Sunday, 1 June 2014

Second Life Meme: 20 Questions on What's It All About?

Hello everyone, I'm baaaaaaack in Second Life after an 11 month hiatus :o I honestly didn't realise I'd been away so long. I was missing friends, and my hoard, and my castle though, so I snuck back in last week ;)

Before I start posting the pretty again, I saw this question meme on my SLister Rudh's blog and I thought it would be a good way to reintroduce myself - and perhaps even surprise a few friends! The meme is based on the sort of questions you tend to exchange when first meeting someone in SL - at least that's the theory, I've always found first questions running along the lines of 'Wow you look awesome, where can I get that?' - and the astute among you may, like me, notice that there are in fact only 18 questions. I don't know why, but we'll run with it. My goodness but this took longer than I expected, and is rather a long interview! I like how these questions really made me think though, and some of my answers were revealing even to myself, so even if nobody else reads this, it was worth doing.

20 (18) Questions: What It's All About for Me!

"When and how did you discover Second Life?"

I'm 8 years old now, having started back in 2006 - the venerable days before mesh, sculpts, or even flexis! You would not believe the hair and skirts back then... I'm actually a couple of months older than my profile suggests, as I first joined SL with a roleplay character, without the shadow of a clue what I was getting into.  My RP partner found it and suggested we move there for some extra dimensionality to our purely chat-based exchanges. Unfortunately for him, although SL was just as great for the RP as he had suggested, I quickly realised its potential for other things. I made a new paid account, for myself, made lots of new friends, and was soon spending more time on SL as Fledge than as Shep (more about him later). We had a bit of a falling out over that, but we're friends again now, I am glad to say - and as I owe my entire SL existence to him, I just want to say a big 'thank you!' to Shep's twin, Jon*. I'm sorry the RP didn't work out, but you got a better deal in the end, I'd say ;)

*Yes, we both played the same character, and there is a HUGE volume of backstory to that. We called it Mirrorverse. One of them, and I forget which now, got stuck in a parallel dimension and either decided to stay, or couldn't find out how to leave. It was probably mine, and all that silly dragon's fault!

"Did you know about virtual worlds before or was this your first experience with them?"

How does one define a 'virtual world'? I'm pretty sure SL was the first of its type, and I'd never heard of it before Jon introduced me. But computer games, just like fiction in novels or films or on TV, place the user into a tightly defined alternative environment - each with its own unique paradigm - so in a sense any game is a virtual world, and I have played them ever since I was a kid and my mum brought home her school's Acorn computer with educational games to play over the holidays. Ahh, fond memories of Granny's Garden... 

But the first virtual social platform I ever encountered was back in my uni days when I played on a chat-based MUD (multi-user dungeon) my (now) husband helped to program - before the world wide web even existed! (No I'm not that old, shut up!) After I graduated (in 1995... really, shut up ;) I joined a social and roleplaying community of fellow dragons on Alfandria (a .net forum) where we would create our own worlds purely through text based chat; and after that, the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) world of Everquest, which was a sort of precursor to World of Warcraft. It was hugely enjoyable but by this time I was heavily involved with the fanfiction community (which is how I got into roleplay) and so I diverged into SL rather than MMORPG gaming. SL is more similar in concept to RP forums than to games, though like the latter it has rich graphic content, because you have no set goals or path of experience; you make your own entertainment, just as in real life. 

Ironically, my husband started playing WoW around the same time I found SL, and it has taken me nearly until now to get into WoW myself. At first I was too absorbed in SL, then I had a baby to occupy every waking moment of my time. Now, I somehow have to find the time to juggle them both - along with now 6 year old child who is well into computer games himself!

"Has Second Life met your expectations?"

I didn't really have any expectations when I started, but I would say that it regularly exceeds whatever expectations I have come to form. There really is almost no limit to what you can do on SL, the programming, resources and creative genius of its residents are constantly evolving, and I am continually coming across places, builds, people and events which blow my mind. This is what keeps me coming back.

"If you could teleport back to the first ten minutes of your avatar’s slife, what would you tell yourself?"

This is a hard one to answer, as I don't have any regrets and I believe the present is built upon all of one's experiences, so to change them with foreknowledge could be dangerous. I suppose I would deal with myself the way I treat any newbie whom I meet; I would be helpful, encouraging, patient, and treat myself to a few free goodies. My formative months in SL were filled with the kindness of strangers in this manner, several of whom became (and still are) fast friends. I suppose I also ought to tell myself not to sweat the inevitable downs as the ups make it all worthwhile, but who listens to sage advice like that? ;)

"How long did it take you to master avatar flying and driving vehicles in-world?"

Avatar flying, really not that long, as I was already familiar with computer games and the varied controls you use to get around in those (sometimes also by flying). Vehicles are something else. The SL physics system makes getting about like driving a tank, while drunk. I have one very memorable and hilarious experience of giving a friend a ride on my saddled horse avatar (saddles are basically vehicles) - unlike dragon flight, which is difficult enough, cantering around at ground level is distinctly hazardous. I ended up dragging my poor rider through bushes, fences and innocent picnickers, laughing so hard I lost the slight control I'd had in the first place. I may be 8 years old but I'm still not very proficient with vehicles, and when I bought the Metallicar for my alt, (now) Dean Winchester of Supernatural, I managed to drive it up a tree! I am very proud of myself for managing to take it around a Linden race track last year, though I wouldn't have broken any speed records, but when I repeated the feat with a passenger, I managed to crash it into a bridge! And so, neatly, to the next question...

"Do you have a mystery alt?"

It's not really a mystery, to my friends, but as I said in Q1, I actually started SL on a different account, which I have kept as an alt ever since. He began life as an incarnation of Major John Sheppard from the scifi TV show Stargate: Atlantis. I stopped playing with him when his twin and I parted ways, but when I got hooked on the series Supernatural a year or so later, I just had to make Dean Winchester, even if I had nobody to RP with. My alt has therefore transformed from a galaxy-hopping military flyboy into a moody monster hunter who hates flying. Oh and I have another alt which I don't do much with, but she stands for my hubbie (who never has and likely never will set foot in SL). She represents his main WoW character, so she's a bear, and we are partnered.

"Is your SL avatar a reflection of you, or someone you wished you could be?"

Now there's a question for the psychiatrist's couch! *g* I have an RP alt so it goes without saying that my main is the real me, at least personality-wise. Like most furries and scalies in SL, I embody myself outwardly the way I identify myself, which is impossible IRL. Although I'm actually a dragon, however, and very proud of my Trueform which I put together out of two different Isle of Wyrms dragon avatars, I also discovered in SL a hidden penchant for dressing up which never really manifested even as a child. Aside from possessing a set of off-the-shelf avatars that would do justice to any SFF props department, I love dresses, shoes, jewellery, skins, hair, and all the non-human additional body parts like horns, wings and tails. You can't use these on a large, prim, quadrupedal avatar (I did mod a crown to my head, and it has gone no-copy as a result; something to do with the scripts) and although you could use most of them on a humanoid dragon, I never found one which really felt like 'me'; and you still couldn't use hair, skins or shoes! (Hair? On a reptilian species? I know people do, but it always looks distinctly odd to me.) So I suppose, like most people, my SL avatar is the fantasy me, looking as I wish without the encumbrances of RL matter and physics; I wouldn't want to be this way for real, as I'd be a total freak - unless we could all set free our inner selves, the way the citizens of the Polity are able to in Neal Asher's excellent scifi books.

My SLister and I actually coined a bit of a backstory to explain both my more-than-usually humanoid appearance and how we could be related. We share a Fae mother, a shape-shifting Phouka, who had one child by a dragon and another by a mortal human. Rudh is therefore half-fae and I'm half-fae, half-dragon, and got the shape-shifting bug in spades. We both inherited something of our mother's Unseelie character, expressed in our tendency to dress up as the Undead more often than just around Hallowe'en! *g*

My shape is my own, by the way. I made it when I first started this account (having had some, not quite so successful, practice with Shep) and I'm very proud of it. I have hardly changed it in all 8 years; originally it was my RL height, and for the longest time, I stubbornly refused to adapt, even though the majority of SL avatars are giants by comparison (go on, check - you can easily make a ruler out of a single prim - most people probably don't even realise how ridiculously tall they are!) and my dragon Trueform is similarly small by the common standard, using only the Wyrmlings, though I am not in any sense a Wyrmling by seniority - who says dragons have to be so big?! Anyway, eventually I gave up in frustration at having to alter so many skirts so they wouldn't drag under the ground, and increased my height a little. I suppose with mesh I could go back now, but it doesn't really make much difference. I'm still small next to most of my friends, and I'm used to it.

"Is there an individual you met in SL that inspired you in your RL? How?"

I have an enormous amount of admiration and respect for the creators in SL; I did try building early on, before sculpts put system prims onto the back shelf, but I wasn't very good at it and decided to confine my efforts to modding other people's stuff. I am a shameless consumer, stuffing my inventory with other people's works of art. I couldn't fill a sim with all my things, let alone my little 4080 sqm rented parcel! We are all influenced by our friends and heroes, but I can't think of anyone who has consciously inspired me to be different than I am; I don't have the skill to aspire to be like those I most admire, and I am too independent to follow the dictates of fashion or social conformity. Besides, the things I do in SL are just impossible IRL, due to the constraints of realism, time and money.

"Do you feel it is easier to create stronger bonds/relationships with people you meet inworld as opposed to the real world?"

I think the answer to this has to be yes, since my closest friends are all from SL (though I met a few before, they were still online friendships, and they subsequently came to SL where I have interacted with them the most). I have met a few of my best friends IRL but we don't get to hang out much, we all live too far apart (most in other countries!) so we have kept in touch by chat and email and Facebook when we haven't managed to cross paths in SL.

I don't really know why this should be the case, except that SL has two advantages over RL for forming friendships. Firstly, it is easier to find shared activities you both enjoy; and secondly, there is a much larger pool of people, from all over the world, whom you are likely to meet. You can attend a dance class IRL, for example, but only once a week, and only the same, select few people will attend. (I'm discounting clubs as they are more for finding boy/girlfriends than platonic friends.) In SL, you can go dancing every night, at a different venue, and the noise doesn't preclude you from striking up a conversation, as you can conduct that in private IM. And of course there are many more events and activities, all free, all only a teleport click away, and attended by a wider range of people than you are ever likely to bump into on the high street, unless you live in a big city. So it's not really surprising that such a social platform facilitates friendships; and while not all of them last, just as in RL, you are bound to find a few of those 'golden friends, precious and rare'.

There is a third factor at work, which is unique to SL, something all SL residents have probably experienced. Time seems to work differently inworld, probably because it's so easy to jump about from one activity to another, so that you can experience a lifetime of shared enjoyment with friends in just a few months or years, without all the boring in-between bits of getting there and saving up the money and having to find somewhere to eat and so on. SL is, or can be, concentrated, minute-to-minute fun and freedom; and it's those shared memories which help to cement the bonds of friendship. It's no different to real life, it's just far more accessible.

"Did you ever imagine or believe people could fall in love with someone they never met before Second Life?"

Actually, one of my husband's friends at uni met a girl through a MUD. They were in different countries, but they fell in love and got married, and this was all before the world wide web! My SLister, subsequently, has found and married her man in SL, and now lives with him abroad. Several of my friends have established long-term, loving relationships with SL partners they may not even have met IRL. Love is like friendship; it takes seed in shared similarities, and doesn't necessarily require a physical connection; though I do believe that it's harder to maintain close bonds without any RL contact at all. Fortunately for me, I met my man at college, and have never had to go looking for a partner, either online or off.

"How has your perspective of dating changed (or not) since you started playing second life?"

I think the previous two questions answer this one, but I don't have too much direct experience. I did engage in a couple of flirtatious, roleplay romances - at the time, I was so used to roleplaying, I just transferred it to my own 'character' without really considering the consequences. It soon became obvious that things were becoming too realistic to be roleplay, and I called off the relationships before things went too far, since I was (and am) happily married with no intention of cheating. I think the lesson for us all to heed is that whether roleplaying or not, all characters on SL belong to real, living people with feelings and desires, and we can grow close without meaning to or realising. Dating is a serious business, not a game, and those who go into it without serious intentions are liable to end up hurting someone.

"How has your perspective of employment changed (or not) since you started playing second life?"

SL has always been a platform for fun for me, and there is no way I want to be tied down with responsibilities. You can manage very well with very little money, and it's only if you want to afford a large plot of land that you have to start thinking of serious finance. There are some, a very few, people who manage to make enough money in SL to fund themselves IRL; most make just enough to pay for a sim and the resources they need to work in SL. I think the majority of creators are working mainly out of love for their craft. Of course, there are wonderful things around every corner, and while some of the best things are free, many are not; if, like me, you find it impossible to resist the lure of the pretty, you either have to find the finances IRL or get a SL job. I am very thankful that I can balance comfortably on minimal expenditure; my account is old enough that I make my sub fees back in L$ pocket money each week, and except for the occasional high-expense purchase - and parcel rental - I don't have to buy Lindens. In my whole 8 years, I have only put in extra money for a handful of items: my castle, Dean's car, a gift for Rudh, a set of monster skins. If I had to work to pay for these things, I wouldn't enjoy SL any more. I wouldn't have the time.

"Name three things in both your lives that overlap each other significantly."

My friends. My interests, but that's self-evident; a love of fantasy and dragons isn't going to be confined to just one area of my life, as though neatly packaged away in a box I can tuck back on its shelf when I press the little X in the corner of the screen. And, erm, I'm struggling. Nope, can't think of a third thing. I go to SL to do things I can't IRL, it's an escapist world of entertainment - wait, is this blog one of them? I'm writing it IRL but it's mostly about SL, and I know I have a couple of non-SL readers so yay! That's #3 :)

"If you could live your life more immersively in a virtual world, would you? (Kind of like the Matrix)"

At first I thought this question meant would you exchange RL for living in a virtual world full-time, and that could surely only apply to the most desolate and bed-ridden - I admit that at times when pain and exhaustion from my condition are driving me crazy, I could wish for a total escape from real life's downside, but virtual worlds can't offer some of the best experiences in life - physical contact being the most important, but also the sights, sounds and scents of the things around us, especially nature, which even the best graphics and most ingenious creators can't reproduce.

Then I thought perhaps the question just meant, if you could experience SL in a full-surround, sensory environment, would you? And my answer would be, heck yes! I'll pass on going too realistic though. There are plenty of scifi stories to demonstrate how easily one could become lost to the virtual, if it were immersive enough, to the detriment of one's physical body. Some addicts even find that now, playing on computers longer than is healthy for them. And currently, I can't even play with headphones unless my son is in bed, as it switches you off too much to what's going on around you and hampers RL interaction. One thing I do find is how easy it is to lose track of time, when doing anything on the computer, not just playing games. I'm sure this effect would be even greater in a fully immersive world, and you'd need some kind of alarm system to forcibly pull you out!

"How do you think behavior changes for people if they’re inworld vs in real world? Why do you think that is?" 

People can't physically hurt you in SL, and they don't know who you are to call the police or a lawyer. That makes it much easier for people to act like jerks, with no consequences. I don't think everyone behaves this way; but those who are inclined to be jerks or bullies IRL will find SL a playground for their antisocial behaviour. There's also a tendency, ironic since those engaging in it are themselves playing virtual characters, for people to forget that they are interacting with real people who have feelings that can be hurt. Then again, RL is full of enough insensitivity, maybe that's just people, in and out of SL. To counterbalance the trolls, there are also plenty of kind and generous people, who go out of their way to be nice rather than unpleasant. I suspect, on the whole, that people don't behave too much differently inworld than they do IRL, although John Gabriel's (from Penny-Arcade) Greater Internet F***wad Theory probably still applies; less in changing people's essential personality than by allowing them to be less inhibited in their rudeness than they can be face-to-face. 

One kind of behaviour that always astonishes me, as someone who strives to look unusual and unique, is how many people fail to understand why others would want to look 'different'. It's Second Life! Its very existence is the potential and opportunity for doing things differently, for being 'all you can be' rather than all the real world allows. Vanishingly few people on SL make avatars identical to their RL selves; even the most 'normal', human avatars on SL are as beautiful as their players can make them, striving to approach ideals, whether personal or fashionable, they cannot - or would not - meet IRL. I think anyone who comes to a platform like this and fails to appreciate the imagination and effort others have gone to, however strange they may seem to your personal tastes, and worse, calls them out on it, is singularly narrow minded, hypocritical and pathetic. And missing out on the best SL can offer.

"How has second life consumerism changed your perception of spending habits, the value of money, the need to be “bleeding edge” with fashion?"

I don't think any of my perceptions have changed; but the great thing about SL is that things are more affordable than IRL. This is because once a designer has created the blueprint, there is no further effort involved in making more; and there are fewer resources required than for material goods, again just what is needed (sculpt maps, textures, scripts, out-world design programs) for the initial design. I can shop in SL and buy all kinds of frivolous, luxury items just because they are pretty, which is something I can't do IRL; and maybe it fills that hole which some people do by maxing out their credit cards. I do limit myself though, only buying what I can afford; occasionally I borrow from friends but I always pay them back within the next week or so, and only on a very few occasions have I wanted something so expensive I've had to buy Lindens to get it (my castle; Dean's car; a set of Hallowe'en skins at a time when non-human skins were not so common as they are now). As for fashion - I've never cared about that, either IRL or in SL, I just buy what I like and dress how I like; though I am much more flamboyant in SL, as my purse and my avatar can carry it off!

"Name three skills you attribute to having learned or honed in second life alone."

Seriously, except for scripters and builders, how many skills can one learn from SL? I enjoy photography, and have probably improved my skills in that area, but it's not exclusive to SL. I can build a little, though I'm much better at tinkering, modding other people's items to suit me, and I've learned how to mess about with texture settings to get them to match up on adjacent prims, but I'm still pretty much an amateur. The one thing which I have gained from SL, which carries over to RL, is an appreciation for colour, after the blogging challenge I took part in over 2012. I have always tended to ignore my less favourite colours, and particularly ones I didn't like, but the challenge showed me that I can make fantastic outfits with any hue. Two of my least favourite colours turned into two of my favourite challenge outfits, pink and pistachio! I would never have believed, before 2012, that I could like that colour... and though I still won't deliberately choose it for myself, I can now appreciate it in another person's colour scheme.

"If your grand kids googled your Second Life Avatar’s name, would they be intrigued, disgusted, proud or something else?"

I would hope they would be intrigued, and I'd also hope they would admire my Colour Challenge outfits, which were a lot of effort, albeit fun to make. I certainly have no reason to keep my avatar secret, and my 6 year old son has seen plenty of her. In fact he sometimes objects to things I do with her, such as setting her on fire as a Phoenix, or the full smile of my new scary set of teeth. I do have a bit of a dark side and have been known to make a few avatars more at home in Hallowe'en than Christmas Land ;) - I'd be careful of my grand-kids' sensitivities before showing them those, but there's nothing to object to in principle!

So there you have it, nearly 20 questions all about me and the personal whys and wherefores of my Second Life. Thank you for reading this far, I know I'm not very succinct but the questions really made me think! I'll try to keep things (much) shorter for the pretty posts to follow.


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