Saturday, March 1, 2008

Avatar Adventures in Second Life

Ever since Beth's presentation last year, I have been intrigued by Second Life, but mildly afraid of it as well. My fear did not stem from its content nor the skills necessary to join in the fun, but rather from my own addictive nature. I viewed it as a video game and knew that if someone gave me the push to play, I would really have a hard time stopping. After one week, my opinion has not changed overly much, although the creative nature and educational opportunities of this environment cannot be denied. Not surprisingly, I have found myself drifting about in childlike wonder since my first day. I knew that the first blog entry about Second Life should be written about these early experiences as soon as possible, because with each passing day in Second Life, one looses the innocence that was so palpable on the first day at orientation island.

Innocence is an interesting word to use when describing life "inworld" as most of the main areas are open sewers of avatar in this instance I am referring to Second Life innocence in the sense of inexperience. From the moment of second birth, the learning process begins and hopefully never ends since educational events will continue to be opportunities for learning. In the first days, however, learning is much more physical in nature as you learn how to become an accomplished puppet master for your new avatar.

To prepare for the Second Life plunge I did some homework, which proved to be an invaluable asset in speeding up the inworld learning process. Ironically, one of first things I learned by accident was the original and morphed meanings of the word avatar (according to MSN Encarta):

1. Incarnation of Hindu deity: an incarnation of a Hindu deity in human or animal form, especially one of the incarnations of Vishnu such as Rama and Krishna. (This definition seems to have some bearing on the Second Life existence as the two main forms allowed from the beginning are human and animal - other forms such as space creatures or the Kool-Aid guy can be created or purchased later.)

2. Embodiment of something: somebody who embodies an idea or concept. (Ideas and concepts do seem to flow from these SL avatar puppet masters on a regular basis.)

3. Online image of somebody in virtual reality: a movable three-dimensional image used to represent somebody in cyberspace.

4. Computer games computer game persona: in computer games, a character or persona of a player with a graphical representation.

This long set of definitions is a great example of how our culture is changing from the inside out as technology becomes more and more ingrained in our daily processes.

My next element of homework included watching YouTube videos about what to expect including tips and tricks. I also reviewed the links set up on the Blue 2.0 post which were helpful as reference tools while playing.

One tip I will pass on that I learned while picking out a name for my avatar: all of the last names are provided by SL and should be looked at closely before selection. I was pleasantly surprised by the long list and while making a list of my favorites actually discovered an ancestral surname or two. This meant many of the names were normal....but before I selected the final last name for my avatar, I did a quick Google search...and was VERY glad I did. One of the last names that I had looked at was one letter away from a surname I knew, but that one letter made a difference in cultural slang. Just a word to the wise.

So my avatar, Sifriya Devin, was finally born on February 26th. SL was having some problems that night and into the next day as I did not receive a confirmation e-mail from them at conception and had to e-mail support to get the finishing step. I have learned that technical difficulties are fairly frequent in this program and even orientation island had to be left before completion of all four tasks due to these problems. I was assured by one of the SL mentors floating around orientation island that it was ok to move on to Help island if you experience difficulties....the key earned at the end is purely morale related to provide a happy moment of accomplishment and not needed to move on...or so the bright pink haired avatar informed me as she flew away.

I quickly learned that taking pictures is a very fun activity in SL. This is my avatar's first photo on orientation island. So far, I have not chosen the wild and crazy representation that many have went with, although I am building new manifestations and saving them in files as Beth instructed in her tip sheet. I may have went with a fairly normal person not unlike the generic girl that you can pick at the beginning (keep in mind when beginning the selection process that in order to arrive for the first time in orientation island in a fully clothed state, you should pick one of the avatar choice models or end up arriving in a naked unformed humanoid representation), although, each time I see her, I keep hoping they have automatic contacts in SL as the only glasses I have found so far are groucho glasses which, while giving everyone a good laugh, will not help me maneuver any better. If you see me stumble around inworld, I'll just blame it on a lack of glasses.

The next big area of discovery was UK Island....and I have to say I am very impressed! The library is amazing and I love the nature elements - the water garden in my favorite. Compared to the rest of SL, this is a fantastic place to practice being an avatar. Lots of room to move around, explore, get a free t-shirt, play in the sandbox (a place that allows you to build or open boxes you have received) and meet up with co-workers. This is a picture of my avatar with co-worker avatar Bambi Yokosuka on the front porch of the Niles Cabin. Several of us have thought the SL Young Library would be a great place to host the next departmental staff meeting!

I have not seen any educational events on UK Island this week, but am looking forward to the next offering! There are many other offerings within SL with the libraries being the most active places around. I am looking forward to the next Jane Austen discussion in dress is ready!

While waiting for events, I have taken the opportunity to explore the amazing things in SL. Some of my favorites have been 3D models of places we don't get to see everyday...mainly in places far away or non-existent in First Life. I have also enjoyed visiting other University representations such as UC, one of my old alumni haunts, and the many historical places that include lots of free clothes. Groups are a good way to keep abreast of the upcoming events by sending personal invitations. With so many library groups it is hard to keep up since SL limits group membership to 25. I will admit that one of the most fun things about SL is dressing my avatar in different outfits....much like the old days of dressing up Barbie!

While I wrap this post up, my avatar is lounging at a beach resort watching the sunset in Tel-Aviv. The beach is rather boring compared to the things my avatar has encountered this week. Here is a top ten of our most favorite moments:

10. Dancing the hula 25 times before finding out the SL tutorial was not going work no matter how many times I gave SD a shake.

9. Riding in the UK hot air balloon.

8. Getting a box stuck on my head while in a Budapest Synagogue. The only guy that saw my humiliation was an Anglican Monk...yes I said an Anglican Monk in a Jewish Synagogue - who was trying to convert me, but the box thing was getting in the way.

7. Realizing that long similarly colored pants are required under skirts to prevent embarassing moments when sitting down.

6. Dressing up in my blue Victorian dress and playing the piano on the UK School of music recital stage - complete with sunrise.

5. Walking around the back of an IDF soldier command post and encountering 3 Obama '08 posters in a garden.

4. Getting my picture taken with a giant Easter Bunny on the Piazza in Venice.

3. Sitting in SL Ireland and hearing a live music performance from FL Belfast.

2. Joining a SL Yeshiva taught by a Rabbi in Israel.

1. Touring a 3D model of the first century temple in Jerusalem and a SL version of the Kotel.

On to more fun and my next assignment....hope to see you "inworld" sometime!
CD aka SD

1 comment:

Beth said...

Wow! I have to say that this is one of the best descriptions I've ever read of a newcomer's experiences in Second Life. Excellent job! See you on the island...