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Tag Archives: virtual worlds

AFK sex, the popularity paradox, and the lack of male avatars

Going back into Second Life after three years has given me a lot to think about. I wander looking for interesting things and people, then spend equally as much time pondering what I’ve found.

Princess and the Elephants

At Luanes Magical World in Morning Glow

I’ve started several posts but, being a methodical person, I keep stopping and asking myself more questions. Could this be the result of selection bias? What is really going on? How do others react to this? So, I thought I’d share what I’m working on. If you have any people I should speak with or things I should read to get more perspective, please pass those along to Kay Jiersen (in SL) or kayjiersen at gmail.

Where are the men?

My observation after exploring a variety of SL regions that were not particularly gendered was that there are fewer avatars presenting as male than there were in the past. I don’t have historic numbers to compare against but I have started a study counting avatars in public spaces. Primarily, I’m looking at gender presentation of avatars in user profiles — not the people in RL nor their appearance at the time. There are ways I could dig deeper into this and perhaps I will, but this is a start. In my sample thus far, male avatars (of any species/type) are about 27% and avatars of undetermined gender are about 4%.

AFK sex venues

You can’t search the in-world destination guide without coming across these, because the continual presence of parked avatars drives their traffic numbers to the top of the list. For people unfamiliar with Second Life, these are relatively new areas where unattended avatars are left on furniture that has scripted sex animations, while the RL people behind them (theoretically) leave the screen and go on with their physical lives. A client avatar can join the AFK escort on the furniture and take charge of the controls. There is no personal interaction, but the visuals are the same as if there was an active human controlling the other avatar. Payment is made by tipping the escort and proceeds are automatically split with the venue. Popping into several to look around, I’ve never seen an active client (though I have seen AFK escorts being utilized at less specific venues). I’m awfully curious about these places and the avatars that use them, actively and passively.

Traffic, popularity, and concurrency

As mentioned above, having avatars at a venue all the time will raise its position in the search results. I visited a highly-ranked beach sim last week that had more than a dozen voluptuous, scantily-clad female avatars milling around the landing point and on the dance floor. They had profiles like those you’d find in any crowd, none of which said they were bots. I watched them as I explored. They went through their AO (animation override) standing motions, but none danced, walked around, or interacted. There was no local chat. So, I started running through them like the cue ball breaking the triangle on a pool table, and there was no reaction. Bots. The place looked full at first glance but felt dead.

On the same weekend, I experienced two venues that had legitimate crowds: a store that ran a 50% off everything sale and a club with live musicians. The unfortunate truth is that popularity in a virtual space presents a paradox: the performance of the region degrades as more avatars enter and interact. Concurrency is a technical challenge where improvement has been sluggish, no matter the platform. (Philip Rosedale wrote a good explanation on the High Fidelity blog in September, when they achieved 356 avatars in a single instance on that service.)

Since my technical interest is tempered by my anthropological mindset, I’m curious more about the lived experience of being alone, surrounded by bots, and in a glitchy crowd in a virtual space. That’s what I’ll explore in depth, soon.

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An hour in Sansar

When I read about a historic roleplaying sim moving from Second Life to Sansar, my reaction was surprise that it was still a thing. I know, I know; while I was away from SL, I didn’t frequent the virtual world blogs either. I had an hour and a decent desktop computer, so I took a Sansar trip.

The software installed while I picked up some free clothing in the store and read help articles to learn basic functionality. A little customization and voila: Sansar me. My avatar won’t win any beauty contests and I was surprisingly annoyed that I couldn’t change eye color — live 40+ years with an unusual eye color in RL and it starts to become part of your identity — but I love what can be done with Marvelous Designer clothing.

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I visited Sky Naturae Virtualis by Alex and the Lost Art of Star Wars by Hollywood Art Museum, but it was No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man by Smithsonian American Art that made me start to feel impressed. Sure, my avatar was clumping awkwardly through the rooms, but the displays were gorgeous. I’m a virtual art aficionado and the detail, lighting, moving elements, and sound integration had me gobsmacked. The camera controls or lack thereof were frustrating; I’m not sure if that was my newness or limitations in the Windows version of the app.

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There were a few people here and there, but I didn’t stop to chat. I still had a little time and decided to see what creating an experience of my own would be like. The easiest way seems to be to choose a starting layout and then play with the tools. I… well, I learned how to throw things.

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They’re planning to put Sansar on Steam by the end of the year, and I can see going back as a virtual tourist again. I think it was a little easier to get started in Sansar than SL, though I had to restart on my first try. It was very pretty. Does that sound like faint praise? I suppose it is. With all that Linden Lab should have learned in the past 15 years, I thought that at this point in Project Sansar, the effort would either be dead or far further along.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Art in SL, Culture

 

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The world, three years later

Other than volunteering at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conferences for a couple years, I haven’t been in Second Life since very early 2016. Instead, I played some video games (ArcheAge, Subnautica, No Man’s Sky) and learned to make vector art in the time I had to play at my computer. My curiosity turned back toward SL recently. After all, my first avatar is over 13 years old and I maintained two premium accounts even when I wasn’t in-world. I believe in SL. So, I updated my Firestorm viewer and signed on.

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In many ways, it was as if I never left. This was a truly unusual experience in an interactive space. A couple people on my Friends list were online, my property was exactly the same as almost 3 years prior. I still had everything in my inventory and my avatars looked fairly good. It was strange and wonderful to see that the databases that hold all my “stuff” hadn’t been purged, as would usually happen in an MMORPG.

Since my home is on the mainland, the most obvious changes were in my neighborhood. I think there are a couple skyboxes, but I’m the only resident on ground level in my region. My little rectangle exists in perpetual spring, surrounded by abandoned land. I did some cleanup, played with the pet wolf that Jakob had given me, refreshed my memory about how to navigate, and then went wandering.

I visited a few stores that I used to like; they’re still there, and things I bought in 2015 remain available (often on the discount rack).  My store credit was valid and I had years of group gifts to pick up. I traveled to areas where I used to socialize and found that they exist as well, but they have new owners, new rules, and new direction. I checked out an art piece by Bryn Oh and strolled through a gallery, and I was pleased to see that Templemore is still putting on live shows.

I’d only been in-world a couple days before some random guy chatted me up at a store and then tried to get me to send him a RL pic. What is this, 2006? I’m up for a chat, but ffs, going from zero to RL pic in 5 minutes leads to whiplash. Which might have been something he was into… I didn’t really want to know.

Now, I can’t say that I’ll be on SL often. Looking at some of my friends’ profiles, I got reminders of the drama that never interested me. I missed the profusion of mesh heads and doing some bento shopping made me despair about the learning curve. I’ll soon start a new job that will put more demands on my time. Yet on the other hand, I’m feeling the pull of this creative and intriguing space. We’ll see.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Art in SL, Embodied Experience

 

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I’d love a virtual world/MMORPG mashup

Second Life isn’t a place I spend much time now, though my posts about SL continue to be get the most traffic and my daily companions also have unused, long time SL avatars. I’m more active in ArcheAge than ever. I left my drama-filled guild and now spend most of my time with my game family and a few friends, caring for our land, transporting trade packs for cash, running dungeons, hijacking enemy vehicles, and poking at enemies who are too highly geared for us to do more than annoy. One couple I know from AA met in SL and now live together and others were active SL residents for years.

One of those friends recently remarked that a mashup of AA and SL would be fantastic. He was thinking about the houses in AA, which are little more than storage locations with very limited opportunities for self-expression, but I think there’s a bigger point to pull from that. MMORPGs could benefit from the sort of interpersonal expression and connection that SL enables. I’m not just talking about sex (though if it’s an adult game, why not?), but the ability to dance with friends, stream your own music in your home, cuddle on a couch, etc.

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From a game standpoint, SL suffers from a lack of things to do. I know some of you will be tempted to jump in here and lecture me about the fine clubs, performances, creative opportunities, experimental game areas, etc. Believe me, I know!  I love those things. Yet most of the time I’m in SL, what am I doing? Remaining relatively stationary in my surroundings and talking with one person or a small group of people. Exploring areas together is difficult without using voice chat to coordinate. We could play a short game, but those are rudimentary at best even if the graphics are jaw-dropping. However, I can move my avatar in ways I’ve designed, have whatever appearance I like, invite people to my completely customized home, and have a visual replication of real human interaction.

Every MMORPG I’ve played offered limited expression and interaction. While Second Life puts creation in the hands of the residents, so each avatar and home can be unique, MMORPGs tend to be stingy with customization: putting costume dyes in a cash shop, requiring multiple purchases or crafting steps to add a graphic overlay to a small number of items, and building up demand (and therefore cash flow) by releasing some items as untradeable rare drops from cash shop chests. As far as interaction, some have interpersonal emotes and allow families/marriages/partnerships. But really, they are games and designed around activities, not social life. When I’m in AA, I might be talking with friends just as I would be in SL, but we’re simultaneously doing something, even if we’re in transit to an island on a ship, planting ginseng seedlings, or laying in wait to ambush enemies.  It’s possible to run out of things you want to do, but there are always more things you could.

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Can you imagine how exciting a combination of the two world types could be, though? Strong game mechanics, with daily events, quests strings, dungeons and raids, crafting/farming/fishing/etc, PVE and PVP, accompanied by rich personalization and interaction? A player-driven economy that also includes items created by those players? A multitude of things to do at any hour of the day, plus all the tools needed to make a comfortable sanctuary if you don’t want to leave your virtual home? When I was a solo player, I would have appreciated more choices to have a unique appearance. Now that I’m more social, the limitations of rigid furniture poses and car radios that play the same loops of music really bug me. I suppose I’ll keep dreaming of an open platform MMORPG that is truly the best of both worlds.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Gaming

 

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Second Life: conference, land sale

I’m happy to say that I’ll be volunteering at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference again this year. It takes place from March 9-12 in SL and OpenGrid and everyone is welcome to attend, no charge. Some of the sessions are also streamed live and recorded to watch later.

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And that’s where I come in. Last year I volunteered as a greeter and a mentor: before the event I helped presenters get set up with the technology they needed, I served as on-site tech support during their events, and for a few hours, I stood at a landing point and welcomed attendees. Those weren’t the best assignments for someone who is terribly shy around strangers. Interactions are easier in a virtual world but I still get tongue-tied (finger-tied?) and uncomfortable.

So, this year I volunteered to be part of the streaming team. Not only is there less personal interaction, but I get to have the fun of working the camera and producing video content from the conference. Yesterday I attended a training meeting with other members of the streaming team and I’m excited by the possibility of creating professional grade recordings of an SL live event. I’m looking forward to learning more and playing with the tools in my spare time.

I haven’t been in SL much at all lately, which leads me to my next topic: my parcel on the Heterocera Atoll mainland. If any of you are looking for a quiet, low-lag place to drop a skybox or build on the uneven terrain, ping me (in SL as Kay Jiersen or with that same name – no spaces – at gmail). I’ve already abandoned a couple sections of my land, but I plan to give up another 3000 m² and limit myself to the land allowance on my premium accounts. The region I’m in is almost empty, just two long-term SL residents and abandoned land.  I’d happily chop off a section for one of my blog readers and sell it for L$ pocket change rather than abandoning it to be wasteland. In a perfect world, Linden Lab would say, “Oh, Kay! We’d really prefer you to just keep the land, because you landscape it nicely and don’t run idiotic scripts or put up ban lines, so we’ll waive your tier!”, but let’s not talk crazy.

Yesterday I was discussing my SL land with a new companion. I told him that honestly, part of the difficulty in downsizing is getting rid of things that belonged to Jakob that are rezzed on the parcel: bouquets of flowers, wind chimes, a lotus pond. “Take photos of them, then return them,” was his practical response. “Either way, it’s all just pixels.” True, but that doesn’t make it much easier.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Learning, Relationships

 

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Small update: Gear VR, ArcheAge, SL

Sorry for neglecting this blog. I have two half-written posts but I ran out of steam and interest before they were done. So, a small update to get back in the swing of things:

I’ll have more coming about the Samsung Gear VR soon, but I haven’t picked it up again after the first day I tried. Why? Mainly because I’m doing other things in my free time and a VR headset doesn’t allow for multitasking. I’ve also been having headaches; wearing a headset that might make them worse is unappealing. But, I’ll confess, it’s also because I was underwhelmed with my first experiences. 360 degree photos didn’t seem more interesting just because I could move my head rather than my mouse to look around. The few short videos were unimpressive and overall, the things I viewed were low resolution and sometimes blurry. My phone overheated before I was able to try more. I’ve downloaded a few free apps and I’ll try a game or two soon.

Reading some forums about the Gear VR made me wonder if I might be jaded by more than a decade in Second Life. I often wander SL in mouselook (first person) view, where I can scan a full 360 degrees. Moving through a 3D environment and looking around is second nature to me and maybe I don’t feel much of a difference between turning my head and using a mouse. Earlier, when I saw videos of people freaking out because they could look all around a VR scene, I wondered if there was some magical mind-body integration that I couldn’t yet imagine. So far, I haven’t seen one. I’m certainly leaving the possibility open and hoping to be wowed soon. Anyone else have an experience to share?

During the holidays I got more swept up in ArcheAge and even gave up my solitary ways to spend time causing mischief with guildmates and chatting in TeamSpeak. There is so much drama, soap opera writers would roll their eyes! I’m trying to keep some separation between myself and the worst of it, but I’m in a divisive guild with a polarizing leader. I’m stunned by how much time and money others pump into this MMORPG. I’m limited in both, which keeps me out of the upper tier of players and under the radar for a lot of trouble. However, my gaming/virtual world time being spent more in that world than any other… for now, until I get bored or the drama gets to be too much.

I’ve been trying to divide the mainland parcel I own in Second Life to get down to a lower tier payment, but since I’m dealing with a couple of premium accounts and a group land bonus, the math is complicated and I’m trying to find a last ~100 m² to cut off. It’s been almost a month since Jakob died and spending too much time at that parcel still makes me melancholy. At least his sister has stopped sending me photos of his coffin and grave. It was kind that she included me and recognized that we had been important to each other, but those photos were very hard.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Digital Devices, Gaming, Side Topics

 

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Second Life road trip: Heterocera Atoll part 1

The SL mainland doesn’t have the best reputation. With no zoning laws and limited control over the terrain and atmosphere, the mainland continents can be chaotic. That chaos can hide gems, though, which is one of the reasons I enjoy living there. Today I dismantled my skybox, leaving a platform and a large box to contain objects owned by Jakob: windchimes, a lotus pond, and lots of bouquets of red roses. I’ll arrange them neatly and give myself a space to sit and reflect until his account is deactivated. I still have my office on ground level as well as a large, landscaped parcel next to the road on the Heterocera Atoll continent. The notion of cutting off part of my parcel to bring down my tier payment is distressing, so I’m making little changes and maybe I’ll be ready by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I started flying around to see what bits of fun I could find on Heterocera. (I adjusted Windlight settings and sometimes applied a Darken filter for detail, but no additional editing has been done to the images below. WYSIWYG.) First I stopped for a coffee at the Damocles Diner in the Spini region. There’s seating for standard and tiny avatars, a nice assortment of refreshments and news boxes, but the swaying train above kept me from lingering.

Damocles Diner

The diner is below an abandoned and incomplete railway line. If you’re a transportation fan, Heterocera has railways, navigable water, a pod tour system, and many public roads. I won’t claim the lag is good — it’s shitty — but you can pull out a vehicle of your choice and get around. If you fly, the sky isn’t overwhelmed with ban lines but you’ll have to dodge skyboxes and towering structures.

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One of the unusual structures on Heterocera is the Great Northern Wall. This is a Linden build; you can walk/ride along the top or through a tunnel inside. Resident builds line the Wall and you can visit the (unofficial?) Great Wall center in the Ziczac region.

Great Wall center

While you won’t see many avatars in my photos, Heterocera is far from empty. There is a lot of abandoned land and in many areas the population density is low, but some places draw crowds. This is a shot of the map with green dots representing people, taken on Saturday afternoon SL time.

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On the SL mainland, each landowner can terraform her parcel only within a limited range of values (which is why I have a steep hill between my office and the back of my property that I can’t flatten). Between odd shapes cut by the various roads, waterways, and railroad tracks and the challenging elevations, residents have had to devise interesting solutions to build at ground level. I snapped a shot of one of the mountains on Heterocera; the peak is the highest point on the SL mainland:

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If you travel along the roadways like I often do, you’ll see a lot of open land. Some of it is truly vacant, but often the resident has a skybox hovering above for more privacy and less concern about the uneven ground. I admire those who have risen to the challenge, though!

Each SL premium account comes with an allocation of 512 square meters worth of free tier, the amount you would pay Linden Lab as a monthly rental fee for mainland space. I know a few people who don’t take advantage of that because they rent or own private islands. Other times, a resident might own mainland space but rarely use it. I had to laugh when I came across this building with the self-aware marquee.

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Sometimes a tiny parcel of land may be all you need, as in the case of this touching little roadside memorial.

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I can’t explore Heterocera without talking a little bit about the Second Life Railroad and the Virtual Railway Consortium, but I’m no expert. I marvel at some of their builds with all the wonder of visiting my childhood neighbor’s basement, where a detailed model train setup filled an entire room. If you’re a train aficionado, the tracks are here for your use! You can even find freebie train givers along the route. I took a little break at one of the stations.

Virtual railway station

Below is a map that was posted there. Further along in my journey, I found a sign by the VRC showing “Second Life Rail Road Traffic” on the continent, with lights indicating where pods and trains — automated ones, I’m assuming — could be found. There were nine pods and three trains active on the sign at the time.

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Because of all these public works builds (literally in most cases, the Linden Department of Public Works), there is a lot of public space on Heterocera. You’ll find piers, picnic areas beside the road, and even little rez zones. I pulled out some furniture to test the access. As a landless avatar, you could do worse than to find a pretty seaside spot to unpack your boxes.

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I’ll continue this trip when the mood strikes. After all, you haven’t seen the hobo lands yet, or Pyri, or the crater, or the temple, or the….

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Art in SL, Side Topics

 

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