~ Archive for Virtual Worlds ~

At the jazz club

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-Hey….where are you…home?
-No, I’m at the studio…
-At this hour? Come on! Do you want to go dancing? There’s a new jazz club at *** and the music is really fine..
T always wants to go dancing. Sometimes I feel bad when I turn him down, not because I am afraid he will be offended, but because I wonder why I would rather be cooped up in my studio rather than enjoying nightlife at a club. It makes me feel like an antisocial person, which I am not. I am- let’s put it this way- selective.

-I don’t know…
-I’d really like you to see this place. And you should meet the owner. She wants to buy some dresses.
-What kind of dresses?
-Formal ones, for the jazz club.
-How formal is a jazz club?
-Very. All the men wear tuxedos.
-Oh.
-Why don’t you wear one of yours so she can see?
-Uhh…ohhh….alright..
-Great. Should I wear black or white?
-Black, I guess?

The way T talks, or the way he pays attention to detail, you immediately suspect that he’s gay, but surprisingly, the story doesn’t quite go that way. He used to be a tall, heavily-built woman with a great sense of fashion. After undergoing a sex change, he is still tall, but now hunky and muscled like the guys that you see on men’s health magazines. Women fall all over him because he has the best manners (probably because he knows best what a woman really wants) but for me, it is strange, because I see a tremendously good-looking guy but my brain still does not recognize him as being male. I am probably the few, if not only people who knew T as a woman.

Following the directions T has given me, I arrive at the club wearing a long dark peacock green halter neck dress with black and gold print. It does not have lavish decor like I thought it would, rather large black and white photographs on the painted walls, a minimal polished floors, and a high ceiling. It looks more like a hall for ballroom dancing than a jazz club, although the band is playing a big brass number.

There aren’t many people and I easily spot T, a head taller than anyone else, dancing with a red-headed young woman. He spots me and comes over.
-Hey.
-Hey. You shouldn’t have ended the dance.
-Nah. She’s a regular. Wow, you look great! How about a slow tango?

It’s the second time dancing with T since he’s become a man and I still find it disturbing, especially when our bodies are close, but being the stupid person I am, I can’t say “no” and so we start to tango. Of course, trying to avoid rubbing my torso into his, the dance isn’t entirely smooth.
-I’m stepping all over your feet.
-It’s okay. Let’s take it from the beginning again.
T is extremely patient. We start again from the beginning.
-I really love this dress. It shows off all the right curves.
-Uhh…yeah. Thanks. But I’m too short to tango with you, your face is too far up.
-You should have worn heels.
-I did.
-Oh….Oh well…so how do you think I look?
-You look great. Like a Chippendale.
T beams.
-That’s the look I’m going for. It’s much better than before, isn’t it?

I couldn’t answer for some time because I couldn’t figure out whether “before” meant “before” as in when I saw him earlier, or “before” as in when he was woman. He must have sensed my confusion because he said,
-Okay, you don’t have to say.
-Well, what can say…you’re tall and attractive. You know I like my men tall…but…
-But?
-Well…I don’t know where I should be making the comparison to…
-Okay okay. Waltz?

Waltzing was much better. It was more fun, twirling around the room, with air rushing between our bodies, and women sitting at tables admiring us- or rather, admiring my partner and envying me. Twirling around and swishing my silk skirts put me in a happy, giddy, gloating mode.

Later, when we were slow dancing, I finally found the courage to ask T the question that had been on the tip of my tongue for the entire night.
-So. When are you getting married?
-I don’t know. We only exchanged loyalty rings. She’s the love of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been so much in love.
-That’s great.
-Thank you.
-What about you? Still the independent woman?
-The contrary. I’m hopelessly dependent, only I haven’t found anyone.
-I’m sorry for that.
-It’s okay.
-We don’t meet often, but I’m glad we kept in touch.
-Me too.

I had a ton of questions: did his lover know that he was previously a woman? Did they have sex? Did his lover know that he was a woman, would he have to hide that forever? What would happen if he one day told her? Would things still be the same?
Unfortunately, these questions had to be left unanswered.

Final Writeup for CyberOne

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*Note: This was written about my final group project for CyberOne, which was about voice implementation in Second Life. Second Life did not have voice features at the time

1. What were the topic and goals of your group project for CyberOne?

The topic of our group project was to discuss voice introduction into Second Life and address what Linden Labs or Second Life users should do to prevent discrimination of certain user groups.

Our goals were in several phases, because we started out without having a concrete problem, but with the fact that a new technology or service was going to be introduced, and thinking of the problems that could arise from that service.

We began with trying to organize the pros and cons of voice implementation and then went from there to looking at potential problems that could stem from the demerits. We had a very unique project in the sense that we were not trying to solve one specific problem, but rather exploring various scenarios on hypothetical situations based on somewhat similar precedents in cyberspace and real life in how implementation of new technology creates benefits as well as disadvantages.

2. Explain the empathic argument behind your project idea. Who were you trying to persuade? What were the interests of the people you were trying to persuade? How did you find out what their interests were?

Our group project was extremely interesting in that we had a very strong empathic argument going from our very first meeting, because some members advocated voice services and others didn’t.

In an immediate sense, we were trying to persuade Linden Labs, but in a broader sense, we were addressing all users of Second Life. This was a difficult task because we had chosen a service that has not been implemented yet and therefore we could not compile any raw data based people’s current sentiments.

Our main empathic argument was to acknowledge the point that voice brought a number of benefits to Second Life and that implementation of voice does not necessarily mean abandoning text functions, but that introduction of voice itself would inevitably discriminate certain groups or people in certain situations. We especially wanted to point out that voice could actually be threatening or pose emotional distress to people with voice-related disabilities, such as lisps, stutters, or non-native English speakers. We also wanted to address the fact that people may not be in situations to use voice because of work or because they do not wish to reveal their identity, and make sure that these people are not discriminated if the majority becomes to use voice.

We discovered the interests of the parties involved by talking with people who were directly inflicted with voice-related handicaps.

3.How did your project attempt (or plan to attempt) to persuade people? That is, once you had the idea what did you do with it?

One of the biggest problems with our project, as briefly mentioned above, was that it was difficult to persuade people about a problem that has not even taken place. In the case of Second Life users, we had several vague plans on raising awareness so that people would respect (text) chatters. We even went to the extent as to say that we should make Linden promise not to make voice a default like chat is now, so that people are not pressured to think that they have to use voice. However, we did not get to this stage of our project.

4. What aspects of your group project did you contribute significantly to? Please list and describe them in detail.

I believe my experience in actually “living” a digital life contributed greatly in foreseeing possible problems. Towards the end of the semester, I took on the role of group leader, because I had the highest attendance level of group meetings and therefore had the best sense of the developments in our projects. This leadership role, however, taken up at too late a point, was only used to assign specific tasks for the final project. I was also in charge of making a final machinima after each of the other members uploaded their podcasts.

5. If your group had more time to devote to the project–for instance, if the course still had a month left–what would you do next on your project? Are there things about your project that you would do differently if you could start again?

Although the topic of our project was interesting, if I had a month left, I would change the topic altogether and focus not on a hypothetical problem, but on one of more imminent interest, such as urban zoning issues, which could evoke more immediate response.

I believe bad choice of our topic came from our lack of knowledge about Second Life and over-enthusiasm for new services. Problems in Second Life, however, cannot be found without spending more time in Second Life. This would require all the members to devote more hours to the virtual world, which is a very demanding and a difficult thing to request since all members are busy in real life.

If topic-changing is not possible, an important thing that our group lacked was finding a very specific thesis statement that involves actual action. It would have been nice to spend more time on honing that section.

6. Tell us about your experience in Second Life this semester. We’re interested in how it affected your experience of the class, your relationships with us and fellow students, etc. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?

Second Life proved to be a very intimate and friendly place, perfect for building interpersonal relationships. Although we were speaking through avatars, the fact that the meetings were taking place real-time and in person made SL meetings very “real.”

I especially appreciated how close I, as a distance education student, could feel with my instructors and felt that such classes in 3D virtual worlds are optimal for giving lectures the ‘personal touch.’ That intimacy also applies to classmates- in other distance classes, it was difficult to form a relationship with other classmates or engage in a real-time conversation. Second Life gives the student a chance of experiencing a very realistic, participative class that increases the quality of course itself.

The main negative aspect about Second Life is that people still consider it as a game instead of a virtual platform. There is little sense of classroom ethics or decorum or other basic rules that people would naturally keep in real life, but dismiss lightly because Second Life is a cyber platform.

I do not think that offline education should be Spartan, but a certain level of online etiquette and stricter classroom rules should be introduced so that SL courses can be more effective.

As for personal observations regarding Second Life, I believe there are so many elements within Second Life that can be explored and studied, but that getting involved in any of the socio-economic issues within Second Life can result in a lot of time consumption. Since Second Life is just as complicated as real life in how it is structured, telling a student to “go learn about Second Life” is like sending one on a needle search in a haystack. Because of the great amount of time that Second Life requires for one to do anything of any significance, Second Life as a mere place of congregation and Second Life as a subject of study should be two entirely different things.

Carlo Pimpernel exhibition in Second Life

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Carlo

I had the pleasure of meeting the Dutch painter Carlo Pimpernel at a special exhibition held at the Kanno Gallery. This special exhibit took up the entire second floor and was composed mainly of abstract works and landscapes. Carlo was present in an SL avatar, and I was lucky to discuss with him on several of his paintings. I liked his abstracts better than his landscapes, which were mainly of Tuscane, Italy. The landscapes were too loud, and too reminiscent of van Gogh, although the bold colors and powerful brush strokes were apparently Carlo’s style.

I asked Carlo why he chose to host an exhibition in SL- he said that he wanted more people to see his work, although he admitted that the paintings were much “better” in RL. I certainly agreed with the latter. Although I could sense to a certain extent what the paintings looked like, I could not grasp the texture of the canvas or the actual three-dimensional feel of the paint. It is one thing to be looking at artwork on the Web and another to be looking at it in RL. It is something the Internet will not be able to replace.

I thought it was ironic, therefore, that the Kanno Gallery was selling Carlo’s paintings not as the originals, but as “contents” for 600L each (So the painting continues to hang in the gallery and I take home another “original” painting). Of course, all of the paintings at the exhibition are RL paintings, but in SL, the paintings were only reproductions of the original. So in a sense, Kanno could sell a hundred reproductions of the same painting. So for the person buying Carlo’s painting in SL, the painting does not hold any huge value. Perhaps Carlo should have made the paintings no mod/no copy and sold the ones that were hanging instead of copies.

(more…)

Website link on Berkman’s Cyber Island

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I caught Becca one day, setting up some “boards” on Berkman Island that link us to the course Web site. She had been talking about (and actually working on) creating a robot that would serve as a tour guide for the island, but making a tour guide is apparently not an easy task that requires extremely advanced scripting skills. So she decided that the first thing to do was to let people know what we’re doing at Berkman, and that providing a link to the Web site would do just that.

becca1.jpg

Whenever I talk to Becca through chat, I feel very comfortable with her and only sense her as a very intelligent, young woman. However, when I actually hear her speaking, it is an entirely different story. There is something very empowering about her voice that awes you. It is funny because Professor Nesson also has a very empowering voice, only their styles are completely different. He is the mesmerizing, hypnotizing chanter, sending out heavy puffs of his own logic that settles around you like a thick incense. She is as clear and crisp as an early winter morning, her thoughts ringing out like bells.

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