My participation, professional and social, in virtual worlds over many years mixes my tech geek inquisitive builder side with the deep emotional impact of how interactions feel. I still clearly remember events from 2006 that occurred in what we still call virtual. I also still feel the waves of joy and excitement as a fledgling industry grew and the pain of the inevitable bubble bursting. I remember the people who I have grown up with in virtual worlds, friendships that a transcending time and space. I also deeply feel the fear and jealousy that was directed at many of us despite attempting to be inclusive. It was shrouded in the apparent lack of seriousness that comes from games technology, but was really a fear of missing out in human to human communication and of power structures altering. I do think and mourn where we could have been with the virtual, right now, when we need it the most but equally we now have social media deeply adopted. The world is moving, and now everyone has to find ways to communicate that work for them.
I was honoured to be invited to gather around a firepit and chat in Second Life last weekend. It was at 2am my time on Sunday morning. If you were part of that great time around 2006 you will recognise these wonderful people from Billions of Us. I have remained an SL resident and island owner all these years so it was not a resurrection event to sign on and pop along. However, I felt… nervous… Why? I was just going to have a private chat with people who I share social media space with all the time. The reason was we were going to talk about the old days. I have all those emotions tied up in that period of time now also compacted with being locked down at home for the past 57 days.
In order to help deal with some of the demons I felt I needed to upgrade my avatar. My original predator avatar, with striped leather jacket and then a subsequent feeding edge t-shirt is from a very different time. SL has changed to be able to cope with 3d mesh models now, I was a collection of graphic primitive cunningly sculpted and scripted by Sythia Veil. However, I was a processor hog. I had visited a sim and a script had told me I was using up 4% of the processing power on the server, on my own! The client tells you your avatar weight (as in processing required) and I was bloated old and fat at over 50k. I went and found a new and brilliantly built predator avatar on the store, a detailed mesh, with a weight of just 5k. I adjusted it to have a feeding edge logo attached at low cost and also placed clickable versions of both Reconfigure and Cont3xt on my hips, like six shooters. Changing a long standing avatar is not without another range of emotions, but it helped me think about the future not the past, and damn… it looks good, with and without the mask. Well done to undercover for the build!
I had tweeted about this and was thrilled that Games at Work dot biz talked about it on the podcast. A link very much to the original eightbar crew in 2006 with Andy Piper, Michael Rowe and Michael Martine. Also great to hear Andy also headed into an avatar rebuild. You see its 14 years ago and still very relevant, very personal and are all very connected. Also a wonderful podcast and the Michael’s are now at episode 272 of the weekly event (I will let that number sink in!)
Anyway Sunday 2am rolled into play, I teleported to the fire pit and was there with everyone. It turned out I had not tested the avatar in public so I was over 8 foot tall, but I sat down rather than editing there.
We talked for an hour solid about the good old days and the future, the relevance of virtual worlds to our reality now. I shared how it all got started for me and the chain of serendipitous events and wonderful people that gathered around IBM eightbar. We then took a quick tour of some art installations on the fledgling Billions of Us islands.
Then we said our goodbyes and I returned home. Both to my own island in SL and then to my office.
That “returning home” is way more emotionally loaded that I would normally expect it to be. It was late, I was tired but…. unlike all this torrent of video calling (and audio) which being people to my screen into my office I felt that for the first time in 57 days I had been somewhere with people, friends old and new. When I woke up in the morning I still felt I had been out. It is this feeling that I have had a lot with virtual world and game experiences but the fact it happened under this crazy pandemic world times and was so liberating and so deeply felt I pity anyone still messing around trying to come to terms with those funny people with there funny avatars and crazy ideas.
Virtual worlds have not gone away. There are many more. Please consider this might be a great mental getaway for many of you. I don’t care which one, and I know community building takes time, but get in one take a look and really think how does it feel.
It was my tribe, it was on a subject we all knew but this is very very real. That one hour made me feel better, really very much better than I have for a long while. If it can do that for me, maybe it can do it for you. 1 hour respite just chatting or wondering around a virtual world. Let me know how you get on.