Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Rita Mariner and the Sawyer Squad

By Bixyl Shuftan

Many residents in Second Life have at least one alt, short for "alternate account" for those outside the virtual world. It's on the record yours truly has two. Some have a few to several. But few can boast of having the number that Rita Mariner, the chieftess of the Sunweaver community, does. She has over a hundred, most in what she calls the "Sawyer Squad." Her alts are no real secret as she often has a few around Club Cutlass, and will occasionally have one by her. Recently, I had a few words with her about these accounts.

"Maybe 120 plus Sawyers" Rita answered when I asked how many she had. Asking her how did the Sawyer Squad start, she answered, "It started just after I got started in Tiny Empires and Tiny Empires 3000 myself, we were finding it hard to find enough players to become subjects or subordinates.  Also many players would start in one, the other or both, get bored and quit. So I started the Sawyers to fill the gap and try to give active players ... at least one person in their downline, that was active."

How soon and how fast did the alts grow in number? "That happened over a period of years," she answered, "only as I needed them and also due to the investment each one represented.  I figure between the avatars, HUDS, clothes, etc, each alt has, they cost me approximately 20,000L each. ... I have close to $14,000US invested in them over the years."

So what did they have besides HUDs and basic clothes? The chieftess replied, "Well, right from the beginning I decided that all Sawyers would be black, my Babes in Black, as I call them.  Most have aat least two avatars, an Uchi Kani and then a second one of a different critter and most also have a EP pony. Then you toss in several changes of clothes, 7 Seas Fishing game, Crowley Corp ships, AO's.  The costs add up."

Why the name Sawyer and why black? Rita answered, "Sawyer is from the female cat, Sawyer, from Cats Don't Dance. I liked her.  I picked black, 'cause a black Kani is very sexy looking."

"The fun part is several of my alts have their own fans now," the Sunweaver leader revealed. I asked how that came about and why, and was told, "Sawyer021 and Brandi Tungsten both have mice avatars, so they play cousins. Momma Gil, has both Sawyer017 and MissMystique. She wants them on all the time, I don't have the computer power for that. ... MissMystique I created just for MommaGil. She is a cream colored Chinchilla, very pretty. Sawyer017 also has a black Uchi Chinchilla."

Besides the Sawyer Squad, Rita stated she had a few other alts, "I also have a bunch more named ones I created just for fun, The Chipettes have been used in a music video, by Nydia Tungsten. I have the chipmunks too, still looking for the proper hair and outfits for them. Once I actually found a nice chipmunk avatar I created set of named avatars with that, for fun, the female ones are cute, the male ones, not so much."

I brought up Valkyrie Ice, whom was the one non-Sawyer in the "Babes in Black" group. Rita told me, "They are not a separate grroup, Babes in Black, is part of my Sunweavers group. If you have a black avatar, you can be in it. I put the Sawyers in all the regular groups and treat them like a regular player. If someone tlaks to them, I try to get them to respond back. They are not there just as eye candy. I do try to have some fun with them too. That's why they are NOT disposable to me. I come to Second Life for only a couple reasons, be with my friends and play Tiny Empires and Tiny Empires 3000. I don't build much and don't script, (but) I have a massive investment here already in my ten sims. I do participate in the Relay For Life with my Sunbeamer Team, and I am happy to raise what money we can for the American Cancer Society."

Rita stated the response others have had to her alts has been positive as far as she's seen, "They like them, Queen Ranchan titled me 'Sawyer Swarm Queen' in Tiny Empires. In TE3K, I am Space Booty Hunter. (Also) in TE3K, I was able to move some of my Sawyers under a new player who moved to our guild and bump him back up to Director. ... That's what the Sawyers are for."

Rita then mentioned a problem that had recently come up, "I want to get my alts off Singularity and onto a better viewer, I can't do it without help. All my pass codes were written a ledger book and months ago, (and) it got accidentally tossed out in the trash and I mean ALL my pass codes, not just for Second Life. So that is why I am trying to get Linden Lab to understand the situation. I can't go through the normal procedure to recover pass codes, the e-mails tied to the various accounts have long since disappeared or been changed into something else." And when she tried contacting Linden Lab, their response was bureaucratic, "I put in a ticket to try and get this issue with my alt avatars fixed and have run into a roadblock they NEVER had out in the open, but buried in their wiki site. Who goes to the wiki site? They say, on their wiki site you limited to five alts! They will help me with five. And even they screwed that up. They are stuck on Singularity, I want to move them to Firestorm/Phoenix, can't do it without the passcodes."

"I don't want to throw them away," Rita spoke about Linden Lab's five alt limit, "I have close to $14,000US invested in them over the years." She did have a possible compromise for the Lab, "I suggest to Linden Lab, that they put a third option on the signup page for alts. If they want $9.95 fee for each alt, then ask at creation, I would have gladly paid it, then.  but in exchange I want no hassles if I need help."

Some days later, Rita had an update on the situation of her alts, "Linden Lab actually took my suggestion and I got my five accounts back." I asked if she was going to get help with the rest, and the Sunweaver leader answered, "It's all done. I told them to just put a simple code on each one for now, e-mail me the code, I would use that to access their AL account page and reset the passcode myself. So they did it, I accessed eacch one and they are all reset."

And so all is well once again with one of the largest groups of alts in Second Life. If you want to see some of them, come on over to Club Cutlass, or message Rita Mariner.

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, December 11, 2017

Survivors of Suicide

By Bixyl Shuftan

Suicide is a major cause of death, with close to a million cases worldwide and over forty thousand in America every year, and it is believed to be underreported. It has been on the increase in places, up 24% in the past 15 years in America. While it has been on the decrease in Russia recently, it is still very high at 15.6 cases per 100,000 people and has a teen rate three times the world average. Fortunately, there are numerous organization and groups offering help. In Second Life, there is one group created to help people or friends of people whom had attempted it, those or friends of those at risk, or friends and family of those who succeeded and need help coming to terms: Survivors of Suicide. As time went on, the group has gone on to help people with depression in general, though suicide prevention remains a focus.

I was recently invited by one of the staff of Survivors of Suicide, Sebastien Bouevier, to drop by their location at the Schoomere sim and hear him tell about the group. Sebastien described the purpose of the group as, "to spread awareness and help prevent suicide, but we also serve as a peer support group, helping our members though the good and the bad times." When I asked who founded the group and when, he answered, "Krissy Sinclair, our founder, started the group over six years ago. I've been running the group for two years now." When I asked what inspired Krissy to start the group, he answered, "Im not 100% sure, but at that time there wasn't any active support groups for mental health in Second Life. ... I've only been here four years, so I can't say how the group was before I joined, but it has been a very helpful tool to stay well."

He then explained how he got into the group, "What inspires me to keep the group running is the fact that the group was so helpful for me after my suicide attempt four years ago. ... I nearly succeeded. I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act (UK), and spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital. It was a turning point in my life, as it gave my illness a name. Up until then, I didn't realize how ill I was. When I came out of hospital, it was difficult to get the help I needed to readjust to a normal life, which is when I found Survivors of Suicide where I could get guidance from others who have experienced similar things." He had found out about SoS, as it's sometimes called, by doing a search for mental health groups, "and it was one of the top three results."

When asked about the progress of his recovery, his answer was, "In one word, slow. (laughter) Joking aside, it was very tough to come to terms with having bipolar. It wasn't what I had hoped for me, but that is part of life. We cant decide what cards we are dealt. It took me a couple of years to come to terms, and even longer to fully accept my diagnosis. Nowadays I embrace it, and I spend a lot of my time helping others who are going through similar experiences in their lives."

I asked how many were in the group. Sebastien told me, "743 members at the moment (smile). We are the largest active mental health / peer support group in Second Life. Of course some of our members are more actively participating than others. We think it is so important for the group to be open to everyone. We do get a lot of people come through during the holidays. We have mentor boards on the wall by the staircase where anyone can click on our mentors boards to speak to someone one on one." I asked if the group included people other than those affected by suicide. He told me, "Yes, we are open for anyone. Some of our members are not even suffering from mental health issues, but are carers for friends and relatives that do."

How did Sebastien go from a regular member to one of the staff? His answer was, "I think it was a natural progression. As I got better, I started needing less and less help, and simultaneously having more and more advice to give.  I started here as a mentor, helping members through difficult times and sharing my own experiences. Then when Krissy needed a Director of Mentors, I took on that role. I have had managerial experience in real life, so I guess that helped in her decision to appoint me. Then as she had to withdraw even more from Second Life, she made me a co-founder, and I've been doing that for the best part of a year now. I think another important part was that I am very committed to staying well and healthy, and I try to help others do the same. My favorite saying is 'When the sun shines through again, it is time to patch the roof for rain.' It is kind of my motto, really. Knowing that we have a chronic illness, and taking steps to prevent and minimize relapses."

How would he say the group has been doing this time? "It has been pretty steady," Sebastien answered, "Participation in group meetings have increased over the last six months. The average is between four and ten people at a time, which is a really good group size really. Of course we are slightly busier now during the holidays which sadly is a peak time for depression and suicide. I think it reminds people of how lonely they are. So we are here to make sure nobody feels alone." I asked how much busier they are during the Christmas holiday. He answered, "At least thirty percent busier. Maybe fifty percent."

So what would Sebastien recommend to someone who suspects a friend of theirs has depression, and at what point should there be cause for concern? He admitted, "That's a tricky question because everyone are so different. But I'd say its time to start worrying when someone changes drastically from their usual selves, especially if the person is talking a lot about death or suicide. I will say though, if someone decides to withdraw, give them space but encourage them to participate in things, even if its just going for a walk together." I asked him what stories besides his stood out. He told me, "There are too many stories to share them all, but we have helped people suffering with anything from bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, disassociative personality disorder to childhood abuse victims, each and every member here has their own unique stories."

With the holidays being a time when more people were coming forward, I asked Sebastian if the group had any special plans. He told me, "One of our mentors is organizing a 24 hour sleepover, though the exact date hasn't been set yet. Other than that, we will continue with our weekly group meetings as normal, and have mentors available throughout the day and night for people who need someone to talk to. We have mentors in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and Australia, so there is usually someone online most of the time. And when nobody is on, there will always be someone in the group chat where people can reach out as well." And their plans for next year? "The current plan is to increase our support group meetings to three per week instead of just two, each one focusing on different aspects to mental health and wellness."

I asked Sebastien about other mental health groups. He told me, "I have seen quite a lot of mental health support groups come and go in the over six years we have been open. I don't want to comment on them as they are no longer open."

Sebastien then showed me the upper meeting room, located almost a couple thousand meters high above the sim. It was a somewhat small room with four chairs large enough to seat more than one person, a bookshelf that looked like it came out of a modern art painting, and a window showing a view of a major city from above, as if in a skyscraper. He told me, "When people click my mentor board I like to bring them here to talk. It is a private and calm space where nobody will disturb us. I have even held an intervention here with one of our members and their friends. Suicide is a serious matter, and we take it very seriously here. I do have to say, that we are NOT mental health professionals, and we don't offer counseling. We are purely a peer support group here to help and support one another through difficult times. Even if we were trained mental health professionals, it would be highly unethical to practice that here in Second Life."

It was about then the interview was over, and we parted ways.

Currently the Survivors of Suicide meets on Wednesdays at 4pm SLT, and  Mondays at Noon SLT

Schoomere (160/32/24)

Source: Wikipedia

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, December 4, 2017

DJ Geerkil And The "Dragon Crew"

By Bixyl Shuftan

One of the more unique acts of the Happy Vixen beach club and Club Zero Gravity is DJ Geerkil and his "Dragon Crew." While there are plenty of DJs across Second Life, Geerkil Ziskey is unique that his avatar is that of a dragon. More recently, he's become the most visible part of what's known as the "Dragon Crew, which also includes his "co DJ" JB Raccoon, and often LS Raccoon, whom is often a hostess for her two friends.

DJ Geerkil, who pronounces the name "Gurrkel," first came to Second Life in May 2006, and has been DJing in Second Life for quite some time. For years, like most other DJs Geerkil just played music, explaining that when working alone he doesn't have much to say. Then in Spring of this year, JB Raccoon and LS Racoon first came to Second Life, April and May respectively. They are real-life friends of Geerkil, and had found out about the virtual world through him. At the time, Geerkil was working with someone named Dirty Dawg. "They did the Saturday show together and I would join them in Discord (a text and voice chat service)," JB told me, "but stay silent when they went on the air, until I got caught not knowing we were on the air (laughter)."

But sometime around late July or early August, Dirty Dawg left due to an issue. "JB was the only one who would chat with me (on Discord)," Geerkil stated, saying he talked JB into joining him on the air during his show. And the two of them just clicked, or as Geerkil put it, "the BS just started to spring out." On occasion, someone else would join in, "but JB was the one who kept showing up." Geerkil calls JB the brains behind the show, and credits him for the reason the show is what it's become, though gives credit to Dirty Dawg for helping out at the start.

Geerkil, JB, and LS invited me to listen in on their chatter through a program called "Teamspeak." Of his being a DJ, the dragon remarked, "Music is my life. ... Music can change the mood, enrich the soul." Geerkil doesn't really sing, though on occasion will end up singing to his music. He says he was fond of the "Monkeys" when young, saying of one of the band, "He was good looking as a young man, but he got old and turned slam ugly, like me." He says he has about two terrabytes of music in his computer.

Most of the time, Geerkyl is in his large Seawolf dragon avatar, although on uncommon occasions will be in an anthro dragon form or other avie. Because of his size, when DJing at the Happy Vixen, he does so from just outside the wooden deck, laying on the sand. He calls Club Zero Gravity his favorite location as he can sit behind the DJ stand. "I had the impression ... designed with Seawolf dragons in mind," he stated, saying it "popped my bubble" when that wasn't exactly the case.

JB Raccoon as his name suggests does have an anthro raccoon avatar. But he also appears in an avatar that looks more anthro husky with a raccoon's tail. LS describes it, and hers, as half raccoon, half wolf. He told me one reason for his online persona is that he once gave out what he called his home location on a Google map that led to a tree. LS Raccoon, described as a "taker of food," does not usually say much during the show, but instead as a club hostess she gives group announcements of the Dragon Crew's events in club groups and group chats, and greets people as they enter. When not at events, she is often playing games with friends, or just chatting with them.  She hosts for Geerkil and JB at Club Zero Gravity. At their Tuesday set at the Happy Vixen, the task of hosting is left to Kitacella whom had the job first. Geerkil feels she does a great job, and is happy with her performance.

The name of the team the Newser uses for the purpose of this article, "The Dragon Team," comes from Nydia Tungsten, the owner of the Happy Vixen. Geerkil and JB refer to it as "The Epic Failure Show," the dragon describing it as, "Those idiots get on the air, and they do the stupidest BS." He openly described his sense of humor as "warped," and in the banter between he and JB, the dragon describes the raccoon/husky as his "seat cushion." There's sometimes a few poop jokes by the dragon in the between the songs banter, Geerkil saying he can't pin down why he finds them funny, he just does. When saying he sometimes trains DJs, "It's something I do, do. ... Did I just say doo-doo?" We went on to say in younger days, he would have his kids do "poo patrol" in his backyard, "and now I have to do it myself."

There's also a few jokes about women and sex, Geerkil admitting it can sound like "barefoot and pregnant" to those with sensitive temperaments, "probably why I don't have a girlfriend." In one of the few times he changed from his dragon avatar, he had on something tiny and cute that could fit in someone's hand. He then offered his services as a "cleavage pet," saying his tiny dragon form could help keep a girl's bosom warm if he was tucked in. However he does not condone outright sexism, criticizing men in position of power in the news whom were exposed as bullying women in sexual manners, "I am very much against sexual harassment ... unless I am the one doing the harassing."

When I asked for examples of their craziest times, Geerkil laughed and told me it might be hard to pin down one. He then stated, "When JB was wearing his blue underwear, without his pants." JB brought up, "There was that one time you lit my a*s up," saying the dragon had caught his tail on fire. Geerkil responded, "That was an accident, sort of. ... I don't remember." "A memory lapse of convenience is what I call it." There could also be technical issues, Geerkil saying, "that's why we call ourselves the Epic Failure Show." LS has this to say about Geerkil and JB's act, "They're hilarious as always. They do a wonderful show, always putting effort into making sure people have a good time and to draw more in. (The) events are very much as fun as the skits, and we all enjoy having a good time as do others."

One of the last questions I asked Geerkil was about how he decorates his dragon avatar, which wears gold chains and has charms hanging from it's horns. Geerkil says he originally got the idea as dragons are attracted to gold, and it was originally for his anthro dragon form, getting a golden headdress for it. But it worked so well, he enlarged it and had it fit his full-sized form. He then decided to go further, "Why not get a custom outfit, something no one else has?" Since he liked gold chains, he had some wrapped around the avatar, with green cloth underneath in places, "to avoid chaffing my scales." The charms on his horns were tailor made, the design made by someone Geerkil offered to pay. He was so pleased with the results, he "overpaid" the builder.

The schedule of the Dragon Crew will be changing soon. When the Happy Vixen shuffled it's Thursday events from 6 to 8 PM and 8-10 PM to 4-6 PM and 6-8PM, they were offered a second set in the 6-8PM timeslot. Geerkil told me their Saturday schedule is likely to change. Of his real life, there has been some trouble as Geerkil is on insulin and other medication, of which he had trouble affording. Fortunately, he managed to get some help with it.

Be sure to catch the Dragon Crew at the Happy Vixen from 4-6 PM Tuesdays and 6-8PM Thursdays, and check the schedule at Club Zero Gravity for their appearances.

Bixyl Shuftan