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Showing posts with label Zack Wonder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zack Wonder. Show all posts

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The GBTH Project Review – Zack Wonder Reporting

The art scene is vibrant on Second Life (SL), as many creators are experimenting the possibilities of creation in an ephemeral, virtual world without the actual need to go through the painstaking physical process of chipping away at rock or mixing oil pastes to paint on canvas. This process is exhibited in the GBTH Project (Grab the Bull by The Horns), curated by Marine Münter (vivresavie.resident). The GBTH Project is located at a sim organized as a cityscape, and is a piece of art in itself. A central square exhibits sculptures and leads to exhibit halls. Some exhibits can be entered from adjacent streets. Everything is organized as galleries in real-life (RL) art museums, with plaques introducing the artists and the art pieces. There are teleporters in strategic locations to guide the visitor around the sim. 
The sculptures in the central square are created by residents with an interest in art, as a collective effort titled “They: Duality of Love”. Rachel Breaker has provided the tools to create the sculptures from set pieces that the participants in the project have then assembled and textured to represent a central theme of love and duality. “Non-binary” aspects of love are also represented in the sculptures. Some of these are very political, others very innocuous representations of loving couples.
Zack admiring Rachel Breaker’s sculpture

The main exhibits in the sim are organized as individual galleries. Wide staircases lead to the entrances of four main halls, with entrance foyers introducing the artists and their works. On the side streets, “off-main” galleries can be found. Some of these are in small buildings resembling converted residences, and others have been erected on empty lots.
Sabotaged Memory by Marina Münter and Smoopa Spinotti can be found on one of the empty lots. Political, current-affairs protest posters and random junk are collected in a wire fence cage.  The posters decry current affairs with slogans witnessed in real-life (RL) urban protests in the USA: “Defund cops - prisons - military - racists”. Also, infringement on native tribes’ rights are reflected: “Stop federal invasion on indigenous lands”. The wire fence cage has, on closer look, rococo furniture, wall gobelins, vases and other artifacts from “le belle epoque” with graffiti tags written on them. Other pieces of the exhibit expound the whites’ invasion on indigenous lands, and imperialistic culture appropriating the quaint and the exotic of foreign cultures. The exhibit if an in-the-face exposition of revolutions past and present. A similar aesthetic is present in Marina’s exhibit “Non Perishable” where railroad containers are laden with junk and pieces of furniture, presenting themed views of existence, ranging from ambivalence and home, to wilderness, sea, and sin. You could spend hours examining the containers, getting new ideas on each visit.
New Years Eve by Amanda (aht1981) is one of the main exhibits, with video screens. A blue entrance staircase leads to the dark presentation room. Black and white videos of avatars talking about their New Year celebrations at the turn of 2020 are shown on the screens, by clicking on them. The concern of the virus was already present at the turn of the year, and the videos progress as interviews about the rising concern and people’s attitudes with coping with the isolation. The interviews on the screens concern the virus mostly, but the Black Lives Matter riots area also mentioned. Beautifully done, with eerie ambient music to go with the presentation, the videos have post-production effects that reflect black and white film and analog video from the VHS times.

pic of a screen

Chuanghu (Windows) by FionaFei teleprots you to the middle of an exhibit of Chinese-style calligraphic ink wash landscape in 3-D as a room with different surfaces. The viewer centrally is inside, and changing the point of view, every perspective changes the scene with the intersecting surfaces. The imagery evokes old Eastern silk screen partitions as well as modern urban structures. This exhibit is one example of an effect that a normal art gallery could never produce. It would be fascinating to experience with virtual reality eyewear.

Samira Selvey in the middle of the exhibit

“Swallow” by Vincent Priestley is an immersive space where the visitor becomes eaten, entering into a visceral body cavity with framed paintings on the walls. The paintings feature protruding organs, some are malformed surfaces with canvas texture, as well as reliefs with face-like features. Body fluids ooze from the walls as the viewer passes by the exhibited art. The exhibit is like a dungeon made of organic matter. Walking further down the body cavities, enlarged micro-organism like sculptures appear. The objets d’art are for sale in the gift shop!
Zack inside “Swallow”

“Inferno” by Noke Yuitza is a fantasy dreamscape of nightmarish proportions where a central figure is a dragon gazing on the visitor. Flowers with bulging eyes gaze on the viewer walking on a surface of multicolored crystals as well as a blanket of digital art. The eye flowers turn eerily directly at you as you walk around the space. It is possible to walk around the center of the exhibit, looking in from the outside, creating views with surreptitious effects that you can’t see from the inside.
interior of Inferno

A more traditional display of art is a collection of “furry” images by Tommy Bruce titled “Real Problems”. The central figure is a deer-like creature representing Tommy himself. The paintings hung on the walls as well as the sculptures present this deer furry in various scenes depicting different degrees of violence. The deer is the victim, with external forces imposed on him. The detailed furry texture of the sculptures is evoking realism absent in real-life art such as the Wall Street Bull.

furry deer sculpture

An upcoming exhibit by Rachel Breaker is still under construction in one of the main galleries. Rachel also has a store located on the sim, with pieces of art for sale.
The GBTH Project sim is one of the most evocative and mind-expanding sims to be encountered on Second Life. With the changing exhibits, there is something new to see on every visit, and the space cannot be completely exhausted at one go. SLE gives a “both thumbs up” for the experience, with a strong recommendation for  avatars to take the time off their busy schedules to do something different and visit.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Inside the St. Elizabeth’s University – Zack Wonder reporting

St. Elizabeth’s University is one of the seats of higher learning in Second Life (SL). Zack Wonder was invited to stroll the grounds with Tikinova Adonide (Tiki) who is the Senior Administrator at “St. E’s” as the University is often called. “Miss Elle Gedenspire and Miss Rae Summerisle founded St. Elizabeth’s five years ago,” she explained. “Elle is our media teacher and the president of the university and Rae contents herself building and running the sim. She makes things so pretty. As the Senior Admin, I run the daily operations. 

We have about 115 events each month, so I schedule and vet them all. I also do student admissions.” St. Elizabeth is a ladies’ college but has male staff as the Cardinal, renters, and lecturers. It is a role-play (RP) community for female avatars that look and play the part. “We make sure candidates look agreeable, and if someone has objectionable groups in the profiles, we will discuss that with them. For example, I would not have a student with curse words on her profile page, or a group about misogyny or racial supremacy. Students get a trial period before they get full status.” Admission requirements also state that the avatars applying must be over 60 days in age, and they should look 18 to 24 years of age. 

St. Elizabeth’s is tuition-free for the students. Donations are channeled to charitable causes such as the Harambee school  which has received 144,000 L$ so far.  “I also recruit staff,” Tiki continued. “Usually 1 or 2 people each week come to us asking to teach, so I have a process: they come to do some observations, they have an interview with me and submit a lesson plan. If I approve, they get a trial class.” She also told SL Enquirer that the staff is about a dozen strong, for the 45 to 50 active students at the University.

Tiki took Zack around, from the foyer to the classrooms, auditorium, and across the yard, to the Cathedral as well as the dance studio and the gym. Zack met a St. E’s student, Ailsa Stromfield, at the gym, for a brief interview.

SLE: What brought you to study here?

Ailsa: Well, to be honest, I discovered St. E’s by accident, but when I landed here was greeted warmly and never left. This was back in December [2019].

SLE: What made you so attached?

Ailsa: The staff and students are a great family, and there’s the bonus of real lessons too.

SLE: A sense of belonging?

Ailsa: Yep, a “belonging” is right. I have some great friends here, and there’s a lot of time and effort put in by others.

SLE: Can you tell what benefits you get with the lessons?

Ailsa: I can convert binary! Laughs… I’m not university educated, but it’s been interesting listening to art and media appreciation.

SLE: So, how do you see the students grasping the topics covered, if they come from a varied background?

Ailsa: There are some big brains here, some of the girls are real-life students and are well versed with the subjects. Its’ nice listening to them discuss the subjects.
Ailsa further explained that she wishes to stay on the classes for the time to come, and that even though she is from Europe, classes from 9 pm until midnight UK time work for her. She has had to be selective with activities, though, as sometimes committing to set hours for stage productions etc. left her feeling lacking in her effort compared to the US-based participants.

Sitting later in Tiki’s office, she continued explaining the benefits for avatars studying at St. Elizabeth’s. “Like most of the SL experience, St. E’s is about community, friendships, and support. People who come here have a great chance to make themselves better. First, there are our academic offerings. A class takes between 3 and 6 hours to prepare, for a 1-hour presentation - our students are very bright, so the teachers have to be experts and prepared, so the quality is high.” As if this was not convincing enough, she kept on: “…and then there are the cultural pursuits. We have a creative writing class, where students get instruction for a published RL author, writer's club, where students simply share what they've been working on, informally; poetry class (instruction), poetry readings (presentation), art appreciation class, and also a gallery on campus where to display [pieces of students’ creations]. Our own dance company recently won 1st place in the Paragon Dance Animations Contest.”

Later, we met together with Tiki and St. E’s Housemother, the Dean of Student Housing Pat Wheelwright on the University premises.

SLE: What's a "Housemother"?

Pat: I am responsible for the general well-being of the students, and I manage the dorms as well as supervise the Prefects (senior students who have extra duties). Prefects assist staff in matters of discipline, most of them have a dorm that they manage. I also DJ here, and do the coffee house once a month.

SLE: Do students have residence requirements, and are they expected to stay on campus outside classes?

Pat: Students have a dorm bed, for role-play (RP) purposes. Some of them also rent houses here, they are not required to stay on campus.
Tiki: They also often have houses elsewhere, but it's nice to have a dorm to belong to. It's a place to hang out on campus and be casual - it is no issue to get them to stay in the dorm, trust me. The girls like to come to school.
Pat: This place is more and more about community. Many of these girls are here, seeking that.

Since Pat and Tiki both are involved in the administrative and disciplinary aspect of running the University, SLE was curious about any disciplinary issues they might have encountered.
Pat: Yes, there are adult features - but only if you want them. You can enjoy St. E’s without.
Tiki: Everyone is adult here, so naturally there are romances.

Pat: We try to keep it as much like a RL college as possible - I had a student who asked if they could have a dorm with bondage toys in the dorm - I said "no" without any hesitation!  If it is RP acting out, that is different than someone who is just plain hard to get along with. We try to screen out people who we think might not be good for the community. If someone is disruptive, they are going to get booted out!

Tiki: We have a code book that dictates the rules. It tells students their rights and responsibilities.

Pat further explained that the University does not suspend students for trivial reasons, and only the President can ban a student permanently. St. Elizabeth’s has a school uniform that apparently the students wear gladly, out of the sense of community. Even though it is laid out as a Catholic University, expression of faith is not a requirement, and religious people as well as agnostics alike participate in the University life, including Mass. 

The campus is now two full sims and is looking to expand to twelve – with a sailing experience that spans eight of the sims. Students run their own newspaper, “The Chronicle” that focuses on community events and stories, including photo journals and creative stories. As the curriculum is varied, from humanities to science lectures, the students spend their time willingly in classes and doing homework, having a sense of academic advancement.  Having toured the premises and talked to staff and students, it became clear that the lofty goals of this establishment are being met, for the advancement of avatars in Second Life to the better.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Sex ReSearch on Second Life – Zack Wonder Reporting

Avatars on Second Life (SL) meet challenges in dealing with other avatars on many levels. From day-to-day conversations and activities to very personal and intimate encounters, relationships are not always smooth sailing. Many avatars have gone through breakups both in real life (RL) as well as in SL, and have experienced the hurt produced by severing a mutual trust and the cessation of daily activities with the loved one. “Research shows that virtual-life breakups can be more painful than real-life breakups,” says Veritas McMaster (“Veri”), the leader of the SexReSearch clinic on SL and moderator of Healing Hurt clinic on Facebook. The clinic aims to heal hurt in SLand help avatars with their everyday challenges and personal growth. This is achieved by daily group sessions and private counseling.

SL Enquirer’s Zack Wonder participated in some of the clinic sessions and chatted with Veri to experience how they work, first-hand. He arrived at the clinic when the session was already beginning in the “Sex Research” group chat. First of all, participants were asked to scan their bodies and to rate their body sensations on a scale 1 to 10. The principle of the clinic is to equate visceral body sensations with actual emotions, and then to work out a way to “taper” the high ratings down to manageable levels, easing the anxiety of the participants. Veri and the Assistant Director, Charm Carter, facilitate the process working with one participant at a time. Not a whole lot of ground can be covered in the one-hour clinic, but unfinished business carries over from one session to the next. Zack witnessed many avatars participating in the clinic on a regular basis. Their problems ranged from simple domestic spats to insecurity in transgender issues and to finding “the right one” on SL. “I have a hard time thinking of things we've not worked on,” Veri said. “Many people come to me for private sessions and work their way into the group. Sadly, it's usually undeserved shame and guilt that they want to discuss privately.” Some avatars reported dropped ratings even during a 20-minute chat in the clinic’s group, and seemed happy with the process. The session ended with a group hug, allowing everyone to express their appreciation to the participants of the process. “Not only the one working gets the benefit of the session – they model the process for all participants, on-site or watching on group chat,” Veri explained after the session. Zack Wonder sat down with her for an in-depth interview.

SLE: What kind of avatars do you meet most often?? Regulars? Newcomers?

Veri: We've not surveyed participants for that specifically. It seems most are old timers in SL. We get some with new AVs, many of those are alts.

SLE: Can you relate some of the typical issues the avatars have seeking you out?

Veri: First heartache, 100% of those surveyed reported experiencing a painful breakup in SL. The next most frequent are gender identification challenges, sexual dysfunction, RL life challenges, and many who are working on self-improvement for themselves or their relationships.

SLE: What kind of help do the avatars expect to get, and what is the reality?

Veri: I can't speak to what they expect, that's a broad range. Because of our name, some come seeking sex and we refer them to one of our sister organizations. Those who come knowing what we do or after learning who want to balance anxiety, tension, chest ache (many call heart ache), sadness or arousal find they can do so quickly with the tapering method we employ. Those who have come and stayed long term have also found ongoing help from taking their ratings daily as they then have present moment information and the tools to get back to homeostasis.

SLE: How long do avatars participate in the clinics?

Veri: We have walk-in clinic every weekday at 9 AM. Most come for a specific need then stay engaged but not participating daily unless another need arises. Some come daily and become part of the team. We've only been open a year and a half. In that time there have been two major spin offs. One came about because Dr David Hubbard (DavidArguna), who developed the tapering method we employ, was so impressed with what we had achieved he asked me to start a live video clinic with him on Facebook, which we did, Healing Hurt Clinic. Weekly he leads three thirty minute sessions and a one-hour session the first Tuesday of each month on SL in Body Sensing. Some have learned our methods and are using them as part of their tool kit for working with others.

SLE: Can you describe a typical path an avatar takes toward healing?

Veri: Scan body for sensations (the body does not lie), rate the intensity/unpleasantness, identify source, take control (make a plot/plan to taper), repeat as needed until resolved.

SLE: Please describe the method used for healing at the Clinic?

Veri: The back story is really interesting. David Hubbard, MD, has a wide, diverse medical background. He started in pain management and currently has a clinic in San Diego working with opioid addicts. Osangar, the Doctor with whom I started this clinic, operated his fMRI machine and was one of Dr. Hubbard's grad students. Dr Hubbard developed the tapering method they and we use, based on one of Pavlov's lesser known theories. Tapering is now the treatment of choice in the United States. We are using tapering in different applications and testing it's efficacy. We are applying tapering to different applications and testing it's efficacy. There are many articles on tapering in the top medical journals and validating studies. Unlike psychological practices, the tapering method works because of what happens in our bodies and how the brain responds and processes. We do not work with cognitions, past or future. You essentially step down or lessen the dose by degree. What degree depends on what you are working on. Addiction can take a year. For our work with the sensations I mentioned, the average time is ten minutes to two weeks.

Veri also explained that it is revealing how clinic participants’ ratings and their ability to deal with their issues develop with time. “Our pilot study showed that 100% of those surveyed had experienced hurt (chest ache) from a SL relationship,” she said. “[The method is] based on neuroscience, taking cues from our bodies that don't lie. The ratings show us what needs to be tapered. Taking ratings daily or more frequently is a way to identify and keep track of what is going on. So the ratings do two things: show us where we need to work, and inform each of us personally on where we are in the present moment. Paying attention to the present-moment sensations keeps them from turning into symptoms and health problems, and the tapering method becomes a self-help process. Observing correlations over time is revealing and helpful, too. We are in the process of adding a Hunger Scale and Dr Hubbard is RL working on the problem of Air Hunger (our Chest Ache) for the Covid19 patients on ventilators. Free copies of our charts can be obtained at the clinic.”

With the tapering method, avatars coming to the clinic ashamed of their self-image or their destructive behavior patterns have experienced a way to reduce their unpleasant feelings on the road to becoming avatars with more fulfilling lives, less stress, and more balance. It is really commendable that professionals such as Osangar, DavidArguna, Veri, and Charm donate their time to these clinics, making SL a better place for all avatars.

Sex ReSearch clinic on SL:

Inquiries: VeritasMcMaster Resident (Veri), Carmen Berman (Charm)
Group: Sex ReSearch

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Effects of Coronavirus Isolation on Avatars in Second Life - Zack Wonder Reporting

The measures that various governing bodies around the world are putting in place are making a marked effect on life. Limiting one’s social contacts will take a profound toll on one’s mental health. One of the ways to alleviate the threat on one’s mental capacity is to seek online companionship. A tell-tale sign is the depletion of electronics stores’ shelves of webcams. Online communities such as Habbo Hotel are rising from the doldrums and seeing double-digit percentage growth in user logins weekly.
According to New World news, Second Life has also seen a recent increase in new residents and old user logins. This is confirmed by SL CEO Ebbe Linden’s memorandum on the SL community website. I have also experienced this first-hand, having been away from the grid for three and a half years. Having to isolate in RL alone with my two dogs made me start seeking social contacts beyond my daily doggie walkies. 
In addition to having old avatars returning from hibernation, the Coronavirus epidemic is reflected in daily discussions and social life on SL. More often than not, the virus outbreak is being discussed between avatars in chats and IMs. I have even seen avatars wear face masks while traversing the grid. 
All this led me to survey the field by going out interviewing avatars. First, I met Shana at her beachfront property.

SLE: I learned that you are in RL isolation right now. Can you tell me how it has affected your life in general?
Shana: I just thought that people are walking along the streets and seeing masks, then they will come to the SL and there are masks again .... this is probably an extra stress, I don’t know.
SLE: And how has it affected your experience in Second Life?
Shana: I noticed that people became sadder, seriously, people began to joke less, all my friends became very anxious, and all talk comes down to quarantine.
SLE: I saw you once wear a face mask online. Is this something you do to reflect the situation?
Shana: I bought this mask at the very beginning of the epidemic ... but now it doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, it seems to me that it will once again frighten people.
SLE: Apart from the chats and people being sad, are there any other aspects in SL you think have been affected by the isolation and quarantine?
Shana: I just thought that people are walking along the streets and seeing masks, then they will come to the SL and there are masks again... this is probably an extra stress, I don’t know. I can’t explain it, but I feel that there’s less joy in SL now.
SLE: Okay. Final question: have you noticed anything in the way avatars are moving into SL? New avatars, old ones getting active again?
Shana: I only noticed that now more people began to spend more time in the SL... but I can be wrong!
SLE: That's a good observation! Thank you for your time. 
Later on, I met Vliny at the Prada sim, in a café by a canal in Venice. She had reached to me due to my profile saying that I have returned to the SL after several years. 

SLE: What made you think I would appreciate someone getting to me, out of the blue?
Vliny: I like to read the profiles from people who are around me. Love to meet people and try to ask them if the profile catches me.
SLE: Have you met other avatars who have returned, after a long hiatus, like me?
Vliny: one yes, but seems he is not online actually, but he is still in my friends list. He once told me that he needs his times without SL
SLE: As do we all.
Vliny: Yes, I think we all have our reasons
SLE: Regarding the Coronavirus situation, how has it affected your life?
Vliny: Well, it reduced my social contacts completely. That is not always nice. But I am retired in RL because of my health and so I am used to being alone. That is for me the most important effect of the virus situation.
SLE: Has the coronavirus reflected on your SL experience in any way?
Vliny: Actually, not really... but I would say I have the feeling many people are back in SL because of the virus.
Vliny told me two of her former friends have returned to Second Life, both because of the isolation, and others are talking on Facebook on the possibility of returning. She also said that Europe seems to be leading on this trend, with American users following suit.

SLE: Someone told me that they have perceived a change in the mood in SL chats. Have you noticed anything?
Vliny:): They all feel lost at home in RL and that’s why they try to feel comfort and warm with the people in SL. [Everyone should] Spread love and peace.
A new friend of mine, Cray was building at his newly acquired sim that he is converting to become a mall and a nude beach (SLURL:
Cray had been gone from Second Life for 3 years. He told me as a single, laid-off carpenter, he had nothing else to do, and since he likes to build, he took on “Cray’s Risque Mall” as his project. He was taken aback at the new avatars’ 30-day limit on visiting privileges and spending, but having had these obstacles out of the way, he is in full force, building on his sim. when I asked him about how he sees the coronavirus situation reflected on SL, he told me: “No one really talks about it. But occasionally you see someone with a mask on or a cart of free toilet paper.” He also said that a remote acquaintance of his had passed due to the epidemic. Some people have their power lines down and it takes a long time to get them fixed. These are extreme issues jeopardizing one’s SL experience. Cray said he had tried the new Project Sansar first, but found no-one to talk to, and this was one of the main reasons he returned to Second Life. As a final comment, Cray told me: “Playing SL keeps social distancing. Everyone affected differently... my heart goes out to family members that experience loss of loved ones.”

My interviews, along with my SL experience in my new role as SLE reporter, revealed that the virus is profoundly affecting avatars’ RL personas as well as their online experience. Isolation brings loneliness and a need to communicate and to feel close to someone.
Second Life is a great platform to alleviate the feeling of alienation.
In Ebbe Linden’s words: “Please be kind and welcoming to those who may just need a friendly conversation to escape from this crazy world for a moment or more.”