Friday, October 19, 2007

Imperfection in Second Life

In past postings, I've discussed my avatar friend Pappy Enoch who looks like a black bearded pot-bellied hillbilly in overalls who communicates in what I call a 'bastardized hillbilly dialect' (as if there were an 'official' hillbilly language). Though he looks scary, and though he recently broke out of jail in Tombstone, Pappy is actually quite a southern gentleman and he has attracted a small following.

I've been fascinated and mystified by Pappy's popularity. Pappy's place on Richmond Island looks like an un-mown junk yard with a still, an outhouse and an old truck up on blocks, and as such it seems to run counter to most SL landscapes that are generally clean and orderly. (does a word like 'clean' even apply?) The same seems to be true for most avatars - people generally go for the slick look of 'perfection' even if their costume is bizarre.

My theory is that for most folks, SL is a place to achieve a 'perfection' that we cannot achieve in real life, so we try to design the body image or surroundings that reflect our sense of the ideal, or at least an identity we'd like to try out for a 'test-drive.' Aside from being a vague and variously defined term, 'perfection' is a state that may not be as desirable as we believe - it may not be a worthy goal.

Zamyatin's novel We is an excellent and fascinating exploration of the notion of perfection and other attempts at precise measurement and the world he portrays of individual perfection and uniformity via totally calculated control is at once boring and horrific. So my point about Pappy is that perhaps his minor celebrity is precisely because of his imperfection, not in spite of it.

It may be that, when given the chance to design and interact with the ideal, we find it insufficient and boring and we long for that which lacks such uniformity and transcendence, if unconsciously. It may be that the 'imperfections' we subdue, cover and resist are actually embodied sites of power, delight and wisdom.

The value of imperfect embodiment is explored in Denis Danvers' sci-fi novels The Circuit of Heaven and End of Days as future humans dump their bodies for a chance at immortality and eternal youth inside a digital reproduction of the real world called "the Bin." One of the more chilling scenes in the novel is of the train-carloads of these dumped bodies pulling into the mass incinerators built to dispose of the disparaged flesh. Eventually the perfection and predictability of these realms wears on the residents and they begin to long for their bodies back...

Today I met an SL resident named "Lota" whose avatar was so bulbous that others were asking her if she was pregnant. (what would it mean to be pregnant in SL?) But no, Lota isn't pregnant, she's just FAT - another deliberately designed 'imperfect' avatar.

(this picture doesn't do justice to her wondrously pendulous belly)
Though Lota doesn't have the fans that Pappy does, it was clear that she did have a level of celebrity judging by the comments and interaction of surrounding avatars. The imperfection of the situation was also emphasized by someone 'farting' regularly during our conversation. I never asked, but I don't think it was Lota. Fortunately it was the sound of farting only since SL lacks olfactory cues - so far. (but would we want to add smell? and is farting a kind of griefing?)

So, hats off to Lota and Pappy for leading the revolution of imperfection and thereby celebrating our brilliant and uncontrollable embodiment!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Educational Gaming graduate study

During my research into the educational possibilities of Second Life, I came across a blog entry about a graduate course by Bernie Dodge of San Deigo State University called "Exploratory Learning Through Simulation and Games" and he generously invited me into their discussion.

On their class website there are not only links to Second Life resources and commentary, there are materials for exploring and discussing 'low-tech' board games, game theory and world-building or 'scripting' tutorials. The course blog discusses current corporate applications of SL as well as featuring educational projects in other universites.

One thing is for sure - we're beginning to recover from the false notions that gaming is not a serious intellectual pursuit or that fun is not a central component to effective learning.

Thanks to Dr. Dodge & the grad students of SDSU for letting me join in your conversation!