Chasing a dream - Photo of Nessy Shepherd by Sennaspirit Coronet
Posted by Bettina Tizzy
Dreams of superheroes and their feats often populated my thoughts and aspirations as a child. My grandmother would tie the arms of my father's old business shirt around my neck in a makeshift cape, drawing a big "S" on the back, and I would become SuperWoman, tearing around the park in pursuit of villains, real and imagined, but still wishing I could lift off and become airborne.
Here is the first of seventeen Superman animated cartoons, all classics and marvelous to this day, which were released by Paramount Pictures in the early 1940s. Soon after, scores of children - clearly early candidates for Darwin Awards - believed they could fly and broke arms, legs or worse by "jumping off roofs with towels wrapped around their necks."
This cartoon - a work of art in its own right - is in the public domain
We wanted - ever so much - to fly as kids... so why aren't those of us in Virtual Worlds spending more time aloft and celebrating that fact? Flickr, which boasts more Second Life groups than you can shake a stick at, has one puny little group called Fly Away with a scant 388 snapshots, many featuring avatars not in unaided flight, but on brooms, flying contraptions and pegasi.
Wings are rightfully popular in virtual worlds. Red Caste Guardian by Ganymedes Costagravas
While I have no hard statistics to offer, I'd wager that collectively we spend hundreds of hours more adorning our avatars with wings and other devices for flight, than we do flying. The first gift I received in Second Life® was a Superman t-shirt, and soon after I was sporting wings (and this phase lasted several months), but I can't recall ever going on a barnstorming flying party or gliding for any other reason than to get from point A to point B or to put some distance between myself and a large party so that I could concentrate on an IM.
We even walk to fundraise in Second Life's annual Relay for Life to benefit cancer research - Photo by Janet Powell
Hamlet Au (aka Wagner James Au) agrees. He has been chronicling Second Life, both as its first embedded journalist in 2003 for the company that owns it, Linden Lab, and since 2006 on his own blog, New World Notes. In his book, certainly the definitive oeuvre on SL, The Making of Second Life (he's working on the paperback edition at the moment), Hamlet explains:
"...the ability of avatars to fly in Second Life actually began as a quick work-around, so the developers wouldn't have to devote time and resources to creating climbing animations. When it came to transitioning from Linden World to Second Life, the team opted to discard the jet-pack propulsion but retain flying. For Rosedale (SL's founder and Chairman of the Board), the power to transcend gravity was "innately, strongly interesting to people," especially when it did not come from an external mechanical function but was a graceful, effortless ability that came from within.
But if flying is a universal dream, few Residents have embraced it in full. Where one might expect airborne societies of people frolicking in the clouds, the overwhelming majority of Residents insist on remaining earthbound for most of their time."
Maybe the soon to-be-released Watchmen movie might change all that? I doubt it.
Hamlet goes on to say...
"Why the fear of flying? Many have speculated that the sensation of self-propelled flying is too jarring for extended periods, and that people's visceral empathy with their avatars means they need to maintain a visual reference of themselves on the ground in order to feel comfortable."
I don't believe we're afraid. After all, what's the worst thing that can happen? Our avatar falls down and automatically (and comically) dusts itself off. I think we don't enjoy watching our avatar's backsides (the default camera view) as much as we do being able to pan up and down and gaze upon our creations face-forward or from some more flattering angle.
Case in point, we adore watching our avatars dance, and one of the most fashionable animations on the grid is this one. I don't know what it is called or who created it, but perhaps one of our readers might help us fill this in?
Filmed and edited by Bettina Tizzy at Earth Primbee's Inspire Space Park during a particle show (teleport directly from here)
One is the loneliest number
Another common objection is that flight is a lonesome practice, unless it is with others, in which case it requires relatively good hand-eye and team coordination to keep up with each other, lest you be unable to find your way. This is, unquestionably, the best and really the only way to get completely lost in virtual worlds as you always know where you are (the name of the parcel, sim and coordinates are always in front of you).
In typical Hamlet Au fashion, he closes the topic this way...
"Whatever the case, flying remains a largely temporal behavior, sparingly used to quickly get around barriers. (Which was, when you think about it, the function's original purpose)."
Interestingly, there have been some new developments that I will share with you in my next post in this series that may help to change your avatar's gentle (and grounded) mind about all this.
+ Overcoming gravity (and reality) - Part I in our Gravity series
+ Oh, those intrepid gravity challengers - Part III in our Gravity in Virtual Worlds series
+ Climbing walls, sky dancing (in HD!), and weightless sex/showers - Part IV in our Gravity in Virtual Worlds series