Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Virtual Realities

I inhabit a virtual reality, Second Life. All four words have contestible meaning.

Reality is already contestible. My "reality" in the physical universe is differently "real" from yours, as I see things differently from you. I can never look at the world through your eyes, and I construct what I see and do minute by minute.

So how can something be "virtually" real, as though there is an almost reality? We are already almost. We are almost grown up, we are almost happy, we are almost experienced, we are never complete.

Life is a contestible concept. "Second Life" assumes we have a first one, but that first life already has so many subdivisions: the life you wear at work, at home, on your best behavior, in your blog entries, in your nightly dreams, and in that part of your brain you can't access easily.

I have a passion for the virtual, nonetheless. Twenty years ago I was fascinated by the Holodeck and Data-- mechanical constructs that imitated a "real" environment, a "real" man. There was a pathos in both, which is why I guess I wrote and sold "Hollow Pursuits," which put Reginald Barclay, neurotic and imaginative, into the holodeck along with Data, whom he made a virtual muskateer. He made himself into a storybook hero. It was all virtual; he was played by Dwight Schultz, whom I don't know as a person at all. Fifty years ago I was fascinated by virtual language, and I've spent most of my life creating Teonaht, the imaginary tongue of a virtual nation. Perhaps more about that later. I joined the Conlang Listserv, spoke at the Language Creation Society conference in Berkeley, and discovered Hildegard's Lingua Ignota. She deserves a blog entry all on her own. I tend to valorize my passions by turning them into academic publications. Ten years ago, for instance, I published an essay in Camera Obscura about miniature cities made for movies (to incorporate my passion for dolls and miniatures into an academic venue). Perhaps even my fascination with the medieval is an extension of my passion for the virtual, in ways that I still can't quite understand. I'm trying to access it.

So here I am, as Hypatia the avatar in Second Life, and as Sally the conlanger and science fiction writer. I've put myself back in the holodeck and become addicted to it. In the meantime, I've framed that computer frame by learning how to make "machinima." Perhaps it accesses that part of my brain that I need to set free. See above. ;)

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