It's Your Game

It's Your Game
Architecture and Vice

Dave Thomas | 2 Aug 2005 12:03
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Interesting to me, is just how much of those streets Second Lifers have imported into the game world. Players spend a lot of time crafting their persona into exotic gay pirates and buff superheroes. They also spend something approximating the labor force of Nepal building, building and building.

Construction in Second Life is a peculiarly silent and solo endeavor. When you see it happening, it looks more like a Wiccan ritual than anything involving hardhats. A character stands with some sort of force silently throbbing from their outreached hand. An object - maybe a wall, a window or a twisted shape that will serve some unseen architectural purpose or perhaps commit an unspeakable architectural crime - floats, turns and drifts into place. There is no conversation. To build, a player must open a series of screens on their computer that makes following in-game chat difficult. So you just watch. And quietly, a building begins to take form.

In the stripped down Libertarian economy of Second Life, only land costs real money. The ephemeral building material of computer data is free. This is the imaginative strip tease of real life where bored men try to imagine what a woman looks like naked in reverse. Second Life players imagine what it would look like to put a wall of towering stone in front of their face, a picket fence, a temple of feathers.

One day, someone might pen an architectural tour of SL. Until then, you can summarize it into the categories of the architecture of the familiar, the architecture of the fantastic, and the architecture of the inspired. You might think of these categories as things people usually build, things Walt Disney would build, and things Charles Manson would build.

Let me explain.

Kids draw people as freakish heads populated by dot-point eyes and maybe a crooked mouth below. That's more or less how they see adults - big beady-eyed heads hovering over them. These crazy drawing may not look right, but they are highly accurate, at least as far as kids see adults as some form of malevolent space life. It's not hard to imagine why some people have nightmares about space aliens who look, more or less, the same.

Likewise, Second Life players make places that look, more or less, like things they've seen - boxy homes in shady pine groves. Boxy homes by the sea. Boxy homes made of hewn stone and filled with S&M gear. These are familiar buildings, or at least places most of us have seen or, possibly, visited.

The more determined Second Lifer takes the freedom of fantasy much more seriously and tries to reproduce places that blare IMAGINATION. You can find fairy tale castles, wizard towers and Playboy Mansions. With a little looking you can find a Smurf Village and a Toon Town. And, frankly, these tend to be the most uncomfortable places filled with the people earnestly trying to turn Second Life into a virtual Disneyland.

Basically, the goal is to bring childhood, or at least childlike impotence, back to life. That means no tampering. This group of players likes to stick to the script and live in the non-configurable world of the amusement park. Their fantasy is really that of Walt Disney - they want to configure in their own image and then freeze out the interlopers. You can visit the land of the vampires. Just don't suggest that it would be funny to open a "normal club" where people dress in dumpy clothes, cover up their evil tattoos, pretend to be fleshy office workers, and all talk about how "norm" they look.

Conversely, the most developed and entertaining of all Second Life locations center on the virtual architects who throw all sense to the wind and build the objects of the id. These objects/buildings/structures of pure passion simply exist. You cannot rationalize a staircase that winds up 2,000 feet into the clouds, a sprawling atrium of glass nestled in a snowy landscape or pimp palace the size of a football field, covered in white marble and decorated with eternally billowing curtains. These builders have imagination, or at least deeply felt fantasies. They dump their insides in a punk rock symphony of low-polygon models. It's all as low-fi as you can imagine and as subtle as a Doc Martin boot in your teeth.

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