Reflecting on a Second Life

Vivian Kendall passed away a few days ago, after a long fight against illnesses over many, many years. A Washington State based artist, I only ever knew Vivian through one of her creations – her digital extension into the world of Second Life, Osprey Therian.

On hearing the news, I logged back into SL to respond to some messages and send some of my own, and with a slight melancholy to revisit some of the locations that once were much more familiar sights and regular haunts.

There is a sensation that many retired residents of SL have when revisiting after a long long break of finding the place empty or deserted, and the realization that their friends are no longer around. In fact, the latter may be true, very few of my old friends were in SL at that point and most probably rarely log in now, but dropping into Kuula (still the home of New Citizens Inc., a group dedicated to mentoring and supporting new users) I found a large cluster of avatars chatting, talking, sharing knowledge and skills, learning how to build virtual stuff, or just picking up some free virtual goodies. Pretty much as it was some seven/eight years ago when I first visited Kuula as a new resident myself.

I started SL because I had read so many stories and it seemed so crazy that I had to try it out for myself… and found that I could use the world as a platform for irreverent creativity, making silly stuff that was just silly or funny and that I was able to share these creations and take pleasure in the amazing creativity of others. I made a few fun things, but was generally a bit of a slacker.

But inspired by what I saw, I became convinced that virtual worlds could be a useful platform for formal education – and I became more and more involved in that side of SL and virtual worlds. I created a new avatar, slightly less irreverent, as an attempt to partition the ‘fun’ and ‘work’ sides of SL. Possibly a mistake, as I then found that there simply wasn’t time to maintain two virtual lives – but overall it turned out well, and my most successful academic and educational work all owes its origins to Second Life.

I got to know a huge range of amazing folks from around the world. Some became academic collaborators, many others I still keep in touch with through Twitter, or Facebook and it is amazing to follow the careers of many of these folk.

Just today I saw an update from Henry Segerman who has taken his hobby of creating mathematically driven 3D art from the virtual world to the physical one with the help of 3D printing.

A sculpture that projects from sphere to a plane

Stereographic projection from sphere to a plane

Some of the other folk I know have gone on to do whole hosts of amazing things, academically, artistically, or simply had good careers. But even if success in this world did not follow, that was never the point anyway. Many just had fun and an outlet for creative exploration in SL or just from being part of a community where life was a form of play.

The communities you became part of, the communities that existed in Second Life were almost certainly the best thing in Second Life – not finding a community that you could be part of or relate to was probably the most significant reason for people leaving SL within hours of starting. I was lucky enough in my Second Lives to be part of some really fantastic communities and to be able to visit many many more.

And I was lucky enough that Osprey Therian was a member of some of those communities, and to be able to experience some of the wonderful events, shows and general fun stuff she made happen in SL.

So I’m thinking of SL, the strange world where we met and how it seems to have started so many voyages and stories for so many folk, and wondering where these journeys are going to lead us over the next decades.

But this weekend Osprey Therian, a veteran voyager around Second Life, will be making a final dangerous journey, and many of her friends will be there to see her off and wish her well. I may not be able to attend, but my thoughts are with Osprey as she leaves these familiar shores and seas.

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