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 clichéd? 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.

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