SL explorers are probably only all too familiar with region designs that hint at, or directly portray dystopian and / or post-apocalyptic settings; at times it can feel impossible to not throw a virtual pebble without hitting one. However, once in a while there comes a region that, whilst it presents such an environment – and can be appreciated and enjoyed for doing so – can also carry a deeper message.
Just such a region is TokSik Jello, to which I was drawn courtesy of a prompt by Shawn Shakespeare. On the surface, this is a highly photogenic setting suggestive of some near future in which Something has happened to bring about widespread destruction and breakdown. At the landing point, buildings point broken fingers accusingly at the sky and an elevated road hints that it once offered a through route to Somewhere, but now ends abruptly at the edge of a landscape the sea has partially claimed, flooding what might have once been a coastal setting built around a small natural harbour, turning what is left into a series of roughened rocky islands split by channels and upon which the remnants of a civilisation cling, perhaps almost tribally.
When this might be is anyone’s guess, as it what might have happened. There are certain cultural references to the modern age to be found, such as the cooling towers of a ruined power station that rise Fukashima-like on the horizon, Others such as the bulk of a great metallic airship moored above what remains of an elevated tramway, point the way to this perhaps being a place a little in the future.
Between these two landmarks and the landing point, two of the remaining islands have been converted into encampments: one within the remnants of a circus the other – looking somewhat fortified – utilising old building and cargo containers. Both camps are the homes of two gangs of children, the Misfits and (I believe) the Harlequins. Through them is revealed a further layer of meaning for the setting; that of a place where those who enjoy coming together and reliving (or perhaps living for the first time, depending on their personal situation) a time of childhood and its inherent freedoms through the use of child avatars and adventure role-play.
This focus is pointed to in the first instance within the Sonnet of Jello, framed a short walk from the landing point. An ode to the freedoms childhood should embrace, the sonnet sets out the intent behind the creation of TokSik Jello. It is a poem that also reveals the core purpose of the reason for the region as expressed in the Tale of Beanz.
Child avatars and those who use them are perhaps one of the most marginalised groups within Second Life. Contrary to the view of some, they are not “against the TOS”, nor are they automatically indicative of either sexual age play (which is very much against the SL terms of service, but not something we’re discussing here) or an indicator that the person behind the avatar is under age. That so many are so quick to jump to such negative interpretation of child avatars in SL is both unfortunate and, perhaps, more of a commentary on their own lack of understanding (on multiple levels) and inability to think compassionately about others than anything else; particularly where said attitudes are accompanied by outright hostility.
Simply put, child avatars can be used for a number of valid reasons, and such use is no different to any other means of avatarian self-expression that sit within the Second Life Terms of Service. They can be used simply for fun, or for very real and personally therapeutic reasons. As such, simply dismissing them out-of-hand (and in some cases by direct trolling any any opportunity – something also referenced in verse and physically within the setting) is simply unfair – and unnecessary.
Thus, the Tale of Beanz is something of a commentary on this; a statement on how easily actions can lead to people feeling ostracised, disliked and isolated to the point they fell little more than a ghost, slowly fading from SL. It’s a story revealed through the presence of “Beanz”, a lonely, emaciated figure found at different points within the region and who will, when touched, reveal more of the story through wonderfully constructed verse; verse that also speaks to the self-destructive nature that can also be found within social structures in Second Life and beyond, marking the setting as statement of social politics in the digital domain that should give us pause for thought.
However, to frame the region entirely as some form of r”angry” reaction to all of this would be a mistake. Yes, it highlights a degree of negative perceptions and actions – but in doing to, it offers an entirely positive response. In recognising and understanding the prejudices and petty politics that can and do exist in the digital world as much as the physical, the team behind TokSik Jello have established the region as a of haven of openness, a place where child avatar role-players can escape the toxicity they might otherwise face, and simply enjoy themselves, as is noted in the region’s concept notes:
Regardless of how negatively people think of us, true Role-play SL kids are important to Second Life as a creative and diverse group. Eager to be part and valued as any other person. Therefore It seems crazy that one of the most discriminated SL demography, turns into its own discriminators with internal wars, arguments and hatred for each other. Especially when we have others destroying our community from the inside… for various nefarious reasons ….
Our goal is to install a community structure built on core values such as mutuality, compassion, honesty, respect and trust. A place for true role-play kids to be as they are and have a place, to share positive community values in a safe, supportive and holistic environment.
– The TokSik Jello Team
As such, the region is currently open to the public through until (I believe) May, after which is will be gated and restricted to access for members of the role-play group associated with the region – details will be made available through the associated Facebook group, or by containing group members Jordy Zippy Banana (Zippy Banana), Niklas Howlett, Kenzie (Hiro Dismantled).
- TokSik Jello (rated General) – limited time access