The Drax Files World Makers show #36, released on Monday, March, 7th, is the second in the slightly shorter running time format of 3.5 minutes. And it is the first, I have to admit, that has struck me as a bit of a curate’s egg.
On the one hand the segment is about the work of landscape creator Sominel Edelman, whose skill in creating sim surrounds and landscaping elements is very much informed by his training as a geographer, and who offers keen insights into Second Life. On the other we have a piece interspersed with shots focused on the used of VR headsets with only a very tenuous link back to the rest of the narrative within the piece.
Sominel’s work is, without a doubt outstanding, and the video serves as a high-level demonstration of the efforts involved in order to produce content that is both highly detailed and optimised for viewer rendering, a useful reminder when the focus on creation can all too often be on the former at the expense of the latter. For Sominel, producing content which both looks good and is optimised at much as possible requires a range of tools: PhotoShop, Blender and custom python scripts to achieve the desire results.
The beauty of Sominel’s work is that it can add to our sense of immersion in a place. Sim surrounds provide the means by which we can extend our vision of our world beyond the limitations of a 256×256 metre piece of virtual real estate bounded by water. As such, they have become an important part of the second life ecosystem, something very much reflected in their popularity among users interested in many different in-world activities, as he notes.
However, it is in his views on Second life and its community (in the broadest sense of that word) of users one find the heart of this piece. “Selling my landscapes is enough to sustain my family and my house and my living situation,” he notes. “But while the financial aspect is certainly not insignificant, it’s an amazing thing that [being] logged into Second Life gives me a true feeling of being a part of this environment, and I think I know why that is.
“I’ve played some other computer games, but it was all about consuming the path they had chosen for me. Second life made it possible for me to explore my creativity. It’s an amazing thing to discover that.”
This, I think, is the point Drax is trying to make through the inclusion of the Oculus Rift HMD shots: the idea that Second Life is so rich, immersive and boundless, that it doesn’t actually need headsets and hand controllers to come alive for someone – which any SL user will acknowledge as being true enough, and it is a point that’s important to remember as the tech world at large continues to focus on VR as if it is the only way of going about things.
The problem here is that by including the footage, and in particular by bookending the segment with shots of donning and doffing a HMD, the message is undermined, if not subliminally reversed in the minds of those untutored in Second Life, suggesting that a headset is integral to the experience.
True, there is the comment from Sominel, prompted by Drax, that such devices aren’t vital. But even this begs the question, “so why include shots of headsets in the first place?” They certainly don’t add anything substantive to the rest of the narrative; the story could be told as effectively without them – which should really be the acid test on whether or not to include them.
Hence why I say I found the piece to be a curate’s egg. On the one hand, there is a clear message that Second Life is first and foremost about the people using it, and everything else is secondary. On the other, almost a third of the video footage is informed by shots involving a specific piece of technology (HMDs), which I cannot help feel erodes the more pertinent message.