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. 


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