The opening of 53rd episode of The Drax Files Radio Hour may have the feeling of being a slightly rushed production; there’s not casual introduction by the featured guest or other notable mentioned later in the show. Instead we launch straight into the Draxtor Theme.
However, any feeling the recording’s opening may have in being pushed through quickly is understandable: this segment of the show comes right off the back of a gruelling week for Drax cutting and finalising the 26th instalment of his World Makers series, which I looked at following its release.
More to the point, it offers plenty of time for an extended interview with Second Life architect Kaya Angel, the man behind the stunning Angel Manor, and who has been responsible for a number of unique and beautiful builds across Second Life over the years, as well as running his own business selling high-quality prefab houses. And if that isn’t enough, Kaya is also a great patron of the arts, providing both the Rose Theatre Ballroom and the Rose Theatre Gallery for a wide range of events and art exhibitions.
The interview with Kaya kicks-off at 14:11, following the musical interlude, starting with mention of Kaya beautiful 6-minute video Second Life: A different perception, which I make no apologies for embedding here once again, even though I featured it in these pages just over a week ago.
The interview starts with Kaya relating his own initial involvement in Second Life. While acknowledging himself to have been a gamer with a specific interest in on-line games, he was actually drawn to SL from something of a philosophical bent, created as a result of a question Philip Rosedale asked back in the very early days of the platform’s public existence: if you were given the tools to re-create society and reality, what would you create? Would you create something new, or repeat what we can see around us?
From here the discussions focuses on the issue of engagement in SL. All too often when this is discussed, the focus tends to immediately narrow to matters of technology – such as the “steep learning curve” inherent within the viewer. While the viewer is complex and does take time to master, I do tend to feel that it and the technology are looked to as being the bugaboos preventing SL’s wider adoption because they are far more tangible an issue than the more fundamental (and oft acknowledged by seldom addressed) reason that the sheer lack of any direction given to people in terms of what they “should” be doing or achieving or seeking or fighting or building or destroying (insert you own term here) leads to confusion and departure a lot quicker than any really deep-seated problems within the viewer.
As Kaya states, “How do you get people to stay in a virtual world when they are so use to having specific things that they told that they should do or can do?”
It’s a question that has long plagued user and the Lab themselves; we’re all familiar with how hard it is to define SL – although Kaya goes on to express a few ideas of his own. However, I would just not that in terms of the initial discussion and ideas put forward, I would disagree with Drax on the idea that directed experiences, when used as gateways into the platform might further reduce people’s ability to see the wider potential of the platform.
If anything, I’d suggest the reverse is true; providing such “gateway experiences” offer some form of informative portal to the broader potentials of SL / a UGC driven environment, they are more likely to engage with an audience (those interested in the experience) and bring them into it and encourage those among them who are so minded to explore SL further far more effectively than simply dropping them in-world in a manner that is almost entirely random in nature and lacking any structure at all.
As a content creator, it comes as no surprise that Kaya sees one of the major means of engagement with the platform as being the ability to build and create. In itself, this is not a new idea – we’ve all pointed to much the same when discussing getting people more involved in SL; however, this doesn’t make what Kaya says any less valid. Rather, his comments give pause for thought on just how much harder it is for people coming into SL today to discover the expressive power and joy of content creation for themselves.
This isn’t so much because emphasis has shifted over the last few years from the humble prim and in-world building to mesh and external tools (although this does get touched upon during the discussion). nor does it really have anything to do (to a great degree at least) with the provision of Linden Homes or the inclusion of starter avatars in the viewer, both of which are also referenced.
The simple fact is that nowadays, people coming into SL aren’t presented with the need to investigate content creation for themselves to any great degree as they likely would have been had they arrived in-world six or seven years ago. The reality is that SL is now so rich in available “off the shelf” content, there is no need for anyone coming into the platform to start looking at creating their own content (unless they have a desire to enter the market as a merchant); all they have to do is engage in a Marketplace or in-world store search and they’ll invariably be able to find and buy precisely what they need. Any where the vagaries of search may make the effort of locating something sometimes akin to having a tooth pulled, it’s still a lot easier than sitting down and trying to figure out how to cut and glue prims…
This leads on to a fascinating discussion on how to give SL greater appeal beyond the walled garden(s) of virtual world users. Kaya draws on the idea of making an emotional appeal – something very evident in his video, particularly the camera tour of Angel Manor, where the mood is set be a very considered and emotive balance of visuals and music.He suggests that if we can harness an emotional response from people, then we stand a way to encourage them to look beyond preconceptions and perhaps consider the platform more openly.
Within this latter discussion the idea of SL being an unfinished, decade-old experiment, rather than a polished, finished product is touched upon, as is the platform’s name, and how both have impacted the preconceptions and prejudices of the wider worlds against Second Life, with Kaya again offering an interesting point-of-view.
What I find particularly fascinating in this interview is the strong resonance it has with the viewpoint expression by another long-time resident and creator in Second Life, Robin Sojourner. Like Robin, who was featured in episode #10 of The Drax Files: World Makers, (which I also reviewed), Kaya very much voices the idea that there is a huge potential for empowerment latent within Second Life which can enable people to reach beyond themselves through it – if they are prepared to make the effort. He also echoes Robin’s perspective that, for some reason, modern society seems intent on have us “edit out” our creative desires and abilities from a quite early age. As Kaya says, ask “who here is creative” of a classroom of 5 or 6 year-old children, and almost all will raise their hands. Ask the same of a class of 10 or 11 year-old children, and the number of raised hands is noticeably lower.
The overall breadth of ideas and views expressed in this interview make it one of the most thought-provoking and engaging I’ve so far heard in this series, and I’m pleased that Drax moved to allow the discussion the lion’s share of the show, encompassing some 40 minutes as it does. Anyone who bring perspective to Second Life through the discussion of the VR “bubble”, the platform itself, cultural perceptions, the pressures of society and work-in a quote from Terence McKenna is someone who deserves airtime and our ears and attention.
Kaya Angel is just such a person.