Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Reader Submitted: It's Only A Pixel Moon (My Time With Areal Loonie)

By DrFran Babcock 

It's Only A Paper Moon by Billy Rose, Harold Arlen, E. Y. Harburg

Say, it's only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me


   Second Life has a reputation of being a sex-crazed and wild place. What is so peculiar about this is the fact that, while there is a plethora of every kind of kink that exists in this world, when you get to know people in Second Life, what you find is that it really is the place of deep and meaningful relationships. Touch, taste and smell are removed from the equation, and sight is based on how one chooses to represent. Thus, most people who go on to communicate in relationships find that the reliance on talking or typing leads to deeper connections than in meat space.  Here’s a story about all that.


Show and Tell was one of my favorite events in Second Life. Each week Barney Boomslang and florenze Kerensky hosted residents in SL who wanted to demonstrate wild and inventive things they had built. After everyone had their time on the stage, the audience voted for the best item, and the winner got some Linden dollars. The crowd was as sharp and funny as the hosts and presenters.  

   In the second half of 2008, the weekly Show & Tell moved from the sim of Lummerland to Avaria (Home of Grendel’s).  Change is always hard, usually negative, but the diehard Show & Tell enthusiasts moved to the new sim. There were the usual grumbles; “It’s not like it used to be!” However, most of the people moved with the move, and the Show & Tell continued.

   I used to go to the event with Tiny HIckman (a giant dragon), Kumi Kuhr (not around much now), and other avatars who are gone or deceased. One day, in 2008, I was startled by the bell of an IM, and it was from a person I did not know. Areal Loonie is a funny but awful name, especially because I am a mental health professional, but their comment was intriguing. My profile, at that time, spoke about my love of canals, and Areal was asking me why I was interested in canals. We chatted about that during the show, and I thought nothing of it. Of  course I cammed over to see that his avatar was a black bat, and that was interesting and different.

   I started to realize that he—it turned out he was a he—had been coming to Show & Tell for way longer than I had, and we continued to chat. I told him about my secret build of a canal and lock that was based on the Paris Canal St. Martin. He got very excited and one thing led to another, and he visited. In the meantime, Lomgren Smalls, a teeny tiny cat from The Relay for Life Redheads team, was graciously adapting the Second Life Railroad script so it could be used for the canal.


Over time Areal and I chatted more and more and began to share experiences in Second Life and just talking on Skype.  From 2008 to 2014 we collaborated on three sim builds, all of them with canals on the sims of Purple, Lakeville and Campello (see photos).

We fought a lot. We had a lot of very similar ideas about what we wanted to build, but we also disagreed on a lot of things. I was much more social than Areal, and ended up having to go to a lot of events without him, but we always ended up chatting together in the end. We also fought over jealousies and other relationships. Looking back, from 2023, this was all so stupid, and we laughed at how silly we had been.


In 2014, Philip Rosedale started High Fidelity, another Virtual World that relied on VR technology, and had a blockchain financial system. Philip is always ahead of his time, and Areal and I jumped from Second Life to High Fidelity and spent a number of years there until it eventually closed in 2018.  In May of 2016 High Fidelity held a Hackathon in San Francisco, and Areal and I met for the first time in first life. We had a wonderful time, and actually took a side trip to Palo Alto. I returned to San Francisco, and we spent days together.

While in High Fidelity we continued to build together and to learn about Physically Based Rendering (PBR) of objects that allowed them to respond to light like objects in the real world.  

Surprisingly, PBR is coming to Second Life eventually!


After High Fidelity died we went to Vircadia and Overte, and TivoliVR, three open source virtual worlds based on the High Fidelity code, but neither of these was very enticing.  

I became super angry with Areal when he refused to join Discord, so that we could communicate. Very few of the people we knew in virtual worlds were using Skype any more and his stubborness about joining Discord irked me to the point I broke off communication with him. For an entire year we did not speak to each other at all. I would see him in Overte and Vircadia, but we did not chat. The whole time this was going on I missed him so much and felt so sad.


After about a year he spoke directly to me in voice in Overte and I answered him. I found out he was now on Discord, and he DMed me and friended me. We began to chat again and began building again in Overte. It was as if we had never stopped talking with each other. We went back to Second Life from time to time and went to Overte and VIrcadia (TivoliVR had closed). We started to collaborate on a build Areal (by this time calling himself Twa in virtual worlds) had started of downtown Paris and the subway system. I had my own build of a canal, of course, and we collaborated on that. In addition to virtual worlds we often played a sandbox zombie survival game: Seven Days to Die.  

We planned to get together again, but then COVID had other plans. However, we spoke every single day from two to six hours a day, depending on our schedules.


About six months ago Areal, a heavy smoker, went for a full-body scan and they found a mass in his lungs. By February 2nd of 2023 he had died of complications following lung surgery. Luckily, I had contact with some of his family memebers, so I was able to know of his condition.  Throughout his recovery we “spoke” on FaceTime, although he had to write on a pad, because the ventilator prevented him from speaking. It was as if we had come full circle, relying on chat again.

We had just begun to make plans to live together finally. I had retired from my job, and he was already retired. We talked about the details of merging our four cats and about me, a lifelong New Yorker, living in California. I was happy about this. Old age had softened our rough edges and we were very companiable.  

We met in Second Life and together we built a good life. Our story is not dissimilar from many others in the Metaverse. It continues to demonstrate the great power of connection between humans despite the way in which it manifests. 

Rest in Peace, Areal Loonie. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Interview With Gem Sunkiller

By Bixyl Shuftan 

Gem Sunkiller is a longtime member of the Relay for Life in Second Life and is the Team Lead for 2023. She was also the Newser's Woman of the Year for 2022. Recently I had a chance to interview her, and we met at a building in the American Cancer Society sim.
I asked Gem how did she first find out about Second Life. She answered, "Well, I had been role playing on a text based platform, one of my best friends in real-life and on the digital platforms had come to see Second Life with her husband. She called me and said 'You have got to see this!' I made an avatar, I've forgotten that name long ago, and joined her on Second Life.  You probably know her, Sasha Fairywren. This was in March of 2010, so you can imagine the learning curve. I didn't care for the place I landed in first, so Gem was born."
"So your first days were a bit rough?" I asked her. "Yes," she answered, "but I mastered those skills, explored Second Life, and landed with a dance troupe, Unity Productions. We performed, in spite of the lag, all over the grid." "How long were you with the troupe?" I asked. She answered, "Roughly a year, at the time I was helping to care for my mother, along with working a full time job, and trying to give my husband the time he deserved.  Practices just did not fit in with my RL schedule, and as we all know, real life comes first. So, I dropped out of the troupe, but maintained many friendships.
"That brings us roughly to mid 2011. I lost my Mother in February of 2011, and basically came to Second Life to listen to music, and talk with friends. One of my friends from Unity asked me to come to a set he was playing, Relay Weekend 2011. I did, and after his set I decided to do a lap around the track, remembering my Mother.  As I walked around the track, a woman came along side of me and asked my Relay story. I didn't really know at that point what a Relay story was, but I told her about losing  my mother.  She assured me that what I was feeling was normal and that things would get better, then shared all about Relay with me.  That person has become a very dear friend to this day.

"That was a defining moment in my Second Life.  When registration opened in 2012, I registered Team Shadow, and we blundered our way through our first season. "Blundered?" I asked, "Sounds like some interesting stories there." "Oh yes," Gem answered, "from registration forward.  We did not have our first event until late April, but soon fell into a rhythm of weekly dance parties.  What we lacked in knowledge we made up for with enthusiasm, and attended as many other team events as possible.: It was a good year!"
I asked Gem if any particular events stood out.  She though about it, then responded, "We had a carnival, complete with rides, a jail and bail, and of course music and dancing.  There may have even been a dunk tank.  Over the course of years we had some bigger, multi team events, like Country For A Cure, and our Blues For Life. We also learned to use our dashboards to fundraise from people we knew in our everyday lives. Thank goodness for people like Dwen Dooley, MamaP, Trader Whiplash, and many others who taught us how to Relay the right way, for the right reasons."

I asked if things were less unpredictable the following year. Gem's answer was, "You could say that, I advised Sasha and Syl who took over the leadership of Team Shadow, however I answered yes when asked to serve as Outreach Chair in 2013." She smiled, "Together, we built Relay over the course of the season, adding new communities and Relayers, I'd say it went well.  That's in retrospect however, when in the midst of the season, it was quite the quality growth experience.  I had many people who came along beside me to teach me, encourage me, and spur me on, also people who were not afraid to cut to the chase.  We all need that. If you remember, at the closing ceremony 2013, Relay refused to let the ceremony start until we had pushed over the 2 Million USD mark since our beginnings. I still get goose bumps remembering that morning.
"And our community has had many  more goose bump experiences since. I'm sure everyone has their own favorite. For me the best part is that we made each of those moments happen together.  United as we worked with a single purpose. I'm sure there are so many stories in my memory banks. Most Relayers have a store house of memories they can share.  Our heritage as a community is rich!"

I then asked, "I take it some of the teams you've worked with had some interesting results, such as the Steelheads with 'The Hair?'" Gem smiled, "Oh yes, Fuzz and his 'The Hair.'  It's not a season without seeing 'The Hair' at least once. The Rockers with Relaystock, which has become a yearly multi-team event.  I remember playing in the mud that first year, while listening to DJ's from everywhere. Your own Sunbeamers, with your Airshow.  I hope I haven't crashed too many of your planes over the years. (we both chuckled) ...  "We have a host of new teams, who are learning their way around Relay.  Some are poised to have some very memorable events this season.  Who knows, with a theme like 'Hope Floats.' Perhaps we will have a giant swim meet! Swimming is a great way to help  yourself stay healthy."

I then asked if the theme, "is going to be boat-themed, or swimming as you wondered?" She answered, "Our theme is very much in line with the national Relay For Life theme of  'Every Step Brings Hope.'
So, we are not locked into boats, hot air balloons, or water sports. But all the ways that we can give lift, wings as it were, to hope for our survivors and caregivers. If I may quote Stingray Raymaker, who summed it up beautifully. ... "Hope is the reason why our community has remained one of Second Life’s largest and most impactful since 2005. Hope floats above everything that we do. Hope guides our decisions. Hope inspires us to keep going, even when things feel impossible."
Recalling some ship battle games in the past, I asked Gem if we might see some of those. She told me, "... I am sure there will be pirate ships and battles that happen. We have lots of fun with our FUNdraising, which is wonderful.  But at the heart of everything we do, is the mission to finish the fight against cancer. The first step for our Teams will be Team Registration, January 15th, 2023.  As with past years we will register through our .  Selene Jashan and myself will be happy to help anyone who needs assistance.

"I am very excited to see our 2023 Relay For Life of Second Life season get underway, Kickoff is February 18th at 10am SLT. ..." We would end up talking about the Sunbeamers a little, then she continued, "When we join together, there is nothing to big for us to accomplish.  Even very ambitious goals!"
I then brought up the involvement of the Lindens, "as Patch Linden's barbecue in the "Days of Relay" a few days before the weekend walk." Gem responded, "Indeed, the Lindens lend their support to many events, including HopeFest. We have Bid the Lindens Bald, which is always well attended. Patch answers the call for many of our Mega events, most recently Christmas Expo, where he served as Santa with his 'elves.'" I brought up the Making Strides Rennisance Festival, "How many would you say relish the chance to joust a Linden, or toss a tomato at one of the Lab's finest?" Gem chuckled, "Countless numbers! Relay Weekend Midori Linden assists us to help keep our regions running at top performance. So, many at the Lab contribute their time to help further our cause."
I asked Gem what does she do when not Relaying. She told me, "I dabble with photography when I have a chance, and enjoy bringing my real-life work into SL after playing around in Photoshop.  As your know, I am a DJ, and while I don't do as many sets as I used to, I love spinning up a party. I wouldn't say I am a builder, but I do like banging prim together, and oh, then there is shopping! My daughter Jade and I sometimes explore photographic regions together." I asked if she had any favorites. She answered, "Frogmore is always one of my favorite destinations. There are so many interesting nooks and crannies to explore, and by experimenting with windlight settings each shot of the same view looks entirely different. The Estate I live on, also has many interesting photogenic locations.  Why leave home if you don't have to? Calas Galadon is also a good place to wander and take pics. There are so many (smile).
"But even in the off season, Relay is always in the back of my mind. You might say I am obsessed. 'm looking forward to meeting as many Relayers as possible this season, one of my favorite things is to attend team events, and encourage them onward."
Gem would go on to say, "I would like to thank the SL Newser for their Woman of the Year award for 2022.  You humble me. Thank you, also, for keeping our Relay For Life community in the news, and increasing awareness of our mission around the grid."

"In closing, I want to welcome anyone who would like to join our community in the fight against cancer to come be a part of our awesome movement.  Just contact Selene Jashan or myself and we will help you get started.  To all of our returning Teams, WELCOME BACK.  One last thing----GO RELAY!"

After that, we shared a few more words, then went our separate ways.

For the upcoming Relay season, team registration starts on January 15, and the Kickoff on Sunday February 19.

Bixyl Shuftan