Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Fantastical and the Mundane

Written 24 February, 2009

The Fantastical and the Mundane

In Piers Anthony's science fiction books there’s a term for those who aren’t gifted by magic: mundane. The mundanes are limited in what they can see and what they can do. It’s a restricted sort of existence—and the mundanes aren’t even aware of what they’re missing!

I’m now applying the term to Second Life. Mundanes, by my definition, can’t or won’t see beyond the duplication of real-world technologies and building techniques in this virtual world.

I’m not saying someone who builds a beautiful replica of a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air (I once owned one!) is mundane. I’m not saying clothes designers or builders of virtual log cabins are mundane. I’m not saying that at all.

So, who IS mundane? How about someone who stubbornly persists in building 120-prim winding staircases (I always fall off those) and physical elevators that bounce avatars about (sometimes even out of the building!) because they refuse to use a faster, more efficient, safer, and more elegant mode of transportation--- teleporters. How about a virtual yuppie who thinks it’s prestigious to have a virtual McMansion with a Beemer and a Mercedes in the garage? How about those who are proud to have toilets in their houses? How about a builder who refuses to make any structure that would be impossible in real life? How about all those newbies who sit on camping chairs rather than explore this beautiful and usually impossible IRL world?

How about Linden Lab?

Philip Linden, bless his heart, and Torley Linden, bless hir heart, have vision. They’ve not a single mundane bone in their virtual bodies. I’m not so sure about the rest of the Linden lot, who persist in building boring mainland areas like Bay City and Nautilus.

And have you ever noticed? The Linden blog NEVER brags on fantastical places like The Robot Museum or (the apparently no-more) Svarga or the serene Tol Eressea or the late and wonderful Privateer Space or the steampunk sims or any of Second Life’s great virtual racetracks. No, instead they spout flack about unexciting and often unfinished places like—well, I won’t give any examples. Just check their blog history..

And why do they do blog only the mundane? Well, I have a theory.

Of COURSE I have a theory!


It makes business sense to brag on builds in Second Life that relate to the real world; in doing so Linden Lab can perhaps attract yet another corporation. That’s why, I think, the Linden Blog never brags on the Robot Museum or The Great Fissure or The Abyss. But it makes even more sense to highlight Second Life’s spectacular ability to make a reality of the improbable and the impossible, to highlight the what-might-be rather than the what-already-is. It’s here that Second Life’s future truly lies. But the Lindens don’t see it.

And why?

Because the Lindens are themselves mundane. And because they’re mundane, they’re just not seeing what the rest of us see. They remain blissfully unaware of the strengths of the very world they’ve made possible, and in this unawareness they’re leaving unacknowledged the artistry, vision, and dedication of Second Life’s most creative citizens.

How sad! And how unfair!


Marnix Malifozik said...

/me stands and applauds

The joy for me, in my first few weeks of SLife, is the fantastical stuff, the unreal stuff, the stuff different to that which I can see out of my RL window every day of the week.

Marnix Malifozik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Solo Mornington said...

There are magical Lindens. They might not wear it on their sleeve the way others would, however.

I have this idea.. I think of SL as a dreamworld. You go to the dreamworld to learn about your fantasies. You show up and someone gives you a Lamborghini for free. You get your class-marker house by the water. You have friends who all look like Barbie and Ken dolls. This is your mundane fantasy, and you are living it out.

And then something happens. In the accelerated world of SL, the glow of these things fades quickly. Someone tells you about the place with the sim-sized sculptures, or the place where everyone's a hobo, or the place where other people will kill you for grins. Or the place where you can win money for speed building. Or any of those things.

And before long... The mundane fantasy isn't big enough anymore.

Sometimes the best way out of a lame fantasy is through it. And SL seems to accelerate that process. Don't judge those other fantasies with disdain. See who is living them, and who has the glimmerings of a wider horizon, and then give them a nudge in a better direction. :-)

I think LL's Showcase features things which are an easy sell. I mean, how do you categorize Greenies?

Thanks for an interesting post.

Peter Stindberg said...

I often came to the conclusion that (most) Lindens simply don't "get" what SL actually IS. They seem to think "Web 3.0" (and maybe they are even right), while I think in "my world, my imagination" terms.

Tycho Beresford said...

A wonderful post Chey, and how appropriate that it be posted on Fat Tuesday when so many do their best to become mythical, magical creatures on the streets of New Orleans and many other places - even if only for a day - as best as RL will let them.

Pandora Wrigglesworth said...

I wonder if, perhaps, you are mistaking ability for intent.

The job of Linden Lab isn't to create amazing worlds. Their job is to create and maintain an engine. They give us the tools, the space, and opportunity. Creating amazing worlds is and should be the work of we the users.

In fact, I would say that, while it is nice when a Linden occasionally makes something fantastical, it's probably better that they mostly make mundane things. By doing so, they avoid defining what Second Life should be. I have always felt that the best thing about Second Life is that it is not limited to any one group's vision of the world. It is home to so many countless different visions. The best thing Linden Lab can do about world-building is leave it to all those countless different visionaries.

Cheyenne Palisades said...

Thanks, Pandora, for your comment.

I take your point. Yes, it's the residents who make the world. The Lindens for the most part do a good job of staying out of our business when we do that. The biggest exception, I think, is the Marketplace-- residents were doing a good job before the Lindens bought the two existing sites.

I wasn't complaining about the Lindens creating content for us-- they do that on occasion, and for the most part it's uninspired-- but about them doing such a poor job of selling this world. Their ads don't draw from the fantasic and often fantastical content of Second Life; instead, they tie it to the more mundane aspects of the real world-- families with babies, suburban homes, just yuck.