Monday, June 3, 2013

Interview With Pooky Amsterdam: Part One

By Bixyl Shuftan

Pooky Amsterdam is a leading figure in Second Life media. She's known for her machinimas and shows on Second Life television, notably the game show "The 1st Question. She also gives talks on occasion about digital media and it's future. Recently I had a chance to meet up with her for an interview.

Our meeting place was the set of a future video of hers, a space station. There were a few alien critters around, although Pooky stated they were for energy, "Nothing says futuristic like (an) electric jellyfish inspired power source. I think these will look uber-cool on film. … I love this environment so much." She showed me around a little, "it also conveys so much … I love being able to combine elements for the real punch of the fantasy/sci-fi element. … It is amazing to me that we take for granted, really, all this rich visual creativity and the desire to understand the next tech as well."

Pooky Amsterdam: "I find that (the) people of Second Life have a different viewpoint of what is possible, and I think it's because we literally do and see the impossible all the time. Sometimes I am reminded of that great line from Auntie Mame, 'Life is a banquet and most poor bastards are starving to death.' We are not starving, not for visuals and creative expression. It really makes and keeps us vital. Think of how your life has been enriched by this life. I know I would not have been the 'same person' in many senses if I hadn't come here."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Oh really?"

 Pooky Amsterdam: "Although I always had an interest in sci-fi and the future, being part of this really pushed me, pushed me to become confident and more capable with of course new tools (and) new tech. I went to the talk on Oculus Rift and zSpace technology at Avaya today."

Bixyl Shuftan: "How did it go?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "There we are about 30 folks and all of us from everywhere in the world can see something that is like just released to developers. That's insane! It was amazing! There will be ways to truly interact with something that is in 2D on the tablet and pick it up with like electronic chopsticks and it becomes 3D so you can turn it all around. That something like this is possible for us to see so ahead of the pack and the curve. Tech which will take a while to become part of the mainstream. It's a thrill. And with the future, thinking folks we have met. I respect very much the fact that we are in a special place and time here."

"Anyway you know me - I'll talk, but If you like I can answer questions too (smile)."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Well, to begin with, how did you find out about Second Life?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Well It was at the 2003 State of Play conference in New York City. It was a pretty seminal conference actually. I met Phillip Rosedale and Robin and Cory. Philip was presenting actually, and I was there the day he announced IP rights. I was given a CD rom of Second Life. It wasn't downloadable just yet then. Having experience in virtual worlds, I was able to handle the demo part there. But not having a PC (I had only amac in those days) I couldn't run the program."

"A  few years later when I was trying to get a virtual world going for people above 30 with an emphasis on doing programs, TV shows, game shows, book clubs, debate, etc, I came back to SL to  be able to understand what would be "the compeition" for the site I wanted to build. I didn't last long, only one day in 2006. But then I returned for good in March of 2008 when a variety of things made me stay here and set up more or less permanent stakes. So I knew of SL for awhile really, but only became a member of the daily grid in March 2008."

Bixyl Shuftan: "And what happened then?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "I had been studying virtual worlds and a lot of research into them. I followed Temis and got into the IGDA reports on gaming and knew there was a great potential for branded experience in virtual worlds. Plus I had had 5 years of producing shows  on another virtual platform. I produced hundreds of shows, including a talk show."

"I came here for a marketing conference and met people who would become part of my future.  Bevan Whitfeield was my mentor. She was very helpful and really made this possible for learning how to navigate and look as I wished.  Lee Ponzu was a great friend. He gave me a safari hat,and indeed I used that years later in 'A Year In The LIfe.'  Of course Paradox Olbers would be one of the greatest influences and inspirations. We met on Arthur C Clarke's death day, and he invited me to spindoem and Cypress was playing. (His) brother had a stuffed toy named Pooky that the loved, so I was immedately feeling all in the family here."

"Paradox said 'I wish that more people could come here,' and I said 'Well I could put on a show.' And he said 'What do you need?' And I said 'This place, same time every week a few hours,' and he said okay. I learned from him about how the Sci-lands were formed, and I was so impressed with him he became in a way my guru. I also met Robwag Soothsayer, who I have spoken to everyday of my Second Life. Without Rob, none of this would have been possible. He really showed me so much and is so talented. So I am grateful for the people I met at that juncture."

"Rob thought I only wanted to put on one show; hahahhahha!"

Bixyl Shuftan: (chuckles)

Pooky Amsterdam: "Anyway, he is a great builder, and so savvy. I had the show going within six weeks. And then RacerX said to Wiz Nordberg 'You have to see this show.' And they did come and well , offered me a place at treat."

Bixyl Shuftan: "So what show was this?"

Pooky Amsterdam: " 'The 2nd Question' it was called then. Over the next year or so I think we would be asked to eliminate the SL or 'second' reference form all the shows, asked by Linden Lab (due to) trademark. For me, it was easy. From the second to the first is a step in the right direction. For the hockey association it might not have been as organic. And the network had to change from Second Life Cable Network to"

"I really saw how different and powerful having an audience-involved show was. I was able to produce a science and tech show on a weekly basis. It is a powerful tool of creation on all levels, and Hydra Shaftoe I was very very lucky to find. i also met Hydra that first fateful week."

Bixyl Shuftan: "How did you meet him?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Oh through Bevan. It was his rezday or a party for him. She invited me, and he was so charismatic. Something about him made me think, 'this guy has the right stuff to co-host a show.' He said to me, 'You could be a model.' Woahahhahahahhah! And I said, 'I ace a better idea I think.' He really is brilliant and funny, and just the chemistry was so good."

"Kat2 Kit was also a very early friend and he agreed to open the show."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Yes, I remember him. A performer and artist."

Pooky Amsterdam: "Yxes Delacroix was incredible with sound. She worked with us for a long time. And then Petlove joined the production team. Emmo was also of course becoming more and more of a part of the show, and he eventually took over the tiny wrangling, which I was really happy to see as the show opener. Alexa Stuart and Drusilla Poliatevska  joined that."

Bixyl Shuftan: "So Emmo came up with the idea of the Tiny show opener?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "He choreographed them over time, yes. We had had Kat open the show before alone, sometimes driving a flaming helicopter through a hula hoop, or his pogo stick through a flaming hoop, or the battle with Mr Potato Head on a trampoline."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Heh, a flaming helicopter?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Things got crazy at times, yes. Woahahhaha!"

Bixyl Shuftan: "Heh heh."

Pooky Amsterdam: "We had Edsel Heinkel for a while, opened with music too. He wrote our theme song. He was  an engineer at Bell Labs, and then also a guitar player and song writer, and bam! We gots a theme song. I mean, it was great. The ineraction though, it's about what you are doing on tv or in a tv-like environment. And I came to see that this is the future, the real future of entertainment, authoring it ourselves. Being on the edge of our seats and tips of our fingers."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Yes, it certainly seemed a lot like a real-life tv show, including the live broadcasting."

Pooky Amsterdam: "Yep. And you cant kibbitz with the show host on Lettermen or Fallon you know. It is a different and dynamic thing to be part of a live show."

Bixyl Shuftan: "What were some of your favorite moments of the 1st Question?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Anything to do with bacon. (grins) Loved the moments the two minutes before we went live - the excitement, the calm before the show. (Be)cause when you are live, you are driving a train at full out speed. (I) loved  peoples' reactions to the 'Yay Me or Nay Me's, how crazy funny that was at times. Loved the words that people made up too. When Hydra said Bubbaliscious for the first time, that was incredible. Having Curious George on the show, that was amazing, a man of his knowledge. Troy Mcluhan anytime he was on the show."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Where did the idea for that come from, the made up words?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Hmmm, well I wrote the show you know, and came up with all the segments. The Word - Up, well I love making up words and I had an idea that we have our own *lingua franca*, our own language of the grid. And it was something we tried. I wanted people also to be able to vote in real time.  figured everyone has a made up word in them. And yes I will get the PookyPedia out! I swear!"

Bixyl Shuftan: "ha ha! (grin)"

Pooky Amsterdam: "(laughter) So that segment served two purposes: real time voting and made-up words. When the show went from an hour to 30 minutes, I asked a lot of folks what segments we should keep, and Word-Up was always a favorite."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Did people ask for a shorter show?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "No, it wasn't from the audience. It was from a watching point of view, not for the real time audience. They weren't happy, they liked an hour to be honest. No game show is an hour though, not in real life. Not outside of immersion."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Whom were the most interesting guests?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "That is a hard one. There have been almost 400 people who were on the shows over the years. Gina Schreck was great; damn woman was hilarious! Crap Mariner was great. Lauren Weyland too."

"Will Wright was just an amazing person to have on. There I felt we were in a future completely. You know, this man had created the Sims, and was (then) playing as an avatar in SL in realtime, etc. It was pretty hot that. I really enjoyed having Patio Plasma on. Patio is an incredible person. Pathfinder Linden. Cybergirl Oh Irealy enjoyed on the show too. Draxtor Despres, of course! Sol Bartz who is in real life Phil Rice, he got the most points ever I think."

"I mean, we are a pretty amazing population, folks all the time pushing the possible. We are linked with one another as avatars, and I do feel we are brothers and sisters under our skins in very profound ways. I really would be hard pressed to say favorite guests. Everyone was incredibly special. This isn't an easy question by any means."

"Solidspace Merlin deserves a mention, though he was never on the show. But he was someone I could ask 30 minutes before air time when the person who is supposed to be in seat number 2 goes missing. I would IM him on occasion and he would say 'you know, let me ask so and so.' I mean someone like that is a life saver. We did always, usually, mostly, often, have an emergency person to slot in but … "

Pooky Amsterdam: "I went to a meting recently for a film project we might do, and one of the principals saw 'The 1st Question,' and was really impressed. He used the word 'it's smart but ironic.' "

Bixyl Shuftan: "Ironic?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Well, the show had irony, yes. I loved the irony in the show, and was really so pleased this man, a complete stranger to SL would pick up on that. The conundrums of modern life and human version 1.0."

Bixyl Shuftan: "What were some of your favorite bloopers on the show?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Oh gosh! In a live show, the bloopers are great. That feeling of the live element. Sometimes the wrong person would be given points and I'd get an IM saying, 'He doesn't deserve that point, that was my point!.' And I loved how people were so involved in that. Right? Like it really mattered. It was so engrossing that it was and had to be, a fair show, an honest show. Truthful in all aspects, that meant a lot to me. Once a quote was disputed, did May Lou Angelou say that or Coach Ditko? And I thought 'this is hilarious, two people couldn't be more different.' Woahahahahahha! And with fierceness - hey that isn't right its her! No its him! Okokok I said, they had a separated at birth moment. And you know it is funny, but we are very universal a species."

"The worst blooper though was the what I call the tiny show. Raglan Shire came to the show."

Bixyl Shuftan: "What happened?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "Teal Freenote was on. And there was no way that every tiny there we had, about 50, weren't voting for her. And well, she won Word-Up of course, but lost the overall show due to a technicaliy. I think the lag caused the buzzers to glitch. And well, she didn't win. And the next thing I know, Karma is on the desk threatening my life. It was pretty insane. They went nuts. And I had to publically apologize and also change the voting boxes to Teal in her forever memory."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Oops."

Pooky Amsterdam: "We had a great ongoing party in there, space tag after the show. There were some really fun parties. We auctioned off f the Hydra seat once and that made a buttload of Lindens. But the show was about providing great content for people, value, connection you know. And actually through it I came to also know Carriel Lynn."

"When I spoke on the topic of virtual tv at SLCC I began researching and found this great writer who had covered Metanomics. And I quoted them more than once. I found out they had an avatar and invited her on the show. She is an assistant prof of new media studies, and we began talking off course and well, we are currently working on a book project: VWTV - Virtual World TV. The experience I had with the 1st Question and the Dating Casino got me here. And also there are so many talented producers of shows. There are 56 shows that we have covered and over 30 show producers from Second Life over the three networks. Dr Richard Bartle will write the forward too."

"I really do not know what I would have been doing without Second Life. My ability to be part not only of the present but now of the future through this book, as well as the electronic legacy I'll leave behind has only occurred because of this place. I mean who knows, 'what if' or 'what if not.' but I do know that I am very lucky and so very grateful for the people I have met here. And I also think we all embody that notion of paying it forward. And I'm going to keep doing that too."

Bixyl Shuftan: "Yes, you have done quite a bit besides the 1st Question: the Dating Game, a number of video shorts, and the Time Travelers."

Pooky Amsterdam: "Yes! And the Public Service Announcements too."

Bixyl Shuftan: "The mosquitos?"

Pooky Amsterdam: "I'm thrilled to be able to show people  this great environment, but even more to help them eradicate pestilence! It is so much. It's the dream from the first film we did Beer Break to having a meeting in real life with someone who wants to launch a product and has seen our work and says that is incredible stuff. It's unnerving, and cool, and amazing looking, and we want it for our video marketing. We will working on something  new soon too."

It was at this point Pooky had to go. So we went our separate ways for the time being. We would meet the following night for Part Two of the interview: Click Here.

Bixyl Shuftan

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