Sunday, July 11, 2010

early virtuality, remembered

An unknown number of years ago, before I heard about Second Life and found my way there, I paid a few late-night visits to a couple of the most curious early virtual worlds.

The first so-called virtual world I ever visited was called Dreamland Park*, which I chose from the handful available at the time because the name was similar to what I called my lucid dream and media group (now the name of this blog).

Dreamland Park was a funny little place, occupied mostly by people whose text chat was mostly conducted in German. Earnest and eager, I stopped by for several days in a row, keeping my English confined to a worry-free present tense, and tossing in a few German words from a dictionary now and then, just to show I had the right spirit.

This situation, as you might imagine, had its limitations, this funny little Euro chat room. If there was more to it that what I saw, which is entirely possible, I never got there. The highlight occurred one day when someone stood in front of me-- their avatar, that is-- and made a few comical dance moves while staring out from my monitor: my first avatar interaction, and it made me laugh out loud for real. The people there, I came to understand both directly and implicitly, were a cheerful assortment of youngish geeks. The world itself seemed not a great deal more than some gray terrain, and the avatars were a bit limited in movement and expression. I have a dim memory of running up and down some jagged, low-resolution bluffs. For all of its shortcomings, I was very excited to be somewhere, in there... because that's what it felt like. It was a start. The possibilities!

And then I stumbled into another world, one a bit more fully realized, called Worlds. At least, this is the name I recall now, years later. Here, you could run around with an avatar that had a bit more to it, although with little relationship to who you were in real life; at least it seemed that way to me. You could be something decidedly non-human, but I was more comfortable as a female human. Learning to move it around in a virtual space was a startlingly powerful experience.

There was one big room that always seemed like a kind of cocktail party, with a kind of American Southwest view out the long window. And I recall a bunch of hallways that looked like you were on a spaceship. Like a dream, there was one wing where you could choose avatars, a long hallway with a series of figures on display to the left and right like a kind of museum, but I could never find it again- much to my frustration. There was a building kind of like Animal House, and I felt a kind of mild panic there with the antics going on, so I left immediately.

One night, very late, a kind person with a female avatar took me to a beautiful garden, and told me how I could return there; "she" might have been someone trying to promote membership (which I could never bring myself to do), and I don't think I ever went back. But I still remember it as an act of genuine helpfulness early in my virtual history.

In another part of this odd place, you could find a ladies room, and a mirror there, and gaze into it, disconcerted by seeing something foreign staring back at you. My avatar somehow ended up as a large, strong-looking brunette woman with a suggestive sway to her hips, and a long black dress; I accepted this because didn't want to be a little blue orb or a cartoon cowboy. I did what I could.

Now and then I still have dreams about this surreal twilight world of pixels and crude backdrops, usually right after I fall asleep on a night when I am both tired and wired.

* * *

*I've provided a link to a page that has some screen shots of the old Dreamland Park, just as I remember it, about halfway down the page. The glamorous avatar shown is far more sophisticated than anything I encountered there. At any rate, if this place still runs, I can't seem to find how to get there.

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