Sunday, February 23, 2014
A Girl and a Shadow and a Singularity
Immersiva has been remade, and the qualities of it make it uniquely a blessing (and curse) for photographers. Set in extreme darkness, the Singularity of Kumiko is a sometimes terrifying, sometimes deeply moving story which plays out gradually through letters between her and her father, Iktomi. The light to use is incredibly dark, with projectors (both worn by you and placed around the sim) supplying the only light. Now and then, your head projector will flicker out of commission, leaving yourself in the dark and more vulnerable to the wild Toy Monster which over-protectively try to destroy anything in the wrong places. It's sort of like a sim immune system on crack - if you run when you see the red, you might be safe.
The combination of dark and projectors sets up a nearly perfect chiaroscuro effect everywhere you go, with confusing woodlands and wandering paths which make the entire sim seem much larger than it is. This is part of what makes it so perfect for photographers - each time you find a "scene" of the story it seems like a small spot within a vast darkness, and in the darkest places your headlamp is the only thing illuminating anything, leaving even yourself in shadow. I have a great love for Rembrandt, who elevated chiaroscuro to its most sublime state, and again and again I was reminded of the power of shadows to leave in only what is most important. The fact that one is wearing one's own light source just redoubles the effect - as you can see below. Within Second Life, we mostly interact in the third person, watching ourselves do things on the screen. The darkness and our participation in pushing it back thins this disconnect between ourselves and our avatars, making us even more one.
Back in the day when people used long words and degrees to analyze Second Life, there was a lot of disagreement between people in favor of Immersion and people in favor of Augmentation, where people disagreed about how people should use a virtual environment like Second Life and to what extent our "real" identities offline should influence our identities online. Tateru Nino pointed out that really immersion was about giving ones full attention to the virtual world, a demand few other services make these days, and that the critique of immersion might be better aimed at an escapism where one uses a virtual world to escape the "real" one. Ciaran Leval further brings in the issue of disclosure to the party - whether one shares one's offline identity online via either using the same name or dislosing one's offline identity.
In reality, these conflicts and questions of identity are much broader than Second Life, and in the five years since they raged wildly through the intelligencia of Second Life they have become of general concern on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and other social networks with differing barriers of entry. Facebook and Google+ both bank on bringing "real" identities to the table, meaning the identities one has on a drivers license (most easily, so long as your identity conforms to European/US norms) or via a concerted expression of identity on other services (more difficultly, unless your identity apes European/US norms). This focus on realness has offered a unique vector of attack on others - when people disagree on Facebook they can report and identity as not real, even if it is, and Facebook may remove the account, even if it is the person's legal identity. This encourages people who value the service for personal connection to conform and keep their head down, even as the growing effect of words and pictures connected with one's legal identity on things like ones job become increasingly harsh.
There is a reason why "doxxing" or releasing documents connecting and online and offline identity, is such a big deal in certain places on the internet. While it remains rare and is being challenged in the courts, people have lost their jobs over unrelated things on the internet which were connected with their legal identities. While the larger issue of justice may be affected by court rulings, that doesn't change the profoundly negative effect that losing ones job and having to mount a legal defense can have. Equally concerning, the growth of bullying using virtual social networks in addition to physical social networks has led to several deaths, and may be bringing in whole new issues about how we interact with each other. Somewhat ironically, there are ways in which an online, virtual interaction is "more real" than an offline, physical interaction simply because so many of the details of it - time, place, words and images included - are recorded for later review. I don't believe that online bullying is some sort of new thing, where without the online there would be no bullying; instead I believe the online, virtual nature of the interactions record existing cruelty people have toward each other, and make it easier to track and prosecute; this doesn't change the profound negative effect this can have on someone, though, especially considering how personal virtual social networks are. They are literally within our homes, as personal and private as one can get, while simultaneously being broadcast to the world (or at least the NSA).
Like Bryn Oh's chiaroscuro, which highlights memories and experiences while respecting the darkness of ignorance within which we all swim, issues of identity highlight the joins and challenges in determining who we are and expressing what we want to in a world where the opinions of others are as important (if not more) than our own. People have opinions about others who have unusual names online, and that is part of a presentation - as is how those names are minimized and rendered less important through virtual social networks like Google+, which allows one to have non-standard US "nicknames" but doesn't allow one to post and express oneself using them. People have opinions about what others should and should not be doing, and the amount of information we tend to share online opens us up to more scrutiny and critique, but usually only when we rise to the attention of people inclined to do that sort of judging. Immersion in a world where people can modify their presentation so radically highlights peoples' concerns about identity: that they will be duped in some way, that people are lying to them, that people are not what they seem. The truth is, however, that we are not what we seem in whatever venue we are seen; out of shame, reticence, and realistic appreciation of the difficulties with being fully honest, we conceal ourselves as carefully face to face as we do avatar to avatar.
A couple quick notes about my awesome outfit in these pictures - the top and pants are from Fateplay and come as a set. Sadly, the undershirt and vest are not separate meshes, but they are well rigged and I really like the underlying shape Fateplay uses for it's meshes - on the medium a bit of belly, a nice but not enormous butt, and reasonable cleavage. I also like that it's well fitted and practical; it looks like the sort of outfit one would wear for tramping around in the woods getting into trouble. While I love impractical gowns more than the next person, it's nice to have something in my arsenal for times when I need to be a bit more rugged and prepared, like when searching through a dark woods of the mind for the dreams left behind by a girl I grow to love. For practicality's reasons, I paired the outfit with a set of platform sneakers from Adore & Abhor. These are available in every color dreamed of by man, and a few just from your nightmares, so check them out. My hair was more of a happy accident than planned brilliance, though; I had just bought this surreal, spiraling hairstyle from Analog Dog when I realized my lantern from Bryn Oh's display fit into the ring perfectly, and I was hooked; I love it when form and function come together.
( More pictures here. )
Skin: Izzie's, Irene
Hair: Analog Dog, Gliese
Lantern: Bryn Oh, Headlamp
Ears: Illusions, Seelie Ears
Eyes: De La Soul, Rainbow
Eyeshadow: De La Soul, Simple Rainbow
Eyelashes 1: SLink, Mesh Lashes
Eyelashes 2: Flugeln Brise, 05-A
Lipstick: Mock, Everwinter Lip Jelle
Wings: Deviance, Sidhe
Hands: SLink, Rigged Mesh Hands
Jewelry: Losthaven, Sheridan Necklace (Fantasy Gatcha Festival)
Nails: Nine Inch Nails, Butterfly
Outfit: Fateplay, Denai
Shoes: Adore & Abhor, Platform Sneaks
Location: The Singularity of Kumiko
Light Settings: Phototools, No Light
Water Settings: Mirror Water
Photographed by Deoridhe Quandry
Post processing: Cropping, only