Maintaining Illusion

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.

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Well, would you?

Found this Wednesday, on Crap’s blog:

I was posted a very interesting question in e-mail:

“If you could move all the content you have in SL to OpenSim, would you?”

Well, if I’m able to move stuff, then others could too, right?

And when you say content, does that include functionality? Voice? Maintaining backups?

*drums fingers*

First thing I’d want to know is: which OpenSim? People who refer to the server software as if it were a grid seem somewhat… less than diligent. Here’s the March 2012 statistics from Maria Korolov’s Hypergrid Business. If you don’t feel like counting them (I sure don’t!), she also says this in the monthly article which accompanies the stats:

We are now tracking a total of 258 different publicly-accessible grids, 143 of which were active this month.

The next question, of course, is “which content?” Everything in my inventory — shapes, skin, hair, clothes, shoes, entire furry avatars — no matter whether or not I have permission from the creators? A whole lot of creators would call that “IP theft”. It’s officially Against The Rules, and not possible with any “legal” viewer because it’s Against The Rules.

On the other hand, it’s been possible since Emerald to move stuff you created from SL to OpenSim grids, or the other way. Case in point:

My home in West Harbour – built it two years ago in OSGrid; imported it to SL and lived in a copy in Tehama for a while; imported it to InWorldz to sell (and lived in the three-room version), and rezzed it again, last fall, where you see it now. It’s been around… and it’s also still a XML file on my hard drive, along with a bunch of other builds first rezzed in InWorldz.

We can already do that, with the right viewer (I used Imprudence). The textures get stripped, so you have to make other arrangements for those — ethical arrangements, one hopes.* But otherwise, if you rezzed the prims, you can take it with you.

Not so for all the other stuff that defines how you look and move: what makes you you when you look at the screen. “If you didn’t make it, you can’t take it” — plain and simple. When you go to a new grid, you start with whatever they have available as noob avatars, quite often the infamous Ruth from… when, 2003? Earlier?

With luck, you’ve chosen a grid where a lot of SL designers have set up branch businesses — say, for instance, InWorldz — and you’ll be able to recreate your look, more or less. But you’ll have to buy the local currency first, and pay the vendors. No free lunches.

So, was that email Crap got a sly invitation to some “copybot” software that will let you archive everything in your SL Inventory to your hard drive, and upload it elsewhere?

The answer doesn’t matter.** If it is, it’ll get busted soon enough. If, on the other hand, the question was more hypothetical than leading, there’s another point to consider: not content, but context.

In other words, we are more than our stuff. Having kept a foot in two virtual worlds for a while now, I can at least tell you this: You may find people you know from SL, or from the meta-virtuality that Twitter, Plurk, and others have become for so many of us, there in that OpenSim grid of your choice… but, for the most part, it’s like moving to another city (which I’ve also done in recent memory). “Starting over” doesn’t merely apply to your Inventory.

That’s why nearly everyone who goes off exploring OpenSim grids also keeps a presence in SL, no matter how reduced. It ain’t about your things, it’s about your people.

But…

If it were possible, and kosher, to make my SL inventory portable across worlds? Hell yeah. Sure would be nice to look at the same avvie on my screen, no matter where I was.


* With the house, all but one of the textures is either out of the Library or a readily available freebie in SL — the rice paper walls is “Ambient Woodlike” by Torley, from his use-anywhere zip file.

** Think the Lab might implement Hypergrid? Not a chance. They’ll turn off the servers for good before allowing a breach in the garden walls.

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