perspective of four people. Three of them are Australian, the other from the United States. All have very different stories but their commonality is the role Second Life has played in bringing them closer to other people. I think there’ll be some very different reactions to the portrayal of the subjects. It’s fair to say each have had significant challenges in their lives, with Second Life being a central activity for each.

There are a few aspects of the story that could easily be used by virtual worlds detractors who speak in terms of “get a real life” – that would totally miss the point as what this documentary shows in a stark way is the mixed bag of opportunities and challenges virtual environments present. Overall, Alter Ego is an engaging, well-made documentary that firmly illustrates the role virtual worlds are playing in modern life. Veteran Second Life residents will find areas to criticise – it’s far from a full picture painted, but like any powerful documentary it’s the power of individual stories that can make the difference and Alter Ego certainly achieves that.

Although SBS deserve some kudos for screening Alter Ego, I can’t for the life of me understand why it was relegated to late night just before Christmas. This is a quality Australian documentary that has appeal well beyond those who are involved with Second Life – surely a repeat of Inspector Rex could have made way for a documentary?

Wolfie’s perspective

Over the past three years I’ve gotten to know one of the documentary subjects, Wolfie Rankin. One of the first things I did after watching Alter Ego was to contact Wolfie and ask for his thoughts on the documentary experience, which you can read below:

I had no idea what I was in for, I thought a crew would come around and Shelley would interview me a bit and that’d be it, but it took a lot longer than I realised. Shelley would drop in now and then just to record me on voice, using a digital recorder… and then later she bought the crew. I think they were here about eight or more times, gathering bits and pieces.

The interesting thing for the technically minded was that no tapes were used, everything either went to hard drive or flash card, The High Definition camera which was used had two large flash cards in which it recorded about 20 minutes of footage which was then dumped to a laptop with a 1TB hard drive hanging off of it.

My house was an absolute mess, well I live alone, so if my house gets a bit messy, it doesn’t matter. So I cleaned up like mad and threw any excess stuff into the spare room and closed the door. What I didn’t realise was they’d bring a truck load of stuff, lighting and cables which had to go somewhere and ended up in the spare room too.

I hadn’t cleaned my bedroom or the bathroom either, so guess where they wanted to film, good grief. Oh yes, and the garden, which had been horribly neglected.

I used to be a keen gardener, but my parents were living with me then so we all had our own jobs to do, but now I live alone I find I have very little time for everything, and as everyone knows, I spend a long time each day on the computer. I’m thankful for Katie, my dog, who insists on about three daily walks or I wouldn’t get out quite as often.

My advice to anyone who might find themselves doing a doco, clean clean clean, inside and out. Although the funny thing was that all the scenes showing my house were mostly cut out. Marko, who was in the kitchen, cooking… in his rat suit, as you can see on Youtube. I watched the tape back and saw a kitchen which hadn’t been that clean for years. I have been trying to maintain that ever since.

Marko really wishes he could do a sort of kids cooking show, and I think it’d be great to see him do this, though how he manages to do anything much in that suit, I don’t know.

In another scene which didn’t make it (you can view it on YouTube here), Marko and I went to the local deli. I loved that, it was a really funny experience. Marko got into his rat suit “Rattus”, and then we all walked out into the street, Marko as Rattus, Shelley, Bart (The sound guy), Zach (our Cameraman) and myself… and got into Shelley’s not so roomy car, with Marko in the front passenger seat. If he’d been driving, that would have looked even funnier. Shelley drove, and us three guys were cramped up in the back with all the equipment. We got to the deli about five minutes later and all piled out, then Marko and I went to the deli and went through a routine where we’d buy cheese (of course) and other items which we’d take home and eat while talking about furries and so on later that night. Marko would point at various cheeses and I’d buy them, he asked me to get blue vein, and the strange thing was he didn’t actually like it, I asked him why he wanted it, and he said Rattus wanted it, not him. How do you respond to that logic?

Marko thought Bart looked cute, but he doesn’t want anyone to know so you’d better leave this bit out. 😉 There’s a nice scene in the deli of Rattus being stroked by Bart, but then Shelley hugged him and I was walking around the shops holding Rattus’ hand. I remember something about a woman gently telling Rattus to behave and be a good boy, and Rattus nodding. There was something really warm about that, a shame we didn’t get that on tape, it was beautiful.

Rattus also went into the Bakers Delight a few doors down from the deli, and hugged all the girls who were working there, it’s interesting to see the effect of a fursuit on people, many don’t look, they feel shy or embarrassed, but others love it, and I’m talking about grown people, kids are generally really keen on the idea, but the adults who have this wonderful positive response to it, it’s a lovely thing to see.

Last year I had no heater, and we were filming during winter. The house was frozen, and the doors were usually wide open because the crew kept coming in and going out a lot. So I was usually in a beanie and coat, and shelley whipped my beanie off before each scene which explains the wayward hair 🙂

Shelley picked Katie and I up to film a scene in the forest, she lives up near where Puffing Billy is and drove all the way to Footscray to pick us up. We got to her home, and what amazed me was her driveway is almost vertical, the steepest driveway I’ve ever seen… anyway, Katie and I went to this place in the forest which Shelley thought looked like a European pine forest. Well we were planning the shot when Katie stuck her nose into the dead pine needles and pulled out this hideous lump of meaty something. I know that baits are used up there so I feared the worst, even if it wasn’t a “proper” bait, it could have been left by one of those nuts who hate dogs and want to poison them, so we raced to the vet with Katie, and she was looked at and was fine, but she’d scared all of us. Jamie who composed the music for the doco was driving and we were almost hit by another car on the way, and Shelleys little boy was hot and upset. So we didn’t end up with any film at all that day which was a real shame.

The forest scene was difficult, I don’t have the fastest connection, and that sim lagged like mad. I couldn’t walk anywhere, and Shelley had to TP me to her most of the time. It’s a wonder she got the footage that she did. The video of me howling was added to the scene digitally later on.

It was suggested that we talk about sex, which I think was appropriate, but I suggested that if we must show genitalia that we show the furry stuff, because there have been other docos where human ones were mentioned, so perhaps we should try this to be different. But the funny thing was that because we had to compress things down and have one thing lead neatly into another, the film kind of gave the impression that I hang out at furry penis vendors, hoping to meet newbies and take them to strange parties in the forest, which was supposedly my Rezday.

It was a bit of a shame that I couldn’t show the kind of rezday I would normally have, a party with friends at the Kookaburra pub, with friends like Kath and Ryu, Simon, Gumby, Vermus, Quadrapop and Lowell, of course… and the performers we usually have, like Komuso and Jaggpro, but it was thought that the forest would be more visually pleasing, which it is.

We wanted a lot more people in the shots but those who we were after were usually offline when Shelley was filming, which we found really frustrating.

I didn’t like the last scene in the doco, I think what I said should have been edited better than that, and I told Shelley. I don’t know if the version which goes to air will still be the same, but I hope they can change it. While trying to explain how I felt, I found myself flip-flopping with ideas which sounded really weird and confusing, but the visuals on that final scene are really beautiful. so just absorb the music and visuals and mentally filter my voice out, please!

What I did was just kind of waffle on about ideas that popped into my head, knowing they’d be edited later, or hoping may have been a better word. I don’t think I do a good job explaining myself when there’s a mic or camera in front of me, I feel that if I can sit and write, then I am more likely to get the idea across much better… but I gave it a go.

I thought they did a really good job on the Second Life visuals, they were almost as good as what we saw in the CSI episode earlier in the year.

One of my favourite scenes in the doco is the one where Alf was laying down with his keyboard on his lap and his LCD screen hanging from an angle, He’d drilled a hole in it and tied a bit of string through it, unbelievable!

Marko is my very dear friend, who I met online around 1996 I think, and we’ve been the best of friends ever since. And he’s been here for me whenever anything bad happened, he’d come to see me, and I’m very very grateful for that, we’re soulmates, I’m sure. We met on a group he’d set up called Ozfurry, which is still around but Marko has gone onto other things.

Marko would like to do a serious doco on the furry culture, and I think he’d be the perfect one for it. He knows a lot about the scene, the people and has travelled to the US a number of times to see friends and visit furcons.

Shelley, our director, is this wonderful, very good looking, intelligent woman, who aims to produce more docos in future, under her own steam. She’s studying more about film production at Swinbourne uni at the moment. She told me that she doesn’t want to be in front of the camera, she mostly wants the people in her films to tell their own story, which I think is fine, but I’m trying to pursuade her to go out the front and be in the film too, I think she’d so a fine job of it.

Alter Ego: A Taste

It’s been awhile since Alter Ego was touted for release and it even had a proposed late June screening date. That’s been delayed but if you want a taste of what Alter Ego offers, here’s a snippet from Director Shelley Matulick, called ‘Peter and the Wolfie’:

Peter and the Wolfie from Shelley Matulick on Vimeo.

For me, this is a really engaging take on Second Life, What do you think?

ABC Island in Second Life: two years

On Friday March 16th 2007, members of the ABC Friends group in Second Life got to see the completed ABC Island, with the public launch on the 19th March to coincide with the Four Corners episode ‘You Only Live Twice’.

Since that time there’s been a regular and dedicated community on ABC Island that have ensured its ongoing evolution, in conjunction with the ABC Staff responsible for its administration.

To celebrate the two-year anniversary, there’s an event on this evening, starting at 7.30pm AEDT. First up is Rockit, the music trivia event with a difference – anyone who turns up can potentially compete and it’s a lot of fun. After Rockit wraps up at 9.30pm, the plan is for a live music performance by Komuso.


Australian Second Life resident Simon Kline organised a chook hunt Friday evening as part of ABC Island’s 2nd anniversary celebrations. Photo credit: Wolfie Rankin

We’ve mentioned it numerous times: the most successful virtual world locations are ones with a critical mass of people who consider it their community, and work to make it a fun place to be. ABC Island’s community has had its fair share of ups and downs, personality conflicts and technical challenges, but after two years it’s still standing strong. It’s fair to say that the ABC aren’t placing its Second Life presence that high up its priorities but credit due to the advocates at the ABC who have managed to keep this small community innovation a lively part of the Australian virtual worlds community.

Alter Ego – SBS covers Second Life (again)

Over the past nine months or so, writer / director Shelley Matulick has been making a documentary about Second Life. Its working title was CyberStars but the final product has a much improved title of Alter Ego. SBS and Matulick have previously released Our Brilliant Second Life, but the latest production is a significant step up in scope.

The final promo poster for Alter Ego looks like this:


Stalwart ABC Island admin, Wolfie Rankin, is one of the subjects of Alter Ego and he gives his thoughts on the finished product on his blog. There’s no confirmed release date as yet. This is a documentary that should garner quite a bit of interest, particularly if its portrayals have depth, which seems to be the case on initial impressions.

SBS Island in Second Life shelved

For the past six months there’s been fairly regular rumours around SBS and a potential presence in Second Life. It appears there’s nothing imminent if the following message from Australian Second Life resident Wolfie Rankin is any indication.

“For the last month or so, Mixin Pixel and I have been trying to get SBS into Second Life… Unfortunately it didn’t work out and the Island has been put on hold.

But this has happened a few times and I’m not really worried. I get the feeling they are at least a little interested in the idea, so perhaps if everyone wrote to SBS and told them that they’d be welcome in Second Life, well… you never know.

Maybe we should get Inspector Rex involved, he always gets his man. :)”

Episode 3 of TMJ Podcast – Wolfie Rankin, Australian Furry in Second Life

Episode 3 is live and it features an interview with veteran Australian Second Lifer, Wolfie Rankin. We discuss a wide range of topics including furries, ABC Island and the Australian community in Second Life.


For details on how to automatically receive these podcasts, check our podcast page.

Any feedback on the podcast is welcome and feel free to comment below this post. Suggestions of future guests or topics also very welcome.

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