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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Centaur and Sensibility

It's a movie shot in a city that you know well, and there's a scene where the hero rushes across town, and you're sitting there, watching, and you shout at the screen,' hey, he just went past the Pantheon and the Baths of Caracalla twice, I thought he was heading north to Florence?' Or, 'hold on, how did he get from Trafalgar Square to Kew without crossing the River?' And you get told to shut up, it's just a movie, and the city is not real, any more than the story is, and the real bits that  cement real life in those places together don't matter for the purposes of the plot. Except, you think, curling back up into your chair, they do.

Ina Centaur was in her birthday suit, all dolled up as - what else - a centaur in gold lamé - when I took this photo the other night; S. Polke Esq and taciturn panda Kat2 Kit were unlucky enough to be in crappy snapping distance also.
Ina's the powerhouse behind four sims that focus on literary and artistic themes: SLiterary, and the SLGlobe and Primtings are among her most well known institutions, all somewhat in jeopardy now, as the price of tier rises.
Ina Centaur: I started sLiterary Magazine, SL's first (and sadly!) only literary journal dedicated completely to "the new genre of metaverse fiction."At the same time, random strangers started popping IM's at me asking
me to build malls and such for them. I tried some of that, started a skin store, earned a few million $L, had money to build more of my own buildings (the Globe!), buy an island, and then four build a bigger, better Globe... and other buildings, more recently, the Blackfriars [sic].
Ina characterizes herself as a Taiwanese girl roleplaying  an old WASP in SL. When you're twenty six, 'old' could be anything from forty to four hundred, you've no depth perspective at that age, so it's weird to think she's playing my demographic - White, Anglo Saxon, not really Protestant; unlike our colonial cousins, real Anglo Saxons don't care enough about religion to protest - Pagan or Professional might be better 'P's. On the whole, like the hero in the movie, she's got the postcards covered, but none of the road between them.  
The mind drifts, turning over the whole odd concept. What about vice-versa? Would I want to roleplay a Taiwanese twentysomething living in California? Could I pull it off? I've been there done that for two out of the three, although (as if you care) I spent my 20's in Italy, and was 30 before I got to San Francisco. My point is, despite the barbieness of Thirza, I have no desire to go back to either state, and yet, while I was there, in those places and in those years, they were enough for me, and there's something poignant and puzzling in the thought that Ina's identity would not be enough for her, and that such a perfectionist would choose to overlay her identity with a persona that is so off-key.
A banal question. 'Why SL?'
Ina Centaur: It's rather a confluence of events. I think we all start out "confused" on SL, since we're used to entering game worlds like this with a "goal" or way to "level up", but, SL is open-ended. For some people, this freedom equates to something like: "There's no point, ergo there's nothing to do on SL!" For me though, what I was trying to get working again was my creativity, but the problem with me is that I have way too many interests, and I guess what happened on SL was that I became completely bored of writing fiction... this visual-auditory-techno-theatrical self took over, and I guess that's how the rest happened! As for the novel... Well, I haven't had time to write much since then, so, I guess, I'm still the same as before, in that dept!
The Pantheon is a bit more Las Vegas than Latium, and utterly without compassion for middle-of-the road viewers, which limits its appeal. Ina talks a lot about enabling shadows. For this blog, I've traipsed around so many places built by people who rarely leave their own comfort zone, and have little clue how long it takes their guests to rez. Here, the '1 baluster 1 prim' may be a badge of pride, to me it's just making everything sticky slow and irritating. Somewhere in here, there's supposed to be a scripted Bocca della Verità, and again the mind wanders, thinking how much nicer it would be to sit in the dark smooth silence of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, away from the gawping tourists, all hung up on Raphael and Caesar. And what a more original and romantic build that would have been, and I wonder if she even realizes she is mixing her metaphors, by combining the two, and guess that nobody who comes here will know or care.
Ina built the SL Globe too; not just an empty shell, but a proper working theatre. Although it's in no way affiliated with the 'real' thing, Ina says they have ex-RSC actors and other theatrical enthusiasts among the cast, crew and audience. I asked why she'd gone for a Shakespeare build.
Ina Centaur: The man, the mystery... the woman (he could be a she!) The multifaceted-ness of Shakespeare's plays - it's like peering into a prism, different every time, revealing something different about life and yourself, the universality of his motifs, how you can stretch a particular interpretation to extremes, and yet, people still recognize the same archetype. Deep cultural stuff.
I still say that it ought to be illegal for English people to do Elvis impersonations, and likewise for Americans to to do anything but watch Shakespeare. That's the old WASP in me talking. I'm not even going to comment on the 'could be a she' thing. Putting on even one Act of a play is a huge task, involving not only the theater fabic, but also putting together actors from many time zones, scenery, costumes, avatars, publicity and so on. I wondered if she ever felt as if she were in it alone, if it was a lot of work, and if she despaired of getting it all done.
Ina Centaur: There's everyone, and then there's no one, and then there's just me, so yes, yes, yes! I built my first virtual Globe about ten years ago, but I didn't get to build my first SL Globe until early 2007. In late 2007, after SL Voice came to SL, I built a bigger version based on dimensions from the RL Globe in London. In 2008, this expanded into a "4-Sim Globe Theatre," so that a maximal number of local audience members can witness a show. Each incarnation of the Globe took about a weekend to build, but I spent about a decade researching it, part time, in RL.
This is Primtings. Within these grey forbidding walls are some great treasures of SL art, in particular 3D recreations of famous 2D works, by the likes of Picasso and Escher, Yifu and Auer. It is well worth visiting, if you've never been; bring sandwiches and a torch, the stacks can be a little hard to navigate.
Ina's also very proud of SLiterary Magazine 's 'crazy RL rates in pay' although her claim that it's the only one to feature strictly metaverse-based fiction might surprise other literary organizers.
Ina Centaur: We gained both formidability and notoriety from having to reject 90% of all submissions. Most folks wanted to recycle their stories from elsewhere. The problem with short story writers is that they're hopelessly penurious, and it's hard to attract advertisers since "everyone knows no one reads short fiction!", so obviously funding became an issue. That, and I'm eccentric in that I only put in my time, but not my money into SL. Somehow, I still ended up becoming sLiterary's biggest patron.
Apart from offering space for meetings, sLiterary doesn't really foster inworld writing talent, for a reason.
Ina Centaur: My focus on SL, right now, is in developing virtual theatre and Shakespeare. I simply don't have the time for everything else I used to do on SL! We used to have involvement from others in the SL writing community, but coups, backstabbings, and just a total mess of things metastasized to the point where I became banned or ostracized at other literary venues.
Rather than being disgusted by that situation, and walking away from the whole boiling of them, the infighting had the opposite effect on Ina.
Ina Centaur: This malady of politics was actually why I became so obsessed with SL to the extent where I led a "year of seclusion". For over a year, I locked myself up in my house and my only social contact was through SL. I guess the realization was healthy for me, in that I'm no longer naively idealistic enough to focus my life 100% on SL. I'm trying to juggle my completely-different RL with SL, now.
Let's hope SL can keep up.

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