InWorldz is having their first-ever conference this weekend; you could think of it like SLCC, except for the trust and admiration InWorldzers have for the Founders and Codemonkehs who have taken a fork of OpenSim code, still officially “in alpha”, cleaned it up and turned it into something far less “beta” than Second Life’s current Release version. The conference is in Las Vegas, of all places — a city I would not visit, for any reason, even if I could afford to.
[Compare that to SLCC itself, which has decided to restrict its annual venue to alternating between San Francisco and Boston, keeping it well out of reach of people who live in “flyover country”, to say nothing of the other continents Resi’s live on… While you’re at it, take note that the InWorldz conference was instigated by, and has the organization and support of, those same Founders, as opposed to the committee of volunteers who administer SLCC without any assistance from Teh Lab, and only piecemeal attendance by people who just happen to also be Lindens.]
Jim Tarber has been posting photos of the InWorldz meetup to Yfrog, and there probably are others; I just haven’t seen Tweets about them yet. Maybe there will be an aggregation somewhere on the Web soon, as there have been for photos and videos of past SLCCs. I replied, to one of Jim’s earliest group shots from Friday night, that it needed a caption naming who was in it…
Then, I remembered my reaction to some photos from SLCC 2010, and thought about it some more.
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but bear with me: Back before the WWW, when most communication required either an analog telephone or a postage stamp and three days’ delivery, I used to attend science fiction conventions. All we fans had to go on for the appearance of the authors we went to meet were their dust-jacket photos, if they had published in hard-cover. For everyone else — artists, fellow fans from other cities, and such — we had nothing. Thus, we also had little in the way of preconception.
In the years since, I’ve learned that after subtracting the costume events, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between one fan convention and the next, whether it’s for SF, fantasy, comics, anime or furries. Just a bunch of regular folks of all shapes, sizes, ages, behaviors, styles of dress and modes of personal hygiene, out to have a good time and meet each other on the premise of a shared interest.
The difference, and the point of this post, is that meetups of virtual world avatars come freighted with preconceptions — illusions, if you will — regarding appearance, reinforced in most cases by the extension of avatarian identity into social networks, complete with profile photos to match. As an extreme example: I know that Botgirl is neither a bot nor a girl, but I interact with the avatar as if she were both. I know that Crap Mariner is not a chain-smoking robot with a female shape. I know that Zauber Paracelsus is not a dragon, nor are any of my furry friends any species other than human… but when I think about them, I see them as they choose to be seen in-world.
The illusion would be shattered upon meeting them face-to-organic-face… or by photographs with names assigned. It’s an illusion I’d rather keep. SLCC has located and priced themselves permanently out of my reach, but I don’t think you’ll ever find me at an InWorldz Conference, either — even if they site it somewhere I can drive to.