Friday, April 15, 2011

Second Life

Dear Reader,

 As a writer, I'm a curious person. I think it's probably part of the writer makeup - without the desire to turn the world sideways, upside-down, a writer is shackled to exploring the "IS" instead of the "MAYBE". Is-World isn't a bad place, in fact I wish more people in the journalistic field dwelled within its somber and hard hallways. I could use less "opinion-casting" and more "news-casting". However, I'm veering dangerously away from my chosen topic. Lately I've been dabbling in Second Life, the virtual world of chat rooms that are constructed within a virtual space made to resemble a fantastic, often cartoonish, version of real-life.

Initially the chance to create objects (clothing, houses, and so on) drew me to SL. I play The Sims from time to time and I've applied my modest Photoshop skills to creating garments for my characters. I've also dabbled in cartography, making maps for the various imaginary worlds I write about as an aide to my writing and (possibly) eventual illustrations. SL offered an opportunity to get into the world I created, to walk about inside it, and to share it with others. So, I opted in and downloaded the SL software.

The first time I opened the software a metaphysical question vexed me. Perhaps it is a symptom of over thinking, but when the interface opened the first question that confronted me was what I'd like to register as my user name. I started with simply entering my name - and found it taken. Then I tried my initials with the same result. After that I sat for a moment, staring at the blank page, and pondering. What would you call yourself if you couldn't use your own name? Should it be something descriptive? Maybe I should select some word that embodies the essence of me-ness? Or should I embrace the idea of Second Life and create a new entity, a new me unlike the real me in every way? I fought with this idea for a long time before discovering that practically everything I selected, meaningful or meaningless, had been taken in the 9 years since the first resident signed up. Eventually I made the decision to go to a "weird words" page and randomly selected a name that seemed appropriately dark (I happened to be in a dark mood) and therefore my first alter ego, Chthonic came to be.

With the big hurdle of name selection behind me, however unsatisfying it might have been, I dashed straight into the next quagmire, physical appearance. Eventually, after navigating the standard sets of avatars, I came up with something acceptable. I quickly found that using a base avatar amounted to something like wearing a blazing neon sign that says "I Don't Know Anything". I hobbled about long enough to find out how to customize my avatar enough to be passable. Now I'm a week into limping around the environment and feeling like a total klutz most of the time.

The big question that came to me through this process, though, is how do we recreate ourselves? What makes one person choose a stylized human form and another an anthropomorphic cat? What does that re-rendering of ourselves into the pixel-world say about who and what we are in the physical world? Or is it all fancy? Is it just good fun, signifying nothing? Perhaps I'll come up with an answer to that question in time. Until then, if you're in SL, look me up. Maybe I'll be hanging out somewhere.

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