Monday, June 6, 2011

How to Beautify Your Virtual World

We’ve talked a lot about making your avatar look better, and we’ll talk a lot more about that too. But what about the world you live in?

Second Life can be a beautiful place. Sunsets and sunrises in particular are lovely, and so is starlight on the water at midnight. If you have a powerful graphics card, you can make it look even better, by turning on the water and atmospheric shaders in Me/Preferences/Graphics (click the Custom check box to see all the settings).

You don’t have to wait for your favorite time of day. You can set it in the World/Environment menu. Besides the quick settings for sunrise, sunset, noon, and midnight, there is the Advanced Environment Editing options (sometimes called Windlight by older residents, as that was the name given to the project before it became a part of the official viewer). You can download tons of different sky and water settings and apply them to customize your view. You can even design a custom day cycle. I’ve included a link to tutorials on how to use these features.

But what I really want to talk about is…what do you do when your neighbor puts up a really ugly build next door?

The first thing you should do is talk to them. Explain your concerns (politely, please!) and see if you can’t reach an acceptable compromise. This does not always work. I have a Japanese neighbor who doesn’t speak English, and I haven’t been able to get through to him that some of the things he’s put up annoy me and my tenants.

In other cases, the neighbor is deliberately trying to annoy you. He may put up something truly offensive, and then offer to sell you his land at a high price, hoping you’ll pay to get rid of the eyesore. This land extortion is a reportable offense, but ARs of this nature are often not acted on by Linden Lab, unless the offense is truly awful.

So, what do you do when you and your neighbor disagree on what’s attractive, and what’s an eyesore?

Well… you can let your neighbor have his cake, while you eat it. If you use the popular Phoenix viewer, there is an option in the pie menu (the round menu you get when you right click an object) called “Derender”. Choosing this option makes the selected item disappear in your view. It stays disappeared until you remove it from the Object Blacklist.

This would seem to be an ideal solution. Your world is beautiful, your neighbor is happy with his ugly fortress or whatever. But there is a potential drawback.

One of the givens of any world is that there is some sort of shared reality, a ground basis of truth about the world around us. I can point to a rock and remark on it. You see the rock I am talking about, and we can have a discussion about it. But what if reality is a matter of individual choice? I point to a rock and remark on it. You say in puzzlement, “what rock?” Confusion ensues.

These abilities to alter our perception of our virtual world, whether through the Environment editor or Phoenix’s de-render feature, nibble away at the shared reality that’s essential if we are to relate sensibly to our world and to each other. I am not saying that we should get rid of them…but in our new virtual existence, we must be aware of them at all times, and be prepared to check our perceptions of reality against those of others.

This is why, when I see an avatar with an appearance problem, I say, “You look like a cloud on my screen”, not “hey, you’re a cloud”. On their screen, they may look just fine.

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