Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All's Faire

Second Life sometimes seems to throw grid-wide events. Shortly after I started SL, they hosted a "Burning Life" event—more or less a virtual version of Burning Man—where the Lindens set up a bunch of new sims, invited people to sign up to build something cool…and, apparently, when it was over, everything went up in smoke. I didn't see much of Burning Life (and what I did see was kinda non-sensical), and I kinda wrote it off as "one of those things" about SL I just didn't understand yet.

Now there's another grid-wide "event" underway called Winterfaire. Rather than being a location set up by the Lindens for the event—although I gather they may be sponsoring an in-world concert venue—Winterfaire is sort of a tour of residents areas of Second Life, some public, some usually not—all decked out for winter. At the moment, real life has kind of snowed me in and I'm always on the lookout for neat new places in SL, so I put on my virtual scarf and mittens and went exploring.

The first place I wound up on the Winterfaire sites was Winter Village at Sunrise Jazz. The area is set up like a Bavarian village at night in the snow…and there's a mammoth castle, above protecting the village. The village is decked out with festive lights and a holiday tree…but inside, it's mostly yet another SL stripmall. I tried to wander around a little and was immediately told I had strayed into some private area and had ten seconds to leave…so I flew up into the air and wound up on the parapets of the castle, which made for a pretty nighttime scene:

Roaming the castle at night in the snow

But things deteriorated quickly. I found some rooms in the castle, but the first thing I clicked in them made the Second Life client crash, and by the time I got back online and found the parapets again, some woman in an enormous hoop skirt just kept walking into me over and over again. I flew to a different tower, and a minute later she followed me and continued to bump into me. I asked her to stop, flew to a third tower, and she followed me again. So I left.

I popped into a few other Winterfaire locations but none really struck my fancy—and a few even greeted me with the dreaded "ban lines," meaning I didn't have permission to enter the area. (Seems odd for something that's supposed to be a public event, but whatever.) I eventually found a somewhat unlikely spot at an SL location for Depaul University's School of Computer Science, Telecomunications, and Information Systems—done up for Winterfaire. I know, I know—what could be more boring than an academic sim? Well, this one as a lot of clever touches—a fireworks show, a hidden underground garden under one of the main buildings, undersea pirate treasure, the hidden freebie store under the otter village…even a hidden grotto that seems tailor-made for students after some quick snogging. There are some nice wintery scenes:

And a few whimsical things that make it feel a bit like a campus:

But Depaul's sim left me wanting: what I'd hoped to find was something…I don't know, magical? Not clich├ęd? Something that transcended imitating real life winter and took it somewhere…new? Or at least somewhere else?

That place is Wintermute.

I'm not sure how to describe it. Wintermute is a poem…a melancholy metaphor…a puzzle…and glorious proof that Second Life doesn't have to be strip malls and badly-fit-together boxes and obnoxiousness. There's an obvious path through Wintermute—follow the candle-lit birdcages…

…to a central lake where…there's a tree, shrouded in auroras, and where a Man in the Moon, trapped in some sort of apparatus, has crashed into a frozen lake.

Wintermute's tableau, viewed from a secret perch.

You can go (almost) everywhere in Wintermute—and there's a lot to see, from the mysterious blood-spattered church, to a hidden garden of giant plants and mushrooms, to an abandoned bakery, to a rideable white whale (metaphor? what metaphor?)…you can even go under the frozen lake. The most puzzling—and saddest—aspect is the fallen moon:

…and some of the best views are (what metaphor?) from the cages in the enormous, snow-covered tree.

Delicate touches abound, from the eerie glowing winter foliage to the animal tracks in the slow to the little birds visiting the abandoned bakery:

It's a glorious build, well worth the time for a serious visit—and hurry, because I don't get the sense it's going to be around very long.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Missed Opportunity

Some sad news yesterday: one of the top trivia players—quite possibly the top trivia player—has left Second Life. Apparently she told a few friends, then canceled her account.

The part that makes me sad is that I was too intimidated to talk to her. I didn't know what to say, didn't want to be a brat and just gush "I think you're awesome!" because, really, what would someone that smart have in common with a silly newbie like me? I'd just have these little private moments of pride if I even came close to beating her on a question, and on the handful of occasions I actually did beat her I was too stunned to speak. The stunned effect didn't last long: she'd quickly resume her dominance of the game.

And the one time I did talk to her? I made a complete fool of myself. One of the regular trivia games runs a concurrent costume contest—best in formal wear, best in leather, stuff like that. I don't have the depth of wardrobe to participate but I like watching because some of these folks go all-out, it's amazing. One night it was a sci-fi theme or something, and a friend showed up in a Star Trek uniform…with sneakers. I was pretty sure I had some blocky black boots to complete the Mr. Spock look, and right as I was dropping them on my friend to give them to him…guess who teleported into the game right in between us? So I wound up randomly dropping boots on the person in SL who intimidated me the most. Great way to introduce myself. It was like throwing a spitwad at your big brother and accidentally hitting, oh, I don't know, Judi Dench.

And I was like "Uh, hi, I'm so sorry, those were for someone else, I'm a total idiot, please don't hate me I think you're awesome!" all at once. Like a total goober.

She was very gracious, gave the boots back to me, and we chatted a bit. I learned she does pub quizzes in her home town, so we had that in common. And that's almost all I know, except that everyone is sad she's gone, and everyone says she was one of the nicest people in SL.

She'll be missed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

True North

You know how, in real life, sometimes the weirdest things happen? The same is true in Second Life. I got all fascinated with how people create tiny bits of jewelry in SL, cheating and distorting 3D objects to make them appear smaller (and prettier!) than they really are, and in doing so made a simple little wire brooch.

So here's the weird part: within a couple days, friends were asking me to make them custom pieces.

It's not like Second Life isn't festooned with jewelry. Since making my own piece I am, of course, seeing high-quality work almost everywhere. Odds are that if you know an experienced Second Life resident—and it helps if they're a girl, though it is not a requirement—they've got at least one piece of virtual jewelry made in part with microprims. Some of these pieces are designed like something on the Las Vegas strip: twirly patterns, scripted blinking lights and flashes (which I think is called "bling" in SL—it gets built into everything from signage to shoes), gemstones the size of walnuts, glitz glitz glitz. Others are more subtle, but that doesn't mean they're any lesser in quality. In fact, often the less in-your-face pieces tend to be the higher-quality work, with lots of individual detail and variation. While attention-grabbing items might catch your eye, the high quality items reward a close look.

So, for now at least, I'm kind trying to keep things simple. Little or no use of textures, no scripts, no bling. Just "pure" prims.

Here is the first commission piece, a "Polaris" pendant, here shown without a chain:

The traditional "polaris cross" is eight-pointed with a long tail; although it's a little hard to tell in these screengrabs, the secondary points are all a translucent blue that shows up nicely on skin tones. Aside from wanting a Polaris cross design, the "client"—yikes, I have clients!—wanted gold and "teal" coloring, but pretty much left the rest up to me.

I took the piece as an opportunity to experiment with building a gem. One of the weird things about opacity, transparency, and cuttin prims is that a "side" of an object can be visible from one angle, but not another. I thought there might be a way to use that to create "facets" that seemed to shift depending on nearby light sources (or the sun and moon) without having to use any textures or "bling." The result is a little larger than I might have liked—and I had to do more math than I anticipated to get things to line up—but the result works. Here's the same cross—in the same position—with SL's "sunset" lighting. See how the gem looks different?

This image also includes our old friend, the 1cm×2cm bar, for scale.

The piece was designed as a one-of-a-kind gift, and it seemed to go over well! At least, no one has put me in a cage or sent me into orbit or kicked me off their parcels over it. So I'm calling that a win.

Now on to the next pieces!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Here Thar Be Dragons!

When people first get started with Second Life, they inevitably spend an hour—or a few hours—playing with the buit-in Appearance controls, which let users manipulate many aspects of an avatar's look. Some of these attributes are obvious—male or female, short or tall, thick or skinny, pale or dark, etc.—but an array of sliders also enable users to control thing like both the upper or lower ridges of their noses, eye spacing, the degree to which you're knock-kneed or bowlegged, how big your feet are, how muscular your torso is, and (for girls anyway) thing like the volume and spacing of…well, you can guess. And how much gravity affects them, too. Appearance sliders also control a vast array of other things: apparenty guys can twiddle the size of their "package," even though, out of the box, they've got nothing more down there than a department store mannequin.

So I spent in inordinant amount of time trying to make Second Life Lou look like the Real Life Lou—and got frustrated pretty quickly. Leaving aside complaints about the built-in hair feature (which more closely resembles a mold colony than actual hair) and any number of other limitations of the Appearance controls, it became evident that SL's avatars are just kind of screwed up. The way arms connect to shoulders is wrong; legs mysteriously lengthen when people sit down, and limbs have a way of reaching into and through the bodies that control them. So I knew SL Lou was never going to be perfect, but I struggled to get my avatar "good enough."

And, of course, no sooner did I think I might have tweaked my sliders enough to be seen in respectable company than someone looking like a very hairy wolf trots on by, says "hi," and keeps going. I immediately flip back to the Appearance controls. Human male, human female? Check. Wolf? Nope. Nothing. How did that work? And within a few days, I've met robots, a couple bunny rabbits, a kitty cat (hi Rain!), and a duck (hi Chadd!). Heck, recently someone turned up at a trivia game as a puddle of bubbling magma. The next week? A half-melted snow-person.

So I admit to a fascination with non-human avatars in Second Life. It turns out that underneath it all (somewhere), these folks are as "human" as everyone else in Second Life. It's just through clever combinations of Appearance parameters, contortions, animations, and complicated prim attachments (often much more complicated than the prim "hair" almost everyone wears) that they appear to be something other than human.

So one evening after a trivia game I popped back to my "home" at Memory Bazaar—this was before a friend let me set up home base elsewhere—and I saw something huge moving in the sky. Thinking maybe the infohub had attracted griefers (folks who seem to take inordinant joy in disrupting Second Life) I flew up to check it out…and there was a dragon! I stared at it for about five seconds…then it blew fire at me and knocked me clear into the next sim!

The fire turned out to be an unintentional thing—the dragon simply hadn't seen me and apologized. But the scale of this avatar has to be seen to be believed! While most non-human avatars can at least be measured on human scale (or, in the case of so-called "tinies," at a fraction of human scale), this dragon could barely land in an enormous courtyard. It's head is literally five or six times the volume of my Second Life avatar—fortunately, it appears, Second Life dragons don't necessarily eat Second Life people!

Of course, I walked right up and struck up a conversation. The first part of which was, admitedly, comprised solely of my trying to pick my virtual jaw off the virtual flagstones.

Turns out these big dragon avatars are part of an in-world role-playing area (which I think comprises many sims) called the Isle of Wryms. The spot sports an enormous cathedral—think gothic architecture for beings 30-odd meters long—and the folks there were very nice while a dumbfounded girl wandered around reading all the signs, snapping pictures of the cathedral dome, and oggling the place. And every dragon who walked through.

I've been kinda busy in Second Life lately—Lou keeps up a grinding trivia schedule, plus there's more stuff I'll write about soon—but the other day I was talking to a friend at Memory Bazaar (following my little social experiment) and, lo and behold, the sky briefly filled with dragons:

I think it's something about that wine colored sweater: whenever I wear it, they turn up!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One Reason People Leave SL

I mentioned to a couple real-life friends that I'd been spending a fair bit of time in Second Life, and that the time had been considerably more pleasant since I mostly stopped popping up at my assigned "home," an infohub called Memory Bazaar in a sim called Ross. They immediately asked why ditching my SL-assigned home made such a difference. After all, one might think Linden Labs would want to make default "arrival points" for new residents as friendly and pleasant as possible. And, well, they might, but if you're a woman in Second Life there seems to be one persistant theme that makes infohubs cringe-inducing experiences: rude boys. Memory Bazaar is a "PG" area where (supposedly) crude language and adult content aren't permitted. But…well.

My friends didn't quite believe me—but then, again, one of these people first got on the Internet via AOL and still seems to think the online world is a patrolled, gated community where nothing bad ever happens. Since Linden Labs is essentially in total control of Second Life, they thought it would be the same way. So I made them a deal: they would meet me at a Wi-Fi coffeeshop (after I got done with my trivia game!), and they could watch while I went back to Memory Bazaar, sat off to one side, and said nothing unless I was spoken to first.

Within two minutes, a male avatar (here called Boy1) approached me, and we had this delightful exchange:

[13:55] (Boy1): hi
[13:55] Lou Netizen: hi
[13:55] (Boy1): mana f__ker
[13:55] (Boy1): im playing
[13:57] Lou Netizen: um, ok
[13:56] (Boy1): how are you
[13:56] (Boy1): ?
[13:56] (Boy1): i am fine!
[13:56] (Boy1): talk sun of bitch
[13:56] (Boy1): son of bitch
[13:56] Lou Netizen: excuse me?
[13:57] (Boy1): i am playing in here
[13:57] (Boy1): it´s pay
[13:57] (Boy1): play
[13:57] Lou Netizen: um, sure
[13:57] (Boy1): shut up
[13:57] (Boy1): play...

After that a legitimate new resident approached and asked if I could tell them how to modify their clothes—which, to be fair, is also a very common question at an infohub. A friend also turned up, and sat down next to me. Then came Boy2, who had obviously found his appearance control because he was shirtless and wearing a pure white skirt made from default Linden clothing, which any avatar can create at will. And while he wasn't crude, he wasn't exactly subtle:

[14:10] (Boy2): how are you al doing
[14:10] Friend: great and you
[14:10] (Boy2): WOnderful
[14:10] Lou Netizen: doing ok
[14:10] Lou Netizen: nice skirt :O
[14:10] (Boy2): I am loving this towl
[14:10] (Boy2): yeah
[14:10] (Boy2): it is so easy to
[14:10] (Boy2): wear
[14:10] Lou Netizen: just be careful it doesn't make your butt look big :)
[14:10] (Boy2): (friend) you are so beautiful
[14:11] Friend: oh thankyou lol
[14:11] (Boy2): and lou is beautiful too
[14:11] (Boy2): you are like
[14:11] (Boy2): 2
[14:11] Friend: do you like my ears they twitch
[14:11] (Boy2): different
[14:11] (Boy2): types
[14:11] (Boy2): of beauty
[14:11] Lou Netizen: Mine would be the short kind.

After that, more legitimate new residents turned up, along with an experienced Second Life resident who had come to check out the Memory Bazaar infohub because, apparently, there's been some online discussion about it. My friend was still sitting next to me when Boy3 came along. No subtlety at all:

[14:35] (Boy3): what can i do in this place
[14:36] Lou Netizen: Well, the basic, not-very-unhelpful answer to "what can you do?"
[14:36] Lou Netizen: is "anything you want"
[14:36] Lou Netizen: but I know that isn't very specific :)
[14:36] Lou Netizen: what do you want to do? Have you found the Search feature?
[14:36] (Boy3): can i get a girl here
[14:36] (Boy3): and f__k her
[14:36] (Friend): omg
[14:36] Lou Netizen: not this girl
[14:36] (Friend): and not this girl either

Sadly, these are far from the rudest encounters I've had at Memory Bazaar—they're just the ones that happened within the span of about half an hour on a random weekday afternoon. And I am not one of these Second Life amazons who walks around in glittery bras, butt-floss, and fake boobs up to my chin, who might legitimately expect to receive that kind of attention! I'm short, quiet, and typically wear nondescript jeans and tops. Nothing provocative. But if an unknown male avatar waddles up and immediately wants to know how old I am and where I'm from, there's really only one place that conversation is going.

Needless to say, neither of my friends who watched these exchanges over my shoulder are in any rush to create Second Life accounts, despite some initial interest in the idea of virtual worlds. And, to be sure, there are many aspects of Second Life that aren't rude and crude.

But a Second Life friend told me a funny: "Lesbian relationships in SL are two guys, each pretending the other is a female."

Is it any wonder?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Are A Content Creator!

Something that distingishes Second Life from a traditional video games or MMORPGS like World of Warcraft is that the vast majority of the world is designed and built by residents. There aren't any missions to follow, villians to vanquish, prizes to earn, or battles to be fought…except those you make for yourself. When folks first log into Second Life, they often ask "What do I do?" and I feel self-consciously lame saying "Well, anything you want, really." It makes me feel like I drank the Linden Lab Kool-Aid and now it's suddenly spraying back out of my nostrils.

Second Life is big on the notion that users can create "content" in the virtual world and retain full ownership of their intellectual property. That's kind of a big claim considering that "property" only exists in an artificial environment run by a privately-held company and (so far as I know) can't be transferred elsewhere. But the practical in-world upshot is that Second Life users can build things and sell them to other residents (remember, the Linden Dollar is tied to the real-world economy) or just give them away for free.

Since everybody in Second Life has an avatar, the biggest categories of Second Life "content" are avatar add-ons like clothing (shoes, pants, skirts, jackets, shirts, undies, you name it), hair (all "good" SL hair is a wig!), skins (which make your avatar look pale, tan, made-up, like a zombie, or whatever), animations (so your avatar can have non-default "body language"), and tools that, say, tell you who is nearby or let you fly higher than something like 280 meters above the ground. (Oh, and other types of "tools" are available as well—for instance, boys in SL are "unendowed" by default. Giggle.)

Since I started in Second Life, people have been telling me I can just build stuff, and it's true: the Second Life client has tools built into it that enable anyone to create prims—3D "primitives" that, manipulated and grouped together, make up most of what you see in SL. Switch to build mode, click the ground, and boom there's a half-meter plywood cube that belongs to you. (Instantiating an object in-world is called "rezzing"—yay Tron.) To build you have to be on land that allows object creation—the owner has to configure their land so people can create things there. Lots of places allow that, but usually have "parcel autoreturn" set, meaning that prims you create get "returned" to you after a period of time, sometimes as soon as one minute. Unless you're really fast, that's not enough time to build anything—it's mainly there as a courtesy to let people "rez" stuff quickly to show other residents or unpack. Without autoreturn, any prim created on a parcel would be there essentially forever—"prim litter" that can only be picked up by the prim creators or the land owner. One form of "griefing"—causing trouble in SL—is to fill up people's plots with prims so nothing more can be created. Parcels—and whole sims—have arbitrary fixed number of prims they can support at any one time.

The upshot is that building anything besides a bunch of plywood boxes means owning your own land (requires a premium account), renting land (costs money), or using a sandbox—an area specifically set aside for folks to experiment with building, usually with an autoreturn value of four hours or more. Nothing you build stays around very long, but sandboxes are free and offer enough capability to get your feet wet. Or dirty. Sandy. Something.

So what got me started playing with prims? Um…yeah. Girling up my avatar.

In real life, I have three hoops on my left ear, and usually wear some simple ear studs that belonged to my grandmother. (They come from back in the day when having pierced ears was considered kind of slutty. No comment.) Second Life let users "attach" items to points on their avatars, and I quickly found some free jewelry items that could stand in for my nose ring and get repurposed for my left year. But you can only attach one thing to an attachment point at a time—once I had one hoop on my left ear, I couldn't add two more! Nor could I add studs, assuming I could ever find some that resembled m grandmother's.

Talking with folks, it seemed the only solution was building: use Second Life's tools to create a single combined object that linked together three ear hoops and a stud into a single combined object—and that object group could be put on my ear as a single item. Armed with that information, I headed off to a sandbox recommended by a friend and started playing.

Making and grouping the hoops was easy—but making ear studs was difficult. I discovered that while Second Life lets residents make prims with dimensions up to 10 meters, it doesn't let users make prims any smaller than a centimeter. Way too big for my ear studs. But I knew I had seen objects smaller than that! In fact, I'd seen them at Ode, home(?) of SL jeweler Random Calliope, who makes astonishingly detailed high-prim jewelry. Soon, I'd figured out how to make "fake" tiny prims—objects that appear smaller than they actually are by using transparent textures and (sometimes) strange contortions. And, bing! Lou has ear studs!

Lou's simple ear stud and triple hoop, all as one object.

Making two-prim ear studs got me thinking about how other objects might behave using the same tricks. And it was extremely frustrating: the building tools might be more accessible than AutoCAD or other 3D building tools, but they're still pretty inscrutible for everyday folks. So, I attended a building class in-world at the U21Global campusU21Global is a joint venture between Universitas 21 and Manipal Education, and they have an in-world presence in Second Life. The class clarified some features which had confused me—especially how to use little virtual rulers. I went back to the sandbox, and after a while I had this wire brooch:

Wire brooch with micro-prims.

The shiny bar below the brooch measures 1cm × 2cm—remember that 1cm is as small as a prim can get in Second Life! But look at the little colored "gems" set in the wire brooch…they appear lots smaller than 1cm, and the wire is thinner still.

Ironically, the brooch kind of came out too small. When I wear it, people have to zoom in to see it! Probably just as well—it's not perfect, and not quite what I intended. But it's a start, and now I have "intellectual property" in Second Life!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Keying In

Anyone who knows me in Second Life knows I've been on a perpetual, very stereotypically girly quest for quality footwear. SL is littered (in some places, literally littered) with free and cheap clothes, but with some notable exceptions they tend to be low-quality items. Some aren't even a step up from the default "Lindenwear" any avatar can create using the built-in appearance controls; others, I suspect, may be leftovers from earlier days of SL, when dressing up avatars was new to everybody. As clothing designers got more sophisticated—and SL's seemingly huge digital fashion industry took root—perhaps those items ceased being things people would pay for, and became things to be given away to new residents as a bit of a leg up.

Truth be told, I have found some great shoes in Second Life! I have no idea what makers are hip and cool in the SL universe, so I've mostly just followed my nose, sometimes chatting with residents about their favorites, sometimes using SL's built-in Search feature, and sometimes (I admit it!) using the camera control to zoom in on logos on cool things other avatars are wearing. I'm far from a Second Life fashionista, but I've found shoes I like at Shiny Things, Redgrave, Jeepers Creepers Shoes, Novocaine, and a few other places.

But, in real life I practically live in sneakers, so it made sense for my second self to get a decent pair of Chucks. My search somewhat randomly took me to Akeyo—I'd originally gone there because someone said they had unusually high-quality animations, but there, sitting on a table in another room, were a fabulous pair of Chucks. Pricey, but fab. Sometimes a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do!

But Akeyo itself proved to be unusual for a so-called store. The retail space itself is set on a set of, well, I guess rocks that resemble 3m high keyboard keys. But the sky! The sky is filled with monstrous, overlapping semi-transparent sheets of…something vaguely crystalline! I don't know what they're supposed to represent, but their shape shifts depending on the viewer's angle: as you turn, some sheets turn transparent while others solidify. Invisible transparent objects are hard to fly through—even with SL super-powers!—but it made for some amazing views.

Nestled above the store was a floating, round…observation post? I don't think it was complete, but it demonstrated something you almost never see in Second Life: strong shadows. Maybe my computer just isn't powerful enough, but the quality of light in the SL universe is very overcast: you can look up at the sky at high noon and see a sun floating there, but if you look down at the ground you won't see but the slightest hint of your own shadow. But this observation post showed strong shadows across the floor, and it as positioned just above SL's perpetual layer of clouds, making for some dramatic lighting.

I quickly realized these weren't "real" shadows at all, but rather a clever use of textures—essentially, the images used to "paint" surfaces of objects—to simulate sunlight. But it's a great effect.

Having busted out of the Akeyo store, I explored a little on the ground around the island…and found a most curious elevator! When touched, it begins shooting giant spores slowly skyward, and if you click one it takes you along for a ride!

Your destination? Something called The Shroom—a giant, hollow mushroom floating hundreds of meters above Akeyo and decked out like some psychedic lounge, complete with bunny rabbits reading fairy tales.

Perfect place to put my feet up and try on my new Chucks. Now where in my Inventory did they go…?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Getting Above It All

The geography of Second Life is hard to describe. There are areas called "mainland," featuring "continents" of interconnected land where lots of residents (and Linden Labs, the company who runs Second Life) have "parcels," or bits of virtual real estate. Continents and spaces between them are made up of 256×256m² areas called "sims." Each sim is (I think) an application running on a Linden Labs server (whether physical or virtual probably depends on its use), and every sim has its own name. The sim where I started out in Second Life is called Ross, and it's further subdivided into several parcels, one of which is a Moroccan-themed infohub for new residents called "Memory Bazaar."

In theory, I suppose it's possible for a residents to walk through these continents like they were a coherent virtual landscape (or, more likely, fly, since every SL resident has Superman-like antigravity flight powers). But there are also "islands," which are (I think) entire sims owned by one person or group. Islands are disconnected from the mainland; to get to one, you have to teleport.

You'd think with every Second Life resident having the ability to fly and teleport anywhere they want at will, architecture and design in SL would be radically different than real life. And there are some notable differences: ceilings tend to be much higher in SL than in RL, and a room that seems small in SL would seem enormous in RL. However, this has more to do with the "camera" on the Second Life client software (users see the world from a point a few meters behind and slightly above their avatar, rather than through their avatar's eyes) than it does with any fundamental re-thinking of environmental design. Simply put, walking around SL is clumsy…particularly if you're on a slow network, have a slower computer, or just have the misfortune to be in a location with lots of other avatars.

The sad reality is that most of Second Life looks like a bad cartoon strip mall. Garish buildings clash right next to opulent ones right next to amateurish ones right next to…well, bordering-on-obscene ones. Almost all the content, buildings, and objects in Second Life are created by residents. And few are master architects.

Early on I got an idea that I would deliberately go looking for areas of Second Life that were interesting, whether they had great architecture, good ideas, or were simply unusual. It's not hard to find places like that, but sometimes you find locations that truly stand out. One of the first to blow me away is called Ode; it's a private island and sort of the home of an SL jeweler of some repute named Random Calliope. But instead of being a huge store, it's a giant mesa, just below SL's perpetual layer of clouds…and it's a gorgeous field of flowers, with trees and cliffs and a stable and…well, if you look, you can learn a lot about Random's jewelry, find a little floating showroom, and even a few pieces here and there. But, mostly, it's just a beautiful spot.

While at Ode, I noticed in SL's mini-map—a little on-screen map that shows your current location and the area around you, including other people—that there was an avatar somewhere above me. That's not unusual (after all, everyone can fly!) but I flew up to something like 500 meters and the avatar was still above me. So I kept flying up—and I hit my head on the ceiling of the world!

I didn't realize it at the time, but it turns out a common practice in Second Life is to build "sky platforms"—areas that just float in the air. Up there, land owners can work on building stuff "out of site" and out of the way. Without assistance, avatars can only fly up a few hundreds meters; to go higher, they need assistance from a script, often instantiated in-world as a "flight feather" or other flight-assist tool. Aside from a private island with a very restrictive guest list, I don't think there's any way to truly get away from it all in Second Life, but a sky platform affords some measure of privacy.

But I didn't know that, yet. :(

So, as soon as I bumped my head on the ceiling, I flew around a little bit, trying to find a way to keep flying higher. The avatar on the mini-map was still above me! I didn't find away around the ceiling, so I used a trick a friend had showed me to get through objects…and found myself in what I later learned was a workshop/behind-the-scenes area used by Ode's creators. At the time, I thought it was a game—find a way through the ceiling!—but now I realize I was trespassing in what was supposed to be a private space.

Lou trespasses where she's not supposed to be.

When I learned what I had done was (at best) impolite, I tried to apologize to the kind folks at Ode…and since they still let me hang out in the field of flowers, I assume the weren't too offended. But I still feel terrible about it.

However, some sky platforms residents are supposed to find! A friend gave me a landmark to a place called Zero Point, and it uses sky platforms as a way to create separate areas that are radically different from each other. One is like walking through an animated disco ball, or perhaps being an extra in the original Tron movie:

Another has a distinctly more sinister theme:

And those are just two of several "floors" at Zero Point. As far as I can tell, they're all open to the public.

So, while a lot of Second Life is still designed like a bad strip mall, some ambitious users are using SL's capabilities to explore and define new types of environments. And every so often I fly up into the sky…just to see what I might find.

Of course, sometimes:

Lou and Mia take a several-thousand-meter fall!

…that doesn't work out so well!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Provocation

First, a confession. Although I've been active in Second Life for a few months now, I still feel like an outsider. I've made some friends and spent some time "in-world," as they say, I haven't been able to shake the feeling I don't belong. Mainly, I don't understand how things work. I've made some friends—I'm constantly peppering them with questions and they've been wonderfully patient with me. But when I attend events everyone else knows each other…and I'm the stranger, knowing almost no one. My little cartoon self stands (or sits) off to one side, tries to stay out of the way, minds her Ps and Qs, listens, and usually keeps her mouth shut.

Lou the trivia master
Which is why this screengrab from Chaddington Boomhauer tickled me so much. It was my first indication anyone in SL outside my tiny immediate circle had even noticed me. So, Chad, this blog is kind your fault. I assume no responsibility.

Pursuing Trivia

In my real life I occasionally attend pub quizzes, which are semi-standardized trivia games held in bars on off nights. Boozehound traffic might taper off on Mondays or Tuesdays, but sometimes the nerd crowd can be lured in—and lots of nerds drink, so the bars are good with it. Pub quiz rules vary, but generally folks group into table-based teams, each team antes up, and the collective pot serves as prize money for the winners. Teams can be as large as eight or ten people…but that's for suckers, since even if you win, you have to split the winnings eight or ten ways. So I usually do pub quiz as a team unto myself, or with one (or maybe two) other people who can hold their water. And, yeah, I win.

I have three main problems with pub quiz:
  1. I hate being hit on
  2. I don't really drink
  3. Cheaters annoy me
First point should be obvious: guys, if a girl shows up on her own at pub quiz, it doesn't mean she's trolling for boys. Really. Second, hate to say it, but beating drunk people at a trivia quiz isn't as challenging as it might seem…and most of you aren't as funny as you think you are. And third, sheez, put the mobile phones away. (And stop having your non-playing friend you think we haven't noticed over at the bar text you answers.) It's just pathetic.

So when a real-life friend hesitantly suggested I might like doing trivia games in Second Life, I thought I'd give it a shot. Although SL's Linden Dollar is tied to the real world economy (about $220L to $1CAD as I write), you're never going to get rich playing trivia in Second Life. But I not going to get rich playing pub quiz either. He warned me about SL's seedier side, but said it's pretty easy to avoid.

Most trivia games in SL have a similar format: a host calls out (well, usually pastes) questions into general text-based chat, and the first person (or, sometimes, first two or three persons) to answer the question wins. Games are typically 20 to 30 questions; some pay a small amount (say $15L to $25L) for each correct answer, and others pay a larger amount at the end to the person who got the most questions right. Some games award prizes or gift certificates rather than money, and sometimes trivia games are combined with other events like costume contests or even life music shows.

At first I thought SL trivia games were essentially typing contests, measuring who could type the answer the fastest. For easy give-away questions, that's essentially true, although now I think it's probably more important to read fast than to type fast. But speed is definitely a factor, since, on the Internet, anyone can google. The best SL quizzes use well-considered questions that aren't common knowledge, but aren't as obscure as some of the stuff pub quiz gets into (quick: which province contributed the least to Canada's GNP in the second quarter of 2006?). Done right, the result in SL quizzes is that people who honestly know the anwer have more than enough time to beat the googlers. But we're still talking seconds, not the minute or more teams get to dicker about answers in pub quiz.

A gaggle of trivia players at a recent Double Standards event

So a typical SL trivia game is a bunch of cartoon characters standing (or sitting) in a radius around the host (because if you get too far away, you can't "hear" the questions), doing nothing but typing to each other. It's essentially a 3D chatroom, not a video game. The avatars don't really interact with each other or do anything: a few might play dancing animations if there's music at the location (or, even if there's not), but the serious trivia folks tend to just sit or stand. A weird fact is that few of them actually see the tableau they form: a lot of the players have their "cameras"—their computer's view of the SL world—zoomed into the ground or some other non-moving object to reduce "lag." Because if your computer spends its time drawing another avatar's hair and sparkly jewelry, you might not see a question until it's too late.

Now, at real life pub quiz, I've found myself wishing I could zoom through the wall or the floor and not see what's happening in the room. It'd make some things so much simpler.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Let's Try This From The Top

Hi, I'm Lou, and this is my blog.

Lou Netizen is my avatar in the online virtual world Second Life—which probably needs no introduction, but suffice to say it's an online, 3D, virtual world. Lou Netizen isn't a character I play in Second Life:Lou is me. In real life, my name really is Lou (well, "Louise"), I really am short, and I really am a girl. I live in British Columbia, Canada.

I started in Second Life in August 2008 when a real-life friend said I might enjoy in-world trivia games. And I do enjoy a mean bout of trivia here and there. But I've also made friends in Second Life, and had a lot of fun exploring and chatting with people from all over the world who do all sorts of things in SL…some of which I'm sure I don't want to know about. And I've become a bit fascinated with some aspects of Second Life culture and how it's different from—and inseparable from—the real world. If nothing else, Second Life can be a fascinating glimpse at digital culture…and some of the benefits and pitfalls of an increasingly interconnected world.

I intend this blog to be a loose record of some of my activities in Second Life, along with maybe some rants and comments and opinions about things that happen there and things people do. I don't expect anyone will really read this, except maybe a few in-world friends. If you found these pages at random, I hope you find them useful or interesting. If not…I'm sure there are one or two other sites out there on the Internet you can try.

And we're off.

Hello world…

OK little blog post: I don't know how many of you there will be, or when you might have some company. But someone has to be the first, so…go on, now. Scoot. There ya are.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I admit, I talk funny. Well, that I type funny, anyway, with idiosyncrasies and slang and made-up words that occasionally elicit a chuckle, occasionally confuse people, and sometimes make Second Life residents think I might be from another planet. They are hereby called Louisms.

I may have made up a few of these, but I'm sure I picked up the majority from other people. Either way, fore-warned is fore-armed! The date on this post is misleading; Blogger doesn't really support static pages, so I'm making this seem like an "old" post and I'll just keep going back to it when I say sumptin' phunny.

  • ARCsinn: "bling," or Second Life avatar attachments that emit particles. ARC refers to Avatar Rendering Cost.
  • bazoomn, plural -s: bosom.
  • biffiddy 'don, plural -s: Big hair, usually on a woman or glam rock wannabe. Derives from The B-52s.
  • borkedadj.: 1. typoese for broked 2. A synomym for f*cked 3. MUD-era reference to the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show; somewhat predates the term spam in online lingo. May also derive from/refer to Robert Bork.
  • caspern, plural -s: Second Life avatars that appear as a puff of smoke. Refers to Casper the Friendly Ghost.
  • dingleberryn, plural dingleberries: 1. Something clinging unfortunately to one's backside. Example: the dog biting this griefer's ass is a dingleberry. 2. testicle.
  • doodlen, plural -s: A diminutive and affectionate derivation of "dude."
  • dorkbotn, plural -s: Oh, come on, this means exactly what you think it means!
  • dweeadj.: Something that is both dweeby and twee.
  • floatiesn; big gravity-defying bazooms, as often seen on megapixies.
  • funcusev; the act of saying for fun to confuse people; a noonerspism for "confuse."
  • jagglen, plural -s; adj; -y; var: jaggleicious: When something in Second Life renders badly or incompletely. "On my screen, you have a bad case of the jaggles." "Boy, the lag is making this sim jaggleicious." Derives from jagged.
  • kerflufflen, plural -s: Dispute, squabble, or controversy. A diminutive term for "drama."
  • kitshickersn, plural: big, tough boots. A noonerspism for shitkickers.
  • megapixien, plural -s: Typically, a bling-laden, thong-wearing barbie amazon vampire hooker avatar in Second Life that takes up far too much of my computer's video memory.
  • nooblev, -ed, -ing: Describes the bumbling, over-shooting, bumping-into-things, duck-like way new Second Life residents walk. He noobled around the room for a while until he found the teleporter.
  • noonerspismn, plural -s: Spoonerism.
  • padoodlewadn: when referring to self, c.f. dorkbot; when referring to others, c.f. doodle.
  • plinkv, -ed, -ing: To chastize or upbraid in public chat. Often just on the edge of being hostile. A player who performs particularly well at a trivia game is sometimes plinked by others who believe the player is deliberately monopolizing the game. Don't believe me? It's true!
  • plippedadj.: 1. tired; 2. tweaked.
  • poochedadj., screwed. Derives from screwed the pooch.
  • slagged—adj,: Second Life—SL—plus lagged.
  • Zoltronn: The planet from which all weird people emanate. I mean, duh.

Lou See Lou

Sometimes it's not about how I see Lou, but how others see Lou. When I find myself popping up in others' pictures from Second Life, I'll try to link to those images here. Once again, the date on this post is misleading: Blogger doesn't really have a notion of static pages.

Lou's annual dance (featuring the adorable Preston Benedict)
(August 28 2010, photo by AnaMaria Quintessa)

No, I'm not a guest on Oprah! I'm guest-hosting Kung-Po trivia with Mako Kungfu, and we turned it into a coffeetable set since I don't dance. That's DJ Rach Borkoton on the speakers!
(July 27, 2010, photo by Mako Kungfu)

SL Trivia Queen Honey Potez hosted a Redneck Trivia or something similar at a trailer-trash themed sky platform…so I tried to dress in theme. I almost never dress for costume events.
(July 3 2010, photo by Honey Potez)

Hosting Lou's Clues
(June 19 2010, photo by Cygnoir Blanc)

Lotus Ceriano, me, and Cygnoir Blanc chatting after Buccaneer Bowl
(Apr 17 2010, photo by Cygnoir Blanc)

Lou and AnaMaria hanging out at an early version of Lou's Flying Island Thingy. Ana was apparently gearing up for a "come as someone else" trivia event…I think I was stunned to be taller than a non-tiny!
(Apr 2010, photo by AnaMaria Quintessa)

Left to right: AnaMaria Quintessa, me, and Hilda Static at a Choo-Choo Chicks concert. Ana is not stepping on my foot, I am…uh, attempting to trip her! (by AnaMaria Quintessa 30-Jan-2010).

"Virtual Height" by Mako Kungfu, 28-Jan-2010.
Me, Honey Potez, and Girl Mako, who is apparently considered short for SL, yet still looms over me!

Hosting Lou's Clue's at Triviathon, with Maelstrom Janus spending some quality time with my Death Ray. (by Lette Ponnier 07-Nov-09).

This is what happens when you try on one of those random items people give you in the middle of a trivia game. (by AnaMaria Quintessa, 30-Oct-2009)

"Lou Dances!" by Mako Kungfu 23-Aug-09.
No, this is not Photoshopped (sigh): it was Mako's rez day party and Chadd had him pull that "On my rez day people have to do anything I ask, right?" stunt. In all truth, Mako was a perfect gentleman despite leaving his claws on—but the only reason he lived is that he's so tall my foot-impaling heels were a good 50cm off the ground! Er, pond water. Because we were on a pond. Mumble. I'm just glad Rach didn't kill me. Or him.
[Update 09-Sep-09: O gawd there's video. >cringe<]

"Lou and Rach above Atomic Owl" by Lillian Shippe, 21-Aug-09.

"Lou, Dragon Victim" by Mako KungFu, 02-Aug-2009, at the "Armada Burns" sendoff for Armada Breakaway.

"Zoo Lou," by Mako Kungfu, 23-Jun-2009. Yeah, I know I look lik a cop. Wanna see video of what was so confusing about Zoo that evening?

Lou Takes to the Skies, by Mako Kungfu, 15-Jun-2009

"Lou in her corner" by Mako Kungfu, 04-Jun-2009. Yes, Lou went to a Goth music event at Armada Breakaway…and failed to fit in. But check out the DJ's steampunk sound system in the background!

Me and Chadd the Neko Duck at AnaMalene's Scatterbrain'd trivia event (by Lette Ponnier 31-May-2009)

"Lou's Second First Time" by Chaddington Boomhauer, 24-May-2009

"Lou's First Time" by Chaddington Boomhauer, 22-May-2009

"Lou at Double Standards" by Lette Ponnier, 20-May-2009

"Lou Kungfu," video (yes, video!) by Mako Kungfu, 17-May-2009. Rach Borkotron and I go mano-an-mano…and Rach schools me but good. And people wonder why I don't just hop on any poseball that happens to be floating around!

"Double Standards 5/8" by Lette Ponnier, 08-May-2009

"Lou in Armada," by Mako Kungfu 02-May-2009

"Brain Implants?" by Chaddington Boomhauer 20-Apr-2009

"Flying Kitty," by Mako Kungfu 31-Mar-2009

"Chance Meeting," by Mako Kungfu 31-Mar-2009

"Lou is Batman," by Trilby Button, Mar-2009

"Tableau: Hamster Night 6," by Lette Ponnier, 13-Feb-2009. Lette, Trilby, and Lou are confronted by a gun-toting, spliff-smoking griefer.

Lou and Rain at Zoo Bar grand opening, Ashiri 06-Dec-2008

"Lou the trivia master," by Chaddington Boomhauer, 06-Nov-2008