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Random Modeling Encounter in the Garden

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The Songbird Garden, before the re-modeling grand opening at the beginning of December 2011.

Owning my garden shop in Second Life, which has flourished so much from being just a mere flower-ridden cottage at the bottom floor of our Balu Island residence to being revised and raised up in the sky as some astral space observatory-themed shop and now finally transforming into the sky garden I’d always dreamed of, but never had the resources to develop, we find a plentiful amount of walks of life strolling through the Songbird Garden. Our garden was complete at the end of November 2011 and ever since, some bystanders come to glance at a shop that has more than just general department store-like windows and life-sized photographs of products but an actual garden beyond it to further demonstrate why it’s indeed the Songbird Garden.

I’m proud of this store conjured from my own dreams because it’s indeed something I created all on my own and am so happy to share this vision with the rest of Second Life, and even my parents who can feel my love for nature through this platform. The shop had gone through so many incarnations and this final version represents achieving my dream of having the willpower and resources to build it, and I’m grateful for the positivity I was given every step of the way. My friend encouraged me and sat with me through the many, many days of building this sky garden, one grass strand at a time and made me feel empowered enough to pull off such a tedious task.

In Songbird Garden, you can meander through our garden houses, one offering sound products and the other avatar shapes, which are named after various plants, trees, and flowers and inspired by the lore of each. Even in the back of the semi-greenhouse you can spot new shapes sprouting from beyond. Our shop has bloomed into an ideal place for hunt events to take place, hosts of such hunts love to see gifts hidden beneath the flowers we plant in our garden as part of the hunt itself. If you find the hunt item beneath this particular clued flower, you receive a gift from our shop and it’s brought in quite a crowd.
From Neko girls crawling on all fours sniffing around from the hunt item beneath the trees – we currently have a “Hollywood Walk of Fame Hunt” going on right now where we chose Snow White (Yes, she has her own star!) and hide the object under a lush apple tree to “The Penitent Hunt“, celebrated through the purple heart gift box under the towering lily of the valleys, a flower relevant to religious repentance- to child avatars browsing the free monthly goodies on our table, we’ve literally seen every type of avatar there is in Second Life.


As for activities though? While developing a new product for our shop in our cottage at the edge of the garden, our manager and I spoke over voice chat until we noticed a dark-haired man lingering beneath the tree. We could hear the shots of his camera and thought perhaps he was only taking photographs of our garden, flattering in itself. Shortly enough, he brought a few models with him, girls who sported outfits from wedding gowns to light-hearted, pin-up dresses, one model even wore an avatar shape she’d purchased at our shop previously.

I’d only been to the bigger gardens such as Alirium where people took any sorts of pictures (most photographers enjoy using a green screen and making a backdrop in Adobe Photoshop) but only few places in Second Life are so impeccably worthy to receive actual attention from a photographer with models and I felt honored to be one of them. Our store manager, and real life friend, asked me how it made me feel and I could say, “Nothing short of proud, I’m so glad we built this garden that everyone enjoys spending time in, whether to listen to the gentle Cecile Corbel’s harp over our self-made radio station, to shop around, or to explore beyond the store deep into the garden and perhaps take a picture. Our shop should feel honored now.”

I never thought I’d have any professional photographer or long-time models for various Second Life products meander in and sit amongst our purple and pink-peppered wildflowers nor rest near the lofty tree and pose, but I think it’s safe by this point to say I’ve seen every sort of activity here at the Songbird Garden and will eagerly search every store and blog to discover our garden photographed that evening. Second Life is the only platform in which I could develop something from my dreams and overall imagination and transform it into a complete reality to share with everyone who wishes to traipse through my garden reverie while listening to the fairy-like sounds of Studio Ghibli films, and I’m grateful for this.

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."

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Introduction

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Within the summer of June out of curiosity, a few friends and I decided to try Second Life. I’ve acquired a plethora of gamer friends from every perspective, from those that enjoy playing against others competitively to those who indulge in a game’s enticing storyline, and the latter seemed interested in joining me in our random endeavor into Second Life.

Little did we know this “game” doesn’t seem like a game at all unless considered in the sense that it is a MMO (massively multiplayer and online), but is in no way a MMORPG like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, consider their product to be a social experiment of sorts, as the company itself was originally made up of sociologists while users consider it a 3D world imagined through creation and ownership of the residents. Through Second Life, they can promote their research even more and run a real life simulation through this online realm.

What makes Second Life so unique from any other application where you may play an avatar is that the world is seamless, there is no storyline but the one you create or choose to indulge in. They aren’t any barriers or judgments about you based on your skill as a ‘player,’ but encourages creativity through design. Second Life is much like real life in the sense that if you don’t earn money through in-world employment or investing real life money into it, you won’t get ahead of others. This certainly scares some newcomers away as neither everyone can afford to do this nor have a skill that would make others pay them for their work. People earn money on their avatars through creativity such as designing clothing, accessories, make-up, hair, furniture – literally anything you can think of can be designed, scripting, modeling, maintaining a site for an in-world shop, building environments and architecture, blogging an event, managing real estate property, hosting an event, working in a club as a DJ or hostess, or the infamous careers that are notorious for making real life news, dancing, stripping, being a bouncer for a club, among other questionable professions.

Despite Second Life’s birth in summer of 2003, I’d only heard negative things much like any other outsider, about couples living secret lives in Second Life through exploring their hidden sexualities or being involved in an online scandal regarding someone stealing their product designs and then taking it to court with much media attention.

When I logged into Second Life with my friends, it was just for fun, we were simply going to joke around and see what sort of scandalous behavior we could find and laugh at, being former World of Warcraft players who mocked any other gaming platform from our elitist high horses (Or should I say dragons?).

Our image of Second Life was one painted in electric blue glowing stripper poles with flawless, well-endowed avatars dancing upon them for tips and sex beds dotting every residential area with questionable sexual options. However, we became intrigued with the beauty of the game upon leaving the starting area and discovered Second Life was unlike what media had projected about this simulator. After logging off for the night, we all quickly found each other logging in the next day and felt rather embarrassed at finding each other each signing in to take a second look at Second Life.

Over time, our avatars have opened a shop where our Lindens (Second Life currency) have made us quite a bit of real life money through our skill set and design – and yes, any Second Life money can be transferred into quite a bit of real life money. My friend’s avatar has also become a security guard at one of the most prominent clubs in Second Life, and I sometimes bring my avatar to visit her’s while on duty to make her two-hour shift somewhat more enjoyable while listening to the electronica Our house!music within the tropical-themed terrain. Our avatars house together on our own cherry blossom-ridden property that we pay rent for and much like a real home, we can place any objects and decor in it as we please and may set rules for our guests. Our avatars have also become regulars in a multitude of communities in Second Life, from the Japanese fashion culture to niche communities like “breedables,” pets you can breed in-world and sell based off of the genetics involved – and believe me, the breeding is just as complicated as the steps you perform to calculate proper genetic odds of animals breeding in real life. Our avatars have scooted along countryside dirt bike paths and have partaken in breedable auctions, our avatars have even experienced Black Friday just as busy as malls get offline. While we’ve only been active in Second Life for seven months, we’ve had quite a series of misadventures on our avatars regularly.

Events often highlight Second Life, promoting plenty of fashion designers with products exclusive to event-goers to DJs playing live music at the clubs they’re employed at, often staging a costume-themed event with voting and prize incentives to end the night, a hostess often makes sure to hype up the event to get more Second Life clubbers through the virtual doors. Events also take shape in the form of “hunts,” which designers each create one item and hide it in their shop, and the shoppers or “hunters” follow clues in order to discover each item hidden in the store. These hunts also give designers a way to garner new shoppers who never would have ventured into their shop otherwise and show them a taste of their style through the free hunt item hidden.

This blog will be focusing on these events throughout the semester while also highlighting any interesting finds within Second Life. With a vast world scripted and sculpted completely by the denizens of Second Life, it creates a fantastic, awe-inspiring universe that seems never-ending without any impossibilities, the world is only limited by your imagination. Embracing all that Second Life has to offer, I hope to offer the best in terms of events and bewildering places to visit if you ever journey onto the grid.

With closure to this long-winded and much needed introduction to both explain Second Life and to talk about my own beginnings to this forever enigmatic world, I hope you’ll join me on my (mis)adventures upon my next blog post,

Rachel