Friday, 19 April 2013

And you're done

Here's my April column for AVENUE magazine.  Photography this month is by Leah McCullough.

Last month, I examined in passing the Starter, Deluxe and Premium Second Life® ‘Vehicle packs’ available from Amazon, which bundle Linden dollars with up to three featured vehicles, these being a hoverboard, a dune buggy and a sailing boat. Enthusiasts of any of these virtual pursuits will, I hope, forgive me for the somewhat sarcastic treatment of these products I gave. In the interests of transparency, it should be noted that the only one of these things I’ve ever tried is sailing, and that was only the once, and that was with someone I barely knew so that when I got ejected at a sim crossing and my avatar sunk to the bottom of the ocean like so much unwanted cargo I decided to fake my death and swim away, pretending I’d been lost at sea. Shhhh: don’t tell her I’m still alive.

Try as I might, I just can’t get all that enthusiastic about vehicles in SL. To me, it’s all just a little too suggestive of that old SL-marketing-itself-as-a-video-game thing. I’ve never really been all that bothered by video games – more than ten minutes on pretty much any title and I’m bored by the sameness of it all; if I really wanted to battle my way through hoards of aggressive people, I’d visit my local Poundland. And isn’t it safe to say anyway that people who actually do measure life enjoyment by time spent playing car racing games on other systems are unlikely to be all that impressed by anything SL can offer up in the genre?

This said, I suppose sailing is as much a social environment as it is a Driving Something Around thing, and I’m prepared to accept that my one experience wasn’t broadly representative of the best that the occupation has to offer. Nonetheless, I still think SL can do better when it comes to marketing itself with the world’s number one retailer. Here, then, are a few of my suggestions for alternate ‘packs’ to attract newbies and veterans alike.

Starter, Deluxe and Premium Cybersex Packs. Be honest, it’s probably the first thing you thought of too, so let’s get it out of the way. And, whatever your views on sex in the metaverse are, anything that contributes to the extinction of the ‘freenis’ (as a physical item, as a concept and as a word) has got to be a good thing. The Starter Pack, then – available in male and female variants, naturally – would come with medium quality genitalia plus a notecard with example emotes. Yes, this is going to encourage cutting and pasting, but let’s be honest here: for anyone who needs to do this it will probably still represent a step up in quality. The Deluxe Pack would feature high quality genitalia plus a sex bed. The Premium Pack would feature the same plus a skybox fitted additionally with a sex-enabled fridge and hat stand. All genitals, incidentally, would contain a non-removable script that drops a large, horseshoe magnet on the head of the user if ever they should use the letter ‘U’ in place of the word ‘you’.

Starter, Deluxe and Premium BDSM Packs. As above, but including various mechanical apparatus and collars, plus a copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (a nice crossover with the more traditional Amazon product line), just to annoy the purists. The skybox would come with a dungeon. Alternatively, the fridge could be fitted with handcuffs.

Film and TV Tie-in Vehicle Pack Range. I’m not abandoning the vehicle pack concept entirely. All Linden has to do is substitute their vehicles with exciting vehicles. The original series Batmobile would be an immediate buy for me. KITT from Knight Rider. Airwolf. The James Bond Lotus Esprit that converts into a submarine. Thunderbirds. But there’s more. The beauty of SL is not only that you can have the machines we know and love (the ‘we’ in most cases admittedly being men) but also the places they’re associated with. Linden could commission licensed sim builds and then rent them out by the hour, and the packs would then come with vouchers for time bundled with the vehicles. Batmobile owners, then, could play in the Batcave; Airwolf pilots could rise from that hollowed out mountain; Thunderbirds fans could take off from Tracy Island; KITT motorists could drive their Knight Two Thousand into the back of a big black truck that drives endlessly round and round a bit of desert somewhere. And so on.

Personal Shopper voucher pack. If, like me, your ideal shopping trip to buy – say – a suit consists of a no-more-than-five-minutes visit to the MarketPlace that involves a quick search on ‘Mesh suit’ and the purchase of anything that looks half good within the first two pages of results then you’re probably missing out on many of the more sophisticated designs that SL has to offer. It never ceases to amaze me the near encyclopaedic knowledge of the latest SL fashions that many of the people I meet seem to be in possession of (and here – yes – ‘people’ can be read to mean in most cases women); that anyone can tolerate more than thirty seconds of a hair fair is a fact I hold in equal awe to such phenomena as quantum physics and the evolution of the human eye. So why not monetise this expertise by creating an elite team of personal shoppers who can take the newbie/uncaring avatar and guide/force/ruthlessly bully them through a shopping experience that meets their needs? I’m aware, of course, that there are people out there who do already offer this sort of service (my own avatar looked like something out of a black and white gangster movie – unintentionally, I might add; the look I was actually aiming for was ‘intellectual’ – until a very kind friend in 2008 diplomatically answered my enquiry as to what parts of my appearance she thought could be improved on with “all of them”); the difficulty is finding one when you actually need one and then knowing if they’re actually any good. At least one of the so called experts whose profiles I’ve nosed within the last year was still wearing flexi hair: even I know that anything which disappears into your breasts is no longer considered the cutting edge. I propose, therefore, that the AVENUE editorial staff set the questions on the entrance exam for people wanting to become personal shoppers.

Novelty Weapons Packs. A fond memory of my time attending the weekly Writers’ Circle event on Wednesday evenings at Cookie, then jointly hosted by Jilly Kid and Hastings Bournemouth, is of firing copies of the bible at Hastings with a bible gun that someone had passed to me and him returning fire with copies of Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’. Possibly, you had to be there. Rarely do us peace-loving SL residents have a need for metaverse weaponry, but from time to time there comes along a moment when appropriately ironic armament can add just the right amount of situational comedy. Categories of weapon could include ‘Amusing Projectiles That Aren’t Penises’, ‘Griefer Seekers’, ‘Flower Power’ (including the depleted uranium tipped 45 millimetre daisy shooter) and ‘NRA support’, the latter being there to ease the transition from real to virtual fire-arms when finally the US gets real about its batshit insane gun laws.

And finally, also on the subject of withdrawl support:

Virtual Smoking Pack. In the UK, a debate is starting up over whether or not the smoking of electronic cigarettes should be banned in public places. Should the anti-smoking campaigners find success with their side of this argument, SL will become one of the last remaining places for Britishers to do anything that looks vaguely like smoking in front of other people. Linden should capitalise on this whilst it lasts (for, surely, it will not) with a product line of own-brand smokes (I have dibs on the ‘Hax’ brand, mainly because I like the idea of someone ordering “Two packs of Hax” at the cigarette counter), promoted through a campaign of banner and side bar advertisements: “You’re never alone with a Lucky Linden”; that sort of thing. Smoking packs could also come with collectible cards featuring notable residents from the world of SL, such as artists, builders, photographers, griefers and poets (I’m available for pictures for this last category). They could also include smoke ring HUD attachments which give the customer control over a variety of novelty smoke sculptures to create with their virtual breath and lips. As an additional bonus, cigarette buyers who also own the Premium Cybersex Pack could be given the option to buy a limited edition phallic imagery smoke ring pack that sends a smoke train through a smoke tunnel: perfect, both for suggestive flirtation at parties and for the post-coital shared virtual cigarette.

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