Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Art of Romance

This Second Life thing just gets more interesting all the time.

As I continue to plan out my (our) collaborative art project exploring the views and expectations of partnered avatars on SL and mixing it with the expectations of partnered people in RL, the universe is seeing fit to provide me with more and more data.

First, I came across an article on a study out of Stanford that seems to confirm that there's a lot of "leak" between SL and RL, and what you do in SL can have a strong positive effect on RL. You can read it in this issue of Time Magazine online.

Second, I began checking out the profiles of some partnered avatars and discovered that for many, getting married in SL seems to be a prelude to moving the relationship into RL. This is certainly not true for all, but I did find many cases in which people were planning on pulling up roots and moving hundreds of miles away to be near the RL owner of the avatar they'd married, because the emotional component of the relationship was very real, even if the physical aspect of it was a purely digital expression.

I was already fairly sure this was true, having experienced it myself in a variety of little ways. But I experienced it in a BIG way a couple of nights ago.

You see, on Tuesday night, Asimia had a date.

She met the gentleman involved the night before at a jazz club on the sim where she lives. She was actually dancing with someone else when this particular gentleman caught her (my?) eye, and despite having a very pleasant dance partner already, she couldn't take her (my?) eyes off this other gentleman. He walked across the floor, she (okay, damnit, I) almost got carpal tunnel running the camera controls around to watch him. He sat at the bar, she spied on him with an overhead view while chatting with her dance partner. He was stunning, and this is really saying something, because in Second Life, everyone is as attractive as they want to be. He was elegantly dressed. He seemed poised and just a touch aloof. And he had fabulous, thick, gorgeous, blond flowing hair almost to his waist.

He turned out to be friends with Asimia's dance partner, and tossed a few wry, witty comments their way. Delightful.

He was, in short, the man (avatar?) of her (my? our?) dreams.

Asimia's been in SL long enough to know that it frequently does mirror RL in one particular way: guys who make a fuss over you and say they'll call, frequently don't. Their profiles all say they don't want any drama, then they promptly set out to create it. Well, I truly don't want any drama, and the first time this happened I was surprised and a little hurt. But by the third or fourth time, I had adjusted and really felt that it didn't matter. Asimia is, after all, in SL for art and for art alone.

And then he showed up.

Long story short, Asimia's dance partner departed for another venue and she took a chance and went over to talk with Mr. Handsome. He was not very talkative at first, but he got her a drink and then asked her to dance. Asimia flirted hard, and at one point it crossed my (her?) mind that she was probably trying too hard. But, no matter. They had a little fun, then his friends IM'd him to come join them. They exchanged "friend" cards, she told him about her art party on the 22nd, and he left. And she (we) figured, that was that. As his avatar disappeared, Asimia tried to fan the virtual flush from her face and said to no one in particular, "It's a good thing I don't meet guys that look like that every day."

So the next day when he IM'd her and invited her to join him at the beach, she was very surprised. Very pleased, but surprised. And a little suspicious and more than a touch guarded. But she put on her beach wear, and accepted his offer, and found herself at a fun and people-filled beach club where they danced and drank and chatted (he's still not very talkative) until heading over to Asimia's house to hang out on the beach there for awhile. Evening came, as it does every four hours in SL, and they changed into more elegant clothing and headed over to the Jazz Club to hear the new DJ.

The new DJ was playing smoky, sensual soul. The dancing was close and slow. It was phenomenally romantic. After the sun came up again, I had to go, so that meant Asimia did too. Mr. Handsome escorted her home and said a proper good-night at her front door.

The point of all this is the next day, I—not Asimia, we're talking about ME—felt this pleasant calm lovely sensation of little endorphins sailing around in my brain. Asimia's highly pleasant SL experience with a handsome fellow avatar affected me exactly the same way as if I had had the experience with a handsome gentleman in Real Life.

People come into SL for a lot of different reasons. I think I'm beginning to understand that for me, SL is a tool for visualization. I have created Asimia very much in my own image, but at the same time she is a projection of my best and highest-idealized self. As she experiments, whether with furniture-making or crafting prims into NPIRL sculpture or romance, I reap the benefits in unexpected ways.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

... if a woodchuck could chuck wood ...

So in the last post I asked the musical question, "How big a bang will Berkeley Big Bang be?" For me, it was more like a *boink* than a bang.

Not to say it wasn't interesting ... it was. I especially enjoyed Bert Dreyfus, a professor emeritus from UC Berkeley's Philosophy department ... it never ocurred to me to wonder what Heidegger or Descartes would have thought of Second Life. He's been on Second Life, although he admitted it's been about six months since his last visit. I'm guessing, crusty old SL veteran that I am (today, in fact, is my rezzday ... all you terrans can go look up what that means), that he actually hasn't spent all that much time in SL, because he kept talking about shared mood and how you can't share mood in SL in all the subtle ways you can in person. Actually, I find it's pretty easy to pick up on and share mood in SL. It's a heavily intuitive thing, but it happens and it seems to happen fairly easily.

Philip Rosedale (or, as we like to call him in-world, Castro Linden ... er, I mean, Philip Linden ...) is responsible for the company that has made Second Life possible. He spoke after Dr. Dreyfus, and was all excited about how webcams will soon enable you to reflect your facial expressions and hand gestures in SL in real time. Frankly, this sounds dreadful to me, because sometimes my avatar is feeling something completely different than what I'm feeling. I don't WANT my RL facial expressions to become pasted onto her; it will limit her expression. (And now, I'm sure there are some psychologists who want to talk to me ...)

Oh well, enough of that. Day One of BBB '08 was allegedly about "Embodiment." Ironically, I was suffering from bodily "interference" and wasn't 100% healthy on Day One, so I don't tend to remember many details from that day except for Dr. Dreyfus, Rosedale's kid-like nuttiness and enthusiasm, Kimiko Ryokai's real-time image capture "paint brush" (which everyone who was at the conference now wants to own, it's so cool), and introducing myself to Lynn Hershman and having her look at me like I'd just dropped a dead fish on her foot. In general, although I spoke to a few people in the audiences, it was an off day for me and I found myself feeling shy and stupid and annoyed.

Day Two was Art/Science day, co-sponsored by Leonardo. I was more focused on this day (generally feeling better), and loved the descriptions of the projects and collaborations between artists and scientists. Some presenters, like Camille Utterback, were one-person artist/scientist collaborations--she herself writes the software that she uses to produce her weird, lovely interactive video installations. Others like Melinda Rackham from the Austrailian Network for Art and Technology and the Exploratorium's Jennifer Frazier, were fun, enthusiastic and bright and really brought home the point that this kind of work, aside from the heavy political implications it can sometimes have, is also fabulous for highlighting that sense of mystery, wonder, and curiosity we so often mercilessly squelch as adults. I came out of it not quite feeling like I'd found my tribe, but also not like I'd been hit by a bus. Somewhere in between.

In poopy news, apparently I didn't get onto the CAA program for 2009; the deadline for responses has passed and I never heard anything at all about my paper proposal, which I thought was terrific. I guess maybe the panel chair wanted to pack the session with uber-successful theoretical SL artist-types and didn't feel like someone who is in the process of making her way and carving out her place who could make it all relatable deserved a voice. (See? I'm not bitter.)