Author Archives: Inara Pey

About Inara Pey

Eclectic virtual world blogger with a focus on Second Life. My blog can be found below and I'm semi-active on Twitter and Plurk.

Bright Canopy launches new blog – and a competition

Bright CanopyBright Canopy’s new blog has launched, and with it a competition as well.

The blog, which will be used to keep people up-to-date with developments in the project and news on things like the upcoming pre-launch beta testing, is still a work-in-progress, and the introductory note indicates there may be a few changes as things settle down.

As well as the introductory note, the blog also carries a brief update, which includes some news on the forthcoming pre-launch beta programme, and also information on the aforementioned competition.

This is a photo contest, and on offer is a free month’s subscription to Bright Canopy once it officially launches.

Those interested in participating are invited to submit a snapshot, taken in-world, which can be used as the background image for the Bright Canopy desktop  – the screen users will see when they log-in to the service,  and which allows them to launch the viewer to access Second Life or OpenSim.

Snapshots must be at least 2000×1378 pixels, and must be PG in nature – so no nudity! The guidelines for the competition note that Bright Canopy are looking for images that will make a good desktop background; things like in-world landscape pictures. They note that avatars can be included, but shouldn’t be the primary focus.

Submission can be made via one of the following methods:

All entries should feature the hashtag #SLFreedom, and those entering via Twitter or Google+ message should also follow Bright Canopy, while those entering via Facebook are asked to Like the Bright Canopy page. In addition, all entries must be submitted through the chose channel no later than 23:59 pm PDT on Friday, May 24th, 2015. Please make sure you ready the competition notes and guidelines in the Bright Canopy blog prior to entering.

There’s currently no date for the official launch of the service, so the winner may have a short wait before the closing date and getting access to Bright Canopy.

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A perspective on avatars and identity

Veronica Sidwell in Second Life (image: Veronica Sidwell, as used by VICE)

Veronica Sidwell in Second Life (image: Veronica Sidwell, as used by VICE)

On Wednesday, April 15th, Xiola Linden Tweeted about an article that appeared in the Motherboard section of the VICE web magazine which makes for an interesting read.

Avatar IRL is a piece  by Cecilia D’Anastasio focusing on the question of avatar identity, and how it can work both ways – not only does it allow us to create and project an identity into virtual mediums, be they immersive worlds like Second Life, MMORPGs or through “traditional” text-only chat forums, it can sometimes be that the impact of engaging in such environments can often have an impact back on our real-world selves; shaping and influencing who we are in the physical world in what is broadly termed “identity tourism”.

Cecilia D'Anastasio: writing on identity in the digital age

Cecilia D’Anastasio: writing on identity in the digital age (image via Twitter)

The term has it roots in the 1980s, when it was used to “examine the ways in which tourism intersects with the (re-)formation and revision of various forms of identity, particularly ethnic and cultural identities”.

In the 1990s, Lisa Nakamura, who gets a fair mention in the article, broadened the term to encompass the way in which on-line activities – notably MMORGs – were encouraging more and more people to experiment with matters of identity and self-definition. It is her work which appears to have given D’Anastasio the idea for Avatar IRL.

The article is a part of a wider series within Motherboard entitled Goodbye Meatbags, which focuses on “the waning relevance of the human physical form”.

In order to frame the piece, D’Anastasio placed a request in the SL forums asking if people would be willing to share their own stories on the issue of identity tourism. At the time, the request provoked a mix response (indeed the article itself has provoked much the same). From the responses she received, D’Anastasio selected the story of Veronica Sidwell, a male-to-female transsexual, to serve as the introduction and initial examination of self-identity and the deep sense of identification many have with their avatar – and how that identification can loop back into their physical lives; in this case, allowing Veronica to seek to transition her physical self, adopting the name of her avatar in the process, in recognition of the role she feels it played in allowing her to do so.

Veronica’s story is related with respect, and serves to springboard the article into its wider discussion which, as mentioned above, reviews Lisa Nakamura’s initial studies into matters of identity (which also delved into aspects of stereotyping and negative reinforcement which did – and still can – occur), before moving on to look at the work of Nick Yee and Tom Boellstorff, and their ongoing studies into the myriad questions of identity and self-definition which arise from our increasing ability to interact through a wide range of digital mediums and the levels of anonymity that often afford when doing so.

Nick Yee (l) and Tom Boellstorff

Nick Yee (l) and Tom Boellstorff

Both of these names will hopefully be familiar to regular readers of these pages. I covered Nick Yee’s work back in January 2014, and his book  The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us– and How They Don’t, is a recommended read for anyone interested in the increasingly complex matters of identity and our relationships with our digital selves and how we relate to the digital identities of those around us. For those not enticed by his book directly, I’d recommend at least reading Virtual worlds Are Real, a piece he wrote for Slate magazine from January 2014, and which served as the springboard for my article on his work.

I’ve similarly made mention of Tom Boellstorff in the past. His research has covered many aspects of identity and the question of self in the digital arena, and he has written two books on the subject directly focused on Second Life, Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human, (Princeton University Press, 2008), and Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method (Princeton University Press, 2012, co-authored with Bonnie Nardi, Celia Pearce & T. L. Taylor), and he is also known for his involvement in the story of Fran Serenade / Fran Swenson. Tom also featured in a Drax Files Radio Hour interview which, if you haven’t heard it before, I do recommend.

D’Anastasio covers both Yee’s and Boellstorff’s work as a means of illustrating the osmotic process which can work both ways: that as much as we seek to build and define our digital identity, so the experiences we gain, the interactions we have through those digital projections can also seep back into the flesh and bone, influencing us and further shaping our self-identity.

Avatar IRL has been critiqued for focusing on matters of “sexuality” rather than “identity” – D’Anastasio also relates the experience of Dale, a male-to-female transsexual engaged in World of Warcraft. I’m less than convinced such critiques are valid given the overall context of the article. More to the point, what is a person’s quest to explore, understand and ultimately to be their desired gender, if not a matter of identity?

While there are no ground-breaking revelations in the article – at least for those of us already engaged in environments like Second Life and World of Warcraft, etc. But the piece does provide a good opening for those who might be curious about identity in the digital age, and who might want to delve a little deeper into the subject.

A visit to a Small Town Café

Small Town Café, Luck; Inara Pey, April 2015, on Flickr Small Town Café, Luck (Flickr) –

Every so often you happen across a place you weren’t expecting to find, whether it be purely by random chance, the nudge of coincidence or the chance remark. Insofar as this article is concerned, it was the latter: a chance remark I caught in open chat concerning places to photograph in SL, which led me to Small Town Café, an utterly delgithful 1/4 full region designed by Mido (Mido77077 Liotta).

Most of the land is submerged bordered on two side by tall, plateau-like cliffs on two sides. Grass and tulips grow tall in the shallow water, forming islands of green and yellow against the blue, between which the water seems to snake, presenting the visitor with the feeling of standing at the mouth of a slow-flowing river as it meets the gentle currents of the sea – or perhaps a lake.

Small Town Café, Luck; Inara Pey, April 2015, on Flickr Small Town Café, Luck (Flickr)

Through the middle of the water, almost cutting it in two and pointing east, a long wooden walkway winds its way from the  the landing point to the open water, where there is a subtle wash of mixing currents. A grassy path runs northwards from the landing point, marking the way to the primary signs of habitation here. Nestled in the shadow of the tall cliffs sits an empty town house or shop, a Tuscan cottage occupying the cobbles alongside it, both fronted by a paved footpath protecting them from the lapping waters.

Here the scene is almost urban; a scooter, loaded with bags and boxes, sit on the footpath, while the shop is fronted by the entrance to an underground station. Is it genuine, or is it something perhaps transplanted here on a whim, the boards over the entrance hiding the fact only more cobblestones sit beneath them? It’s up to visitors to decide. Here, as well, under a rocky arch, is a gated wall, suggesting a garden beyond, distracting the eye from the arched entranceway close by which provides access to one of the region’s genuine secrets.

Small Town Café, Luck; Inara Pey, April 2015, on Flickr Small Town Café, Luck (Flickr)

Across the waters from these, on the south side of the region, and raised above the waters over which they stand is the café bar that perhaps gives the place its name, and red bulk of an old shipping container, now converted into a workshop. To reach these, you’ll have to do a little wading, and I strongly recommend you do so around the edge of the water; not because of any risk of drowning, but because that way you’ll find more little touches – such as the greenhouse converted into a little vinyl record shop. Just do try not to disturb the deer too much as you make your way to the café bar.

Music is obviously popular here; the café features an old upright piano, and guitars on their stands can be found here and there across the region, as can places to sit and pass the time with friends or a loved one. This is also a place where cats roam and play with puppies, content to let the mice enjoy the atmosphere unhindered, and even the big cats are wish to do little more than watch things from on high.

Small Town Café, Luck; Inara Pey, April 2015, on Flickr Small Town Café, Luck (Flickr)

Given my love of music, cats and watery scenes is Second Life, little wonder I was enchanted by Small Town Café. I’m sure that when you visit, you will be as well – and who knows, if I’m there, maybe I’ll play you a little something on the piano or if you prefer, strum a guitar for a while. If I do (or even if I don’t), please consider leaving a tip; not for me, but for Mido, to hep keep tranquil setting alive for many more to enjoy.

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GI Joe proves he’s a Block(sworld)head

GIjoe

G.I. Joe now in Blocksworld

It slipped out under the radar for most of us interested in such things, possibly because it came on the same day that sad news broke of Sir Terry Pratchett’s passing. However, for those wondering how things are fairing for Blocksworld, the one remaining product in the Lab’s portfolio outside of its virtual world endeavours, the answer would appear to be, “Well enough to get an extension of LL’s relationship with Hasbro.”

On March 12th, the Lab slipped out a press release announcing that Heroes Will Be Made…with Blocks! G.I. JOE® Comes to Blocksworld®.

the release reads in part:

Through the relationship with Hasbro, six fun new G.I. JOE games will be available for all Blocksworld players. The games present an exciting new storyline in the conflict between G.I. JOE and COBRA that ends in a cliffhanger, and Blocksworld players will be challenged to create and share their own interactive endings to the narrative.

As well as the games themselves, the launch included a set of G.I. Joe building sets, available as in-app purchases, allowing players to extend the G.I. Joe related adventures by using them to create additional characters, vehicles and weaponry.

This is the third partnering between Linden Lab and game / toy maker Hasbro, with My Little Pony having been added to the Blocksworld stable in 2014 alongside of – in what must have seemed an obvious choice for the game – Transformers, coinciding with that particular franchise returning to the silver screen.  Another foray for Blocksworld into the world of films during 2014 came with the release of the  Legends of Oz sets of Dorothy’s Return (tying in with the animated feature of the same name), and Heroes of Oz.

Approaching eighteen months on the market, Blocksworld is proving to be something of a durable title in the cut-throat world of apps, where titles can rise and fall almost overnight at times. According to App Annie, it continues to enjoy relatively high rankings in countries like the USA, UK, Canada, and Japan. In the USA, it has consistently been in the top 10 in terms of revenue for “educational” games, and in the top 500 for games in general.

While “educational” might seem a tad bit odd as a category for the game to be listed under,  Michelle Vuckovich, the Director of Product for Blocksworld, points to the game’s educational value in the G.I. Joe press release. “Kids love playing and creating in Blocksworld,” she is quoted as saying. “While having fun creating anything they can imagine, they’re also learning to think like programmers, game designers, and engineers – something parents and teachers can appreciate.”

The Blocksworld Premium banner

The Blocksworld Premium banner

As well as the G.I Joe release in March, Blocksworld also saw a change in January 2015, with the introduction of something which might have a familiar ring to it for SL users: Blocksworld Premium.

This appears to be an in-app (presumably purchasable) upgrade which offers those joining the opportunity to “build epic creations with infinite blocks, actions, textures, and more!”. In addition, Premium users get Standard Blocks as soon as they are released, with (dare I say it?) a “stipend” of Action Blocks added to their inventory every week.

It’s still not clear if Blocksworld will move into the world of Android devices; but it certainly seems to be quite comfortable in the iPad world, and quite likely doing very nicely for the Lab while there, as noted.

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