Previewing a walk through SL’s history

The Greatest Story Ever Told - LEA17
The Greatest Story Ever Told – LEA17

During the Round 6 of the Artist In Residence (AIR) series at the Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA), Sniper Siemens produced a wonderful retrospective on Second Life, looking back over the platform’s history from 2001 through until 2014, with a small peep at what might be coming.

At the time of that exhibition, Sniper had just two weeks to get everything together and create the installation. as a result, as delightful as it was, much was left unsaid.

Now, as a pert of the AIR Round 8 submissions, Sniper has returned to the LEA to present a re-worked and expanded look at SL’s long and tangled history with The Greatest Story Ever Told, which officially opens to the public at 15:00 SLT on Saturday, February 7th, 2015. Having been given the opportunity to have a preview walk through the installation, I can say that it is, quite simply, superb.

As with the original, the visitor is taken on a chronological walk through SL’s vast and tangled history, only here the journey starts in 1999, and instead of walking through a watery domain, one is lead through a wooded landscape along a series of paved footpaths which allow the platform’s history to unfold as one progresses along them.

The Greatest Story Ever Told - LEA17
The Greatest Story Ever Told – LEA17

And history is quite literally everywhere, right down to the names of the paths themselves, which start off evocatively enough: Battery Street (complete with a model of the Lab’s offices there), which is followed by Da Boom, Natoma, Ritch, Zoe – all the names of some of the original 16 regions which comprised Second Life at its “birth”, and which were themselves drawn from the names of streets around the Lab’s original base of operations in Linden Street, San Francisco (and the fact that several of them are all the locations of eateries / hostelries was, I’m sure, entirely coincidental 🙂 ).

The paths lead the visitor chronologically through SL’s history, with information boards, images and interactive elements, together with a small army of little residents and Lindens, encompassing key events and changes. The information provided is drawn from a number of sources, including the Second Life wiki and the wiki’s History of Second Life pages. Several of the boards make for interesting reading, as they present information written at the time some events were unfolding, thus given them an added sense of presence.

The Greatest Story Ever Told - LEA17: recalling the days of the paid teleport hubs
The Greatest Story Ever Told – LEA17: recalling the days of the paid teleport hubs …

As with the original presentation, both technical and social changes are documented, with many of the “blanks” in the original now completed. As a result, a much richer picture of Second Life is painted, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, and some events are put into their proper perspective – such as the FBI’s 2007 look into certain activities in SL. Nowadays, this is often seen causing the Lab to later ban gambling on the platform. However, as the information provided in The Greatest Story Ever Told reveals, this really is a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc., and the circumstances of both the investigation and the reasons for banning gambling on the platform are quite different.

The path eventually leads the visitor to 2015, and a brief look at what the Lab’s next generation platform might hold for us. It is followed by a little Linden and resident holding a sign: This is not the end – a clever play on the fact that this isn’t the end of the installation, as the path leads on to a retrospective of the Burning Life (now BURN2) event in SL, and in a more subtle touch, to the fact that the new platform doesn’t mean Second life is coming to an end.

The Greatest Story Ever Told - LEA17: ... and correcting the misconceptions around the FBI's 2007 investigation of certain activities in SL ...
The Greatest Story Ever Told – LEA17: … and correcting the misconceptions around the FBI’s 2007 investigation of certain activities in SL …

There is a lot to take in with this installation; not only through the information boards and images and little vignettes one passes, but also in the overall way in  which everything is presented. Take, for example, use of high walls along two sides of the installation which, while preventing any overlap between it and the neighbouring installations, combines with the setting of The Greatest Story to remind us of something of SL’s “walled garden” reputation. Then there is the way in which many technical elements intrinsic to SL’s development are also presented: windlight, projected lighting, mesh, materials.

All told, this quite simply a brilliant expansion of the original concept, and I’m really pleased that Sniper has been given the opportunity to revisit the subject, expand upon it, and in doing so, has retained the same touch of humour in many of the individual pieces presented within it. The Greatest Story Ever Told is a genuine delight, something everyone should find the time to visit and walk through.

Given the nature of the installation, I’ll leave the final words here to Sniper:

The History of Second Life is the story of all us.

Every single person who has decided to be part of it must to thank a small group of peoples  that one day they saw  a vision. If today you can rez a prim, drive a car or dance in a disco, it is possible  thanks to  this small group of people. Many others have continued to maintain it and develop it, even without a remuneration. So, learn to respect those who allowed this and enjoyed  the best Second life.

The Greatest Story Ever Told - LEA17
The Greatest Story Ever Told – LEA17

As a reminder: the Greatest Story Ever Told – SL History 1999-2015 opens to the public at 15:00 SLT on on Saturday, February 7th. Note that teleports may not work until then.


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