Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fascinated By Virtual Worlds

From the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary:


noun \ˌfa-sə-ˈnā-shən\
a : the quality or power of fascinatingb : something fascinating
: the state of being fascinated : the state of feeling an intense interest in something

I remember my first fascination with online worlds, and no, it wasn't the first moment I stepped into UruLive to take control of my first "digital representation of my corporeal self."  It actually sprang from a hot, humid afternoon in 1982 when my sister took me to the movies to sit and wonder at a film called Tron.

That's right.  For me, my fascination with technology, computers, and eventually with immersive online worlds came from watching Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan and Dan Shor zipping across the screen in Light Cycles, Solar Sailers, Tanks and Recognizers.  The idea that Kevin Flynn could be brought into the machine, not just sit in front of the screen, totally enthralled me to the point where I was ready to sign up for the next blast from that funky laser in the Encom building.  It's ok, you can laugh, because while it is a ridiculous thought to consider a little 11-year-old girl sitting in front of her Apple IIe with a green CRT and wishing she could pilot a light cycle, it only took about 21 more years until I finally sat behind my first avatar.  While it wasn't a trip to Tron's world, it was a step in the proper direction.

Amongst the hoorah of the first persistent online worlds, with me running, jumping and climbing the daunting puzzles of the Myst Universe, Tron haunted me still, and during the days of UruLive there was also a set of films coming to the fore that echoed Kevin Flynn's trip into the computer, and you guessed it, it would be the physically jacked in world of The Matrix.  There we saw Neo being unplugged and replugged into the computer and into digital simulations.  I mean, who can forget the scene in the dojo with the whole point being that it's your mind that is controlling it all and it didn't solely rely on your physical strength to be able to master your environment?

The idea of being plugged into a machine is nothing new, in the 50's architects had their pens and drafting tables busily constructing future cities.  Case in point is one that I worked at eventually, EPCOT Center at Disneyworld, where every day I passed beneath the giant geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth and was reminded of all of the technology that would eventually be a part of every day life.  I looked up constantly and wondered when I was going to be able to sign up for a trip into a computer world, where money meant nothing and that true power could be attained through the mind and the limits of the imagination.  Which brings us back to my little control dramas and how I have lived most of my life trying to overcome abuse.

It is no small wonder why I am an online world junkie.  Every day I can "plug in" to Relyimah in WoW, Sh'aeri in Uru or even back in the days of There.com, I could plug into that simulation too.  Each avatar has certain things that when you look at them, you see me.  Rel bears the claw mark tattoos down her face that mark her as a feral fighter even though her main job at the moment is to help and to heal others.  Sound familiar?  In Uru, my avatar bears a striking resemblance to me in real life, down to the red hair and not so toned physique with my square glasses perched on my nose.  Shaeri in There.com was a triumph though.  She wore my real life horned rim glasses, my jeans, even down to the gold chain belt, she had a plethora of clothing that I made myself in which she even wore the Ralph Lauren tweed jacket and Ann Taylor Loft brown wool pants that hang in my closet down to my multi-colored brown high-heeled leather mules.

What was so fascinating about the There.com experience is that I actually took wireframes of 3D models and skinned them, just as a digital artist at ILM takes and puts lifelike skin on a dinosaur. I put clothing textures onto the wireframes and turned them into things I wore and used.  It was like looking in my closet and the things I wanted in my closet and all I had to do was turn on the computer, use my imagination and make it.  One to two weeks later, after it went through the submissions process, I could put on what I made, making the world that much more immersive.

I'm fascinated on a daily basis on what I can do with Rel.  She's beautiful, even though she does have blue hair...she resonates with me so strongly because she is the bear that I wake up as in the morning, she's the slick feline form that I strike when I go out, she's the healing tree of life that symbolizes my life mantra of sharing love every day and at every opportunity.  The most striking thing about Rel to me, is one of her druid shapeshifting abilities...she can run at top speed off of a cliff, skydive for a moment, then I can shift her form into that of a bird.  She can fly on her own, she needs no safety net, no secondary means of flying, she just turns into a bird and flies on her merry way.  Oy, what I wouldn't give to be able to do that!  I wonder sometimes what it would be like to be her for a day.  She's me everyday, but for some reason, I'd like to know what it's like to sit in her skin instead of me just piloting her.  I am quite positive I'd be quite scared trying to take on enormous skeletons, spiders...(oy, Blizzard really needs to give the spiders a rest), enormous orcs, fire-breathing dogs (oh wait, been there done that, my sister's Dobermans already have that covered).  But the point is that I'm only a spectator when it comes to Rel.  I'm not actually doing the fighting, I press buttons for that.  Rel's the one that has died thousands upon thousands of times trying to beat overwhelming odds, I haven't.  She risks her neck so I can have fun.  Someone remind me, I need to get my little toon something cute just for the fact that for over three years she's been my source of fun and hasn't complained one iota that she's died countless times.  LOL.

Wait, peculiar thought there...Rel's the one that has died thousands upon thousands of times trying to beat overwhelming odds, I haven't.  I've gone through a lot in my life and I've still not died from it even though at times I thought I might have.  Something to think on there...

But getting back onto topic, another part is Uru.  Now, with Uru being a non-violent world, I think I could live quite happily in the underground city of D'ni.  It's just blood, sweat and tears as you travel through books, explore different worlds and work to restore a civilization that has gone the way of the Dodo but has some damn neat little attributes and groovy things worth saving and restoring.  I like the restorative factor of Uru, it's the whole process of rebuilding which of course resonates with me again for reasons we all are aware of.

It all goes back to that humid day in 1982 where that little, awkward 11-year-old was trying to figure out how to be happy and who had a sister that was nice enough to take her to the movies.

Where's that funky laser in the Encom building?  It sits in my living room and it's called my home computer.

By the way, in December we'll be seeing that funky laser again on the big screen and you better believe I'll be one of the first in line to get my ticket for Tron: Legacy.

Here's the trailer if you've not seen it:

Followed by a second thought.  For those of you who know me, you know my favorite music genre is Electronica.  Small wonder huh?  Well, for those of you into the genre like I am...Daft Punk has taken on the job of scoring the new film and here's the vid for a song from the movie called "Derezzed."  Enjoy.

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