Virtual Worlds: Not Just for Sex Anymore.

For the longest time the virtual world of Second Life received a lot of bad press; mostly as a place to go if you wanted have virtual sex and live out your darkest fantasies. 

It is true that if you log into Second Life, or any of the assortment of virtual worlds now available, with the intent to find sex toys, fetishes and overtly sexual avatars, you’ll have no problem finding them. Sex is a part of cultures across the world and when you bring people from across the world together into a virtual space with countless ways to express yourself, it would be more surprising if there was not a virtual sex culture.

That is such a small part of what virtual communities bring to the world that those who focus solely on its vices are missing an expansive cultural phenomenon. These are communities of people for whom country of origin means almost nothing. Friendships, businesses, education, foundations, charities and even marriages happen with minimal regard for political or geophysical boundaries. The virtual platform has become a cultural mecca, launching music careers and giving audience to artists who had not had the courage to share their work before.

IThe Docks - Immersive Art Installation by Scottius Polke (RL Scott Rolfe)t’s a virtual website for artists, with the ability to go beyond the flat page and showcase their art in a three dimensional gallery to people around the world. The website created by Sasun Steinbeck, Art Galleries of SL, features more the 500 virtual galleries. Not only does Second Life boast a huge range of paintings, drawings, photography and graphics, but has given birth to its own form of virtual art, created from elements within Second Life and often not possible to recreate in the physical world.

Hundreds of live music performances happen daily, giving true meaning to the term world music. Performers range from pop/rock, folk and blues singers to jazz and classical musicians, the virtual world giving them a means to expand their fan base, earn a living and even support causes they believe in. Singer/songwriters like Craig Lyons view Second Life as a green alternative to road tours.Izabela Jaworower (RL Izabela Spiewak) performs live at The Labyrinth Theater Duo Appassionato, comprised of virtuoso violinists Izabela Jaworower (RL Izabela Spiewak) & Young Zeid (RL Xi Yang) are regular performers; and SL Musician Joaquin Gustav from Buenos Aires, Argentina brings a blend of Latin American guitar to the scene, enabling people around the world to hear music that they may never have otherwise.

Aside from the bountiful cultural possibilities of Second Life, there is a seemingly endless supply of compassion, warmth and encouragement in the form of virtual philanthropy. From the smallest event fundraising for a local organization, to national and international organizations, to spontaneous support of countries across the world in times of disaster, the world suddenly seems a whole lot smaller.

Japan Tsunami Relief

After the devastating tsunami struck Japan a vast majority Second Life residents immediately turned their thoughts and prayers to their friends in Japan. Relief fundraisers sprang up almost immediately. Funds were raised through individual events and went to the Japan Red Cross, UNICEF, Save the Children, International Medical Corps and more. Linden Labs participated on the Second Life Marketplace, selling special virtual teddy bears called Japan Relief Bears. Content Creators and Designers created special lines of items to directly benefit Japanese relief organizations. A new online organization was created, Project FUR Japan, taking into account the animals affected by the tsunami’s deadly toll. The organization has donated its funds raised to JEARS (Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support); an awe inspiring amount totaling nearly $30,000 USD.

Garden for the Missing

Just a few of the Missing featured in Garden for the MissingFounded by Second Life resident Ronnie Rhode, this virtual building features four levels and 200 posters of missing persons. Rows and rows of posters of lost children, adults and the elderly, some missing for years and years, remind us that there are families out there still waiting for their return. The Garden for the Missing has been an effort on the part of Ronnie to raise awareness about the plight of well over 100,000 missing persons across the US. She now estimates that about 350,000 people who had no idea the magnitude of the cause now do, because of Second Life.

Relay for Life of Second Life

The "track" at Relay for Life of Second LifeWith the arrival of virtual communities, a new opportunity arose. On July 16th, 2011 more than 3,000 individual cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and compassionate supporters from 95 countries joined together for the 7th annual Relay For Life of Second Life. For several months leading up to the Relay, 140 teams formed and began events within Second Life to fundraise for ACS; by the halfway point, the event reached the $1 Million U.S. dollars raised landmark for its cumulative total since the first virtual Relay in 2005.

The fundraising culminated in the most technologically advanced Relay in the world. Consider the sheer number of personal computers combined with the technology required to create and operate Second Life. Not to mention DJs from around the world streaming music for 24 hours, in-world TV stations joining together to host 24 telethon coverage of the event and the virtual campsites of the teams themselves, featuring stunning design and scripting skills. It was truly an incredible experience.

After the last campfire was packed up and the sites put away for another year, the grand total funds raised for Relay for Life of Second Life reached $373,098 USD and the most funds raised in a single relay season in Second Life.

Portrayal of how scholars feel that Stonehenge may have been used for funereal purposes (Heritage Key grid)All this really just touches a small fraction of all of amazing cultural connections going on within the virtual worlds. And it’s not just Second Life; the virtual world called Heritage Key is a remarkable place to explore the history of the ancient world, from ancient Egypt to Stonehenge and the Terra Cotta Warriors. With the technology created by Linden Labs becoming open source, many virtual worlds have come into existence, each with their own share of art, culture and innovation from InWorldz, to Reaction Grid and more.

While the physical world struggles to maintain peace and decide whose rules are the right rules, the virtual world is a step or two ahead, embracing cultures and the uniqueness of individuals while bridging the gap between continents.


Not Just Another Pretty Pixel

If you could look like anything you wanted, what would Tricia circa 2008 - photo by PJ Trentonyou look like?  Now reread that question and see if you missed that I said anyTHING.  Did your mind automatically go your physical attributes? Did you automatically make yourself taller or shorter, thinner or more muscular, with different hair or different eyes?  Or did you allow your imagination to run a little wild?  Would you be an animal, a mythical beast, or maybe something beyond what others have imagined?

In a virtual reality, where we can look like anyone or anything we choose, most of us choose to stick with human.  A few more of us add tails and ears.  Others add fur or wings or claws or vampire fangs.  But even though the additional parts may not be possible in the physical world, we still generally strive for an appearance that we feel is visually pleasing.

Scottius Polke - Otterly FamousThere are some brave souls, or perhaps those just willing to look outside the box, who have chosen to wander Second Life as geometric shapes, normally inanimate objects or walking works of art.  It’s a rather small collection of people who use the infinite creative ossibilities of the virtual world to be more than human, to make a statement, to shock, or just because they can.

It would be interesting to have a conversation with assorted Second Life residents about the choices that they made in their avatar appearance.  Maybe I’ll do that at some point!  But for now, I share a bit of who I am in relation to my virtual appearance.

I stay primarily inside the box with my normal human female shape, though I am known toFairy Tricia - photo by PJ Trenton occasionally take the form of a tiny cat or a huge dragon.  I also have a little butterfly  and a little frog in my inventory of appearance choices.  But, the virtual me that I have evolved to be over the last four and a half years is rather normal, given the never ending

I have given it some thought over the years and I suppose that virtual Tricia looks like the person I am in my head.  A few of my choices have been things that I am not.  Short, for one example, skinny for another.  In reality, just about everything except making myself shorter is not a complete improbability in the physical world, with hard work, hair dye and cosmetic surgery.

Even the “short” aspect is kind of irrelevant.  Height in Second Life is measured in the virtual equivalent of meters, but there are gadgets that tell you what your height is in feet and inches.  I chose a height that averages around 5’ 8”, which is my actual height.  However, in the virtual world, where such things are kind of a matter of perspective, I am
a shrimp among Amazons.  It’s actually kind of cool when you’ve been fairly tall most of your life.  It gives you a little bit different perspective.  I get picked on, but it’s all in fun.

Adventurous T - photo by PJ TrentonI chose realism for my virtual appearance, and chose what I think I would choose to look like if I had a handy control menu with little slider bars to adjust my height, muscles, waistline and butt and boob size.  I am an artist, and virtual me is the culmination of four and a half years of tweaking, adjusting, upgrading and taste changes.  She is a personal, one of a kind, artistic expression of myself.

I get a lot of comments on her appearance.  It can be quite gratifying, especially when  you’re not really accustomed to that in the physical world.  At least most of it is gratifying.  She is cute; she can be sexy or serious and does a great job of pulling off a professional business suit or a little black dress.  At first I thought I was being all risqué when donning the little black dress or the slightly sexy dresses, but really I avoid the slutty look, and believe me, there’s a LOT more of that out there than there is simple yet attractive.  I said to a friend the other day, I used to think that I would not wear the stuff that virtual Tricia wears, but then I realized that if I really DID have that body, I’d probably dress like that!

Self Portrait at the time of this writingWhat does irritate me, however, are the overtly sexual remarks, the comments from complete strangers who tell me my avvie (avatar) is hot, sexy, gorgeous, or whatnot.  This is where I start to bristle at the superficial beauty in Second Life.  To me, beauty should be practically irrelevant when ANYONE can be drop dead gorgeous.  Most of my choices in my avatar’s appearance have been to please me, rather than other people.  I certainly don’t consider myself ugly in the physical world, but I also haven’t had half the attention my virtual self gets.

I have experienced firsthand the difference in how it feels when a dear friend tells me I’m beautiful and when a stranger does.  I take more stock in the friend that says this, because they know me.  They have taken the time to know me and to talk to me; they know more about me than what a nice cartoon I have.  More often than not, they know what I look like beyond the keyboard and they have earned the right to declare me beautiful, or even average.  They have loved me when I am smart and funny, as well as when I’m cranky  or sad.

Maybe this is the same problem that ‘beautiful’ people have out in the physical world.  The inherent inability for humans to get beyond the visually pleasing to what is beneath the  surface, something that I’ll confess even I am guilty of.  I have had a few friends in my virtual life that I have dearly wished I could make over.  Maybe what I need at this point is a Contemplative T - Self Portrait 2009psychologist or anthropologist to tell me what it is that is hard wired in the human brain to get all worked up about something pretty.  In the meantime, I choose to remain virtually pretty, and when I receive an instant message from some pixel crazed admirer, “Your avatar is SO hot!” I’ll continue to use my well-practiced reply, “Thanks!  I made me myself!”

2011 Relay for Life of Second Life – Survivors Art Show & Auction

The Relay for Life Survivors Art Show & Auction

Silent Auction June 5th through 11th
Live Auction June 12th

Relay for Life of Second Life is pleased to announce the Survivors Art Show & Auction from June 5th through the 12th. A silent auction will run from June 5th to the 11th and a live auction will be held on June 12th at 12pm SLT.

Artists are invited to submit works for participation in this Relay for Life of Second Life fundraiser to benefit the American Cancer Society. This year’s theme for the Relay is Seasons of Hope. Artists are encouraged, but not required, to consider this theme in creating or presenting art for the auctions. Of the submissions entered, a committee will choose a selection of works to be presented at the live auction. Artwork can be one of a kind, unique works, or copies of previous works but they must be your own original work.

This year we would like to streamline the exhibition and encourage quality over quantity, so we are encouraging fewer submissions and taking into account size and prim count to make the entire auction a high quality, low lag experience for attendees.

Submission Requirements:

1.) Limit 1 entry per artist – if we have space to open up to a second submission we will notify the participants

2.) Please keep the size of the work within a 10m diameter and 20m height

3.) Please keep the prim counts below 50 prims

4.) Scripts are allowed within reason, please consider sim performance

5.) Bots are not permitted

6.) The event and sim are PG, please submit appropriate works

7.) Works should allow transfer rights for auction purposes

8.) The art auction committee reserves the right to turn down entries for any reason

9.) Submission deadline is May 29th at noon SLT

Thank you for your generosity and continued support of Relay for Life in Second Life!

Tricia Aferdita – Chair
Kitty Tully – Co-Chair
2011 Survivors Art Show & Auction