Monday, November 29, 2021

Commentary: Fourteen Years of Writing About Second Life

By Bixyl Shuftan

In real life, I take pride in a number of things. One is keeping up with current events. I recall as a child, hearing a foreign country had up and stormed our embassy, taking our people there hostage. So I kept up with the story by watching the news. Eventually, the hostage crisis was resolved, but I continued watching, learning about daily events in the wilder world around me beyond that of school and the video arcade. Another thing was writing, a lifelong hobby of mine. I enjoyed writing stories in school, and would sometimes write for fun, occasionally sharing them with friends. This included a few that were background stories for roleplaying game characters. While my studies in community college were for a degree in natural sciences, there were a couple creative writing classes. When I finally got access to the World Wide Web, eventually I would start my own website, one with some science-fiction stories of mine (and updated most every weekday with a new joke).

While I first came to Second Life in December 2006, shortly after I got high speed Internet, it wouldn't be for a number of months that my story here truly began when I started logging on here on a regular basis. By this time, the FTP for my website updating had broken, and I decided to take a short break from writing. Instead, I went about exploring Second Life, and coming across some fascinating places and things, as well as events. Wanting to learn more, I started looking up blogs to read about the virtual world, and came across magazines and newsletters too. One such newsletter was the Second Life Newspaper, founded by JamesT Juno, and managed by Dana Vanmoer. It would have stories about the people, places, and events around Second Life, and regularly checked up on it.

One day, I noticed a request for reader submissions, either articles or pictures. So I sent in a story of a couple personal accounts and a few pictures. It seems I did something right, because I was invited to the office to talk to the editor and owner about a job. The meeting was in voice, but fairly short. I was given an office, and was now a reporter. And after turning in my next story, I used the payment to get a fedora and overcoat, which along with the fox avatar became my trademark look.

It did take me a little while to get the hang of things. But before too long, I was coming out with stories of all kinds. I would write about various people, places, events and things across the grid. Sometimes these were big events like the Second Life Birthday and Relay for Life and better know sims. Other times these were smaller events and out of the way places. Two of my high points were the second anniversary party, which was also the high point of the newspaper. The second was when I was made the office manager, which was updating the paper when Dana couldn't. But not all of the stories were happy ones. Sadly some were reports of the troubles and closings of hangouts and communities I was a part of.

In 2010, my time as a journalist here would change. Due to events in real life, James and Dana made the decision to close down the Second Life Newspaper and leave Second Life. So I, Gemma Cleanslate, Shellie Sands, and Grey Lupindo would form a new paper with me as the editor: the Second Life Newser. We hit the ground running as our first big story was a week after our start, Linden Lab laying off a third of it's staff. I was still reporting about the people, places, and events across Second Life. But it would be as the leader of a team.

Fourteen years later, I've written plenty about what I've come across and seen. Some of it is about the community I've become a part of, the Sunweavers. There's also yearly events such as Burn 2 and the Relay that provide plenty of story material. But I still come across new people, places, and events that are noteworthy. The Newser continues to be in solid shape, with sponsors providing ad revenue. .

Second Life itself has seen many changes. I came on during it's Golden Age when it seemed to some this was the future of the Internet and some big companies such as Circuit City and IBM were putting big money here. But many were confused by the lack of clear goals, "how do you win?", dissappointed by the quirks, crashes, and the ever-present lag, had bad first impressions such as running into griefers. So it stopped growing, and the Lab was trying to figure out how to continue the growth, then trying to figure out how to stay profitable. The Lab has gone through a few CEOs over time, and being acquired by an investment team. There have also been efforts to technically improve it from Mesh to moving the data to cloud servers. A number of Lindens have also left, including some popular ones such as Torley, Xiola, and April.

While some of my competition in the past liked to focus on drama, such as the Herald, for the most part I've avoided that. It's better to focus on what and who makes Second Life a fun place. And then there is showing the good this virtual world can do good. The Relay for Life is one prime example, raising thousands every year for the American Cancer Society. Then there are the veterans benefits. There are the science and health discussions. There's the mental health group therapy. There are the writers' groups for aspiring writers.

Sometimes real life gets reflected onto Second Life. In 2007 and 2008, one could keep a political discussion civil between opposing sides and there were a number of groups around the US Presidential Election. But things would soon sour, and became full of drama. More recently, the Coronavirus Panemic has had an impact on Second Life through increasing it's numbers, at least temporarily, as more were looking for things to do online.

Sadly, with change comes loss. I've had to write about the closing of some good places. And unfortunately about the deaths of some people, including a few friends. While sometimes what they made could be continued to be enjoyed, there would be nothing new. While I consider it an honor to help make a record of them, obituary articles are sad ones to write.

So what does the future hold? There's been no shortage of "the end is near" proclamations for Second Life since I was new. And while the new owners of the Lab haven't been perfect, it would appear they would prefer to keep the virtual world running and make money over the long term. So it's a safe bet that there's at least a few more years of Second Life news for me to write about.

But that isn't all that I've been writing about. I have a blog "Food on the Table," in which I write about something other than Second Life every few months or so. There's the occasional short story. And I've been writing a science-fiction novel on the side: "The Corsean Encounter." This tale is about First Contact between a couple humans in the 1920s who come across a portal and find a planet of beings Medieval to Colonial Age in technology. In order to get a chance at returning home, they'll need the help of friends and allies, as well as having to deal with those who see them as monsters to keep in a cage, or worse. It ultimately will be a series of novels as the first is finished and I've been going between editing the first (someone I was going to ask has been busy lately) and writing on the second. Hopefully I'll soon be done with the editing.

That's all for now. See you in the virtual world.

Bixyl Shuftan

1 comment:

  1. congratulations Bixyl!
    you do an amazing job and this is a great accomplishment!