wu-had

an exploration of the Secondlife platform as an immersive environment, a poltical space, and as a generative medium for architectural design.

Friday, June 30, 2006

immersion

builders manifesto

in the virtual world, the fundemental architecture is the platform itself, its network, and how we are allowed to navigate it. the image of architecture in 3d is merely a suggestion in comparision. however it is still a very power as a guiding force. the architecture of the virtual world sets the tone for the activities it encapsulates, it creates a mood, it compels fantasy. virtual architecture shares with real architecture it's evocative presence.

architecture is paramount in fulfilling the escapist ambition of secondlife. virtual worlds are a form of tourism. they allow us to escape the reality of our everyday and venture into the unknown of cyberspace. more obliging than any real vacation, secondlife is available after dinner every night! that tourism however requires immersion. it requires one to feel that one has just stepped out of their home office and into a whole new world. the environment must be compelling. it must be fulfilling.

for many reasons, some of them discussed in the second life forums
what we find in secondlife is merely pockets of immersion. there are little spots along the grid and on islands where skilled and visionary building teams have descended on the mesh and put together moments of transcendence where for an instance i forget that i am sitting at my computer and actual begin to fly through the ruins of af a dystopic future of explore the secret pirates lair. how quickly it ends as i turn the corner into a see of flicker and seams. and so i push my immerssion agenda on anyone willing to hear my thoughts.

immersion requires seamlessness and attention to detail. architecture in secondlife, like the surface of the av, should be scrutinized down to the very last pixel. the best fashion designers wrap their avs with textures with acute attention to details. some of the details may go unnoticed to our concious eye, but the subconcious eye is much more discerning. any discrepency will break immersion. so it is true for architecture.

an immersive building is more than floors, walls and roofs. our eye is trained in rl and is accustomed to seeing structure, decoration, decay, trims, materials, light and shadow. our eye rejects the virtual world without these elements. there is a reason why the virtual world is built in the image of the real world. it communicates quickly and comfortably to us. it helps us move past the virtual world as an image constructed on our screen to a shared world to inhabit. part of that comfort is from light and shadow that helps us see forms and depth. part of it is from structure that gives weight to the virtual architecture. part of it is water stains, moss, or grass growing between flagstones. it gives the illusion of history and permanence, that the virtual world is not just a space but a place.

immersion requires depth. it's not sufficient for one enclosed space to be finely constructed. it requires that the next space be so as well. and the space after that. immersion works better when the surface of one space frames the next. it reinforces the notion of world.

what does immersion look like? immersion doesn't look like anything. immersion is an experience.

appendix A: personal examples

here are some experiences that impacted me immensely:

Makaio Stygian's Pirate Grotto.
Pirate Grotto
this was one of the first immersive moments i experienced exploring second life. it was full with finely modelled and richly textured pirate treasures. there were many carefully scripted events with sound effects throughout the cavern including the entrance, barrels bobbing by the pier and a cannon. the whole cavern was dimly lit with a couple of crack in the ceiling allowing in slivers of light.

Yadni Monde's village on stilts
Gorean Immersion
Nobody knows the value of immersion like the Goreans. There strict roleplaying lifestyle requires the highest order of immersion. To this end they don't cut any corners. This particular build was a simple village on stilts consisting of nicely rendered huts connected by walkways. The attention details to such as tilting columns, hanging rope railings, and meandering aquatic fauna were really essential to giving a soulfulness to this place. (there was some strange contraption under the water that someone had left behind that was a bit jarring)

Cory Edo's Neualtenburg House
N-Burger Immersion
i first visited this house when it was still under construction in mavericks and was immediately floored by the attention to detail. cory had baked lighting and aging details directly into the textures. each surface of the building was thoroughly deliberated. what made this even more fulfilling was it's placement in the neualtenburg sim where it became part of one of the more accomplished landscapes in secondlife's short history.

Neil Protagonist's Nakama
Nakama Immersion
opening this weekend, Nakama is, in my opinion, the most immersive experience created to date in secondlife, and the inspiration for me to revisit this entry after such a long absence. it is rich with high quality content as well as having a strong narrative. the sim is composed of four regions which bleed into one another, telling not one story but several interwoven stories of a fantasy world inspired by japanese manga and anime. the thresholds of these regions create transitional spaces of their own right.

i began my journey in the dystopic future city with its piranesian labrynth of buildings stacked and woven in a 3 dimensional space. as i walked towads the modern residential suburb in the distance, the character of the landscape moved with me. the transition was so seamless i could not pinpoint wthe moment i went from being a dissident of all encompassing tyranical corporation to a young college student fumbling with bashful teenage girls in sailor suits. this ambiguity repeated it self through the historic neighbourhood, where i barely ducked out of clash with a ninja clan, and right into the complete fantasy world which i can describe only as pokemon on acid.


white band flicker unaligned, mismatching scales, and stretched camera collision


details, Nakama has in spades! light posts, road signs, electrical wires, rivets, rust, fluttering curtains, chirping birds and bullfrogs, reflective pool, the list goes on and on. i even noticed details such as the lightening or darkening of the very edge of a few textures in the historic neighbour hood to better define the form of builds. there really isn't a single stone left unturned by neil. he has created worlds within our world that will take hours for visitors to soak in. the open spaces of Nakama could very easily become the meeting ground for secondlife's growing anime fandom.

projects like these aren't realized overnight. nakama, for example, has been in production for approximately 6 months! however they are for striving for.

12 Comments:

  • At 7/04/2006 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Chris said…

    Hi. I've posted a rebuttal at http://cake.krisjohn.net. Basically, while attention to graphical detail is nice, and can be used to fake other information your brain is looking for, it alone does not result in immersion.

     
  • At 7/05/2006 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    Hi, I've posted a rebuttal, too:
    http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2006/07/resist_immersio.html

    Resist Immersion Subversion! Down with the Bolshevik Crypto-Fasco-Wu-had tactics!

     
  • At 7/07/2006 01:19:00 AM, Blogger jauani said…

    chris,
    interesting comments. i've began my discussion on immersion from a very builder centric position because that is my primary filter for seeing the world. i read your entry with anticipation of further exploration of the phenomenon of immersion but quickly realized you are not talking about immersion at all. more on that later.

    prok,
    i have basically summarized to your long winded blog to say "do the opposite of what jauani says because i don't like him." you seem to think that my ideas have political intent. they do not.

     
  • At 7/08/2006 07:25:00 PM, Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    Jauani, summarize all you like, but you can't put out something called "A Builder's Manifesto" and have Hammie flog it ANd have words in it like "should" or "must" requiring people to toe the line on some aesthetic vision and then expect to pretend you aren't political, and not about imposing something. Please at least have the courage of your convictions. And my post is no more long-winded than usual, and a lot is taken up by discussing various examples and inworld trips.

     
  • At 7/10/2006 11:36:00 PM, Blogger jauani said…

    for the second time, i have not preached aesthetecism. please refer to a dictionary. nor have i said that it is only found in my friends "club". i offered examples i experienced, some of which were not by people i even know. i do not advocate a style. i advocate thoughtful design and good craftsmanship. i am not anti-newbie. you have taken terrible liberties in over interpreting my text to serve your personal aspirations.

    there is nothing wrong in striving for perfection. while it is arguably unattainable, the pursuit has produced countless marvels, and is in itself fulfilling.

    i don't fully understand the substance of your protest at all. are you saying that it is morally wrong for me to encourage builders to become more adept with the tools? are you saying that people should not strive to do their best? are you saying that a society should aspire to mediocrity and incompetence? you objection seems to be against progress or improvement.

    the builders manifesto is a declaration of an outlook that i aim to further develop and explore in the pusuit of raising the quality on the virtual environment. it is inclusive, not exclusive. every builder in the sl community is engaged in the exploration of this idea and i encourage them to enter the discourse.

     
  • At 7/11/2006 02:05:00 AM, Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    See, that's why it feels like Zhdanov. it's not just your take, not just your contribution, it's your grab at leadership of an era or a school or even a world, and it's a claim to speak for "every builder in SL" as if you have your hand on the pulse of what "every builder" is striving for.

    You're not encouraging builders to become adept. that would be medieval guild apprenticing, and that would be a separate problem. What you're doing is prescribing. Read what you wrote:

    "immersion requires seamlessness and attention to detail. architecture in secondlife, like the surface of the av, should be scrutinized down to the very last pixel. the best fashion designers wrap their avs with textures with acute attention to details. some of the details may go unnoticed to our concious eye, but the subconcious eye is much more discerning. any discrepency will break immersion. so it is true for architecture"

    Must, should, requires. and worst of all, the idea of subversive immersion which I alluded to -- that the artist has to get busy making a grab at someone's subconsciousness, embark on deliberate subliminal seduction by setting up detatils that will "unconsciously" affect him. He has no free will. This is really the most troublesome aspect of your aesthetic vision -- that lack of human agency.

    Avatars are just so many server load tests and accounts to be led around by the nose through aesthetic experiences that are set up for them, and which they are wily-nily forced to undergo.

    are you saying that a society should aspire to mediocrity and incompetence? you objection seems to be against progress or improvement.

    I wonder how you could draw that from what I said. What, you figure any critique of *you* is a vote for mediocrity because you are the very definition of excellence? That's silly. I'm all for progress and excellence if it is pluralistic, free, inclusive, open.

    I also think no Builder's Manifesto is needed at all. The adage "Your World/Your Imagination" is enough, and we ought to reclaim and fight for that, as it is constantly under siege by the crowd that says Our World, Our Imagination.

     
  • At 7/11/2006 02:46:00 AM, Blogger jauani said…

    currently there is a vacuum in the discussion of what makes immersive buildings in SL. someone has to take the first step to open up the discussion.

    of course i'm encouraging builders to become adept. i'm encouraging builders to think about what they are doing; to become critical of their tools and their canvas; to consider their audience. these are very implicit aspects of this mission.

    there definitely is human agency ever present. that is the agency of the viewer. be it a story, a painting, or architecture. each has a message. it has it's own narrative that the creator shares with the viewer. to a certain extent the creator can guide and limit the range of interpretation but fundementally this is the agency of the viewer.

    again, you use the word aesthetic vision. for a third time i must stress, i am not advocating any for of aestheticism.

    avatars are the window to a distinct individual who is connecting with the virtual environment. by visiting my building, they become readers of my story. they do this by their own accord and they read in a manner that they wish. they can jump ahead, retrace their steps, choose amongst diverging paths. but they are reading my story, and it is my right to reveal it in the manner that i wish. that is my agency as a writer. what i must however keep in mind, is my obligation to communicate as clearly and completely as possible. i can pose riddles, i can create mystery, i insert red herrings. but clarity and completeness of information insures that reader experiences the story in its fullness.

    all immersion is subversive. a literary classic, a blockbuster action flick, a best selling video game, they all succeed by succesfully taking a hold of the audiences conciousness through visceral prose, special effects, interactive environment, and yank it unexpectedly into their virtual world.

    this is not some form of political oppression. this is the very form of diversion players of SL are seeking when they log into secondlife.

    SL is indeed Your World, Your Imagination. putting forth a builders manifesto is the surest way to enable residents to make it their own and bring others into it.

     
  • At 7/11/2006 01:04:00 PM, Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    >Currently there is a vacuum in the discussion of what makes immersive buildings in SL. someone has to take the first step to open up the discussion.

    Hardly. This is mere hubris. People have discussed this from the first day Stellar put up her beanstalk. Your notion that you own or frame this discussion is entirely misplaced. The buildings themselves were always the eloquent conversation, anyway.

    >of course i'm encouraging builders to become adept. i'm encouraging builders to think about what they are doing; to become critical of their tools and their canvas; to consider their audience. these are very implicit aspects of this mission.

    Then have a discussion about what an adept builder is, don't assume that adept by your lights will equal immersive - you're hog-tying the two concepts. Someone could become a good builder to make a welcome area for a game company to sell its game. Someone else could become a good builder to make a photogenic building for a record company showing off that it is cool by being in a virtual world; someone else could be making a RL store replica that may look like crap but satisfies the RL customer's request -- none of these exercises, all of which are legitimate, are about immersion, or world-building. In fact, some of them take us very far from world-building.

    >there definitely is human agency ever present. that is the agency of the viewer. be it a story, a painting, or architecture. each has a message. it has it's own narrative that the creator shares with the viewer.

    The agency of being able to X out the page or log off isn't really agency but resignation or revulsion. One criticism we've seen of the SL perfectionist build is that it so wows the viewer that they have no room to interact. They are supposed to just fly around and say WOOT.

    >to a certain extent the creator can guide and limit the range of interpretation but fundementally this is the agency of the viewer.

    But you've just spelled out a very ambitious agenda for not only framing the debate (which you imagine was never held before) but controlling it by perfectionism -- of the kind you think is valid. Do I have a choice whether I fall down the stairs in Frisch? No.

    >again, you use the word aesthetic vision. for a third time i must stress, i am not advocating any for of aestheticism.

    This failure to take responsibility and ownership for your action in that regards is troubling -- by advocating what is required for immersion, by espousing what is considered to be excellence in prim craftsmenship, you ARE advocating aestheticism.

    >avatars are the window to a distinct individual who is connecting with the virtual environment. by visiting my building, they become readers of my story. they do this by their own accord and they read in a manner that they wish. they can jump ahead, retrace their steps, choose amongst diverging paths. but they are reading my story, and it is my right to reveal it in the manner that i wish. that is my agency as a writer. what i must however keep in mind, is my obligation to communicate as clearly and completely as possible. i can pose riddles, i can create mystery, i insert red herrings. but clarity and completeness of information insures that reader experiences the story in its fullness.

    That's well said. It is a two-way street and about freedom of will. But you aren't just putting out a build and inviting people to read the story. You're saying "This is how the narrative canon must be for our caste" -- by writing a "Builder's Manifesto". In fact, if anything, since you're making much of doing a Builder's Manifesto, have the courage of your convictions and at least don't be lazy. Draw up 10 statements of canonic rectitude and hortatory oration, so that we can examine what you really think. You did 2 paragraphs, and they weren't very clear. Number them, and bold the titles.

    >all immersion is subversive.

    This is the hallmark of creator fascism. It sounds like a nice glib and facile statement, but it is outrageous. You just got finished claiming that you are merely an author among authors, with readers among readers, who glide around your build and either get your inside jokes and pranks and red herrings, appreciate your texture baths, or they don't.

    Now all of a sudden five minutes later you're saying all immersion is subversion, because in fact you are staging it and hoping you can seduce avatars better than the next guy, or band together with your class and seduce many thousands across many sims.

    There -- since you've now outed yourself and said "all immersion is subversion," which was detectable from the get-go -- you can understand why I said "Resist Subversive Immersion!"

    The avatar logs on precisely to be immersed. But immersion is a delicate, voluntary, and non-coercive dance. If the game gods, if the demi-urges among the game gods' pet builders, violate that social contract and begin to bludgeon avatars sensibilities, they lose. They don't get the avatars' consent anymore.

    That's why, I imagine, Yumi can say, "so many builds just involve flying around and saying WOOT another big building". And that's all the vain authors wanted.

    The subversive immersion of the Roman or Ottoman or Soviet empires in their gigantist architecture was about instilling the individual with awe of the state's magnitude and power. All those huge buildings and arches and columns and broad avenues enlarge the state and diminish the individual. Game-world architecture with its medieval modes and totalitarian aspirations do exactly the same thing. I don't see why we have to accept the replication of the architecture of suppression in virtual worlds, we're supposed to be "better" worlds.

    If you don't want "all immersion is aversion" to be the end of the story, which it is in many games and even SL after awhile, then you might think to drop "all immersion is subversion" from your revolutionary credo, and emphasise that "all immersion is conversion" -- with consent and faith -- the *willing* suspension of disbelief.

    >a literary classic, a blockbuster action flick, a best selling video game, they all succeed by succesfully taking a hold of the audiences conciousness through visceral prose, special effects, interactive environment, and yank it unexpectedly into their virtual world.

    See, that violence, that yanking, that manipulative power, is what you've grabbed on to in order to bolster yourself and your identity as "intern architect" and "visual world prim-hustler" and you imagine it is your membership card into the elite of the media moguls and advertisers who control public consciousness.

    Nobody does yanking for long, or successfully, without a social contract of consent, which involves credibility. If I fall down the stairs in Frisch, if I can't get my camera angles to zoom around the big mountain and walls, then I've been yanked too hard.

    >this is not some form of political oppression. this is the very form of diversion players of SL are seeking when they log into secondlife.

    I disagree. It is political oppression. I still haven't gotten an answer as to why Germans are being subjected to this Disney castle Goth cliche, either.

    But now you're using "diversion" and not "subversion". Being diverted implies that I might pull back my attention any time or redirect it. I'm not bludgeoned as I am by the YANK you just described.

    >SL is indeed Your World, Your Imagination. putting forth a builders manifesto is the surest way to enable residents to make it their own and bring others into it.

    How did you make this happy hop, skip, and jump from "builders" to "residents". As in RL, residents have no say over the turds in the public square called public art. They have no say over the painfully ugly buildings that are supposed to serve as modern taste.

    I don't think a builders' manifesto can be put over even on his own caste by just one person. If you suddenly get an acclaim of 20 builders for this vision, I'm thinking they're going to at least force you to rework and write it properly.

     
  • At 7/11/2006 05:35:00 PM, Blogger Rez said…

    The point I was making about texture fliker on Prok's blog is this -- in your builder's manifesto, you didn't bother to capitalize sentences, you have run-ons, and in one case I think you have a spot where two sentences are slammed together with no punctuation. Did that make the point of what you're saying less valid? Not really, because to get the point we can look past those details and see what you were meaning to say. I was just as immersed in reading your thought as you were when you were writing it, I'd bet, even though my subconscious mind had to keep correcting your slightly lackluster grammar.

    For immersion in the creator's thought, a bit of overlapping prim flicker is as easily overlooked by the subconscious mind as your lack of capitalization, and in some cases, reinforces the fact that no, this building couldn't exist in reality yet.

     
  • At 7/12/2006 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Forseti Svarog said…

    heh rez, well I took Jau to task for writing that way. I say, if you don't build lazy, then don't write lazy. Prim flicker is simply not taking the time to edit. (of course, this is one reason why writers hire editors)

    prok, I still feel like you are creating an argument to fight against.

    And what is this about big buildings being about the state minimizing the individual? Why must everything come back to Mother Russia? Some tall buildings excite and energize people... captivate people's imaginations and give them confidence. But those reactions can't be found in people hardwired to view every action as oppression... they're only oppressing themselves.

    prok wrote, "One criticism we've seen of the SL perfectionist build is that it so wows the viewer that they have no room to interact. They are supposed to just fly around and say WOOT."

    I don't see the difference here between a non-interactive crap-build and a non-interactive grand-build.

    (Well there is a difference. In one case you say Woot. In the other you say "meh" and move on.)

    Some builds are created for an audience, and some are created for the artist and there is nothing wrong with either. It depends on the function and goals of the build.

     
  • At 7/15/2006 09:10:00 PM, Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    Forseti, I think there's plenty to argue against here without having me set up false straw men. Look at the two key paragraphs, please. Yes or no? For or against?

    If you are awed and inspired by big buildings, well, what can I say. In part, I can say, "spoken like a true creator fascist". But I can also try to get you to see that there's a big difference between, say, Stalin Gothic or various Roman ampitheaters and huge avenues and such, which were indeed designed to stress the state's bigness, and are definitely in the school of "gigantism" used by the state for this purpose, and then buildings that just happened to be big, well, because skyscrapers are tall. The Chrysler building, with its exhuberance or whimsy and unique profile in the sky isn't trying to dwarf the individual, it's more in that "inspire" category. The World Trade Centers were gigantism, dwarfers. The Empire State Building might arguably be about inspiring but I think ultimately, all the big buildings of New York are trying to dwarf the individual at some level. Modern buildings can be especially guilty of not providing a single point of purchase for the eye to rest from the bludgeoning bigness.

    In SL, these builds commissioned by the state, like the Waterhead Recruitment Center, which is like a cross between the men's toilet and the non-elopement unit in a psychiatric hospital -- these are all about instilling belief in the power of the software gods.

    I've often thought the Waterhead head-bangers' ball that we were subjected to for so long was also a profound expression of the attitude had towards residents. It would have cost them nothing to raise those roofbeams higher to get rid of that nasty, star-inducing experience we all had. They wouldn't do it.

     
  • At 7/26/2006 09:29:00 AM, Blogger Forseti Svarog said…

    Prok, I only just saw this comment. Totally agree that some tall buildings in past were created to minimize the individual. I think a lot of big buildings now are done to "show off" -- to make a statement of "look how successful we are". I think about the Petronas towers in Malaysia. That's entirely a "we're on the economic map now... world, pay attention" statement in my mind. It also serves to inspire national pride, etc.

    You are right that it transcends the individual... it's actually an interesting question as to how much of that is intended to be manipulative and in what ways.

    The ploy often works, of course. The perception of success often drives success.

    Personally, however, I think big buildings in SL are really just about the "cool" factor. They're fun to make and fun to look at.

    Was that waterhead building you referenced the old wood telehub where you tried to fly when you landed and immediately banged into the roof? If so, yes I *hated* that as well. Thoughtless design. If they really wanted that aesthetic, would it have been so hard to make the roof phantom?

    Immersion must also co-exist with practicality and usability! If it doesn't, then yes, your accusations of creator-narcissism/fascism do apply.

     

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