The Drax Files 25: adding to the substance of our existence

The Drax Files World Makers closes-out 2014 by reaching its 25 instalment, which arrived on Tuesday, December 30th. Since the original debut show in March 2013, the series has covered a huge amount of ground and given a tremendous insight into the impact a virtual platform like Second Life can have on people’s lives.

Over the months we’ve been allowed to see inside the lives and work of content creators, animators, artists, fashion designers, educators, film-makers, musicians, actors and more, and have been able to see not only the incredible creative freedoms the platform offers, or the unique opportunities for learning and giving it presents, but also how it can become fully intertwined into our physical worlds, allowing us to form friendships and relationships that otherwise simply would not have happened, and deepening our experiences in life and our understanding of the world around us in ways unimagined prior to setting through the magic portal of the viewer.

Oblee at work in his studio
Oblee at work in his studio

Segment #25 of the show is very much a reflection of all of this. In it, we get to share time with Obeloinkment Wrigglesworth – Oblee for short, a musician who has found that success in Second Life does carry over into the physical world, although this is not his primary motivation for being in-world; it is simply a by-product of discovering the huge freedom and reach the platform has given his music – and his self-confidence in the process.

“I don’t see a conflict between the virtual and the natural world,” Oblee says of the time he spends in Second Life. “So little of our entertainment is a two-way street. So many people say, ‘oh I don’t have time for that,’ and then they’ll sit and they’ll watch TV for hours. Here we have a world that is built by its users and it’s filled with music, and it’s filled with visual art and its filled with all these wonderful things.

“It’s not an alternative to life. It’s adding to the substance of your existence.”

This is more than amply demonstrated in his own experiences and story. As both an individual musician and a session performer with other SL musicians, Oblee has been able to perform before international audiences through his gigs, the convenience of the virtual allowing him to share time with people on the opposite side of the world to him, and develop friendships and contacts as a result, be they with other musicians or the audiences he performs before. “You can do a world tour in one day,” he notes in reference to the platform’s reach.

That reach has allowed him to develop his confidence to the point where he’s recently released his first physical world album. This not only features songs written for his in-world gigs, but has also been entirely paid for through the tips he’s earned in-world through his performances. It has also achieved international sales on the iTunes store – thanks again to his Second Life supporters.

It is this idea of adding to the substance of our existence that, for me really resonates through this segment  of The Drax Files. It’s a beautiful term to describe our relationship with the platform, and one so clearly demonstrated in Oblee’s life, as noted. As such, I’ll leave the final words on this piece to him.

“Without Second Life, I don’t think I’d be doing the things musically that I’d doing today … If you have an idea in virtual reality, what’s to stop you from taking it to real reality?”

A Conversation with Drax 9: Twenty-five and Counting

It’s been a fair while since there was a last instalment of A Conversation with, episode #14 being the last,and the fault is purely mine. However, as this is the 25th episode, Drax suggested that we put our respective preparations for the New Year on hold, and find a little time for a quick conversation on the series thus far.

In conversation
In conversation

Inara Pey (IP): So, here we are at episode 25. It’s been a huge creative undertaking, and one that has immersed you more than anyone else. So I’d like to ask you if there is anything you feel you’ve learned personally about SL through making the show, either that you were aware of but hadn’t given much thought to prior to starting the series, or which you’d never considered until encountering it during the development of a show?

Draxtor Despres (DD): I was aware of the diversity in SL, and that appealed to me from the very beginning, when I first joined in 2007. But I realised I was sort-of hanging out in a narrow circle of friends before I embarked on this endeavour. I was hanging-out with the non-profit folks, I was focused on social justice applications – Kansas to Cairo, Virtual Guantanamo, and I really didn’t engage with a lot, the really fun side and entertainment side if you will.

And I realised that a lot of serious people – serious in the sense of deep-thinking people – were engaged in very basic entertainment things, and I realised that that is completely legitimate. It’s completely legitimate to play dress-up (Cosplay) or by the fashion world or decorating with Eddie.  So that is something where I broadened my horizon.

IP: I think I can echo that. My own experience with SL was having a broad awareness of the platform from media coverage in 2006; then when I returned to SL at the end of that year, it was definitely with the intent to explore a specific aspect of the platform. So it is very easy to have your focus channelled. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; as long as satisfaction and enjoyment is being obtained, it’s all good. While I was aware of art and music and so on in SL, it wasn’t until I started exploring them through the blog that I really began to appreciate just how much of a melting pot of diversity and creativity SL really is.

Episode 19 examined education using a virtual world with  - and education is a subject likely to be featured again in the future
Episode #19 examined education using a virtual world with Wendy Keeney-Kennicutt’s work with chemistry students at Texas A&M University – and education is a subject likely to be featured again in the future

DD: I’m not going to call myself an elitist. Haters going to hate, and there are some who call me an elitist SOB; I really don’t think I am. I like to believe I’m a compassionate human being, but I will admit that I temporarily sneered at what I would call the “Barbie” aspect of Second Life, and I don’t do that any more. There’s an upcoming episode about a famous model in Second Life, and I’m very excited about that; because  – and this is in quotes, “All that she does” is to model fashions, but how that interacts with her real life is absolutely fascinating.

IP: I think there is always going to be a dichotomy within SL in terms of “likers” and “haters”, the same way as we are going to perhaps tend towards certain preconceptions about particular activities in SL, just as we do in the physical world. To use an old truism, it’s human nature – which we all bring into SL with us perhaps more than anything else.

DD: It’s made me more humble and understanding of what I did call “fluff” activities. And I think that life’s journey – or at least the Second Life journey – is to be open-minded and broaden your horizons … So that has been my Second Life experience; learning by doing, learning to be an open-minded person.

IP: So, either using that as your criteria, or for any other reasons either at the time you were making them or since, which episodes aired to date would you regard as your “top three”?

DD: Number one is probably Flokers. It’s a wonderful story, and I think I succeeded because of the subject matter,  not because I’m a genius or anything. It came together to maybe dispel a few myths about child play, which is a controversial topic.

And I also have to applaud Linden Lab in this context, because this was the first episode after our sponsorship arrangement, and they really upheld their side of the bargain that they wouldn’t interfere with me editorially. I was really expecting that I would get some push back about it being a topic the Lab maybe don’t want to up front-and-centre, and adults playing kids in SL. They didn’t do that; they embraced the episode, they promoted it just like every other episode, and I felt really good about that.

Drax rates episode #20, focusing on Flokers as his overall favourite from the first 25 shows
Drax rates episode #20, focusing on Flokers as his overall favourite from the first 25 shows

I felt really good as well in that this could see a change in the relationship between residents and the new Linden Lab regime. I might read too much into it, but I really do think that this really was an example of the new regime embracing the diversity and the “craziness” – in quotation marks and from the point of view of a sort-of clean-up business approach.

IP: I’d certainly hold that episode up as a landmark for some of the reasons you state – particularly in the way presents a concise and open exploration of child play, and the way in which the segment helps put a dividing line being child play and the erroneous notion that it is automatically related to age play.

Delving into creative machinima with Ole Etzel for episode #12
Delving into creative machinima with Ole Etzel for episode #12

DD: Then Ole [Etzel], episode 12, which is the lowest-rated in terms of YouTube views. But Ole is a great guy who I met in person, and he has become a friend in both lives … I don’t know why I like that so much; I mean it deals with machinima, maybe that is it. There’s many, many more i want to do about machinima, because machinima is so broad.

And number 3’s an episode I didn’t do, about Cica Ghost. Cica, as you know, is an amazing artist, and she has declined to be interviewed. I know she’s from Serbia, the former Yugoslavia, and I think I was pushing a little too hard and she got a little upset. I regret that she declined being profiled, because I think her art resonates with me on many levels, and I think it is a great example of what someone can do.

So those are my three. How about you?

IP: Interesting choices, and it is a shame that Cica hasn’t been profiled. As you say, her work resonates on many levels and is instantly accessible to anyone, no matter what their background or feelings towards “art” in its broadest sense.

I’m not actually sure I could nominate a top three; all 25 have resonated with me in some way. But that said, were you to push me into nominating a personal favourite, it would have to by show #4, Fantasy Faire 2013. It magnificently captures the the heart and soul of Second Life in so many ways, and the imagery is so perfectly matched to Zander’s beautiful narrative which weaves its own rich tapestry about the platform’s breadth and depth in such a brief span of time.

Early in the series, you took more of a lead in shows, then started sitting back and letting people tell their own story, with perhaps only occasional prompting. What this something planned from the start, or did it just naturally develop? Which approach do you actually prefer, or is it more a case of the subject matter drives the approach taken?

DD: It naturally developed, and really is due to the flexibility of the format. The format allows me to offer an introduction or delay an introduction or offer an initial byplay with the subject in order to dispel a cliché; it really is as you say, something driven by the subject matter as I put the show together.

As you know, it’s a really lugubrious process, trying to whittle things down to what I think the essence of the piece is, and it becomes very apparent towards the end as to which approach I should take. Sometimes I feel it is needed, sometimes I feel it’s not needed; sometimes I think it is when it isn’t, and then I make a mistake!  But I like to let people talk; it’s great to hear people talk and to let it breathe. I think there’s more of a confidence in the story if you let it breathe.

IP: So is there anything with the format you might actually change?

DD: Yeah, there are a few things I might change. The format is very valid, and it works. Like a good cup of coffee in the morning, there are certain things that just work to get an episode started or which help people who maybe don’t watch every single one, but watch the ones that interest them to easily get into them. So I think the format really does work. But having said that, I will be changing a few things.

One of the things I’m getting frustrated about as I get more ambitious, if you like, is the quality of the real life footage that I have no control over. That’s both exhilarating and frightening, because I never know what’s coming. So I’m trying to find ways to ensure a certain quality; I haven’t worked out how to do that yet.

I thought briefly about purchasing a used camera and sending that back and forth between myself and subjects, and me footing the bill, because not everyone has a camcorder and tripod. That would work in the US, but you’re talking crazy logistics with international mail.

I’m also thinking about length. I’m a big fan of long-form journalism, and i don’t want to pander to the ever decreasing attention span by making things faster paced and shorter. But, I may experiment with a shorter, more concise format.

IP: As a purely personal observation, I’d say the 5-minute format is ideal; it is short enough to prevent people trying to find a link to click, and long enough to present an engaging narrative. Unless the subject matter warrants something shorter, I’d urge you not to stray too far away from what you have in that respect. And frankly, if someone is going to be having problems with a 5-minute piece, then shaving 90 seconds from it isn’t likely to make much of a positive impact on them.  However, the occasional, longer-format “special” approach, while you’ve not specifically mentioned it, is something that might have appeal, again where the subject matter warrants it.

The Drax Files World Makers has covered a lot of topics through 25 episodes, both as the focus of the show and as themes within them - such as those of identity and pseudonymity, touched upon in episode #7
The Drax Files World Makers has covered a lot of topics through 25 episodes, both as the focus of the show and as themes within them – such as those of identity and pseudonymity, touched upon in episode #7

We’ve seen the first 25 episodes largely focus on the actual creative process in Second Life, be it content creation, fashion design, art, music, performance art, and so on. What are you plans for covering other areas of endeavour in SL, such as role-play or photography and the like? And how about a further look at communities in SL? We’ve seen !920s Berlin, but we all have the likes of the East River Community, Bay City, and Second Norway, or community groups such as United Sailing Sims, and so on. Any plans?

DD: I’m glad you’ve mentioned that. These are almost 100% nailed-down, particularly photography; I’m not gong to mention a name, but we have a very well-known photographer for April, and role-play for May. I do have another community booked for June. Second Norway I’ve thought about that too. Sailing is an interesting one, as someone else has mentioned it is as well.

So these are good ideas. I’d also like to coordinate with Linden Lab, or at least give them the opportunity to pitch areas and topics to me, where they say, “Hey, we could use a story about user case X, Y or Z, versus the other use case, so could you prioritise that use case, and we suggest, blah, blah”. And I would research it and find the perfect subject matter and say, let’s go with this person or this subject matter. It work’s and they’re willing to be documented, and then we could coordinate it that way. There’s also the science group; they’re a great in-world group, there are educational communities, so lots to cover!

IP: We’re aware of the impact the series has had within SL, and the positive feedback it has garnered from users. Have you been able to track what the reaction has been like within the public at large? If so, what kind off feedback have you received?

DD: The biggest impacts has been within my circle of real life friends who reacted with everything from rolling their eyes or suggesting I seek psychiatric help since I entered Second Life. And that really has changed and become a lot more positive.

My father has sent shows around to his friends, people in their 70s, and they’ve been really interested. I also presented here at the rotary club, with a lot of older folks who were really, really, psyched and came to me after, and we had long conversations about possibilities.

Another thing I have noticed is that Ebbe, in his recent public appearances has rattled-off use cases based on the episodes, which is what I wanted. I wanted us to have little business cards, examples to show we’re not crazy with the engagement, and maybe to get us coming out of the closet. And SL users have said that they are doing that, they’re sharing the videos on their Facebook pages and with friends, and that makes me really happy.

There’s another thing as well. I’ve had Lab staff  – April Linden, Shaman Linden – say to me that they are so proud when they see these episodes, to be associated with Second Life. And they’d been hurt by comments in real life, and shut down talking about their association with the platform because of the negativity from others. And they told me this, and I find it amazing that the shows are having this kind of impact.

Episode #16 examined how activities in the virtual have a lasting positive impact on people's lives in the physical world as it focused on Feed a Smile in SL
Episode #16 examined how activities in the virtual have a lasting positive impact on people’s lives in the physical world as it focused on the work of Feed a Smile in SL, operated by Live and Learn in Kenya (LLK)

IP: As we’re running out of time here, a final question. Has anything unexpected come out of airing a specific show, in terms of feedback from people (e.g. someone saying they didn’t know about X until they saw the show, now they’re getting involved, etc)?

DD: People say this all the time! They say they have no idea what people are doing, just in terms of in-world activity; and I’m talking about people on my Friends list who are long-time SL users. Every episode there’s at least five, if not ten, people who IM me and say, “I had no idea that this was even possible!” I’ve had collaborations start, like Abramelin Animation joining-up with MadPea, as one example.

IP: Final thoughts for this conversation?

DD: Everybody is talking about SL 2.0. But that’s a long way out in terms of having stories to tell. Right now, I’m focused on telling these stories because I am also convinced hat they do not expire. Even if we look back on them in 20 years from whatever kind of virtual world we have then, in terms of ultra-realism or complete immersion or whatnot, and we look back at this … Hopefully these will be stories we hold dear because they are an archive of certain aspects of creative endeavours. I’m actually saddened that we don’t have some kind of machinima archival work. I would love someone to just step forward and document sims in an easier way.

One thought on “The Drax Files 25: adding to the substance of our existence

Comments are closed.