All bulked up and nowhere to go.

I didn’t write last week. Why? Writer’s block, plain and simple. All bulk, no fiber, no water. Nothing flowing. Staring at blank document. No juice. Cranial constipation. (And, at the moment, I am battling some kind of cold that really, really, really, wants my attention, like a needy 5-year-old tugging on the kitchen dress of my awareness; shooing it away with a flour-dusted hand is ineffective and laughable.)

wrtrsblk1.jpgAs it happens, I am kind of experiencing a similar thing in Second Life. (God, are my segues cool or what? Inelegant at times, but it comes with the territory. Suck it up. I have. ) I’ve found I’m running into a similar malaise in-world. If it weren’t for the building I’ve been doing for a friend who is developing mixed-use facilities on a private sim, and my SL girlfriend who– despite our occasional miscommunications and her somewhat lengthy bouts of afk, is still my source of energy– I’d be in-world a lot less these days. RL pressures are mounting, and I am a lot less inspired to hang around a sim. I continue to beta-test, running to SL in order to escape some RL grindings, only to find similar grindings in SL. However, the approach in SL allows me to work out some RL things, if only by virtue of the fact that I can de-pressurise the brain long enough to allow some blockage to clear. This is not a fool-proof theory; to wit, last week’s absence. But with a little more application, it might be a workable one. “Keep banging it with a hammer, you’re bound to fix it, somehow!”

On a marginally related note (and this does not qualify for a ‘cool segue’ award)…there’s an interesting backlash of sorts beginning to occur. I find myself wishing I could walk to the bottom of the lake that I live next door to, as easy and as unencumbered as in SL. What would I do there? Dunno. Can’t rez an object, so I might be limited to sucker-punching a couple of aggressive fish. But walking at the bottom of the lake or ocean or other body of water, to get to the other side, is starting to sound perfectly doable.

On a more practical note, I was out shooting photos on Sunday–good day for it, too… overcast, snowing, big city–and I found myself wishing–nay, expecting–to be able to fly up two or three stories to get that particular angle of Union Station I wanted to, without having to burden myself with contacting the tenants of the offices above me, explain my request, and jump through hoops to point a camera out a window. It’s amazing how quickly one can adapt to the creature comforts of SL. The line gets blurred with mental statements such as “Well, I’ll just fly up there and….oh, hell.”, statements that suddenly seem perfectly normal in RL carry the reality of encouraging men with white jackets to engage in footchase through the city streets.

I looked up the offices in the building directory…I’ll ring them this week.

Y’know, whoever makes this daytime cold medicine–shilling on the premise and promise of “non-drowsiness”–should really own up to the other side effects of the concoction. The pine trees outside my townhouse are bending down, trying to open my windows from the outside, my cats are dialing the telephone and ordering pizza (in perfect German, no less), and the entire contents of my closet are rearranging themselves in order of color. To make matters worse, I can’t really focus my eyes.

Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Maybe it’s even better I don’t have a wetsuit.

Games, KFC buckets, and chorus girls.

The latest instalment in Bix Ashbourne’s journey as a new Second Life resident:


Occasionally, I hear Second Life referred to as a “game”.

Don’t quite know what to make of that.

Certainly, in some dimensions, it qualifies; there’s killer graphics, it’s run from a computer, and requires some hand-eye coordination. Especially during sex….imagine, in real life, having to multitask during intercourse the way you do in Second Life; hours and hours of material for sitcom writers in that one. Every episode has a botched orgasm…cue laugh track; humorous, quizzical dismayed look in three…two…one….NOW!  But there’s no score (unless you define ‘score’ as nailing that unrealistically-tall hottie), no battle plan, no goal (unless you define ‘goal’ as nailing that unrealistically-tall hottie). No coaches. No scorekeeper (unless you define ‘scorekeeper’ as one pissed-off, unrealistically-tall hottie).

By way of illustration, that last point helps define the transition that SL is potentially foisting upon humans. Those of us old enough to remember when you could give your finger a free ride on the telephone dial (part of a device that had a CORD, for God’s sake, forcing you to remain centralized and focus on your conversation), or experienced the first wave of vector-graphic video games in parlors (‘BattleZone’, anyone? I’ll whip your ass…), can only sometimes look on in bewilderment as some gum-popping teen risks turning her thumb into a torch from the blazing speed of text-messaging her LOLZ to a girlfriend.

The interface between humans and machine has become more densely-packed, offering a rich tapestry of clusterfuck. In SL, a numbing array of information is presented when you first arrive, and it takes you quite some time to filter out what’s important, and what is data fodder. And you can usually only do this by diving in and using it. You prioritise, acclimate, and proceed, with only keystrokes to convey the enormous amount of processing your brain is doing, navigating its way through a maze of digital commands, visual input, and emotion. Oh, and don’t forget the words. Talk about getting your shit together and your ducks in a row.

A discussion with an older friend of mine brought up talking points that were not at all unexpected; “shutting out the outside world”, “distancing yourself”, “tuning out reality”, and a whole litany of similar observations. While the talking points were no surprise, what WAS a surprise was that I found myself playing defense. Finding this strategy was natural, really. Who among us ISN’T tired of reading about one group of brown-skinned people blowing up another group of brown-skinned people in the Middle East every goddamned day? Who among us ISN’T tired of reading about school/mall/drive-by shootings? Of tales of economic woe?
Of governmental iniquities? Of Britney Spears? In a world where the comic section is just about our only relief from this dogpile–and even that gets broached from time-to-time by excellent strips such as ‘Doonesbury’.

Second Life gives you a chance to breathe, with opportunities to actually DO something about the flaming prick that suddenly ensconced you in a large bucket of KFC. (Granted, no-one’s ever tried that stunt on me in RL, but when they do–and some dumbass will–I’ll be ready. You betcha.)

You can’t die. You can’t drown. You can’t be harmed by falling off of tall buildings, or by being hit by a car. Yet, I – and I suspect many others, as well – scrupulously avoid letting these things happen. Why? Why would we worry about it, when we don’t have to? I have a theory (what a surprise); As I said before, SL is like a giant, well-funded ‘do-over’, where you get to work on RL situations in a beta test environment. A place to exercise common sense without your efforts getting too terribly shat on. As a bonus, on the flip side you get to test what you WOULD do if you had some amazing powers, such as flying, or teleporting. “Here’s a gift, see what you do with it”.  Given the power in RL, I would STILL not teleport myself into an NBA cheerleading locker room, or a Las Vegas cabaret dressing room, or the set of a porn flick (which I hear is rather unremarkable, anyway).

In many ways, SL is no different than RL. You have good people, bad people, innocent people, knowing-yet-silent people, and people who have very little idea why they’re there. If anything, the interface somehow allows these qualities to surface a little faster and a little more clearly…something we could use in RL in a big, big way.

Death Of A Skeptic Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, Bix Ashbourne describes his early days as a Second Life resident:

I start wandering. Rude people, silent people, gregarious people, bothersome people, strange people, oddly dressed people…is this Los Angeles? So much for a different life. Armed with the in-world names of some real-life friends, I discover the search function, and ultimately, them. Kat, an in-world designer and RL computer genius and discussion board friend, comes to my rescue, showing me places to go, standing patiently while I avoid the type of nervous breakdown that only comes with information overload. Shows me some freebies, gives me some landmarks, then offers to tweak my avatar for me to de-burr me of the Noob flash. I let her in on my password, and a little while later, voila`! I am now ready to swing in SL, rolled denim pant cuffs notwithstanding.

I go back to one of the landmarks that Kat had given me, a public gathering place called The Shelter. A wonderful place for noobs, although, in retrospect, I might have chosen a more subtle experience, with less flash, motion, and conversation. I am befriended by a very sexy woman named Willa. The experience with her simply reinforces all the good things I’ve discovered, thus far, about SL, and she is alluring, the conversation flows very well, the mutual attraction kicks into high gear. After a while, the heat is on, and we TP to a new location.

It is at this point that I discover I’m gonna have to get a penis.

This had, until this moment, escaped me; my one real-life penis exists in a state of recluse that makes Howard Hughes look like tabloid fodder, getting a cartoon penis is not even on the radar, as I’m still trying to acclimate to the movement controls, let alone appearance sliders and what not. Regardless of this minor detail, Willa and I have a very good time, and I am not only reminded of the power of words, but have also been exposed to their power in a new context. I also come to the realization–pun thoroughly intended and application expected–that this particular activity, in the context of SL, is a veritable “interactive porn”. With the addition of voice chat, which I am thoroughly aware exists yet I do not, at this time, participate in, I can easily see how the level of satisfaction get raised several notches.

There’s a line, here…a line one can sit right on the knife-edge of…and it’s the line between organic and electronic. You begin to question the human experience in organic terms, wondering how it is one can get some satisfaction from a non-tangible, fabricated, yet near-wholly interactive experience. Here we are, lonely, stretching out across the world in our beds, our chairs, our desks, getting pleasure from someone we’ve never met but is, nonetheless, NOT a total stranger. Speed dating, with graphics. When you realize that scientists are working on developing organic circuitry and components, ostensibly with intent to make production less toxic to the environment but also opening up the door to someplace for mankind to go when the human body has become outdated, the mind becomes filled with the stuff you only read about in science fiction stories as a kid.

Love in the ether, lust as binary.

A stream of numbers now has the burden of carrying our stream of consciousness, our desires, our joy, our anger. Human, organic passion has now ramped up its dependence on copper wires, surface-mount components, blinking lights, mega-corporation call centers, and the piloting skills of UFO pilots to avoid our clunky, gum-and-duct-tape satellites. (I wonder what the alien equivalent of duct tape is. I wonder if they depend on it as much as we do. Surely, they’ve advanced enough they don’t need to carry wallets.) I can feel the detachment from RL beginning. I don’t know if I’m sad to say it feels good.

Willa informs me that she’s seeing a modest handful of avatars, and can’t find herself to commit to only one, the news of which simultaneously fails to surprise me and stings a little. So much for keeping RL and SL separate, I suppose. I do the software equivalent of a shrug, and accept what’s been thrown at me. We have one more encounter; over the course of time, she decides that she does want to be with one, and one only. Naturally, I am not it. We stay in touch, on occasion. We know a lot about each other’s real lives, have shared some deep conversations and relied on each other for a shoulder; we DO have good conversation. There’s still a small, soft spot in my digital heart for the woman, somewhere.

It’s at this point that I realize that which I already knew, but have now deemed it too late in life to do anything about; I can’t be fake about anything. I bring myself into everything I do, SL not excepted. As I wander back into the grid, I begin to realize, over the course of time, that SL is a virtual “do-over”… you get a chance to try out interactions that failed in the past, work on them, tinker with them; you can beta-test new approaches, with the worst-case scenario being having to find a landmark to TP to, and fast.

Fortunately, the face slaps in SL don’t leave marks. Let’s hope no-one scripts those.

Death Of A Skeptic Part 1

We’re thrilled to be able to introduce a new writer at The Metaverse Journal. Bix Ashbourne is in real-life based in the USA and after some chats in-world I suggested he might like to document his experiences as a new user in a virtual world – in this case, Second Life. Below is Part 1 of his journey from skeptic to virtual world resident.

Dec. 14th, 2007.

Bix on a crash

Winding down on the shittiest year of my life. Sitting up in bed on a Friday night, I began to seriously start wondering about this Second Life thing. I figure, I’m already alone….the internet is dead…no one on my chat forums…what the hell. All I gotta do is look. Might be good for a laugh.

For the past year or more, I’ve been poo-pooing this SL thing. Real life is difficult enough, so what the hell do you need a second one for? Can’t get the first one dialed in, a second one oughta be just the ticket to encouraging a chemical dependency of some sort, most likely from one of the major drug manufacturers. Just wait ’til the tax folk find a way inside.
But, it’ll be something to do, I reason, ’cause despite a backlog of projects, I’m bored out of my skull.

I poke around. I get a feel for the process, the environment, the vibe. I start wondering, out loud, to my friends on the chat forums, about this place. The very same people to whom I openly made fun of–in a well-meaning if not somewhat self-righteous fashion. And who must surely at that moment, be kicking back with a drink, chuckling to themselves about the burgeoning RL casualty developing on their LCD’s.

Dec. 15th.

More searching. More musing. More acceptance. More cheese and crackers. More chicken on the grill. The possibility of muscular atrophy in my lower extremities is very distinct.

Dec. 16th.

Early in the afternoon, I make my first tenuous steps at the website. The name…who’d’ve thunk that would be so difficult? Apparently, someone at Linden Labs thunk it, because I didn’t get the first names I really wanted, and was treated to a dizzying array of surname options. After much deliberation, some snacks, and a pot of decaf, I settle on a name. I’m pretty good with it.

I take the plunge, and launch.

Thank god for Orientation Island, structured so that you don’t ever feel the briny tentacles of the etherbeast slithering into your awareness, forever altering your tangible interactions with the outside world. I grab a torch. I fool with my appearance (to hell with love handles and who really wants a coin purse for a package?). I crash into things. I ogle some woman changing her features before my eyes. I crash into another woman while ogling the first one. I stare blankly at people chatting me in French. I watch other people pop out of the sky, all bearing a strange resemblance to me. Hey…get your own damn androgynous look, thank you very much. I get some stuff dialed in on my body. I quickly learn to loathe the rolled-up cuffs of the Noob’s jeans.

Apparently, I dialed in well, as a fetching young avatar named Nathasja took a shine to me, and struck up a conversation, along with a few other things. We talk sweet and sexy, having to move every few minutes due to people who can’t get enough of causing people hassle, or acting the obnoxious drunk at a gathering (like the guy that swooped down on us and screamed for sex on the grass, then told us to go fuck ourselves after an awkward pause); we were about to achieve a breakthrough, of sorts, when we got bludgeoned by an inferiority complex piloting a plane. Thrown way out of our way, and into two different spots, I never heard from her again.

I look at the clock. Hello? You can’t be serious. Oh, but it is, the clock as serious as Dallas newsmen on a November day. And, as if to sense my disbelief and grabbing some salt for the wound, the sun began to poke through the wooden blinds of my bedroom shutters. Over 12 hours later, and not an ounce of energy lost. What is this strange technology, that can infuse energy into a person without so much as hearing a whisper from the butler that delivers your third wind?

I finally log off. My laptop breathes a heavy sigh as the fans can finally shut off. As I pull up the covers, I am awake and exhausted. This is going to be a long day. I can feel the bags under my eyes being crafted by the ghosts of former Samsonite employees (I think that’s what they do in the afterlife, create eyebags…I always wish they were a little more stylish, had fewer pockets, and weren’t so damned rugged.)

This is going to be a long day.

Go to Part 2

Previous Posts