Friday, October 25, 2013

The Oldbie Project: Malachi Petunia

By DrFran Babcock

I do realize that Burn and ToS madness are tearing across the grid, but I have always followed the beat of my own drummer, even on the playa. Thus, I was pleased to realize that a project I had seeded months ago finally bore some fruit through an email from an early resident of Second Life™.

I had sent a list of questions to folks on the Beta Contributors wall as well as in a posting on Second Life Universe. From all of this, I received one reply so far, and I would like to share it with you.

The Goal of This Project

 My aim, in attempting to contact early members of SL, is to explore what the experience was like for them. Things now are so different than they were when I rezzed in 2006. I can’t imagine what it was like to operate in a world that really was being created by the people who lived in it in 2002, 2003, and 2004. I am hoping that a number of interviews with oldbies will shine a light on the birth of this virtual world.

Malachi Petunia, born September 21, 2003, is no longer often in Second Life™, but his insights into the early days offer many things to think about, especially as it seems some things never change. He seems to be pretty soured on Second Life, which is a pity, because I believe, as does he, that the potential of this world is boundless.

SLNewser: How did you find out about Second Life™?

Malachi:  I’m pretty sure that I’d read about SL Beta on because it did represent something new and interesting. When I joined in September 2003, there were perhaps 400 players total with 200 frequent. At the time they were offering lifetime memberships for about $200.00, and I purchased one within a week or so of starting because I wanted to support their project. “Lifetime” then was a bit of a gamble as it wasn’t clear if they’d be around the next month, but I hoped they would be.

SLNewser: What are your earliest memories of Second Life™?

Malachi: The first thing I noticed in SL was Viola Bach, another “lifer” who hasn’t been much in game going on 6 years but was the self-appointed unofficial “welcome wagon” who stood in the Ahern Welcome Area and greeted newbies. As the world wasn't all that populated at the time, I might not have bothered past the first 10 minutes if not for her warmth and friendliness.

The first thing I recall doing was obtaining a “starter plot” in DeHaro which was parceled out for that purpose. I took “Cabin, Small” out of my Library inventory and put it on my plot. I learned how to modify that build and within a week had purchased my second plot in Tehama and built my first “saltine-box” house. There’s a decent map of the world I entered, and it is a little shocking to see how small it was. 

SL Newser: What kept you logging back in during the early days?

Malachi: What kept me logging in at first was the “Legos for grown-ups” aspect of building and scripting. The projects that I remember most were my replica of (Frank Lloyd) Wright’s Kentuck Knob in the Tan sim, and my last major build circa 2005: a pretty fair replica of the Emil Bach house.

It is no accident that in the early days the F8 key was bound to a voice-emote “Look what I made,” as literally everyone was a creator in those days, because there was almost nothing else to do. There was a daily notecard that had the day’s events, usually about a half-dozen, with one of the better-attended being Pituca Chang’s trivia contest held at Stage 4. Stage 4 was built at the intersection of Dore, Ahern, Bonifaco, and Morris, and allowed up to 40 people to attend an event at once.

It was certainly the people that kept me coming back. To be elitist, the first players were a staggeringly creative and clever bunch. As someone said of the scripting language: “It's a pretty lousy language; the fun comes from using that crude tool to make something interesting.” Almost everyone I’d come to like in SL, I had later come to meet in real life, and the sort of people who interested me in SL played themselves in game.

My real life sister followed me into SL a few months after I discovered it, and was captivated by it to an extreme degree. She’d always had difficulties with real life social interaction (with cause) so SL gave her a much needed ‘mask’ which allowed her creative, playful self out for the first time. She ultimately quit her real job to become a full-time SL designer/merchant, and met her now husband of 8 years in-game.

SL Newser: What are your fondest memories of the early days?

Malachi: My greatest fondness was for the gestalt and really can't be pinned down to one thing.

SL Newser: What are your funniest memories of the early days?

Malachi: There were two amusing bits worth recounting from my early days. On perhaps my second day in game I went exploring and wandered into some club in DaBoom (which might have been the only club at the time). There were two women in the windowless build and we started chatting. They asked me if I knew where I was and looking around at the decor I guessed “Lesbian Dance Club?” Not even close, it was a strip-club and I was talking to the proprietor and one of the strippers. I’ve always found real lide strip clubs to be a little sad, not for the women, but for the patrons. Not wanting to be rude, I did accept a “dance” from the stripper and sat at my machine laughing at the comedy of it. There were no custom animations at the time, and music could only be imported in 10 second clips. Stripping consisted of executing one of three available dances and poofing off four clothing items, one at a time.

It was not long after that I was invited to a hot-tub party and discovered that I was a Ken doll underneath my clothes—talk about castration anxiety! But, I got over it. Attachments didn’t exist then, so nominally male avatars were uniformly distaff [sic].

SLNewser: Did you fall in love in Second Life™?

Malachi: I never looked for love in SL, so never found it, but I made a good dozen real life friends. Of course many people did find love by happenstance in the early days, but the only relationship I know that has persisted is my sister’s.

SL Newser: Who was your favorite Linden?

Malachi: I reviled the Lindens, not because of who they were, but the dreadful management put them in game. They had exactly zero license to do anything useful, even in things over which they had control. The official policies were singularly absurd, and I’d often do acts of passive antagonism which didn’t even get noticed. In response to some policy about representations of nudity, I put up a 4m × 3m art nude I’d taken of a recumbent woman's torso in my open-plan build in Tan along with a statement of protest and a sign-up petition. I recall having an impromptu conversation in front of it with a few players and a few Lindens and no one even mentioned it. There are only two names that I even recall, Char Linden who was a very pleasant concierge-like person in game, and Lee Linden, a development engineer of whom I made an effigy that spouted excuses for why everything was broken. That also got no notice but amused a few friends and me.

SL Newser: What were your favorite activities?

Malachi: My favorite thing was building/scripting, and two or three person conversations in the evenings, which is pretty much an echo of my real life.

Malachi: The addition of the real money economy killed the game for me. It brought a horde of carpetbaggers who were just looking to make a buck and turned a “Burning Man” vibe into a “Vegas hucksterism” feeling. For me it killed the joy of creation for its own sake.

SL Newser: Do you still log in? If not, why not? If yes, what keeps you coming?

Malachi: I log in about once a year just to see what things look like, and I am invariably disappointed. As a lifer I receive a Linden dollar stipend which just continues to pile up, so I find some worthy artisan and dump it on them.

SL Newser: What would you like the world to know about Second Life™?

Malachi: SL is a lovely case study of something that could have been really cool but died through managerial ineptitude. Given the whore's den reputation that SL has now, I continue to try and never associate myself with Malachi because what drew me there was seen by too few for people to know just how much potential and fun there was in the early days.


So, there you have it. I welcome feedback to SL Newser, if you agree or disagree with what Malachi had to say. For the most part, I do agree with his views on many things, although I don’t agree the economy in Second Life™ ruined its vibe. However, I wasn’t even a pixel in the eye of Philip Linden back in 2003.

DrFran Babcock


  1. Written about in Ciaran Laval's blog -

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