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!

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