Archive for October 9th, 2009

Cat, Twitter, and the alternate ME

Posted on October 9, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Games, Musings |

I’ve been on a long(ish), strange journey for the past couple of months: It all started with a Tweet (a short text message using the social networking provider “Twitter“) back in mid-August from Carocat, who (and I may actually forgive her for this; haven’t decided yet) posted a link to a music video. “Nice”, I thought, “I like Cat’s taste in many things. So, I clicked. I watched. And listened. I was enthralled. I was a little embarrassed. Why?

In addition to being a great music vid with a catchy tune and good production values, it poked fun at online gamers. Until recently (more about that in a minute) I hadn’t played ANY online role playing games, although I was, and am, an avid adventure gamer. I knew about these people, though: They spend hours of every day forming alliances, protecting their virtual land, and virtual virtue (not!), and engaging in battle and/or skills tests and/or wheeling and dealing. And hooking up! This didn’t SOUND like something I’d be interested in.

Still, the music video was hilarious, sexy, and, unlike a lot of game related items, did not gratify the male gamers at the expense of the female. Although the star (and lyricist) of the video is a woman, I felt that both genders were equally exploited. (That was a joke. Although it’s true. The video is a spoof, after all.) (I’m being awfully parenthetical in this particular post. These things write themselves, you know. Oh, wait, I’m supposed to say “These things don’t write themselves.” Except, they sort of do.)

The video is Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?. Since the day Cat foisted it on me made me aware of it, I must have watched it 20 times. I began to be curious about the people behind it. Heading on over to YouTube, I found the video featured the cast of a web series, The Guild. I feel I may have been among the last of the gamers to know of The Guild. They were already producing Season 3! This video series, if you don’t know, which you do, because I’m the only one who didn’t, is about a “guild” of six players of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (that’s a real term, with its own acronym: MMORPG), and their lives on- and offline. It’s full of cliché and wit; disturbing distortions, and utter truth. The characters are engaging, and while I hadn’t been an MMORPG’er, I could relate to many of the situations. The game appears to be the central focus of their lives. Oh my.

Back on YouTube, I watched the entire series from episode one. I watched about three or four episodes a day (they’re between 5 and 9 minutes in length) until I was all caught up and as restless for Season 3 to begin as were those viewers who’d been there from the beginning. What to do? There were still ten days until the new series!

A new fan waiting for the next fix, I started hanging around the fora on The Guild‘s website (WatchTheGuild.com), and, while there, I came across a spoof/tribute video called I’m Too Busy To Date Your Avatar. This was all in graphic images, was very well done, and very strange, I thought. The Avatar Star, I was told, is a prominent events organizer in a thing called Second Life. Vague stirrings of memory fluttered at my brain. I’d known of this…game? virtual world? alternate reality? for a while, and had mostly heard two things about it: People build stuff there!, and, It’s ALL about cyber-s e x!!!

Quite honestly, up until that moment, the idea of Second Life kind of frightened me. I wasn’t sure I would know how to “be” in a place like that. The Guild resonated with me on many levels, although I don’t like to play games involving a lot of weapons and shooting things, and “hooking up”. Hopping over to Second Life‘s website, I found that, while one can do all those things there, there’s so much else to do as well. It’s not a “game” in the traditional sense. There are no outcomes; no particular goals; no winners. One wanders around, and learns how to design and render virtual buildings, or clothing, or other useful objects. Sounds kind of dull, actually. It is kind of dull, actually…but…

After snooping for a bit, I finally signed up for a free account. It really is free, but there is an in-world economy one can participate in if one chooses. I won’t go on about what Second Life is or is not; there are plenty of reviews which point out the joys and foibles of the place, and SL’s own website gives a great overview.

I will say I was positively influenced by the fact that, some time before I joined, they moved all “adult” or X-rated content into a protected area. While the whole site is for age 18+ (they have another version for teens), a player (or “resident”) must prove their age in order to enter the “adult” areas. These are pretty wild, (so I hear) 😉 and fully deserve the reputations they have earned. I’m fine with them being there, I just appreciate the ability to choose.

It’s very much fun to “tweak” the appearance of my Avatar. I have a lot more to learn. I have this sort of…well, you’ll have to go see if you want to know what my Avatar looks like. It resembles the “real” me quite a lot, actually, but, I’m even more attractive in person! (You’ll have to take my word for that.) Of course, I have the ability to completely change my Avatar at any moment, so the next time you see me I might be a Gargoyle, or something.

MusE Starsmith, Second Life resident

This is the first time I’ve had a game Avatar! I’ve only played first person (where one doesn’t see ones body) and third person (where one plays as the in-game main character) adventure games, so this is quite new to me. I run all over the place in this self-modified body! I can also jump, turn somersaults, fly, and teleport! Whee! I’m a person who believes we could do all those things in real life, too, if we only believed we could. One of the things I’m doing in that “other” world is using my experiences to examine consciousness! Really! It’s a fascinating psychological and social study.

For social networking fans, there are text chat, voice chat, and group discussions. I’ve already met some really thoughtful and intelligent people—almost as nice as the ones that read my blog! 😉 My very favorite features are these: I can explore many types of environments from ancient ruins to futuristic spaceports (check out the Star Trek Museum, and the detailed representation of Stonehenge). There are groups of like-minded souls who wish to discuss science and consciousness; my favorite things. I appreciate all the nice beaches, as I’m generally in the desert, miles from water.

So, far, I’m finding the experience exhilarating, disturbing, strange, compelling, potentially addicting, unnerving, awe-inspiring, and fascinating. Sounds like a good fit for my personality. 🙂 I’m taking a class from MIT! That’s another thing: There are quite a few universities and businesses that have a Second Life “presence”. Virtual classrooms abound. Any subject matter; almost any place or fantasy you can imagine can be found in Second Life. It is a guilty pleasure, but since my belief system doesn’t put much stock in guilt, I don’t mind! I like that the whole world in SL is user-generated content. I don’t know if I’ll participate in starting a business or building a home, but, you never know. One can spend a lot of money in there, but it’s not necessary in order to have a fully immersive experience.

So, if I’ve been a little preoccupied, this is (one of the reasons) why. If you’re already a Second Lifer, and hadn’t told me (!) come on over and say “Hi”. If you haven’t taken the plunge, yet, one of the fun things to learn is how to find people and say ‘Hi”. Considering how much I *don’t* care for networks like Facebook (sorry, FBookies), that’s how much I DO like this virtual world, where I can do or be anything I can imagine. Much like…life!

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