Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Looking Back: The End of Second Life Newspaper

By Bixyl Shuftan

Three years ago this month was when my writing career in Second Life faced it's moment of decision.  At the time, I was working at Second Life Newspaper, with Grey Lupindo, Gemma Cleanslate, Shellie Sands, and Breezes Babii as coworkers. Our boss was Dana Vanmoer, the longtime editor, and recently the owner of the paper.

The past several months had not been easy ones for Dana, or the paper. One of our major sponsors, BNT landholdings, had suddenly went bankrupt. Besides the significant loss of revenue and a private island, Dana had to put up with a lot of grief from people who sent her angry messages due to our advertising of them. She had to deal with them by herself as the founder of SLN, JamesT Juno, had left Second Life due to real life troubles. He and Dana had grown closer and partnered, so his leaving was doubly painful for her. Also, over time several writers had dropped out due to real-life situations, leaving us a smaller paper than when I came aboard.

As the office manager, I would update the paper when Dana couldn't. This didn't happen often for most of the time I had the job. But in 2010, it fell to me more and more often. It wasn't a big matter to me as I wrote a lot anyway. Whatever was bugging her, I felt would soon pass.

It was in April in which our Editor called for a staff meeting. I was still looking back at our "April Fool" article with chuckles, so I went in with fairly light spirits. Little did I realize what was ahead. After her greeting, Dana dropped a bombshell. She couldn't keep up the paper any more due to real life problems. Despite that James had made her the CEO, she didn't feel it was really "her" paper to give to someone else. So not only would she be resigning, but the paper would be closing as well, in June.

Our reaction was stunned disbelief. We urged her not to call it quits for good, but to take a break. Her response was that she didn't see her problems going away for a long, long time. Gemma urged her if she had to go to hand the paper over to me, or even a merger with another SL media company. But Dana's decision was final. The paper would continue on until June to finish off our sponsorships. Some would be getting a little extra time for free. We were also asked not to tell anyone else about this, not even our sponsors.

With the paper's fate sealed, we did the only thing we could, keep writing. Well, almost the only thing. We chatted among ourselves about options, and came the idea of forming another paper. It would not be an easy task. We would be in effect starting over. But there just was no other option on the table.

One complication was when I got a complaint about an article I did for an adult media company by a competitor, insisting they were dishonest. As I couldn't talk about the paper's closing, I told him I'd be in a better position to do an advert for them later on. I also got a job offer from one of our medium sponsors: Mystery. I told them I could start in early June.

Dana did feel we should at least throw one final bash for our friends and supporters. So in a press release she announced some "big news" would be forthcoming at a party on Saturday June 5th. James would be able to make it that day fortunately. We looked to the day with a mix of anticipation and dread.

Finally the day came, and the staff gathered early. We greeted James, happy to meet the old boss, at least for today. The party started off well enough, with others happy to see James as well. I think someone thought the "big news" was James' return. But it was not to be. Eventually, James himself called everyone into chat range.

"It is with pain in our heart that we salute you tonight. It is with pain in our heart we leave this place. It is with pain in our heart we allow the final curtain to fall. For us as avatar, and for our beloved newspaper, its time to end it."

"The sl-newspaper will end."

It must've been a true shock to the audience. A number expressed their sadness in sad sighs and tears. I did announce a few minutes later the rest of us would be setting up another paper. But as expected, it did little to ease the sting. Instead of the new paper, people kept IMing me asking why the paper was closing down. It was an outwardly happy party, but on the inside, we were sad that this would be the last we'd be all together.

Eventually, James and Dana had to go. And their avatars faded away. And the staff and I stood there, knowing that the end of SL Newspaper had finally come, and what lay ahead was an uncertain future.

Dana's final article went up shortly there after. She explained that with their real life problems becoming too much to handle, or "our real lives taking over" as she put it, she and James just couldn't run the paper any more. She thanked the staff and her friends, such as 10 Goosson and the Skybeam community, for their support. She also gave a parting warning, "One thing I would hope for the future for SL is that the Lindens go back and realize what they are destroying with their policies. The sheer creativity, communication, and … impact … is being eaten away by the Lindens stupidly ignoring the content creators with their ill thought out policies, which help no one, except their own pockets." There was a small irony here as days later, the Lab laid off a third of their staff.

Soon afterwards, the front page of the paper changed, announcing it was closed. there were a couple banners up for Skybeam and M and M Creations, in addition to a link to the archives, at least for the front page. But most of the other sections were closed down, for reasons known only to Dana. Fortunetly, we found the "People" section was still up.

Dana had also left a link to the new newsletter, so readers could find it. One last favor.

Over the next few days, I continued to get messages, asking why SLN had folded. Some expressed their sympathies, but I also got a couple angry responses from sponsors, "Why didn't you tell us?!" I never heard a word about the free month of time some got. The porn director who complained earlier about an article was also upset. Among other SL media outlets, the "Herald," the tabloid that Dana joked was our arch rival, made a brief announcement that was an overall complement to her.

Over time, I would see JamesT Juno a couple more times. He was happy with how me and the staff were continuing with the news. Dana I would see inworld only once more. She came online once in November 2010 while Breezes was in the hospital. We met and talked for a while. It was a meeting unlike what we had before. No longer was it as her the editor and me her top reporter. Instead, it was me as the editor of the paper that had taken the place of hers. Talking with her, she explained she hadn't kept up with reading up about Second Life, and was surprised to hear about the layoffs at Linden Lab and the Emeraldgate mess. This would be the last time we chatted.

As the weeks and months went by, I heard more about Dana's real life situation. While I can't disclose what it is, I can say it was about to make running the paper impossible. I can only assume she continues to communicate with her SL family in some way, but her days of running a media outlet are behind her.

Perhaps someday, hopefully someday soon, she and James can be happy together again.

In the meantime, we at the Newser in June prefer to look back at June as not so much the end of our old newspaper, but the founding of our new one. As the original Second Life Newspaper began as one man's dream, others who shared the dream would carry on with Second Life Newser.

But that, is another story.

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Springtime in Bronytown

By Bixyl Shuftan

A few years ago, the 80s girls' cartoon "My Little Pony" was brought back in to production with a new style and storyline, and soon developed a cult following. It wasn't long before the "Pony" fandom was reflected in Second Life with the creation of an avatar based on the cartoon equines. Called a "Brony" after the slang term for "My Little Pony" or "MLP" fans, the avatars quickly became a hit, helped by the fact they were given away for free. And it wasn't long before a community of ponies came about, soon followed by a couple sims. Despite a setback that would have demolished some communities, the Ponies bounced back with a new sim, BronyTown. Within months, the community had expanded to several thriving sims with no real sign of trouble.

Since Xymber's articles on the recovery, I hadn't heard much about the sims, and an Internet search didn't reveal much. My partner Jasmine had been to the Pony sims a few times, and recently invited me over to take a look to see things for myself. So we both headed over. With "My Little Pony" being aimed at girls, although it's 21st Century versions have appealed more to teenagers and young women, I had never seen a single episode. So Jasmine had to explain a few things to me.

The place itself was built and textured in a style that looked light-hearted and cartoony. But the colors tended to be bright, with some pastel shades, making the place resemble the setting of the cartoon. It resembled a fantasy village somewhat, with the yellow roofs having the shape of thatched straw ones. The streets were not grey or black, but had a light blue color.

The pony sims were about to have an event, the "Winter Wrap-Up," somewhat based on a "My Little Pony" episode where the characters have a spring festival. And Jasmine had been working on one of the prizes to give out: a pair of sunglasses, "Winter's done, Spring's springing. Sun's com'in out, Sun's in your eyes. What'ya do? Reach for your sunshades." The event was partially to bring the locals "together to recreate an episode of My Little Pony," but it was also a chance for visitors to drop by, "you get to meet everyone, make friends, see the town in it's entirety."

Showing me around in her own pony avatar, she was wearing a brown jacket over the front. It was for one of the event's teams, "The brown outfit is for the Critter team, green is the Planter team, and the blue is the Weather team." She also showed me a shovel and hoe, "the shovel is for anyone, used to remove snowpiles. The hoe is for anyone to 'garden.' No additional thing for the weather team. Using the hoe or the shovel to do a 'thing' gives you one sunshine. You gather those for these here prizes."

Going up to one group at the town center, most everyone was in a pony avatar, except for one whom was a vaguely human-shaped figure all black except for a shiny yellow circle for a face. He was called Lamp. He explained they were still setting things up for the festival, "we're trying to make this a 'moneyless' event. … People can earn prizes using points, so they can get some really cool stuff without spending a cent." Linden donations were perfectly fine, "but it's not about profit, it's more about bringing the community closer and having fun." Nearby were collections of shovels and hoes, which anyone could take one from.

One of the ponies commented, "I had fun last night busting clouds (chuckles)." I asked about that, and the local answered, "Yup to clear the shies and let the sun shine in and melt the white snow." Jasmine told me, "Well up here there is clouds that rezz. All you do is fly into them to pop them. It gives you 1 sunshine." Someone suggested some clouds might be worth more. She and one of the others briefly went up in the sky to demonstrate. For the hoes, there were dirt mounds around the place, "supposedly you 'plant' something, and you get sunshine points."

At the town center, here was a sunshine counter which when touched told locals how many points they had, "Your sunshine burns brightly at 578." This point system was around long enough for others to joke at. One pony lying down had a fake tag over her head, "10,000 Sunshine." The occasional chuckle from others was a sign no one was buying it.

Looking further, there were a number of stores and some market areas with stalls. Due to the nature of the place, everything had a G-rated limit. Of the goods, Jasmine commented, "Some these things I look and scratch my head. Other things are pretty good stuffs." There was also a place where movies were shown, the "Trot-in Theater."

The ponies certainly had a whimsical nature. It didn't take much to get them joking around, and it was often spontaneous, "Oh my God! MUFFINS!!" "Sugary Goodness!" Looking around the place, other groups of locals also broke out in spontaneous whimsy, running around and doing some "flip" gesture or something, or cracking jokes. There was also a "Doctor Hooves" going about in a "Tardis." Jasmine commented of those making themselves part of the community, "You get to play. This whole place I've noticed brings out the kids in everyone."

There was one thing about the community that Jasmine didn't like, one that all groups in Second Life shared. Although she was wearing the avatar to help get in the spirit of the festival, there were a few locals whom wouldn't talk to her unless she was wearing it. While everyone important here would happily talk to visitors, she felt that was a reminder that no matter where you go, there are always some reluctant to speak with others unlike them.

But still, there was no shortage of friendly folk here, in this whimsical, happy place. If you're looking for a place to explore that's different, by all means give BronyTown a look. There are also several other pony sims. East Trotsdale, West Trotsdale, Trotsdale Heights, Everfree Forest, and the castle sim of Canterlot.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ask DrFran: "A Buddy Comes Out"

By DrFran Babcock

Dear DrFran:

In real life, I’m a bit afraid of gays, or "homer-sexuals" as my Dad called them. He considered them bad news as men in general had only one thing on their mind, and gays were different only in they'd be after your behind instead of bragging to you about how much they got. A friendship with one, he told me, was impossible. And he felt that if any were dumb enough to show themselves back in the farm community he grew up in, the expression "he needed killin’" might be brought to bear.

Coming to Second Life™, I found a few, but not many, at least among the men. There have been a few in their profile who called themselves "bisexual," but not many male homosexuals. Maybe in SL's Libertarian "mind your own business" attitude, most keep quiet about it, but I can only guess. But some haven't. Some kept to themselves. Others acted like my Old Man warned me they would, being pests and flirting with any guy who was unlucky enough to draw their attention.

For most of the time, I didn't think too much about the subject, being occupied with going about in Second Life™ and making friends. Among my first friends was "Kay" (not his real SL name) a short, furry guy who liked music and would occasionally play at music events at a favorite hangout of mine. We would also talk with other friends about computer games and goings on in SL and first life, as well as places we’d seen. We'd also do some activities together, such as a weekly tour group in SL. He could be a little sad at times, saying he had trouble finding someone in real life, but I thought nothing of it.

Then after over a year, Kay told me he had a bit of news. He admitted he was gay. He told me he had dated girls in first life, but just couldn't feel an attraction. This bit of news was stunning. I thought I had known him, and it turned out I hadn’t.

I didn't feel afraid of him—between his small size and his passive, well-mannered attitude. But what did make me worry was when Kay told us who he was in a relationship with. The guy, who was not really gay but bisexual, was known to be a troublemaker, harassing a lady friend of ours in first life. I reminded him of that, saying this guy had been bad news. But he persisted, showing up with him at his side. So I acted friendly, hoping my buddy was right in that he changed.

As it turned out, the troublemaker hadn’t changed. Some time later, I heard from a mutual friend they had broken up. It was a few days later when Kay finally logged back on. I met up with him, and my buddy was in tears. He had found his partner in bed with another guy, basically laughing off their relationship. He had not only given his heart and found it thrown back at him, but in exposing his biggest secret, many ‘friends’ had stopped talking to him. He felt more depressed than ever.

It was at this point I did something I thought I’d never do. I gave the guy a hug—first time on SL I had ever done so to another male.

Kay remained on Second Life™ a little longer, but eventually he stopped coming on a regular basis. He would pop in once in a while to say hello, but he had more or less moved on.

I’m not wondering what makes a guy gay. Whatever happened, he didn't ask for it. But what I do wonder is what made him “come out?” There are many stories of guys who have done so, only to be shunned by friends and family alike. Surely he would have known. Why couldn't he have just kept quiet about it? 


Dear Wondering:

Thank you so much for your thoughtful letter and question. It is a testament to your maturity that you did not go on to embrace unquestioningly the beliefs of your father, as so many people have over time. You have had the ability to see things for yourself, and to take people as you meet them, without prejudice (note: prejudice means to pre-judge, and you didn’t).

Kay is not an unusual case. I have met many gay men and lesbians in my days on the grid. Second Life™ can provide a hiding place for people who have secrets. My own belief is that no matter where you go; there you are. No amount of running and hiding can allow a person to hide from themselves. The pain of not being truly who one believes themself to be is often unbearable for people. I believe that is what was behind Kay’s need to “come out.” Kay was unable to be who he was, and that dishonesty hurts people. I don’t know if you have ever had to appear in a human avatar in Second Life™, but if you did you might know what I am talking about. I believe you said you are a furry, and that is your identity here on the Grid. So, imagine having to act “human” here, and interact with friends and lovers as a human, when every cell in your body tells you that you are a fur. Most people could not do that for any length of time.

I am sure that Kay was well aware of the stigma of being homosexual. Despite all of the growth we residents have made and show, many folks still fear “homer-sexuals” Kay took a risk that he had to take.

On a more psychological note: It has been my experience that gays and lesbians prefer to have their affections returned. A homosexual who pursues a straight person is probably dealing with emotional difficulties. It’s no different than the woman or man who always seems to find the one person who will not or cannot return their love. Generally, without some insight they are unable to change this behavior, and will go on looking for love in all the wrong places for the rest of their life.

Kay made a bad choice in a partner; something you and his other friends warned him about, but without success. Is this any different than a straight relationship? I think not. People will love the wrong people, but mostly they will pursue people whom they think will like them. Poor Kay will heal, but his experience in Second Life™ may have soured him for future attempts at being gay here. Not because he is gay, but because he had a bad experience.

Your hug was an expression of true caring and compassion. I applaud you for the bravery it must have taken. Think for a moment…Kay didn’t pursue you romantically, so he must have seen you for what you are: his friend. Maybe he will make another try in Second Life™. We know there is no way to say, but I am glad that he has your for a friend should he try to stick his snout in again.

Thanks for your heartfelt letter.


Obligatory disclaimer: The column Ask DrFran is the work of DrFran Babcock, and may not reflect the views of SL Newser as a whole. Please direct any correspondence to DrFran Babcock. I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ask DrFran: Where is the Meaning?

By DrFran Babcock
Dear DrFran: 
I have been in Second Life™ for a few years, and have enjoyed almost every second of it. I am not much of a creative person, but I love to meet people, chat, go to clubs and dance, shop until I drop, and sail on the Linden Lab seas. As you can see, I have a pretty fulfilling and fun-filled time. I have had a few boyfriends, and unlike some of the people who write to you, I wear these relationships loosely, neither grieving nor exalting when they are over. My philosophy is: Live and Let Live, and it has always worked for me. At least, it worked until recently.

I have been finding, ever so slowly but persistently, that I am feeling a sense of emptiness on an almost daily basis. It’s a little bit hard to describe, but I will try. The other day I was with my two best friends—Shanna and Tiffany—in Gizza checking out their new Spring line of clothes. We were laughing and having a great time, as usual, and the clothes were gorgeous. Out of nowhere the thought came to me: “There has to be more to Second Life™ than this.” Following that thought, I felt a deep sadness, which grabbed me, and did not let go. After a time fooling around with my friends, I told them I had to log off to do some errands (a lie), and I shut my computer off, and moped.

Since that time, the feeling comes and goes with greater frequency. I wouldn’t say that I am bored. I do enjoy the things I am doing when I log in. It’s just that I feel as if there should be more. I have started to search for places in Second Life™ that might offer me a glimpse into meaning: I visited a Buddhist Temple, a church, different philosophy islands, and nothing really gave me what I needed. Worst of all is that I am not at all sure what it is I need. I only know that how I use my time in world now is not enough. I feel shallow, and I want to find some depth to my Second Life™.

DrFran, do you have any ideas what could be going on, and what I can do about it? 
Dear Devoid: I am so taken by your honesty and insight. You seem to have arrived at a place that most people never get to visit. The sad truth is that most folks go through their lives (first or second) with their eyes closed to everything that is going on around them. What happens when they “wake up” is that they often begin to question the meaning of what they are doing. Congratulations on waking up, Devoid, because this signals the chance for you to move in a growth direction, and make an in world experience that will be deeper and full of the meaning you seek.
I am glad that you are asking me this question at this time of the year, because it is a time when Second Life™ shines the brightest, because of its altruism. You see, I believe that we get meaning from life when we unselfishly give and do for others. The annual Relay for Life season is in full swing. Every year, residents of Second Life™ form teams to raise money for the American Cancer Society. One Linden is not worth much money, it’s true, but together the Second Life™ Relay for Life team raised US$375,385 to fight cancer!!! Anyone and everyone is invited to participate, and there are still many teams that are looking for or need membership. There is a link at the end that can help you see the teams that might need help.
If fighting against cancer is not your thing, there are plenty of other charities in which residents can participate.  Just about every charity that exists in First Life has a twin in the virtual world. I recommend highly finding a way to move from self-contemplation, and into thinking about others. You, and your girlfriends could even find your own charity to sponsor. Maybe this effort will bring some more meaning into your life. Cheers, DrFran
Relay for Life in Second Life™:

Obligatory disclaimer: The column Ask DrFran is the work of DrFran Babcock, and may not reflect the views of SL Newser as a whole. Please direct any correspondence to DrFran Babcock. I look forward to hearing from you.

DrFran Babcock