Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two Bucc Chuck

I've been remiss in keeping up with the Second Life trivia scene—partly because I'm spending less time in-world, but mostly because I'm spending that time wrapping up projects and "doing work" rather than hanging out with friends and having fun. But I definitely want to highlight the most recent Buccaneer Bowls, the team-based trivia events that are the highlight of the Second Life trivia scene every month.

For folks who don't know, the Buccaneer Bowls are played by up to ten teams of three to four players each, rather than being a free-for-all like most open-chat trivia games. There are five rounds of five questions each, with the first three correct answers scoring points for their teams. At the end of each round, the team that scored the most points is eligible for a bonus question: if they get the bonus, the team gets more money, but if they lose the money is distributed to other teams that placed in the round. And the money is pretty substantial in Second Life terms: $10,000L is up for grabs in the game. That's only about $40 CAN, but it's enough to ensure the top trivia players all show up if they can. (Plus, as teams, they can gang up on each other! Rumble!) But even with the fierce competition, no one has to go home empty-handed: in an effort to keep lag down, avatars with an Avatar Rendering Cost (ARC) under 500 get $100L just for showing up (ARCs under 1000 get $50L).

The Buccaneer Bowls have been running since January 2009, with Lette Ponnier, Lillian Shippe, and Thornton Writer ably running the ship, herding the cats, doing all the logistics, writing the questions, plus conducting and scoring the games. The ninth and tenth Bowls took place in September and October, respectively—and they took place at a location near and dear to my heart, Jez+Sinn+Mandy's club [MonoChrome], where I host my Lou's Clues trivia game most weeks. The September Bowl was held in the Club proper because of a last-minute snafu with the planned venue: Jez volunteered the club when the planned location turned out not to be available. And it worked out pretty well–lag didn't seem to be much of a problem, so the Bowl came back to [MonoChrome] in October…although for October there was time to roll out a schooner (supplied by Karmel Kips, I believe) for the Bowl's nautical theme.

The Frivolous Corsairs in September:
me, Olmstead Fanshaw, and Rain Ninetails

During October, the Frivolous Corsairs fielded a team of three: me, captain Rain Ninetails, and special guest star trivia giant Olmstead Fanshaw. Unfortunately, Olms wound up carrying the weight (I was almost useless with a migraine) but we still managed to tie for a fourth place finish out of eight teams. The almost-unstoppable (but very deserving) Triviators strode away with the month's crown.

Frivolous Corsairs in October:
me, Rain Ninetails, Glimmer Mattercaster, and Lebn Bucyk

In October, the Frivolous Corsairs fielded a team of four: me, captain Rain Ninetails, trivia titan (and original Corsair!) Lebn Bucyk, and rising star Glimmer Mattercaster. And we did pretty well, managing third place out of (I think) nine teams again—BoomFireCirceSchism managed to come out on top as the champions for the month. It sort of seems to be the Corsairs' fate to be second fiddle when we do well: I think we've landed in second place three or four times, and we actually had a real shot at coming in first this month…at least, until I biffed a tie-breaker for the last bonus question.

Nonetheless, a fabulous time was had by all, and I'm already looking forward the next (the 11th!) Buccaneer Bowl! What's sort of amazing about these things is now everyone is on their best behavior, and while there are lots of japes and jibes and snarky comments, they're all made in good humor and everyone works to make the events a success. And of course, a tremendous thank-you to Thorn, Lette, and Lillian for putting these events on every month, and keeping the bar for quality and fun so high. Huzzah!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Woodbury Stops By For Tea

So after Lebn Bucyk's Barefoot trivia on Sunday—sadly interrupted by a sim crash—my friend Geoff Novi (in-world! whoo!) popped to my favorite sandbox to talk scripting and maybe about handing off a couple of those jobs I mentioned earlier. He got there first so he spun out his totally antique work box 2000m up in the air, and we chatted about some script libraries and Perl code and I was threatening to pull out a weird prim I'd come across to see if Geoff could make any sense of it—typical, normal, minding-our-own-business stuff. Geoff noticed an avatar fly up to check us out and immediately commented it was someone's alt: the account was a week old and flying up to 2000m, and that's not something a new Second Life user is likely to do—or, if they do, they probably wouldn't leave immediately after all that flying.

A short while later we were joined by another avatar. EstaEs Sparta—"This Is Sparta," get it?—carrying a shield and outsized sword, and wearing a facemask. Above EstaEs's name was a group tag bearing an interesting word: Woodbury.

Right to left: Geoff Novi, me, and Woodbury sword-bearer EstaEs Sparta

Woodbury University is one of Second Life's more controversial groups: to some they're a bunch of kids out to have fun, to others the Woodies are marauders dedicated to griefing other users and disrupting Second Life to get their "lulz." Woodbury seriously predates my involvement in SL: far as I can tell, it was originally associated with the Media, Culture, & Design department at a real Woodbury University in California; no one seems to know if that's still true, but it's doubtful. What is well-known is that Woodbury attracted students of 4chan and /b/ (if you don't know what that means, trust me, don't go looking), and Woodbury regulars are widely known for just being out to push people's buttons: sometimes that means disrupting events with chat spam, scripted objects, obscene animations and images, etc.—the virtual equivalent of five-year-olds running around saying "poop!" and making farting noises—and sometimes it's flat-out attacks, as much as anyone can be attacked in SL.

Although Woodbury seems mostly about pranking, hate speech, and bumptious arrogance, there is some overlap with Second Life's genuine thugs and content thieves: Woodbury "students" have been involved in organized disruptions of inworld events, harassing residents, and crashing sims, and I've had Woodies literally steal the shirt off my back—well, copy it—and give it back to me for a laugh. Woodbury was enough of a problem that Linden Lab apparently pulled the plug on it about two years ago, deleting their region. But the Woodies came back, inking a deal with BNT Holdings—a laissez-faire inworld virtual real estate outfit—for three sims. By leasing from a tolerant landlord, the Woodies were basically free to do whatever they wanted until they stepped out into the rest of Second Life and started violating terms of service.

And that, in my experience, is basically the only time you see a Woodie—when they're out and about for "lulz." They particularly dislike "furries"—folks who use animal or anthropomorphic animal avatars—and anyone who they can goad into a response. (One of SL's most vocal and longest-standing land barons is a good example.) Several Woodbury alumni have apparently been "permabanned," which means having their accounts shut down and, in some cases, having their computers blocked from Second Life. However, these bans represent mere inconveniences: at a basic level, you can get around them just by creating a new account and maybe using a different computer. Lots of Woodies keep the noses on their primary accounts relatively clean, and create brand-new throwaway accounts for any activity that's likely to draw the Linden's ire.

I've filed my share of abuse reports against Woodies—undoubtedly more than a typical SL user—and maybe contributed to a few of their accounts being suspended. I've mentioned I've been targeted by a sustained bout of griefing the last month, and while a few Woodies are on my short list of possible perpetrators, there's no real way to know if they're behind it. I'd begun discounting Woodies because the grief is not their style—there's nothing to point at to get their lulz, and the effort involved exceeds my perceptions of their attention span. But there's no denying some folks associated with Woodbury are both clever and smart, so I can't rule them out either. I felt my hackles rise when EstaEs popped in for a chat.

So to what did we owe the pleasure? Turns out the Woodies' benefactor, BNT Holdings, has managed to run itself into the ground, and those three sims the Woodies occupied are now gone—along with dozens of other sims run by the outfit. So Woodbury is looking for new places to call home, and the sim with my favorite sandbox is on the short list. Apparently there's some sentimental value owing to the presence of an in-world "office" of the Alphaville Herald, née Second Life Herald—an office I've never seen used for anything but, hey, it's there. The Herald itself is a ridiculous-vapid-snarky site that purports to cover Second Life in a "fairly unbalanced" way. Their self-description seems accurate; I'm not a fan, but the site seems widely read and it has gleefully followed the antics of the Woodies and others.

To my surprise, EstaEs was civil—despite somehow disrupting all the prims on Geoff's seriously antique work cube to sit at the same origin, something that seemed to amuse Geoff but which struck me as damn odd. (Although Geoff did call in some reinforcements…something else that was damn odd.) Nonetheless, it's possibly the only time I've had direct contact with someone from Woodbury that didn't result in filing multiple abuse reports.

I have no stake in the sim that hosts my fave sandbox. Talking with some of the regulars, it seems more likely that the sim will go away altogether than be taken over by the Woodbury folks. Either way, I'll have to look for a new workshop: can't go somewhere that no longer exists, and I doubt I'd be welcome in the midst of New Soviet Woodburyland or whatever materialized—even if I wanted to be associated with the kinds of grief, disruption, and intolerace that orbits Woodbury. Even just for lulz.

So, EstaEs, thanks for the heads up.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Plus Ça Change…

During the last week my real life has asserted its ugly self, and I haven't been able to spend much (OK, essentially any) time Second Life. Although I hadn't planned it, taking a little time off has given me a few moments to think what Second Life is to me—and what it cannot be.

In a crow's nest, trying to decide
whether this ship has sailed.

As a few people have surmised, lately I've been having something of an Second Life identity crisis. I have always been cognizant (and still fully believe) that SL exists only in relation to real life; nonetheless, part of what appealed to me about SL was that I could participate and not disclose details of my identity. Without this possibility, I couldn't be in Second Life at all, but, even so, Second Life started off as just a cautious distraction and I was ready to bail at the first sign of weirdness.

However, the initial ease of keeping my real life out of Second Life eventually led me to consider SL somewhere I could just be, well, me, at least a little bit. I know it sounds weird, but I found this appealing because Just Being Lou isn't something I get to do much. Eventually this morphed from being interesting to me to being important to me…and it doesn't take a genius to see how my approach to Second Life then became fundamentally hypocritical and untenable.

Even still, as has been documented in this blog, I soldiered on: I got more deeply involved in the handful of SL communities that welcomed me, and I have even taken on paying work in Second Life. There have been a couple of hiccups, for the most part that's all gone fairly smoothly.

But it's also dug me a deeper hole. Investing greater amounts of time and energy in Second Life means taking SL more seriously, and there's only so much seriousness Second Life can tolerate without interfacing significantly with real life. For instance, I can't go to any parcels—or continents—that require age or payment verification. This is already a significant issue (aside from not being able to go to one of my favorite trivia games!) and seems like it will become a greater one going forward as Linden Labs tries to move virtual worlds into the mainstream. Sure, I could lie and use fake credentials to get around these issues…but apparently that's not something I'm willing to do.

I also can't convert Linden dollars to real money, so doing paid work in Second Life is rather pointless: I might as well be working for free. Rampant content theft is another concern, albeit mostly indirect since I don't sell content. However, unless something changes radically, it does mean the work I've been doing will dry up anyway. I can't see how there's any future in trying to earn money from creating content in Second Life.

But probably more significantly, a lot of Second Life is built around enabling people do become something (or several somethings) they are not, or become something which they are proscribed from being real life. I fall into that latter category; unfortunately, the thing I am proscribed from being is pretty much the one thing I cannot be in SL. I could be a turtle, a dude, a bird, a blowing ball of light, an exotic flower, a smoke-spewing ozone-destroying mecha traipsing through puny avatars. But I can't be me.

So, the short version: I'm not leaving SL, but I'll be stepping back a bit.

I'll keep doing my Lou's Clues trivia game as long as I can or as long as people are still interested, whichever comes first. I will also complete projects for existing paying clients—or transition them to other folks who can complete the work—so no one is left in a lurch. However, I will not be accepting any significant new paying work in-world. I will also be scaling back the amount of time I spend in SL, since that pesky real life needs attention and I can't continue to justify the real-world costs (time and financial) of significant involvement in Second Life.

An odd upshot of this is that I might actually be more visible to my friends in Second Life once I "scale back" than I was before, since I'll be spending less time locked in obscure locations staring into the (horrible) LSL script editor or combing through server and database logs.

And that's all to the good. Fundamentally, the people are the most important thing in SL. Even if I don't personally fit.