Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I'm Back... Sort Of

I seem to have hit my saturation point with Second Life and suddenly lost interest in it... I haven't logged in for several days, except to feed my vampire (they run out of blood in ten days and it's a hassle to remedy). I don't think it's a permanent loss of interest, I expect I'll get back to it some time soon, but I don't think I will be as deeply involved as I have been. We'll see.

I think the thing that pushed me over the edge with SL was creating more "alt" characters. I felt like using some skins and clothes and behaviors that simply didn't fit with the characters I already possessed, and so rather than alter my first character, I thought I'd just create new ones instead.

For example, I decided to create an avatar to model the boyish looks that I felt uncomfortable with in my main character; I also wanted to create a "blood doll" for the Countess, so she'd have someone to feed on besides my main character. And so I created Lord Sebastian, and made up for him the back-story that he was the Countess's son before she was made a vampire, whom she pulled forward in time through some supernatural agency.

So Lord Sebastian has a reason to wear all the historical costumes I love, and can be quite young and rather girlishly pretty, who can be not only the Countess's blood doll but also Robbie's boyfriend (the guy I was "dating" in my previous post didn't work out). But after a while, I just didn't feel any enjoyment in running around as Lord Sebastian, so I let him slip to the side for the time being.

After a while, though, I started thinking it might be interesting to interact as a female character without the limitations of vampirism and anachronism of the Countess, so after some thought and an attraction to a particular avatar set (skin, shape, hair, wardrobe, etc) that I'd seen in my Marketplace searches, I created the character Xiao Tou Xiang (which, according to Google Translate, means "little avatar" in standardized Chinese). That was a lot of fun for a while, and I did a great deal of exploring in various "newcomer" areas that I hadn't been to before, and found that Xiao was a lot more approachable as a character than any of my previous incarnations had been.

Another few weeks passed, and I came up with the idea for another alternate character: a man of my own age and similar appearance. I had tried this with my Robbie character, but it didn't feel right at that time; but I nevertheless wanted to see what an older-looking character might be like. So I created Lord Robert (I keep sticking to this silly conceit of the Manners family, who are the Earls of Curmudge, wherein Robbie, the Countess, Lord Sebastian, and Lord Robert are all in the same family, which I find endlessly amusing for some reason), who has a very sweet and kind but distinctly middle-aged face, a nice but not extravagantly gorgeous body, and no particular backstory (as yet).

But with all these alternate characters, I've sort of run out of different places to explore. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Second Life is on the wane, and though the number of places to explore is still high, the number of people in those places is often very low. And I feel almost deceitful walking around as all these different characters... though my original character is no more true to life than any of the others I've created since, I just feel so much more emotionally attached to him, so the others feel much more "pretend."

And so guess I hit the logical "point of diminishing returns"... too much involvement in too many different directions made the experience less satisfying rather than more. So I haven't been playing for a while. But I'm starting to miss some of my friends, so I expect I'll be wanting to get back to them soon.

The other thing going on in my life right now is something more serious: my aunt Terry passed away on June 20th, aged 63, after a three-year battle with cancer. We've known for a long time that she was terminal, and one has to admire how long she managed to hang on before it took her; but even when you've had plenty of time to adjust to the loss of a family member, it still has an impact... not a shock so much as a wave, but deeply unsettling and upsetting anyway.

The impact it's had on me hasn't been especially emotional--I don't grieve in the usual fashion, I don't generally feel sad or even miss a person after they've passed, or if I do it's not for several weeks or even months. I do, however, feel completely drained of emotional and physical energy... I haven't wept, but I've slept an awful lot.

Grandmother is pretty well wrecked over the whole thing, and she keeps trying to not cry and not be sad... I don't understand why. Losing a child is one of those times you're pretty much expected to fall apart. She doesn't need to be strong for everyone else, everyone else is handling it fairly well so it's not like she needs to be the rock. But I think in many ways she's just confused about the whole thing... it's not going according to the pattern she's used to.

In Grandmother's family, there is always a funeral within a few days of a death, and there is usually a fairly sizable gathering of the clan in the days leading up to it, and a couple days after. When Grandfather died, back in 1987, we had twelve of Grandmother's nieces and nephews staying in the house for a week, and a dozen more relatives came visiting every day. But Terry stipulated cremation, no funeral, and no church service, so Grandmother doesn't quite know how to act or feel. There is a Celebration of Life gathering later this week, and several cousins plan to attend, but it's just not the same thing.

I don't quite know what to make of the current fashion of death rituals, where everything is neat and tidy and "positive" instead of sad and emotionally messy and perhaps even lurid. I mean, I don't like attending funerals, and I really don't like being in a room where the central display is an embalmed corpse; but a party in a restaurant just seems kind of, I don't know, detached somehow. It lacks a certain gravity, a potentially necessary experience of looking death in the face and feeling the grief in a visceral way, and sharing it with your fellow survivors.

But funerals are for the living, and however the living can get through their loss and deal with it is what they should do. But I know Grandmother would be having an easier time of it if the old traditions were being observed. Nobody else would, though, so that's how it has to be. Perhaps the old traditions are just a crutch and less emotionally healthy after all. I don't know.

Well anyway, to end on a more cheerful note, with all the time I've saved by not playing Second Life, I've been reading again. A coworker recommended the "Song of Ice and Fire" series of novels by George R.R. Martin, and even lent me his copy of the first novel, A Game of Thrones (which has recently been dramatized on HBO) to get me started. I was a trifle leery of it, since fantasy isn't really my favorite genre; but he assured me the series was exceptionally well-written, and since it's been so popular (it's spawned a card game, a board game, and an RPG as well as the cable series) I thought I'd give it a try.

And all I can say is: WOW! I read the whole novel over the long weekend, riveted to every page (more than 800 densely printed pages, no less), only able to put it down at chapter breaks. The language was exceptionally fluid, easy to read and completely lacking in the kinds of tics and errors that irritate my grammar-fascist brain, and intensely visual... I had the clearest mental pictures of people and places and events, without recourse to illustrations. I even found myself disagreeing with some of the casting and art direction from the cable series' website.

The numerous plotlines fit together beautifully, I never once got confused about where I was or from whose point of view I was looking. The situations were almost viscerally compelling. The characters were fascinating, multidimensional and eminently believable. And the varied cultures and subcultures, even the geography and architecture of the made-up world, were just as believable and cogent as the individuals.

Now I have to go get the next installment, A Clash of Kings, because A Game of Thrones ended with so many cliffhangers that I can't just leave it be... I mean, each character's story came to a good stopping-place, but each closure left a deliciously tantalizing hook. I'm planning to get the four-book boxed set that was put out to promote the HBO series, and the fifth is being released in hardback next week; but I need my fix right now, so I'm going to run over the Half-Price Books after work and hunt up a used copy if possible -- I'm dead broke until Friday, but can't wait that long.

Well, I'm out of topics, so here's a nice piece of beefcake (though perhaps "vealcake" is the mot juste) for your delectation.

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