Monday, March 1, 2010

Any Landing You Can Walk Away From…

Well, after all that lamenting and gnashing of teeth, I finally pulled the trigger: I am now a renter of virtual land in Second Life. I am a week-by-week tenant of a 1024m² parcel on the northern mainland continent known as Heterocera Atoll, and I have been goofing with pushing around prims and trying to do, well, something with the space.

A floating island thingy starts to take shape

I didn't make the decision lightly, and I'm not sure I'll stick with it. I'm still in the early stages, I guess, and indecisive. Talking with many of my Second Life friends, many seemed to think it was important to have a place to call your own, just to be able to get away from the hubbub and drama of SL and go to somewhere you're in control. I don't quite understand the appeal of that; I've never really had problems finding empty spots to chill out, and aside from a sustained bout of griefing largely steer clear of SL's drama. But I understand the appeal of wanting to create a place of your own—I know how important my little automated customizable portable work platform has been to me. As a lot of my friends have graciously shown me what they've done with their land, I became very impressed with the effort and creativity they've put into their spaces. However, I kinda came to two conclusions:
  1. I don't want a "house"

  2. I'm not all that interested in trying to create a virtual version of a real world space
The first point is probably the weirdest. I don't begrudge anybody the houses they've set up for themselves—heck, there are several with which I am quite enamored and would walk away with in a heartbeat if I could just do that copy-and-paste thing. (Lebn & Preston should fear me!) But I mentioned earlier that getting land felt like it could be the next stage of "playing Barbies" in SL—first you play with hair and shoes and clothes, next they move on to the Dream House or the Pony Barn—and that feeling got stronger for me the more I considered what I would do with land. I don't need a "house." Second Life has no weather I need to be sheltered from, no heat I need to keep in or cold I need to keep out. I don't need a private place because, bottom line, there is no privacy in Second Life unless you buy yourself an entire private sim and restrict all access. I don't need anywhere to put my "stuff" because, first, I can carry around an inordinately huge amount of stuff anywhere I go in my avatar's inventory, and second, I don't really have a bunch of "stuff" that needs to be set out. I have a couple of neat things here and there—a death ray, a giant pocketwatch, a high-prim guitar or two—but I don't feel a need to be a virtual decorator. I have no in-world paintings to hang, no digital furniture to set out, no virtual animals to tend to, and I'm not particularly interested in buying them or making them. Other people are and that's great, but…I guess it doesn't appeal strongly to me.

And part of that probably comes from point number two (above). Second Life has always seemed very cartoony to me. I'm not referring to the quality of the graphics so much as the sense that literally everything is just a representation of something else in a super-sketchy fake stand-in way that just vaguely represents something you can kind of recognize if you squint and don't look carefully—or, really, at all. To me Second Life has never been an "immersive" environment: I cannot suspend disbelief and think that three or four flat pictures maybe waving a little bit in the virtual breeze is foliage. Mix in that Second Life is massively out of scale (pretty much everyone is seven feet tall and Conan-esque or supermodel leggy) and that there's no modeling of mass or materials (you can stack a castle on top of a prim one centimeter thick or in thin air) and the whole thing is…well, just cartoony.

And that is totally fine. Those very cartoony traits make Second Life a springboard for creativity and things that would be very difficult or completely impossible to do in real life. But, much as trying to make Second Life Lou a reasonable representation of Real Life Lou is an exercise in futility and frustration, trying to recreate a real world space in Second Life is a doomed endeavor.

So: what I do with land will not be a house, and it's not going to try to be real. And that's about all I know right now.

I do know it will not be on the ground. Calling my land a parcel is a little bit generous: it's rented out as a sky platform, with a suggested living space around 1600m up in the air. Yes, that's right, I have a 32×32 wedge of land, and I'm more than a kilometer and a half above the ground. Technically I can build down at "ground level" but the folks from whom I am renting the land are trying to keep the ground level as a relatively open space with unspoiled views. Having seen a lot of ugly mainland views, I completely understand that. Under the Havoc 4 physics engine, Second Life residents can build up to 4098 meters above the ground. (I guess earlier versions of the SL software were limited to 768m.) So I'm looking at my parcel not as a flat 32m×32m surface, but as a hugely tall column, 32m×32m×oh-say-3096m. That's a lot of volume to work with—too bad it doesn't come with more prims!

And, you know what? If I can't think of anything to do with it, I can just walk away and stop paying rent. Happy landings, indeed.


  1. ACK Math!

    So is that a picture of your...floating temply thing? It actually looks kinda cool, like the remains of a lost foating civilization. As Sheryl sings: "if it makes you happeeeeee" - then YAY you! :)

    When I next visit you I will probably, once again, fall ever so gracefully off the damned platform and splat god knows where...

  2. I'm with you on the 'home on the ground' thing. I have a furnished house and pond and trees and cozy campfire on the beach down there, but I rarely go there anymore. When I TP 'home', it takes me to the "Incredible Development Platform", a 60x60 grass platform lined with hedges 700m above the ground. Usually, the only time I go 'downstairs' is to pay the rent once a week or to take some pics.

  3. Its a great cliff hopping platform for lemmings...I've splatted myself to the ground quite a few times just for the giggles :P


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