Saturday, October 22, 2005

Half Empty, pt. 1

My real-life commute to work every morning lasts about half an hour. I have a five minute walk to the subway, a train ride of around fifteen minutes (plus however long I have to wait on the platform), and another five minute walk to my destination, a downtown office building buzzing with security guards, building maintenance personnel, and nine-to-fivers.

Although the basics of my commute remain essentially the same, there are aspects that change daily. A couple of times I've had to speed up to get out from behind a smoker walking in front of me. Sometimes I'm able to get a seat on the train; other times I have to stand, and curse the idiot college student standing behind me who keeps whacking me with his backpack because he's forgotten that he's attached a huge nylon hump to his back. Occasionally there are conversations to eavesdrop on. Once in a great while someone remarks on the book I'm reading.

- -

In the evenings I log into Second Life. I have a private sim, and my ongoing (Sisyphean?) project these days is to fill it with stuff. I can't possibly build everything myself, so I go on shopping trips, rambling explorations, looking for cool stuff to buy and bring home.

No argument, the creators of SL are inventive, and I've laid out more than a few Lindens to acquire the pretty, the kinetic, the interactive. The stores I've visited range in style from simple prim platforms to elaborate architecture, tiny rented stalls to private islands. The one thing all of the stores share in common is that they're usually deserted.

Of course the stores are unattended. What proprietor can spend 24 hours a day tending their Second Life store? What employee would man a store for the spare change a $L-based income represents? Who could stand the boredom of sitting around a virtual store, waiting for customers that could appear at any moment, but probably won't?

- -

Your mileage may vary, but I find SL to be, generally, a solitary experience. It's "Ghost Town" by The Specials. Obviously, to get your social fix you can attend any number of events at nearly all hours of the day, or chase clusters of little green dots around the grid. And there are ways that you can bring people to you. But people do not flow around us. There is little sense of living, breathing, daily occupation in SL. Like the Marie Celeste, there are traces of our passing: cigarettes left smoking in ashtrays, half-filled cups of coffee steaming on kitchen counters, torches guttering in gothic basements, stage lights strobing on colorful but empty dance floors, porch swings rocking quietly to themselves...

- -

Meanwhile, here I am with an entire sim to fill. When finished, it will undoubtedly stand empty of people for long stretches of time. What can I do to make up for the lack of human interaction when a visitor teleports to my island? Is it possible to make the sim itself a host, greeting, guiding, and actively entertaining the solitary visitor? I think it might be, but we won't know until I get around to writing part two of this sprawling epic, will we?


  1. I feel how different the dynamics can be in SL... like, since we can fly, and 'cuz vehicles are more of a pleasure device than necessities for commuting, we don't get stuck in traffic jams. Furthermore, clubs may be packed but there's no long line to get in... no parking lots, no valets.

    We don't get old unless we choose to appear and act that way.

    One pleasant experience I had some months back was at the joint called Curious Kitties, where co-owner Ameshin Yossarian was greeting people at the door and welcoming them in! I came back several times and she was there each and every time. I haven't seen her in the flesh in her new location yet, tho.

    Nice observations, Pol. ^_^

  2. It can be eerie how quiet some parts of SL are, and yet it can all change so quickly.

    The other night I visited a friend helping a new resident in a sandbox. Two other folks we knew dropped in to visit. We TPed over to my store in aqua to throw up halloween decorations. Next thing I knew, we had two more avs drop in. Then two more. Then two more, etc. In the time it took for you to spin your head three times around, we had a mad-cap party going on. And just as quickly, it disappeared as we dispersed to sleep or respective projects.

    The accelerating principle of green dots, including the TP coefficient?

  3. A greeter at the door...things like that are still unusual in SL. One thing I've always liked about The Shelter is how Travis always tries to greet you when you first arrive.

    I definitely think the "green dot effect" is one of the really fun things about SL.

  4. i wonder if the baby steps of AI in SL (icon's work, Abramelin's Alice, and probably others I don't know about) might eventually lead to semi-helpful greeter bots? But I imagine you'd need some real software/db power behind that, not to mention in-world scripting that could drive something like a bot directing a guest around a store, and since that would need to sit remotely, better interfaces in and out of SL.

  5. Forseti, bots are one thing I plan to talk about in a future installment.

  6. Am I the only one who enjoys the quiet? Honestly, sometimes when I login and see that Boardman is empty, it makes me excited. "I'm going to fiddle with my stuff now!" (oh stop it, that's not what I meant)

    That's not to say I don't enjoy meeting people who wander by. And in the sims where I "live" in SL, we get a lot of fly bys from Ahern. I can safely say that I have never spent time in Barcola without having a complete stranger come by. Invariably we end up chatting.

    Flash mobs are a wonderful thing. If you're up for them Pol, we'll put you on the list. Just don't feel like you have to come.

  7. Am I the only one who enjoys the quiet of SL? Sometimes when i login and see that Boardman is empty I think "sweet, time to fiddle with my stuff!"

    I have land in sims that seem to get a lot of fly bys from Ahern. Boardman is like this but particulary the city sims. I don't think I've ever been in Barcola without having a complete stranger start talking to me, usually someone new.

    Flash mobs are fun :-)

  8. Ingrid, I don't mind the quiet at all, and when I do I usually find a friend to bother (as you've probably noticed). I'm coming at this from a builder's point of view: generally, we build in SL as if we expect a flow of humanity to be constantly passing through our plazas, parks, houses, malls, etc. And we've gotten pretty good at making the physical structures, builds that invite passerby to explore.

    However, we lack the population density to really bring these structures to life. That's why they seem jarring to me. They anticipate a flow of humanity that isn't there.

    So given this situation, how do I best serve my audience? If I can't expect my builds to always be buzzing with life, what can I do instead to create a more interesting experience for my visitors? That's the question, and I'm trying to answer it from an environmental perspective.