May 30, 2006
My neighbour in Matisse (umm…do I even need to say I am talking about Second Life these days? *laugh*) Mathieu has just rebuilt his store to this stylish new look. To celebrate its opening, he gave me this WONDERFUL gift:
It is a radio that streams a whole heap of internet radio stations (and I can add more by voice command) - from my favourite jazz channels, to some fabulous spanish music suitable for my salsa dancing, and a whole host of others. It means I don’t have to keep fiddling with the media settings in my property, all i have to do is click through and find whatever station I want. I love the retro design of the phonograph too - look at the great detail on the record label:
I am finding the mix of old and new / real and virtual objects in Second Life fascinating to study. We rely on old images for various reasons: sentimentality, ease of recognition, the narrative we already bring to certain objects… and yet we’re always pushing the boundaries to find new ways of expressing our creativity that might be considered unique to Second Life. Some old literacies are being reappropriated in new ways, and entirely new literacies are being invented and explored and manipulated every day.
One of my most popular images of the week on flickr is this one - a shot from a synchronised meditation animation taken as the sun sets in the background. Apart from the occasional rudeness and weirdness I must say it is very easy to be swept away with the aesthetics of everything that is beautiful - the poetry of motion, the divine imagery, the perfection of the body, the intellectual interactions with others. What does it mean for my offline life to live in an almost constant state of beauty and perfection in my Second Life?
May 29, 2006
Yesterday I had the most ridiculous encounter I have ever experienced on Second Life. To set the context: I had been sailing with a friend around some of the untouched islands in one of Anshe Chung’s new dreamland sims. It was pretty isolated and maybe on the set of 20 sims or so there was only one or two properties that actually had buildings on them, the rest of the land was empty apart from the most gorgeous landscaping I have seen on Second Life and the ‘for sale’ signs on each plot. It was fun sailing around the various islands and feeling like we had discovered secret secluded spots for a relaxing getaway.
Anyway my friend and I parted company as “real life” beckoned. I went off to cook dinner but left my avatar idling away in the pretty sunset and with the sounds of the ocean and some mellow jazz streaming through the background. I sometimes idle online while doing other things rather than listen to a CD or the TV like that. Anyway I was busy cooking my rice when I started hearing weird sounds coming from my computer - metallic crunching sounds - so I went over to see what was going on, and there standing over me was some security guard with two guns pointed directly at my head!!!!
I said to him: Get those things away from my face!
And he said: WHO ARE YOU?
So I replied, WHO ARE YOU? (I was so stunned by the guns and the affrontery of somebody to point them at me I was not planning on responding to any questions that somebody might have!)
And he then went into some diatribe about how he was the protector of the land for (name censored) and that I was trespassing and I was not welcome there… (why ever the land was not set to prevent access to strangers I cannot fathom if this was the attitude towards them!)
Meanwhile my rice was boiling and my food was ready to eat so I just walked along the beach a few meters to where I was clearly off the borders of the property I had unwittingly “trespassed” on and left myself idling there while I went to eat dinner.
So I ate my dinner, washed the dishes, and hmmm… about 45 minutes later returned to the computer. Only to find that silly little over zealous twit on a power trip STILL standing right there with his guns pointing at my head!!!!! I was totally shocked but I also thought how ridiculous it all was, and just teleported back home before he could say another idiotic word.
So the next thing I know, I receive the following notecard in my inventory:
Hello my name is (i have deleted names for my own safety here!) I work Hacienda De (deleted name), My job here is To Protect Privice and Aninimity of are Guests and Worker. More so There Safty And Well Being.
To this End i Monitor Traffic On The Land Owner By My employer, On This Land I Am Given Full Authority To use ANY/AND ALL Means To Provent A Problem.
This is A Written Warning To Please Follow/ Answer Questions When Posed By Security Personel.
Failuer To Do So Or to show A Valid Reson For This Action Will Result in Your Removel or Restrition of of this land.
Hacienda De (deleted name) Security
Ummm…. can you believe that??? I sent a message to the land owner saying I did not appreciate her security guard’s behaviour and thought that an apology was in order but no apology has been forthcoming as of yet
Now if I was Anshe Chung and had an entire sim full of land I was trying to sell, I would be extremely concerned over the hostile scare tactics being used by the one or two property owners there so far. Who would want to buy property with neighbours who think it is justifiable to run around pointing guns at unsuspecting visitors? I thought about reporting the behaviour but really, who has the time to get caught up in such idiotic politics? Not me. But it did irk me enough to want to write about it here and to reflect on what such childish behaviour might mean in terms of its impact upon real and substantial Second Life businesses.
May 27, 2006
DrJoolz commented about the idea of hetertopias with respect to my previous post on simulacra and it challenged me to make a new post as a response. As I understand it, heterotopia is a Foucauldian concept developed in this paper, from which I extract the following definition (with my boldings):
There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places - places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society - which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias. I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am. The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.
I really like this concept of “seeing ones self where one is not” and yet I am almost inclined to say that when I am in Second Life, I am seeing myself where I AM. I am not sure how to theorise the total immersion I feel, but let’s say this: my avatar sees from the first person camera angle (though I often turn the angle about when I look at myself) so I feel like I have entered the world in which my avatar resides. I engage and interacti with people from the world. I move and animate and respond to others. Lets talk semiotics: I am experiencing say 80% of the visual cues through the screen - the virtual landscape is 3D so the screen becomes invisible and I enter into the 3D as much as possible given the screen is flat. Yet I also keep catching myself moving my physical body closer to the screen to try and shut out the peripheral vision of the real world about me sometimes. The more immersed I get, the closer I move! (Must be terrible for my eyes!). I am also getting all my sound cues from the screen or from the phone/skype if I am talking to somebody at the same time. The music I listen to is streamed through to my property, the sounds of the ocean and birds are background noises that I am much more conscious of than even the sounds of the television if it happens to be on in the background. Emotionally I am caught up in animated discussions with people, and I feel “present” and immersed in what I am doing at that point in time. If we think of the physical body as one semiotic resource, and that resource is not being activated - then the resources that are ebing foregrounded are the ones that are shaping my sense of reality: the visual, the auditory, and the avatar animations. Also for me the social contexts in whcih I am immersed are where I am intellectually and emotionally located - so when we have each of these resources articulating together to make and shape my reality, I am so THERE inside Second Life. The mediation of technology moves me from outside the mirror to a position where I am at the same time outside yet also inside it. I am both voyeur and yet also the object of my gaze (I talked about this more here), but I am a full participant in both worlds.
A long time ago I did my Masters thesis in Drama and I used a term then which best describes what I think is happening for me in my experience of Second Life, and that is METAXIS.
Metaxis: “the state of belonging completely and simultaneously to two different, autonomous worlds: the image of reality and the reality of the image”
I don’t see many people using this term but for me it captures precisely what I am doing: living simultaneously in two different worlds, where my image is reality. When I am inside Second Life, the semiotic resources which are shaping my reality mean that my second life world is foregrounded and is MORE REAL at that point in time than my other world, in which I am sitting alone in a room at a computer. The stimuli of the world is where I AM. I am not actually socially or mentally or emotionally or visually or auditorily in my “physcial” world. And again I return to my favourite theorist, Lemke, who wrote something way back in 1998 that became the beginning of my PhD thesis:
The ultimate display medium is reality itself; what we see, hear, touch and feel; what we manipulate and control; where we feel ourselves to be present and living. … A fast enough computer can simulate reality well enough to fool a large part of our body’s evolved links with its environment. We can create virtual realities, and we can feel as if we are living in them. We can create a sense of full presence… …We can change reality by acts of will… we can be the sorcerers of our dreams and our nightmares. …What is literacy when the distinction between reading and living itself is nominal? When a reality becomes our multimedia text…?
(Lemke, 1998, pp.298-299)
So is this Second Life existence an example of Foucault’s heterotopia? I am still grappling with it because I think the answer is YES AND NO. It is both. I think we have entered a new form of consciousness here right at the border of yes and no actually. What do others think? I would be fascinated to know!
Yesterday I went to a fabulous research seminar by Betty Pun - the title of her presentation was:
Intersemiosis in Film: A metafunctional and multimodal exploration of colour and sound in the films of Wong Kar-wai.
I was so inspired by this presentation and loved working through the analysis of various film clips to uncover how the film maker underscored significant narrative moments using the interactions of various semiotic resources. I haven’t ever seen any of Wong Kar Wai’s films before but now I am going to borrow a whole heap of them from a friend to watch, as the techniques he uses are truly pushing and extending beyond audience expectations from the standard Hollywood fare. I love seeing innovative thinkers and creators of all art forms, but film is so rich with possibilities in terms of the semiotic resources it deploys.
I am deep in multimodal analysis of some films right now myself (getting ready for this conference presentation) and Betty’s talk crystallised a lot of issues I’d been thinking through and reading about in my preparations so it was incredibly fortuitous timing.
May 26, 2006
Lately I find myself totally caught up in the borderlines of reality and fantasy - when walking home from work the other night I captured this pretty sunset and normally I would have been very content with its beuaty. But I caught myself comparing it to the rich blood reds and deep golds of the sunsets in Second Life!!! For anybody wanting to think about this theoretically, I point to Baudrillard’s concept of simulacra. Essentially this is all about semiotics - the signs - that are used to represent reality - and how these signs (whether they be art works, photographs, or virtual landscapes) are idealised versions of the real. Being completely immersed in idealised representations of the real means I am starting to look at the real and not appreciate it as much any more. Its a bit freaky and sometimes I feel like I am immersed in one of my favourite movies, Bladerunner!
Yesterday I met up with my dear friend Paul who is visiting from the States. Paul and I worked together at the University of Tasmania and he was the only person in the entire faculty who thought my research was interesting - he was an amaaaazing support. Paul writes about visual culture and art education, and about fabulous topics like violence and vulgarity in pop culture, aestheticisation of the image, hyperreality and so on - he has been a great inspiration for me and its so fun to sit and chat theory with somebody who is not just sympathetic to, but is excited by my work We sat in the park all afternoon talking about our various research projects, and I made him almost cry with laughter when describing some of my experiences on Second Life - especially some of the more “racy” experiences which simply cannot be blogged about.
May 25, 2006
Alan from CogDogBlog has had his Second Life photoset on flickr branded as NIPSA: Not in public site areas. So his photographs cannot be seen by the public. Why? Because they are deemed to be non-photos.
Now having done several photoshoots in Second Life, I can assure you all that the camera work required to capture the right shots is very much the same as a is required when I use my digital camera. I have to angle the camera about, zoom, find my focal point, wait for the right moment and then capture. (It took me about 15 minutes to capture this perfect sunset on my beachfront the other day). The camera in world might be a different sort of digital camera, but nevertheless I am not just doing a screen capture unless I want to delierately capture the interface for a particular purpose (like my shot of Nonna Hedges where I wanted to have her name included in the shot!).
But this controversy has raised the issue of: What really is a photograph? The shots I have been including in my blog over the past few weeks have reflected a visual record of my experiences on Second Life and are an important part of my ethnographic study of the world. I am sure that anybody reading this blog will have learnt more about it from seeing the photographs than reading my actual posts!!
I think that because I use my flickr site for “real” photos as well as these “non-photos” then I am not contravening their guidelines, but I will be extremely upset if they suddenly go invisible like Alans did!
Over at New World Notes I found this fun link to a facial recognition site called myheritage.com - if you upload a photo of your avatar (or indeed your real self) you can see which celebrity your avatar self resembles. My results are in: I am most like Angelina Jolie I can live with that! If you are a SL resident, try it and let me know which celebrity you are most like!!
Or try your own photo - funnily enough, I discovered I am matched to *drum roll* Kylie!!! I think I can live with that too *laugh*
I had a fascinating conversation on Second Life this evening with a person who told me about a terribly malicious act she had witnessed. I have promised to keep names private to protect people - and before you think I am being melodramatic, remember that Second Life is the location of real businesses, and it subject to real law suits. The story goes a bit like this:
A group of people joined together to manage their own group sim - a large, independent property on Second Life. Owning a sim is extremely expensive - the monthly fees are US $200 - and so a large part of the sim was designed as a shopping mall, where vendors could rent space to sell their products. Apparently a major dispute occurred between the group members that owned the sim. One or more of the group members decided to seek revenge as a result of the dispute, and damaged more than half of the sim! They deleted people’s property, moved things to odd positions, deleted walls to buildings, destroyed the landscaping, and effectively shut down a whole heap of businesses by taking things out of the shops and returning them directly to their owners. People were called in to repair the sim and rebuild as much as possible, but much of it was lost and had to be completely rebuilt. One person spent over 10 hours straight working on the most important repairs to the shopping mall. Meanwhile the rest of the sim is barren or weirdly misshapen - the Egyptian theme is difficult to recognise as the pyramids are askew and the sphinx was deleted. Large holes appear where the plam trees once were. The owner was and is distraught - this is not just personally hurtful, but financially damaging in a significant way. The personal and financial investment she had made into running the sim was considerable. Many people relied on her and the group she worked with. This is a small business disaster for her: months of work destroyed, and business reputation now on very shaky grounds.
It makes me think again about the acts of violence that can occur in virtual contexts with such ease and without seeming consequence by the perpetrators. It makes me think again about the trust I have bestowed on virtual friends - and how tenuous the threads of communication sometimes are and how misunderstandings can be blown so out of proportion. One of my friends that I am working closely with in developing ideas talks with me almost every day on the telephone and sometimes it is just so much easier and quicker to be in Second Life doing the creating and exploring and experimenting, but using the phone to communicate. I completely trust this friend. But I am negotiating with another woman to buy her property and she first asked me to give her the money personally rather than buy it through the normal channels. I refused because it takes me a long time to trust strangers - but it means I have not yet managed to get the property I want because I insulted her by asking her to sell it to me in the normal way. I think because of the economics of the world we are subject to a greater variety of negative acts. I remember so long ago reading the “rape in cyberspace” case - where somebody took control of another person’s avatar and performed lewd acts - and how profound that case because in thinking about violence in virtual contexts. But this example, where an entire land has been savagely raped - it is truly horrific. Thank goodness there are angels of mercy called “sim repairers” who are willing to spend hours rebuilding and salvaging and helping out the victims.
Many thanks to my friend Amy who introduced me to a friend of a friend of a friend who was involved (all so secret and mysterious I know!)
May 23, 2006
Let’s see how people respond….
May 22, 2006
After attending a brilliant seminar this evening on language and identity I’ve been stimulated to reflect on two negative experiences I’ve had over the past week in Second Life. These incidents both disturbed me and I feel that they were both violent and othering in their effect on me.
1. My visit to DarkRose Castle
My good friend Trasgo is an online DJ and he invited me to his live broadcast event which was streamed into Second Life. His shift was delayed somewhat while another guy was DJ-ing and so I arrived at the event early. What I didnt understand was that the location of the event varied according to the DJ, so I ended up in the wrong location: a Gothic horror private roleplaying sim. I dragged Kronos along with me, and we arrived in our normal avatar states: blonde, casual clothing, kind of Barbie and Ken avatars. It was obvious that we were guests because we stood out so markedly from the crowd of goths there. Yet all attempts at conversation were ignored - we were given a curt nod, a couple of hellos, and then when I asked a question of one guy, he just looked me up and down and then turned around and walked away. It was so like we were invisible that I really felt hurt. The hostility was so strong - I felt very uncomfortable. I tried to make a comment about it to the rude person who walked away to me but he pretty much told me to ********* chill out. There were other guests there but they were dressed appropriately and seemed to know “the Prince” so were accepted immediately. in fact, they were offered tours of the castle. Kronos thought we were being offered a tour and asked about it, but was ignored. The Othering I felt at this event was painful - the silence of the goths towards me was a violent experience and it literally took me over 10 minutes to start talking to Kronos again normally because I felt so hurt.
The seminar today focussed a lot on Derrida and the notion that identity always involves exclusion. Derrida talks about the boundaries of identity as painful and conflicted, and the violence - either actual or potential - played by the role of language in identity construction. At this goth site I felt these boundaries and I felt excluded. What pained me most was that I actually love the goth aesthetic and even have some goth clothes in my real life for special occasions. But I dont have a goth avatar and here I was marginalised by multiple semiotic means: I had the wrong image, I didn’t have access to the knowledge required to participate in conversation, I didn’t understand how to behave in this context.
Let me talk about my avatar for a moment as a segueway into experience 2. I have deliberately chosen a “Barbie” avatar for a number of reasons:
- because I wanted a human avatar to be more approachable for my students when they come on
- because I did not want to be marginalised by the general population for being different
- because I am fascinated with the aestheticisation of beauty and its effect on identity
- and because its fun to indulge in a certain set of feminine fantasies which will never be my reality
Because of this I have invested a lot of time and real money into my shape, skin, hair, makeup, clothes, gestures, animations and other bits and pieces. So I am heavily invested in the avatar I have right now and to be excluded or mocked or ignored because of my avatar is WORSE than a personal insult - because my avatar reflects so many things that are ME - my choices, my desires, my ideas, my aesthetics. So this leads me to talk about:
2. My changeling friend
I have a friend who will remain nameless who changes her avatar frequently. She likes tinkering with her identity and I get great amusement at the new personas she adopts. She knows I am fascinated with identity and that I write about it, so she often trials new looks and personae with me. One day recently she im-ed me that she had a great new look to show me. When she arrived, I laughed when I saw the look: it was like a fairy version of Ursula from The Little Mermaid. But my humour soon turned to shock when my friend started talking with an entirely new linguistic pattern, an entirely new voice, and in an extremely aggressive manner. I couldn’t believe it was my friend because she was just so… awful. She was condescending, mocking, and…. and here comes the painful blow…. she called me (very derisively): DOLLFACE! I was stunned because as I said, I had invested so much of my time and energy and self into making my avatar, and here she was mocking me!! It actually hurt my feelings even though I knew what she was doing and why she was doing it. I started wondering whether my friend secretly thought I was betraying my feminist ideals by choosing a beautiful avatar - she made me feel ashamed of myself for my decisions. It was really quite horrid, even though I laughed it off. I am sure people reading this will think it silly, but I was genuinely hurt by my friend’s comment.
And today when I listened to theorisations of language, identity and othering, and thought about the ways society and language can softly, discreetly but absolutely violently Other and Alienate, I began to wonder what it might it be like if I was forever caught in that Goth castle and silenced, or constantly spoken to with derision and contempt by so called friends. My two little instances of violence through language are fleeting - just minor moments in my usual joyous Second Life. But hearing about Derrida and learning more about his critique of the intellectual structures which are associated with violence, truly helped me to understand these moments.
I’m slowly getting to know some of my neighbours on Second Life. Yesterday Mathieu, who lives a few houses along the beachfront, dropped in to introduce himself. Mathieu is a designer in his “first life” (specialising in typography) and is experimenting with adapting some of his design ideas in the second life context. He showed me some incredible looking chairs he’d spent ages building. Then today he dropped by to give me a present - this statue here - the photo doesn’t do it justice because (as well as cropping it and not getting the angle right here) it has steam coming out of it and gives oracle-like messages when touched How cool is that!! And how neighbourly of Mathieu - the sense of community is surprising *smile*
And I have two very lovely new neighbours directly to my left but I am waiting to catch them online at the same time to take a snapshot of them together for the blog
The past three weeks I have been busy assessing student teachers out in schools as they practice teaching. I spent this morning in a Kindergarten class and the student was teaching the children - 4 and 5 year olds - about the letter ‘x’. Before the student teacher could even ask the class if anybody knew any words with ‘x’ in them, one litte kid called out: “X BOX!!!”
I was sitting in the corner of the room trying to be unobtrusive but it was very hard not to laugh I love it that gaming has filtered into everyday practices and is no longer marginalised as the domain of the geek. I am reading a fabulous paper about gaming culture right now with links to Bourdieu and third space… but more of that later.
May 21, 2006
My fellow movie-making enthusiast, personal photographer and director on Second Life is Kronos, and this week he has been teaching me a lot about the grammar of cinematography - from way points to motion capture filming techniques! Click above to view a short movie of my modest little Second Life home*smile*
here’s my favourite shot from the photoshoot I did with Kronos:
and after an experience where we felt like we were caught up in the Rocky Horror movie and I was caught in this gothic horror shot:
we went exploring some of the studio backlots on Second Life - truly fascinating, and very exciting now that I am a starlet and a co-author of movie script
May 19, 2006
The past two days I’ve managed to spend even more time in Second Life and have had the pleasure of meeting some fascinating new people and learning more about the creativity of others. Kronos did a photoshoot of me dressed in a Valkyrie outfit and taught me how to manipulate my gaze to make it deliberately focussed on the one spot:
Jason introduced me to Christie Dena, whose work I so admire from Writer Response Theory!!! Here I am playing the flute and chatting with her and Jason:
Clames showed me this amazing moving, musical sculpture that you can experience as a rather trippy ride:
and Nonna Hedges the goddess of fashion gave me my very own Christmas on Second Life by giving me many many many of her outfits FREE - what a doll, i thought I had died and gone to heaven!! I am an official Nonna Hedges groupie now! Jason is going to phone her and interview her for his lecture series so I will be fascinated to hear more about the business side of her fashion empire on Second Life. But I was having too much fun at her place trying on outfits and talking to models and photographers to talk seriously about anything *laugh* Here’s me modelling yet another of her gorgeous outfits:
May 18, 2006
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Yes, today I met the Second Life fashion icon and my idol, Nonna Hedges and there we are together (and with Wisper) in her modelling studio!!! I am afraid I gushed like a real groupie but she was very kind and even took me shoe shopping to her favourite Second Life store! What a delightful person as well as incredibly talented. She told me that her Second Life business is her full time job. Amazing.
And speaking of idols, here is my brother Matthew playing backing for Australian music star (and former Australian Idol winner) Anthony Callea:
and here is my niece Laura (on the right) and her friend with Anthony Callea as well (he was in Tasmania yesterday):