Wednesday, 16 July 2014

In Limbo

Over the past couple of months, I have started to feel like my blog is dying. The downside to blogging about my personal virtual experiences and applying a (super vague) performance theory framework over them is that...well...a lot of my virtual experiences are the same. And blogging about gender inequality, unfair expectations, and, I don't know, pubic hair, doesn't automatically change the entire system. The SL I was writing about two years ago is the same SL that exists now (except now we're all wearing clothes made out of chicken wire) and I have, like many of my friends who seem to own land in SL, become something of a shut-in

I'm afraid that this blog is dying - and I don't want it to! Writing is one of my absolute favourite things to do in life, and writing about SL has been fun and interesting, and sparked a handful of pretty intense debates with people I have met in-world who read my blog. As you may have noticed, I tend to tie SL issues in with RL ones, and these are issues I care about, or that I think are important. I don't want to stop investigating, I don't want to stop exploring, I don't want to stop writing.

But I'm not sure where I'm heading, here. And I don't really like that. This isn't a goodbye, at all. I'm dithering in limbo. For now, I'm still here. Don't let me go just yet.

Talking about things that are dithering in limbo; I have been dressing Kitti recently in increasingly more gothic-style outfits recently. There are so many Summer fairs on at the moment offering bikinis and beach clothes, but designers Glam Affair and Pixicat have brought out a range of skins and dresses (respectively) over the past couple of weeks that have fed my all-too-English desire to hide from the RL wrathful Sun who has been trying, desperately, to burn me to a crisp. Kitti, being not only English but ginger, looks all-too at ease in her paler than pale skin and decadent dresses, lurking the corners of her skybox. She's been looking increasingly less than human - beyond human, one might say. Preternatural. Maybe even supernatural. I'm working the vampire/ghoul vibe. 

But it's just a vibe, right? It's not like, heh, gingers don't have souls or anything.

...right, guys?
[I need to get out more. Would you like to help me get out more? Click here for more info - here!]
[P.P.S.: the images from the post can be seen full size on Flickr - here!. I promise it's worth it.)

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cue Matriarchy

Queen Kitti
I went back to the Arcade this morning, just for a post-mayhem poke around. For those of you who read my blog but don't use SL (hi mum!), the Arcade is a quarterly event that generates the same kind of hype as...I don't know...the Football World Cup, or the midnight release of a Harry Potter book. It is an old-school Arcade made of glass, perched on the end of a pier, and inside is an array of gacha machines offering everything from skins and hair to furniture, music boxes, and pet fish. I half expected it to look like a Primark store an hour after opening, but it seems to have finally quietened down and, in the way of SL, it was clean and quiet. It wasn't even dusty.

Although the Arcade brings out an online catalog that lets you have a look at what you can win before you even get there, part of the joy of SL, I think, is exploring places - especially those with as nicely made buildings as the Arcade. There's something nice about hopping over to the Arcade and just having a wander, even though you've probably got more than you could possibly ever want from those machines. I suppose it's like window shopping.

As I was wandering around, I started thinking about how good events like the Arcade can be. I know I've whinged about gachas before, but to a new SL user, gacha machines are a potentially great way to get good items from good designers super cheap. Rarely do gacha machines charge more than one hundred Linden dollars (SL currency) a turn, and to put that into perspective, the skin Kitti usually wears cost just under one thousand Linden dollars. The same company that makes that skin filled a machine with similar skins at the Arcade this time around and, sure enough, the price on them was one hundred Linden dollars. It's smart shopping. 

Queen Norah isn't new to SL, but she's a smart cookie.
Except if you take a look at the Arcade's catalog, you'll see most of the skin, hair and clothing items there are designed for women. Not all of them - and many of the shops who make things for the Arcade make things for male avatars in their shops - but a large percentage. If a friend told me they wanted to get into SL and they had a female avatar, I'd have no issue taking them to the Arcade to flesh themselves out, but if it had a male avatar, I would have no idea where to begin.

This would be the point in the post where I reveal an armful of statistics, but I don't have any. I wouldn't like to lie to you and pretend that I do. 

I would be surprised to learn that Second Life has a higher population of male avatars then female avatars, but I would be unsurprised to find more male users than female. And the wider truth is that we still, as a collective society,  see shopping as something women do whilst their husbands are out earning money for them to fritter away. Despite the coming of the metrosexual, we still place emphasis on the care a woman should take with her appearance and her home, and tell men that they shouldn't care how they look just as long as they have mowed the lawn. We're getting better at it, for sure, but we've still a way to go. 

We could talk here, too, about who makes the ads, and who makes the clothes and the skins and the everything else. We could question who buys them, and for whom, with what intention. We're not going to right now. 

Right now, we're going to deviate - oh, come on, you knew it was coming - : as I was thinking about this, an image sprang into my mind of a virtual world of women and, naturally, my brain connected the idea to the Anne Rice novel, The Queen of the Damned. In the novel, the mother and queen of all vampires Akasha rises from a two thousand year slumber to rid the world of evil as she sees it - of men. During her slumber, she had been placed before numerous radios and television sets, and she had come to see that the source of all strife and war was men, and so off she goes on a killing spree, leaving behind one man for every twenty or so women, if I remember, that they might repopulate. Of course, any sons born would be brought up to respect the new matriarchy and adopt the traits Akasha praises so highly in women. 

If Norah and I ever gain any real positions of power, you should run. We're coming for you.
The Arcade, along with several other similar gacha machine events open at the moment, are helping to dress a virtual nation of fearsome queens. We've got flowing hair and flowing gowns coming out of our ears, and I now have so many crowns and diadems in my inventory that I am considering creating an alt just to hold them for me. The dresses Norah and I are wearing in the pictures here are from gacha events, and so are our crowns and our jewellery and our skins. Our hair isn't, though, because we cheated - but we have several hairstyles from gachas we could have chosen to wear instead. We're dressed to go and do some serious violence in the name of peace. We're ready to fuck for our virginity.

We won't make the same mistakes that Akasha did, though. Virtual worlds, beware.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Dappling and Duplo

To become a celebrity in SL, you either need to be a blogger or a builder. In this virtual sandbox world, builders are deities and the bloggers are their prophets, sent among us to spread the newly-created word. I myself am a designated prophet of the shop MetaTheodora, and I prophestitute myself to spread the word of the work of builder sian who owns it (as you can see here - here! and here - here!). 

It makes sense. SL is set up much the same way as the first life in that everything you consume, so to speak, has been created by SL users - except for a handful of Linden-build homes, which I suppose are akin to council estates. Perhaps the deification of RL builders will happen when the Govt and the Environmentalists go to war against each other and it's left up to the architects, the brick-layers and the interior designs to make miracle houses that can spring up out of nothing.

When it comes to building in SL, I am what a five year old with a box of Duplo is to Christopher Wren. Nothing gives me a headache faster than attempting to align prims in SL using a grid that I swear to the builder-gods is wonky. People build some stunningly intricate things for Second Life, and I am still working out how to move boxes around.
For non-SLers: this is a humble prim in it's original state. All building done in-world originates from simple polygons like this that are then resized, hollowed out, twisted and distorted and textured however you please. Most SL builders use outside programmes like Blender to design and create things and then import them into SL. I am NOWHERE NEAR being at that level. Everything I make starts out as a virtual plywood cube or cylinder. Everything.
 Thing is, though, that I like my boxes. I like (for the first five minutes, anyway) building my own virtual home, and my latest attempt is, I think, by far my best and so I wanted to show it to you. If you click the "building" tag that will appear at the bottom of this post, you can take a look back through my various building attempts as logged here and judge for yourself whether or not I'm getting any better.

Here it is, floating in the sky - which, maybe, will be where we all live just as soon as we invent a RL teleport to match SL's teleport - my handmade virtual home:

View from the top
View from one corner -
- and the opposite corner
Obviously, I didn't build any of the furniture or the lights. I had help from my friend Osh with the roof, but it's been heavily edited since then, so please don't blame her for any shoddy alignment. The rooves, walls, windows, floors, skirting boards and floating rings were all created painfully by me. The textures are ones I downloaded from Google Images and uploaded to SL, purely to decorate my home. The courtyard area floor texture was given to me by Ruina - thank you Ruina :)

View into the courtyard
Steamy hottub
I wanted to make something beautiful that took into account my (lacking) skill level but also challenged me a little. I love to play with light, and building a home in which the main feature would be the light and shadows made me happy - so that's what I did. 
I used a windlight setting I had made myself to shoot these photos, but I built the skybox with the regional light settings in mind (that is, the default day-light cycle). I usually leave the default settings on, turn shadows on, and let the virtual Sun creep across the virtual sky and play with the windows and the roof. The different effects the regional light settings alone create are complex and beautiful. 

I love windows. Can you tell?
Somewhere to sit
If I can't be a god of building, perhaps I'll be a god of shadows, and all that is dappled shall be my dominion.

Everything in this image has been built by somebody, just the same as I built the skybox. Compare my skybox to my avatar's hair, her clothes, the chair she's sitting on, her eyes, and the little lambicorn floating next to her. Like I said, five year old with Duplo to Christopher Wren.