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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Eight Random Things About Me
This post used to contain an overly long and embarrassingly dull response to the "Eight Random Things About Me" SL weblog meme. I've removed it because, frankly, it bored even me. Since the post achieved little but irritating the one person I tagged in turn, there doesn't seem to be any good reason to keep it here. If anyone really wants to see it, I've archived it here. [Modified 1/1/08.]
Friday, December 07, 2007
As you have no doubt have heard by now, CSI: NY did an episode involving SL a bit back. A few weeks ago, I gritted my teeth and sat through "Down the Rabbit Hole," just to see what all the fuss was about. (Yeah, I know, I'm late to the party again.) Unfortunately, since my TiVo decided to be a little bitch and delete half of my stored shows to make room for a Monk rerun marathon, I ended up using CBS's "InnerTube" to watch the episode. (Yeah, yeah, P2P, Bit Torrent, iTunes, yadda, yadda. I didn't want to mess with any of that at the time.) This was mildly vexing, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I couldn't pause or rewind reliably using their klunky player on my ancient machine. Too bad, because I ended up missing about 10% of the dialogue while I was laughing uproariously at CSI's version of SL. I'll spare you the full review, in part because that boat has long since sailed, and in part because I've forgotten most of the episode and am unwilling to watch it twice. So, instead, I'll just throw down a meandering rant in the general vicinity of the topic. More fun that way, for me anyway.

In general, I'd say they got about as close to a true representation of SL as the public would allow. Really, it was about as close as any movie or TV show can be expected to get to faithfully portraying any computer related topic. Or, as someone once said, "never let the truth interfere with a good story." When there's a conflict between reality and the storyline, we all know which will lose. And on television, reality generally loses out to cinematic impact and viewer expectations, as well. As I've said before, SL is a tough concept for the average Joe to swallow. It's a game-like online world, without the game. Given the limitations of mainstream entertainment, where it is all-but-forbidden to show the viewer anything he can't understand in 45-minutes-plus-commercials, CSI did an admirable job of showing something vaguely akin to SL culture. Can't really blame them for seeding in some imaginary MMORPG gaming to give the viewing audience something to latch onto.

As Tateru (yay! name dropping!) mentioned, this wasn't the SL we have right now. This was SL in a decade or so. Or, rather, the SL the average MMORPG player and Snow Crash fanboy would like to see someday. That's the crux of the problem, of course. Second Life is many things. But a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat adventure? Uh, no. You get onto private islands and such by schmoozing for invites and joining groups, not beating monsters in hand-to-hand combat. Or shooting mystic fire from your hands. Or throwing the exploding heads of your defeated foes. Unfortunately for you Hiro Protagonist wannabes and WoW players, your ability to swing a virtual sword means precisely nada to the SL community at large.

Yes, I know there are various sword games and RPGs. Some are quite nifty, on the rare occasions that lag and other technical issues will allow them to work. That's not the SL community at large, is it? All right, then.

I heartily approve of the "beware of RL meetings" message running under the whole episode. Be careful out there, folks. Freaks abound, and a disproportionate number of them seem to be parked in front of a computer. 'Nuff said.

Up until a few days ago, I would have smugly announced that your computer couldn't be hacked through the standard client via SL. It seems that someone found a way to force an exploit through Quicktime, which is used for streaming media in SL. So, until they spackle up that hole, SL just got a little more dangerous. Live and learn. Still, the whole flashing-lights-and-alarms, "Log out now!" emergency situation? Not going to happen, either.

I approve of using a wireless number pad to get around in SL. (That's what they were using for the the later wandering around and the combat scenes, although most SL melee combat systems require a mouse, as well.) I've done that myself, and it's quite workable. Kudos for not going with the more seductive route of using a joystick. While it can be done, it would've looked kind of silly to even a casual SL player.

The dramatic rocket-pack assisted chase scene was nifty, actually. And much applause for the use of Svarga as a set. I got a laugh out of the mechanic-by-day, shoe-fashionista-by-night character, and could easily imagine such a person in real life.

I suppose someone could make a damage-enabled paintball gun and pull off a hit while in an appropriately flagged parcel. The deceased avatar dropping her shoe was nonsensical, and pointed out the lack of input from technical advisers. I guess I shouldn't judge them too harshly, given that I've used the same technically incorrect plot point in my own efforts. (Oh, by the way, FIRST! Neener, neener, neener! Okay, that's out of my system now.) But avatar attachments (like shoes or weapons) really don't spontaneously fall off, even in the rare instances that your avatar dies and gets TP'd home. Someone could rig an attachment to rez a telltale shoe on demand, but it'd be kind of silly. Might be kind of a cute pre-teleport gimmick for a Cinderella-esque avatar, though. It'd require some scripted inventory shuffling (rez the shoe, then the would-be Prince would touch it to have the footwear pass him a copy of itself before self-deleting), but it could be done. A long and very strange RPG-esque search would then ensue, as Prince Charming goes from female av to female av, persuading each to try on the shoe attachment. Scripts could be included to compare the original shoe's owner to each would-be Princess, perhaps with amusingly scripted object-scaling effects and try-on-shoe animations to deliberately make the shoe too small or too big if they don't match... But I digress.

Similarly, someone could come up with an exclusive island that required passing a test of gladiatorial might to enter (or, more likely, to obtain the necessary group membership to pass the "No Entry" bars). Mind you, given both the potential for cheating (I can say from personal experience that it's virtually impossible to prevent third-party scripted objects from being used to gain an edge in your game), and the huge lag problems for SL action games, such a contest would rapidly become a joke.

The concept of a virtual information broker is an intriguing one, and I suppose I could see technical and social engineering solutions for faking up the White Rabbit's ability to locate random avs for cash. I can think of very few legitimate uses for such a service, though. If I were to decide to turn evil and facilitate stalkers gridwide, the easiest way would be to create a massive group of users to act as field agents. When a customer inquires about the location of a subject, I'd send out a group chat asking "Are you near so-and-so right now? L$50 to the first person that IMs with a location." (Rigid group controls would be required to prevent such a group from becoming a spam fest, and to prevent non-officer field agents from benefiting from the group for free.) There are enough money tree and camping chair customers out there to support such a network. Of course, I could also see membership in such groups being grounds for instant ejection and banning in many areas. I know I wouldn't take kindly to someone who was a member of a such a group coming into my theoretical popular venue and facilitating the stalking of my customers.

Perhaps a grid spanning network of scanners, combined with a name-to-key service, could be used? It would be expensive to build from scratch, but it could work quite nicely piggy-backed on top of one or more of the larger billboard networks (Mr. Lee, et al). It would be easy enough to drop an extra script in a billboard. The network could be further expanded by passing out scanner attachments to the camping-chair crowd, as an automated and more discreet version of the group system above. Payment for wearing such an attachment could be done on a L$-per-hour basis and/or as a bonus if the wearer was nearest the subject when a call came in. No tell-tale group membership would be required, and any necessary news could be relayed by e-mails to the attachments. (This also prevents stalker group members from succumbing to their sense of guilt and notifying the subject that he or she is being stalked. They would have no reason to know if their scanner attachments were even activated, much less who they were be used to find.) Between fixed locations and a few score mobile units, a reasonably comprehensive scanner network could be created, covering the majority of mainland grid and many of the more popular private islands (the ones with popular attractions and camping chairs, anyway).

Using the service would be relatively straightforward, anyway. The stalker (or detective, or whatever) finds the White Rabbit and inquires about a name. The Rabbit checks a name-to-key server, and determines if the subject is online using a standard show-online script with the subject's key. If he's not online, or his name isn't in the name-to-key server(s), the Rabbit refunds the stalker's money (or not). If the subject is online and his key is available, the key is sent to all fixed and mobile scanners. (This is a tricky task. E-mail? HTTP? XML-RPC? Server push or timed checks from the scanners? Tough to send a message to several hundred items in-world at once without overwhelming whatever system was used.) Upon receipt of the key, the scanners send out a single max-range (96 meter) llSensor ping, using the requested key as a parameter. If no results, we have another possible refund-inducing failure mode. (An above-board businessman would probably establish all this before even asking for a fee, assuming the customer can be trusted not to dither around so long that the customer moves before the transaction could be completed.) If said sensor gets a result, the associated script responds (through whatever cross-grid channels are available) with the subject's sim and position. White Rabbit teleports to that location (or if he has class, the general vicinity), offers his client a following teleport (or just IMs him a SLURL if he doesn't want to make the trip himself), and that's that. And, as you can see, the whole process could be automated to cut the live White Rabbit avatar out of the loop altogether.

Okay, so it could, theoretically, be done. Personally, I hope nobody bothers. If your purposes can't be served just as well by an IM saying "Hey, got a moment?" and a teleport request, you should probably find an alternative activity.

Well, this rambling missive has sat in my Drafts folder for several days now, and clearly it's not going anywhere constructive. So I'll leave it at that. In general, aside from some general gaffs (deliberately?) introduced to add tension and move the plot along, I was pleased with CSI's portrayal of SL. I guess that's two qualified thumbs up.