The latest edition of The Drax Files: World Makers focuses on the life and art of Second Life resident Flokers, a young woman from Sicily, now based in the UK, who has a remarkable story to tell. So remarkable, in fact, that the show forgoes the usual teaser / titles and end piece featuring Drax talking to his guest, and instead lets Flokers tell her story, straight from her lips to our ears.
That the story is presented in this way makes it all the more powerful to the viewer; in just under five minutes, Flokers beautifully encapsulates the breadth and depth of Second Life in so many ways, and reveals just how relevant it can be to people’s real lives and interactions. She also provides a touching insight into synesthesia – and even offers-up an opinion on the value of the humble keyboard at a time when some caught in the renewed enthusiasm for VR are calling for it to “get out of the way”.
As an artist, Flokers presents a unique view of the avatars inhabiting Second Life. Rather than photographing them, she digitally draws them in real life as they pose in her studio in SL, and then later uploads the finished portrait back to Second Life.
“I am going to paint them as if it were real life,” she explains. “I know that avatar represents the inner persona that’s inside the person who is sitting in that computer. I want to represent them the best I can. Doesn’t matter to know who they are in real life, because I know them in Second Life; that’s what I see with my eyes.”
The care Flo takes with her portraits and the success she has in not only capturing the image of the avatar but also something of the personality behind it is clear the minute you enter her studio in Second Life and see the prints of past studies hanging on the walls. Not only that, but to anyone reasonably familiar with Second Life, it is clear she has also captured the essence of the SL avatar itself, making it clear where her subjects reside.
Flo offers those of us who have never experienced synesthesia a first-hand insight to the condition, of which she experiences in both its Grapheme-colour synesthesia and Chromesthesia forms. Not only does she describe the condition verbally, she provides the graphics in the video which allow us to see how she visualises letters, numbers, moods, sounds and even people. Her approach is to present the condition openly and in a matter-of-fact manner which speaks volumes about her own inner strength of character.
“I’ve never seen a city that had not a single child,” she says of her choice in keeping her avatar childlike. As with her description of synesthesia, she tackles the use of child avatars in Second Life head-on; offering a simple and clear message to all those who see anyone opting to use a child avatar as someone leaning towards more negative social behaviour such as edge play or age play: having a child avatar is fun. nothing more, nothing less; it’s a visual recapturing of the carefree fun and moods we experienced as kids and really shouldn’t be taken to mean anything else.
Much noise has entered the airwaves of late about how the keyboard and mouse represent “the” barrier to the wider adoption of virtual worlds among the general public. Much of this noise has centred around the building excitement about new immersive VR systems and has focused on emerging technologies such as gesture devices.
It’s no real secret that I don’t entirely agree with the view of the keyboard as an obstacle. Not only do lean towards the non-adoption of virtual worlds as being much bigger than an issue of technology, I tend to feel that like it or not, the keyboard and mouse aren’t going to go away that easily, and Flokers offers-up a perfect illustration as why this is so:
In Second Life I can communication better, because I can filter the words that I want to use. The typing animation will tell people that you [are] actually formulating a sentence before sending it. I can re-read what I’m saying, and I can try to think if that in any way, shape or form could offend anybody else.
While voice is undoubtedly a wonderful means of communication, it can led to unnecessary misunderstandings or upset if we don’t give due consideration to what we’re saying and how we’re saying it – which is something we don’t always do; “speak in haste, repent at leisure”, one might say. The keyboard is a wonderful medium for allowing us that time to think; for those who may additionally be communicating in a language which is not naturally their own, it gives added time for consideration, none of which can be easily matched by either talking directly into a microphone or using a voice-to-text filtering tool.
Floker’s Second life story is intimately bound to her current real life situation, not because she earns her living through SL – which is perhaps a story we’re all familiar with – but because she obtained her real-life employment as a direct result of her being in Second Life, where she met her current employer.
Now working as a graphics designer, Flokers sees Second Life very much an integral part of life and her work. In this, and in closing-out the video, she offers-up the perfect response to all those who would otherwise dismiss the platform as “fantasy”:
Second Life changed my life, because what people thought was just a game actually became a real life main source of money and fun. I am able to be myself here. It gave me the chance to become the artist I always wanted to be.
Each time a new edition of The Drax Files comes out, it is hard to imagine that the series could reach further or higher in terms of exploring Second Life and bringing genuine stories about it and the people who use it into the public eye. Yet each and every time the next segment appears, it does precisely that – reaches higher and further.
While a large part of this is down to the stories themselves – and possibly the luck of the draw in terms of the order in which subjects are selected and filmed – the production values evident in each edition cannot be overlooked, nor can the sensitivity shown towards the subject matter. Both of these points are wonderfully demonstrated in this segment, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them and underline the unique editorial skills Drax employs in putting these pieces together.
The magic in this piece, for example is that it really is Floker’s story. There is no need for anything else; no talking heads between Drax and his subject, no need even for an opening title sequence. Floker’s careful, precise and utterly honest discussion of her involvement in Second Life and her real life situation simply doesn’t need any embellishment; it reaches directly into the heart without manipulating emotions, and resonates perfectly.
The musical balance in this show is particularly fine in this regard; the soundtrack is mostly understated, acting as a gentle underlining of Floker’s comments, without ever getting in the way of what she’s saying. When it does come to the fore, it does so magnificently during the airship scenes, with a full-blown orchestral excerpt rich in emotional content which draws one into the scene, eliciting feelings of joy, just as those playing the game surely experience.
Once again, another remarkable piece which is a joy to watch and which speaks volumes about both Second Life and the people who use it.
- The Drax Files episode 20 on You Tube
- Draxtor Despres on YouTube
- Draxtor’s website
- The Drax Files world Makers in this blog