Yoknapatawpha Crossing

And so it begins…

with one comment

These things have been around for a while, I realize, but I didn’t really take a whole lot of notice until recently. There was that fiasco with the Kryptonite bicycle locks, where some clever person noticed they could be picked open with a regular Bic pen. They posted some comment to that effect on a personal blog, someone else noticed it and put it up on a blog with a slightly larger audience, and so on and so forth, and then Kryptonite was offering to replace any of the locks in question for free. Ten days, ten million dollars of revenue lost for Kryptonite. That’s power.

Well, after that, I figured I needed to start a blog of my very own. “Participate in a revolution that promises to make life suck for corporate America? Where do I sign?!?!” (pay no attention to the Google sponsored ads) So here we are. ‘We’ being purely hypothetical, of course.

Like most people who post, I have very little to say that’s interesting or original. Occassionally, you can perhaps expect entertaining, but not today. Today, we start with some links.

Thanks to the observant people at Mac Hall, I was directed to the site of an interesting project called Second Life. Let me explain the premise. The developers of Second Life have created a persistent online world in which many people can interact not only by talking, but also by engaging in any number of activities. It is not a MMORPG in the traditional sense of the term; rather, it is the next generation of IM (the developers hope). The idea is to allow people to log in to a world that is similar to the real one, but in which they have the freedom to do many things that wouldn’t be possible in real life, like fly, or own an island, or even just interact with friends who are widely separated in physical space.

Second Life is actually not unique; I’m aware of another similar service called There. Second Life does look much more interesting, however, in that it allows for a much greater degree of user interaction. The world of Second Life uses Havok physics (which power Half-Life 2, as well as many other notable computer games) to create an environment in which objects are not just static blocks, but actually behave as you would expect them to most of the time. What I mean is, with a physics model like Havok, you could have your digital self throw a table, and it would fall and spin and clatter around like a real table. There are several other interesting touches in Second Life, including a weather system modelled with cellular automata, which means that they can get some very detailed and complex behavior that would ape the way real weather works fairly convincingly. (Pseudo-randomness at its best.)

Where the whole user interaction bit really comes into play, however, is with user-created content. Second Life apparently allows anyone to custom design their own avatar, clothes, vehicle, house, even island. Additionally, you can create behaviors and physics for these objects with their scripting language. This is all available to any user who cares to put in the time. And money, of course; their business model is clever in that you pay to rent virtual land, so if you want to build that island cabana retreat, you’ll have to pay a real fee to use their virtual space. Still.

I’ve been very interested to see where projects like There and Second Life go. They really are a very clever idea, and in my mind they are also the first step on the road towards creating a truly immersive alternate world, particularly now that users have the ability to create their own completely original content. It’s not a perfect system; no matter how easy the tools are supposed to be, building a statue in Second Life is nowhere near as intuitive as sculpting something out of clay, but it is possible. Twenty years of cyberpunk literature that much closer to being reality. Don’t know whether to be happy about that, or what.

Either way, these things don’t look like they’re close to taking off the way IM has, and I doubt that they will anytime soon. Having to pay a subscription fee (or land rental fee) is a major turn off to many people for this sort of thing. Then again, having to pay a monthly fee for internet was a major turn off for a long time, too, and now it’s considered a necessity. If they ever do take off, you wonder how projects like Second Life will affect society. Even something as mundane as IM is starting to have a big impact; many people spend more time interacting socially over IM and similar channels than they do in real life, and it’s hard to say if that’s a bad thing or not.

Even using a term like ‘real life’ is unfairly weighted. It’s not as though you’re tossing words out into the void when you talk on IM. You’re certainly having a conversation with someone, with a real someone, so it’s unfair in my mind to deliniate so sharply between interacting in person and interacting online. Carrying on conversation over IM or email or what have you certainly requires a different set of social skills than talking with someone in person, and it may very well be that in the coming years those skills will be more important. As we become a more globalized and electralized world, being able to interact with people online will continue to become a more and more important skill, so who’s to say that these kids who spend all their time on IM are wasting their lives away? Deep questions, for me anyhow, and my attention has wandered.

In personal news:

Florida in the winter is absolutely, completely amazing. I went swimming outside in the middle of January. I ate ice cream on the beach in a T-shirt. I also saw the Dali museum, the Ringling museum, the aquarium, Busch Gardens (9 roller coasters in 2 hours. Beat that, sucka.) and The Motorcycle Diaries. Everything was awesome, one of the most fun vacations I’ve ever had. You should visit Florida.

But now I get to look ahead. Packing tomorrow, driving back to college Saturday, getting cracking Monday.

And on a totally unrelated note, I’m not sure if I’m just that guy who never notices crap, maybe everyone but me’s already heard of them, but there’s this band called the Scissor Sisters. They rock pretty hard.

Okay, well, wow. That was long and unfocused. That’s undoubtedly going to be the lengthiest post I ever make to this blog. I should keep this up if only to develop a clearer writing style. Damn.

…but how long will it last?


Written by Daniel Grady

January 13, 2005 at 21:50

Posted in Games

One Response

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  1. Your first comment, thanks to technorati.com!

    I just wanted to clarify something. The developers of Second Life do not hope it to be the next IM, but rather the next WWW. The big picture in the mind of their CEO Philip Rosedale is always larger than the picture anyone else can hold at this time.

    Nice first blog post though. ;-)


    January 14, 2005 at 16:35

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