It's Your Game

Architecture and Vice


There’s Cinderella with her gown up over her face, glass slippers in the air and Prince Charming … well, hang on a second.

A sad fact I have come to realize is that there are really only two kinds of adult fantasy. One kind is a form of the Disneyland/childlike fantasy. The other always features some form of rubber or another. That’s too bad because there is really only one form of healthy adult fantasy that includes both Disney and rubber. And we almost never go there.

I was 14 the first time I hit a Disney park – Disneyworld 1979. I had a great time and don’t recall thinking about any form of sex while there. But I did daydream about cuddling with that special girl I would, hopefully, one day meet and bring back to Fantasyland. Cuddling is, of course, the gateway sex drug, so, I suppose you could say that I was actually having the beginnings of thoughts about getting nasty in Cinderella’s Castle.

Really, I think that it’s perfectly normal to think about sex and about Disneyland and about having sex at Disneyland.

Thinking about making magic in the Kingdom only feels creepy if you think about Walt’s paradise as a place exclusively for kids. Yes, kids go there and tend to dominate the park discourse with their demands to high five Mickey or eat some sloppy sweet treat. But really, the park is a place for general fantasy, young and old. There’s no long list of adult fantasies that doesn’t include getting busy with a girl dressed as Snow White, or a boy dressed like Aladdin or, I suppose, either dressed like Peter Pan.

Fantasy that focuses only on acting like a child, wearing a hat murderously created by scalping a Goofy mid-grin or clapping like an idiot at fireworks, well, that’s creepy.

Maybe it’s just immature.

It shouldn’t surprise you to think of Disneyland as a substrate for grown up fantasy, because the place is, like porn, inherently about fantasy fulfillment. And, also like porn, Disney is ultimately non-configurable and peculiarly non-interactive. You look at it, you reach out, and all you end up holding is yourself. It’s designed so that you can’t mess it up or get anything on it. Disney is our national mythic memory and, you don’t go messing with the collective consciousness, man.

So, what do you do? You look. You imagine. You fantasize. You look up the curving surface of Space Mountain and try to imagine what’s inside. Even once you load into the ride’s sperm rockets and jettison up its fallopian tube of outer space adventure, you never quite get the intimacy you wanted. You just have to pleasure yourself, or find pleasure in yourself, or imagine you are having pleasure. Or something.

As I said, Disneyland is porn. And I love Disneyland.

I also love the game Second Life. And Second Life is a new kind of porn.

It, rather than naked ladies encoded as JPGs and distributed, well spewed, over the Internet, is the porn for the information age. And it’s because this fantasy is configurable. Crazy, organic, hippie-love, make your own reality, crazy fantasy.

Let me try and explain.

I am a homophobe of a particular type. As to whether I think gay people should be able to get married, I do. As for whether or not I think gay sex is immoral or unnatural, I do not. No, my homophobia is of the sort that thinks being gay is funny. Yes, I am a rank and file “Will and Grace” homophobe, the kind that thinks being gay is perfectly normal, but is really funny. It reaches actual comedy when you watch the way straight people squirm around anything they think of as queer. “Will and Grace” is the measure of the same sex zeitgeist. And I’m sure we will live to see the day that gay Jack and gay Will appear to represent all the media sensitivity of that charming tale of “Little Black Sambo.”

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For the time being, I’ll merrily play the cynic and enjoy the fact that I can get a rise out of people by discussing two men kissing or the mere notion of man-on-man hot sex.

That accounts for the case of the troll marriage. Two boy trolls.

If you think it’s funny when two men flirt, you should see it in Second Life. As a “massively multiplayer online game,” or “game-like massively multiperson happening” SL goes down as the greatest public freak fest on the Internet. Where else can you find a world of people that dress up like humanoid animals and then hook up? These people give the phrase, “humping like bunnies” a peculiar kind of literal currency.

I’m not trying to pick on people who don furry costumes and have animal sex, because in the right context, I’m sure that could be a lot fun. Really, I’m just picking one of the silly things that I’ve come across to stand in for all the massive weirdness that goes on in SL every moment of every day. It’s like describing Paris as the place with the Eiffel Tower. It’s true, but sort of leaves something out.

So, imagine, if you will, a world where furries live and breed (so to speak) along side fat, 50 year-old-men dressed as buff rave kids, moms strolling the streets in freaky bondage gear and a guy I know who thinks its funny to lurch around as a zombie lord with a syringe poking out of his bleeding eye.

Get the picture, or at least a picture?

There’s more. I have photos of a man going at it doggy style with a Cootie toy scaled up to donkey size. I’ve visited a floating ice palace and flown around as an Oompa Loompa on a giant hovering Wonka Bar. I’ve driven a hamburger and fallen out of a skyscraper. I also walk around butt naked most of the time, but no one really cares. And that’s probably because I am bright red and have no discernable genitals.

I’m a troll, or at least that’s what I tell people. And for fun, my fellow troll and real life buddy, Knight, and I decided we’d get married. You might think that it is odd that two pretend 3D characters, in a made up 3D computer world, could get married. And it is. The fact that anyone can get married, regardless of sex, affiliation, nationality, or intergalactic life form, says something. Second Life aspires to a truly liberal and egalitarian society. The fact that a couple of boy trolls can get hitched for laughs tells you something important. Second Life is all about doing whatever it is that turns your crank.

I could go on (and on and on and on). Second Life is an expansive place that unfolds like a dream, a tapestry of desires and ideas held in symbolic shape. And like trying to tell people about your dreams, talking about SL just makes you boring in your effort to get people to understand why statues of 40-foot-high naked women holding hands are just so freaking cool.

Second Life‘s sublime kookiness stems from one source: The players generate all of the content – the walls, the trees, the cars, the chairs, and mostly, themselves. Think of it as the real face of liberty, a picture of what people would actually do if they could design the world, the society, and the people.

And that is they would build monuments to their own passions. Contrary to notion that people are deeply boring, SL shows that instead, people are deeply kinky. That guy that works in the next cubicle over from you (yeah, him) really wants to be a slender blonde in a teddy who lives in a glass tower guarded by robots and dragons. And in Second Life he is.

I know you don’t want to think about that guy in girly underwear. But that’s sort of the point. We all have these inner lives that we use to create a counter pressure to all that crap on the outside. Fine, your happy place is the white sand beach and a bottle of Corona from that TV commercial. His inner life is just that more interesting, and filled with more lingerie, than yours. And I can get married to a boy for laughs, whether you get it or not.

Further, it turns out you don’t need a computer to play Second Life. We do it all the time.

Although 10 years have passed, I still vividly remember the face and the curly red hair of the girl I almost ran over with my bike. For that moment, her face looked up, the sun shone down in painterly streaks, she smiled, time stopped and I fell in love. I didn’t plow her into the gutter and instead peddled on home to my family. But right there, in that second of cliché so perfect that they could use it to sell soap on TV, I slipped into my second life.

We think of time as something that pushes us through life, relentlessly conveying us from station to station, piling on experiences at each stop before dumping us into a coffin for final shipment. This is time as the eternal taskmaster. Really, though, we press time forward with the weight of our expectations, the gravity of our demand for things to happen the way we expect. We go home after work because, well, that’s what defines being at work, going home. And then we get up in the morning to head to work to afford having a home. We press and press and press.

Fantasy stops time and we fall through the floorboards of those mental shanties of expectation.

At least, that’s how I felt when time literally stood still not just long enough for me to avoid mangling the red-headed girl, but long enough for me to spend a lifetime in that smile, to imagine another life where I see that smile every day and the sun always shines like a Bob Ross painting.

You see, we all have a second life, and we bottle it up in our fantasies and stop time.

When a cute waitress brushes your hand as she hands you the check, when a glowing mom and dad walk by hand-in-hand with their children as precious as lambs or a Jaguar glides down the street, a glimmering metal beast, you slip into fantasy, into your second life.

These images of fantasy are powerful. And frozen. We collect them and collect them until our fantasy life is a junk drawer of unrelated things.

In Second Life, these bits and pieces come back to life, tangible and in motion. It’s like opening that junk drawer of experience and suddenly realizing you have all the pieces you need to build a moon rocket or make cheese.

Want to talk to that waitress, or dominatrix, or guy dressed like Mork? Want to try out the family life or drive a fancy car? It’s our collective fantasy, so go for it. Build the place where and the person you want to be. Besides, I like you better when you start pretending to be the person you want to be rather than pretending to be the person you are.

I’ve never had sex in Second Life. I’ve seen people having sex and certainly know plenty of people who have had the kind of cartoon higgly jiggly that passes for intercourse on the Internet. My pal Jack once offered to show me his penis – in game. Apparently it comes equipped with an erectile animation as well as an ejaculation command. I asked him how much he paid for that and he scoffed.

“Man, I never paid for any of my dicks. Girls buy them for me.”

In Disneyland and on the street, our fantasies are moments of experience captured in the amber of memory and held as precious jewels. On the canvas of Second Life, people extract those fantasies and recreate them in a sort of Jurassic Park of imagination.

When Jack talks about his collection of penises it’s not because his fantasy is to have a box of cocks. No, his fantasy world is filled with interesting and exotic women ready to equip him as they see fit. Why women would want a customizable unit, I can only imagine. And why a guy like Jack has managed to meet so many of these women, I can only guess. The great thing is that I don’t have to think much about it because Jack and the tribe of cock-gifting women are my Second Life neighbors. I don’t have to wonder about why they are, they just are. They fantasize, they concoct and create a big crazy world that visualizes, as far as I can tell, the collective consciousness of the people I meet on the street.

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.

And that’s where I want to get off this ride. Because if you want to understand Second Life, look at punk rock. It’s the closest thing in media that’s not Second Life to what Second Life is. That’s because both punk and SL are about freedom. Punk fetishizes the freedom to do anything – Anarchy! Second Life allows the freedom to fetishize anything. SL players, being people, have taken that as a sacred cause.

Between the players pretending to be Star Wars characters, players pretending to be strippers, players pretending to be Iron Man, and players pretending to be Snoopy, you’ll find that people want to be everything. In the medium that happily pretends to be anything, the Second Life community finds its voice. And it’s all so very, very punk.

Sure, Second Life is nothing but architecture and vice. I suspect that’s about all anything is when stripped of the basic need to feed, clothe, and shelter yourself. Sex is one of the ways we give into that desire for wild abandon and architecture is all about the place that it can happen.

Disneyland remains the classical music of fantasy. We appreciate the depth of the structural elegance and the masterful composition. But we observe it from our seats in the audience. And when the lights go down, toe-tapping is strongly discouraged. You don’t mess with the classics. That’s what makes them classic, ya know?

In the punk rock of Second Life, fantasy finds it most urgent voice – this game is a boiling mosh pit of desire. And the players are punks merrily bloodying each other in a real time orgy of self-actualization – building, pretending, fornicating, fixing the world and feeling alive.

So, to raise a question that you may or may not have at this point, but one I’m sure you’ll find interesting anyway: Would I rather have sex in Disneyland or play Second Life?

To me the answer is all very “Waiting for Godot.” Sure, it would be fun to configure Disneyland. But who gets to do that? While I’m waiting, I can spin the entire solar system around the knotted finger of my troll hand while riding a flying carpet with the girl I love.

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