Chungking Espresso

Enjoyment Famine in Second Dublin

Posted in Game Analysis, Schoolwork by Simon Ferrari on October 16, 2008

So after going through the list of virtual worlds we could visit for this assignment, I found that Second Life was the only world I could visit on my Mac (though apparently plans to allow Mac access soon). I then settled on the Dublin SL world, so that I could see how closely the virtual Dublin maps to the memories I have of living there for three months. I’ve never played one of these entirely social virtual worlds before, so the experience was quite disorienting.

Arriving on the campus of the virtual Trinity College I was assaulted by a straightforward, yet aesthetically ungainly, UI at the bottom of my screen, a help bubble at the top right of the screen telling me that I should look at the tutorial bubble at the top left of my screen, an avatar bot periodically welcoming me to Dublin and directing me to the Blarney Stone pub, and streaming audio explaining the ideas and technical work behind Second Life as a whole. All of this baffled me and made me wish that I’d started my second life at Linden Lab’s tutorial center or Avatar Island. Character creation was frustrating. I found the number of options for sculpting my body appealing and helpful, but when it came time to design my face I found that I couldn’t really make my avatar look even close to a cartoon version of myself. Then the hair that I designed sprouted out of this ugly default hair sitting on my head, and I looked like some kind of grey-haired freak with poorly implanted black plugs. When I tried to change out of the default clothes I was confronted by this strange data tree that I decided must be the file directory for storing the things I created. The interface confused me, so I closed it and flew off in my default grey shirt and jeans.

I arrived at the Blarney Stone. Entering, I was greeted by a few players who could tell I was a newbie by my clothing. Some of them welcomed me and offered their assistance, while one told me to leave the bar until I got rid of my “nob cloths.” On the bar was a beer tap that I touched in order to receive a glass of Guinness, which when placed in one of my hands automatically lifted itself to my lips to allow for occasional sipping. This was probably the only positive experience I had during my visit to Second Dublin. Someone private messaged me that he was from the Sunny UK, asking me where I was from and whether or not I wanted to chat upstairs. I clicked on a spinning disco ball that made me dance even after I moved, sat in a bar stool, and flew out the door in an effort to stop the crude animation that had taken over my body. As I left the bar somebody bit my neck and the game offered to let me become a vampire if I wanted to. I’d get to wear bite marks on my neck and fangs in my mouth, but I’d have to feed off of other players afterwards. I “ignored” the vampire mode request. I then tried to follow the street from Trinity College to the Irish Film Center where I worked during my time in Dublin, only to find that the street dropped off into the ocean a block from the Blarney Stone pub. Looking for the button I needed to press to disconnect from Dublin SL and enter another realm, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was distinctly reminded of Sartre’s “No Exit;” something told me that I had downloaded Hell onto my computer. So I hit the “x” button at the corner of the screen, and I’ll probably never return to Second Life ever again unless under duress.

So the question is, “How could my experience in Second Life been improved?” Admittedly, I probably didn’t give the game a fair shot. Spending a few more hours there, I could’ve designed my avatar’s body to a rough approximation of my own. If I’d purchased a couple of Lindenbucks I would’ve been able to buy some clothes that might not have given me away as a “nob.” If I’d been interested in dancing with other players, having cyber sex, or being a vampire, then Second Dublin seems like it would be a great place for me to participate in these activities.

Celia Pearce describes an “Uru Diaspora” of players who moved from the destroyed world of Uru Online to and eventually Second Life. These players became influential members of their new communities, modeling buildings after the conical structures of Uru and integrating features such as Uru’s “Age” system and puzzles into their new habitats. A “World of Warcraft” diasporic virtual world in Second Life might have helped me as a new SL’er understand what the heck was going on when I first entered the world. I could imagine such a realm coming with either a UI mod that made the game look more like that of Warcraft, or at least a tutorial that would explain how specific parts of Linden’s system of character creation mapped to WoW’s simple, familiar avatar generator. Everybody starts out in Warcraft with obvious “noob” clothing, but they are given ample opportunity to complete simple quests in order to start accumulating a unique wardrobe. I didn’t like that I had to either buy Linden currency or get right into designing my own clothing in order to look unique. I considered the lack of combat in Second Life, even against mobs or NPCs for the purpose of gaining currency, to be a severe limitation of player action. In “Lessons from LucasFilm’s Habitat” the creators of that early graphical virtual world describe how the best way to engineer a world in cyberspace is to allow for basic player interactions and then to help develop the world in the direction that the players themselves desire. What I can assume from my experience in Second Life is that most of its players didn’t have any desire for combat or character development through violent means. I respect this decision, but would like to assert that players should at least be able to choose between realms designed specifically for socializers or killers and achievers. Please note that I’m not implying that a game must have combat in order to be fun, but there is simply a difficulty here in going from environments based on combat and advancement to one that so swiftly involves players in massive parties and object design.

Now I didn’t personally run into any of the heavy sexual or racial griefing that I’d read about in newspapers and blogs and, to be truthful, really wanted to run into it so I could personally experience its disruption of the virtual world’s constructed fantasy. Mnookin (in “Virtual{ly} Law”) and Julian Dibble both explain the common MUD mechanic of the @gag in their explanation of how most players can squelch communication from offensive players to themselves. Mnookin makes the interesting point that most MUDers actually don’t use the gag command, because it leads to awkward situations where other parties in a room haven’t gagged an offender or where a naïve annoying player suddenly realizes they’ve been gagged and become hurt or confused. In any case, I assume that in Second Life there is a way to gag the communication coming from other players. I don’t know if this already exists (and I’m assuming it doesn’t because of what I’ve read), but it seems like one should also be able to gag or squelch the objects (flying penises or what have you) created by offensive players as well – simply by left-clicking them or something equally easy to do.

Pavel Curtis’s work in “Mudding: Social Phenomena…” toward identifying player types on social MUDs certainly seemed to carry over well into graphical virtual worlds. He mentions that, without an overarching narrative setting like the early MUSHs focusing on the fictional Pern universe, players are free to mix different fictional universes within one game. Comically he mentions the trope of the “mysterious yet subtly powerful” player description. This type of character creation and fiction mixing definitely comes into its own on Second Life, where people can literally design, show off, and sell their costumes that they bring with them from so many other worlds and communities. I can’t really find room for criticism here, except perhaps to reiterate the confusion I personally had with the design system and the data tree where SL stores one’s designs. I suppose one could also say that Second Life clearly hasn’t kept up with improvements in graphics and video cards the way Warcraft has (with each expansion the graphics improve slightly). Perhaps this is a deliberate decision in order to leave more to the imagination and allow amateur designers to make things look reasonably good for the platform, but I think that recently games like Spore have shown that it’s easy to develop complex textures and other enhanced visual features within easy-to-use templates. Also, I wonder if perhaps Linden Labs has failed on some level to pay attention to one of the prime “Lessons from LucasFilm’s Habitat:” namely, that to whatever degree possible for a specific project one should separate the content and the presentation of a game at the coding level, to allow a game to evolve graphically as platforms and technologies change and develop.


6 Responses

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  1. Harper said, on October 16, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    It might have been better for you to start out in normal orientation, yes; your first experience was, for some part, not the greatest. However, this is not the standard way of greeting newcomers. For instance, the wretches at the Stone who told you to go away until you shed your noob image obviously had a problem, and could have been ignored — or muted, a system that does exist in Second Life through the right-click pie menu.

    As for changing that appearance, you don’t need Linden dollars (or lindens) at all; just some canny shopping, and a use of the Search window. There’s tons of freebies, of varying quality, that are available; and while you may not be able to duplicate your own face, you can change your looks to something more than the default avatar range. (Even those defaults are better looking than they used to be, so I don’t know what problem the fools who pestered you had.)

    The vampire was a Bloodliner out of control. Bloodlines is an in-world vampire game, which seems to have turned into quite a fad. You can read more about it at Hamlet Au’s New World Notes article. The best thing to do is to ignore them, decline offers to become one of the Walking Dead, or report them for griefing in egregious circumstances. (And go hunting for Buffy [grin].)

    If you want to join a more sociable group, come back to the Stone at 10:00 Pacific Time (or Second Life Time) for the Morning Coffee, and you’ll run into a far more amiable bunch.

    Combat systems exist in Second Life as well; they’re simply restricted to certain areas where battle-oriented types can participate in the mayhem without bothering the ones who aren’t interested in bloodshed. The Samurai regions, for instance, have an entire sim dedicated to fighting. Other areas include the notorious Jessie region, where you’d better be packing serious heat, and ones that I’m not aware of simply because I’m of a more commercial/social bent. The thing is that it’s a big, big Grid, with a lot of potential for avatars to play and create what they want. You simply need to locate yourself in the right area.

    I’d suggest buying one of the various books on SL, such as Second Life for Dummies or the Official Guide, or checking out a copy from your local library. That gave me the background information that made my early days quite enjoyable. Or I’d be willing to answer any questions to the best of my ability. You can contact me in world, or get my E-mail address from my own blog. Just search for the string “E-mail to Harper”, and click on it to get a message started.

  2. Riven Homewood said, on October 17, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    hard to improve on the previous comment, but here’s my two-cents-worth.

    Yes, it was a serious mistake not to begin your first visit on one of the orientation islands. If you were starting to use a powerful program like Photoshop, would you expect a good experience by just opening it and starting out, with no idea what you are doing? SecondLife is at least as powerful and complex as PhotoShop, possibly more so.

    Perhaps a pub at night wasn’t the best place for your first visit? If you were alone in a strange city in real life, it might be problematical to pick a pub at random–you might have to try a few before finding one that suited you. SL is like that too.

    Most people I’ve met on SL are helpful and friendly — sorry you met a couple of jerks. See previous comment about picking a pub. 🙂 The vampire thing is becoming a real pain, but hopefully it’s just a fad and will burn itself out soon.

    I hope you’ll give SL another try. It isn’t a game, it’s totally free form, it’s whatever you choose to find and make. If you are a creative person who enjoys that sort of activity, it’s wonderful.

  3. Riven Homewood said, on October 17, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Oh, one more thing — Making your avatar look like you do in real life is really hard. I tried it when I was new, and found it nearly impossible. I’ve seen some people do it well, but they are usually excellent artists in real life.

    On the other hand, do you really want to look like yourself? Think of the possibilities…

  4. chungkingespresso said, on October 17, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for the post Riven. I thanked Harper on her super extensive site earlier, but I’ll address your comments here for simplicity! It’s true (I mention it), that I didn’t give SL a fair shot. And I probably never will, because it really isn’t my thing. I had to log on and check it out for a class, and the post you see is just the totally uneducated and frustrated result; however, people in my class have mentioned that, while extensive, Second Life requires a bit too much effort and research to access content that somebody like me would enjoy.

    Also, my first night living in real Dublin I went to a pub, met about 14 people my age, followed them to a house party, and proceeded to hang out with them every night for two months. So, yeah, in Dublin I think it’s logical to head straight for the pub.

  5. Harper said, on October 18, 2008 at 9:25 am

    In RL Dublin, definitely. Don’t you know, Riven, that the world’s greatest debating clubs are found in Dublin pubs? Forget about those poseurs in the United States Senate (grin)! And where else can you hold forth over the woes of the world in general and the current Taoiseach (prime minister) in particular with a pint in your hand? They won’t let you do that on the Senate floor. (Although, if they tried that in the House of Representatives, it might be a less combative place….)

    The Blarney Stone in Second Life’s main Dublin region (there are 3 Dublins linked together) is normally just as friendly. So is New Fibber Magee’s in Dublin 3, which is often holding get-togethers when the Stone isn’t. I think Simon just got hit on by the rare barnacle that creeps in to any watering hole (go read Spider Robinson’s early Callahan’s Place stories), and a Bloodliner — who, from the sound of things, need to get their act together before they start sinking fangs into the unwary like that.

  6. […] places where newbies cluster, such as freebie stores and instructional islands.  Simon, a gamer, wrote how he tried out Second Life as part of a classroom project.  He materialized in Dublin, and proceeded to the Blarney Stone.  […]

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