Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Junk Shop of Eternity

Junk Shop of Eternity
Sentimentality is a cute but largely useless trait to possess - and possess it I do. Aesthetics and pragmatics don't stand a chance against But It Was Made Especially For Me or The First One I Ever Bought/Made/Was Given. It isn't that I was brought up to be a materialist, nor that I place value and security in palpability (although many writing about my generation say that we have and do), but is instead based on something that goes beyond the realms of capitalism and being just plain shallow.

The danger, perhaps, is that our understanding, appreciation, and love of Beyond Face Value Worth predates the internet and cloud storage. So does its slightly less sophisticated cousin I Just Really Like It.

In many games, avatars are limited in how much they can carry around with them at any one time, and even when games permit the buying of houses and safety deposit boxes, they are generally used to store items that will, at some point or another, fulfill their purpose and thus vanish from existence. That Second Life is not really a game is pretty well-established, and one of the smaller reasons for this is its deviation from this practical limitation. What I am trying to say is that SL avatars have the potential to be wardrobes-to-Narnia; they can walk around carrying as many things as they like in their inventories, and they don't have to worry about overtaxing their agility or juggling heavy garments with the invisible item bag. The items they carry, too, are rarely of the one-time-use variety. As I write, Kitti has an inventory of 12,384 items, and from conversations with other SL users, I've come to realise how small Kitti's inventory is. 

If a large wardrobe can hold, let's say, 100 items at the outside limit, that means Kitti is effectively carrying around 1,238 wardrobes, all of which lead to Narnia. As Louis said to Lestat, we're making a junk shop of eternity.

If there is a limit on how large Linden Labs allow their user's inventories to be, I have no idea what it is, and it isn't any limit I'm afraid to hit any time soon. Of course, having a large inventory stored somewhere in the internet isn't quite as carefree and easy as it sounds - your computer has to haul up the list of items in your possession and recall all of the pathways that lead to those intangible objects, and this can create a serious amount of lag. But lots of other factors contribute to lag, and they can be overcome by super fast internet connections and super fast computers. And we're not the ones doing the heavy lifting. It's just not the same thing.

The maintenance and curation of our inventories is left entirely up to us, and that's where sentimentality comes into play. As technology develops and the quality of items in SL gets better, how do we balance innovation with sentimentality? How do we manage the deeply capitalist SL system of AcquireAcquireAcquire? 

These thoughts were prompted by, of all things, my virtual cats. Scout and James refused to produce more kittens, and whilst I was getting disappointed about the lack of new cats, I started wondering just how many cats I could fit in my skybox before I lost my temper over tripping over the damn things. And when I logged in this weekend and found almost all of the cats were sick and I had to pay for medicine for them, I realised I had to give the question some serious thought.

When KittyCats get sick, they magic up these little beds and thermometers. They're obviously carrying them around in their own little invisible inventory bags. Since these cats live out of Kitti's inventory, there are bags within bags. Bagception.
But how do I get rid of my virtual cats? I feel highly sentimental about them, for no real reason I can rationalise, and at the moment at least, I can navigate about half of the skybox without tripping over one and going cartwheeling into the wall. 

Where do I draw the line? And then, once done, how do I process the guilt of it?


  1. Someone once said about writing "Murder your darlings" (or something to that effect). I find it also applicable to SL inventories. I still keep way to much stuff, but I've been practicing the art of murdering my inventory darlings, and it can be surprisingly freeing.

    Not to long ago I had this weird little epiphany while watching my husband play Metro: Last Light. (First, for context, I have a strange love of post apocalyptic settings and towns build out of junk) At one point there is a little 'town' of generally humane survivors that your character comes across that's rather charming, in particular the cantina that is built out of random junk and strung up lanterns. It reminded me of a several towns I gained affection for while I played Fallout 3 and New Vegas.

    All of which is just setting for the realization: The thing that I thought as a I watched him wander through this post-apoc cantina was that this place, if it were real, would not last forever. And then I thought, well, nothing lasts forever. Even if buildings remain standing, the culture and community of a place shifts and changes like a sea tide. If you leave for a little while and come back, you are very possibly going to find that the place feels a bit different - it is not the same as it was when you left. And you are not the same either. Your change effects your experience as much as the world's change around you. As Heraclitus says: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

    At first, for a brief moment, this realization was sad, of course. Because I fall in love with places and their zeitgeists, and I want to experience them again and again. I want them to be set in stone so that I can feel that exact thing over again. But that is impossible, of course. And being the pragmatist that I am, I instead realized that, if things are fleeting, then the best way to honor them, and your love of them, is to be as present as humanly possible in every moment of experiencing them, to soak up as much of any moment, any experience, any thing, as you possibly can. Because life is ephemeral. And that ephemerality is actually what makes it so beautiful and exciting and interesting and, well, life.

    Long story is long lol. I guess what I was getting around to is this - I don't think sentimentality is useless. I think it is a part of beauty, and beauty is necessary for human life to flourish. I think the problems we find with it, or the way it can be useless, depends on how we handle our own sentimentality. There is a possible harmonious balance between feeling and appreciating sentiment and understanding and living with the ever changing flux of existence, but it is tricky to find (and I suspect most people don't even think about it really).

    I love how thoughtful you are Kitti :)

    1. What is so thoughtful is your reply, and it was great to read. Thanks Ruina :)

      I love post-apocalyptic cities in games, too. I bought Fallout New Vegas even though I'd never played Fallout before, and that I generally suck at games. I got Sunny Whatsherface killed right near the start and just couldn't work it out. But I understand the attraction.

      I hope you are right about the balance, and I suspect that you are - I just haven't found it yet.


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