Archive for Second Life

Archaeological tour of Mexico in one evening!

Posted in Musings with tags , , , on October 19, 2009 by xxxicana

It’s  fall break at UNL which gives me a little bit of extra time to focus on projects and have a little R & R.  So, I headed off to Mexico, courtesy of the Mexican Board of Tourism — all from the comfort of my living room.  Talk about being an armchair tourist!  Of course I didn’t ACTUALLY go to Mexico, I took a VIRTUAL trip via Second Life.  Here are photos from my trip:

Snapshot_001First, I did some upgrades to my avatar . . . new skin, different eyes, better piercings.  Vanity, thy name is avatar!  This photo was taken in the colonial section of virtual Mexico.

First stop: La Venta and the Olmec Archaeological Park

Snapshot olmec4_001

I have to say that the builders of this sim did a great job.  I think they must have used photographs of actual monuments which were then copied onto the simulated monuments.  The details are accurate and visually stunning. It is like being there — except no schlepping your luggage around or getting all sweaty in the coastal lowlands of the Veracruz area!

Snapshot olmec_001

Next stop:  Palenque


The above photo is of the Temple of the Inscriptions, famous for housing the tomb of the great Maya king, Pacal.  In the sim, one can climb up the temple and then down the shaft into the center of the pyramid to view Pacal’s tomb.  I’ve done this in real life and the payoff is outrageous!!  I’m very impressed with this sim . . . again, just enough detail to entice and give the feeling that one is looking at the “real” thing, but not too much detail to make the sim run too slow.


This is the palace at Palenque.  Nice addition of the fire for ambiance!

colonial church_001

Shot of a colonial church. The tourism board created a sim that features several archaeological sites, beaches, jungles, and colonial architecture.  It’s pretty amazing! There’s a musical soundtrack, ambient sound, and the discos have preset dance animators that allow your avatar to salsa like a local! Unfortunately, no one has yet found a way for you to enjoy a cerveza con un plato de enchiladas!


No trip to Mexico would be complete with out picking up souvenirs.  I got a free sombrero, but it didn’t fit!

poster for chichen itza_001

Alas, not all is perfect in the virtual world — but the imperfections reflect real world issues.  The above photo is of a voting booth (you vote which sim you like best).  The prize for voting is a “Beautiful Mayan Inspired Outfit.”  OMG, this is cultural appropriation at its worst!  But, just the kind of sexy, exoticized pastiche of stereotypes to appeal to tourists!

I’m teaching a course right now on the Ancient Maya . . . I’ll have to work these images into my next lecture!

Second Life is truly amazing and this simulation of Mexico presents tourist destinations in a way that entices while not fully satisfying.  I sat through a short tourist board video that showed Mexico and Mexicans — which was a cool way to insert the real into the virtual.  The overwhelming message of the video and the sim was “VISIT MEXICO.”  I’m curious as to the effectiveness of this sim as a promotional device.  SL boasts of +1 million visits per month.  When I log on there are usually 40 – 65 thousand people inworld — that’s a lot of people!  A great deal of time, energy, and expense went into the creation of this sim, but it probably costs less than running TV ads and has the added bonus of giving avatars the opportunity to “experience” Mexico.  Probably for some, this is as much experience as they will want to ever gain . . . but for others, it is an engaging way to test the waters.

From an educational perspective, I can see the utility of sims of this nature.  I can send students inworld to virtually experience walking up the steps of a massive pyramid.  I have in mind the development of a course doing virtual ethnography in SL . . . a great way to learn how to do anthropology without the trouble (and expense) of going into the “field.”

Anyone interested in reading about SL should check out Tom Boellstorff’s text “Coming of Age in Second Life.”  It is an excellent presentation of SL and the possibilities of doing anthropological research in the post-modern/post-human era.  I “met” Boellstorff in SL . . .  it’s kinda funny . . . he’s from Nebraska and teaches at UC Irvine while I’m from Orange County and teach in Nebraska!  Even the virtual world is full of coinkydinks.

So much for blogging today . . . the kitty wants some pate . . . do you think I spoil her?

My First Cyber Conference, plus Friday Nights are Alright For Fighting

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , on November 16, 2008 by xxxicana

I posted a little while back about Second Life (SL), a virtual world where one’s avatar(s) can engage in many kinds of activities. Well, yesterday I attended a day long academic conference in SL, “Virtual Praxis: A Confrence on Women’s Community in Second Life.” The event was organized by members of the Women’s Studies Dept. at Ohio State. Here’s the organizing statement:

“As teachers, librarians, artists, health care workers, and as volunteers in the many charitable and activist organizations of Second Life, women are a very visible element of our virtual community. The number of women’s groups and community centers is increasing, supported by an informal network of committed individuals. Those who come here out of curiosity often find themselves involved in these community activities, and those who came for professional reasons often find that their interests have widened and diversified as they have come into contact with Second Life society. Is what we do here just relaxation, a metaphor for what we do in real life, or do our Second Life activities have importance for our home communities and for society in general?”

The conference program can be viewed here:

I learned about the conference fairly randomly and sent in my request to participate. I informed Mister Man that I would be “away” for the day at the conference. Actually, I was sitting 4 feet away from him on my computer. This was such a fascinating event! I dressed my avatar in appropriate conference wear (although I jazzed things up with red high heels). Arriving at Minerva Island, I ran into a self-described newbie that lamented she hadn’t done her “homework” and had to “wear” a dorky pink polka dot dress and a pony tail! Since I’ve been doing some SL traveling, I was able to guide both of us to the conference location. Here’s a shot of my avatar and other audience members:

that’s me next to the racoon

Here’s an overview of the entire conference


Here’s a photo of the speakers:


It was a pretty intense conference. The logistics apparently were quite involved but it turned out very well. The invited papers were read out loud and the text was pasted in simultaneously. At one point, one presenter’s mic didn’t work, so another presenter read the paper for her!

Issues ranged from race and gender in SL, the way that virtual worlds complicate issues of gender (statistics indicate that many male users create female avatars), and then there was an open discussion on women in SL. I recognized the avatar of a scholar at UCI that has published a book I have on order — so I “introduced” myself via IM. We are both anthropologists. As proof that it is indeed a small world, he went to high school in Lincoln!!! His book is called “Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human” (2008 by Tom Boellstorff).

There were about 25 distinct attendees which is pretty good for such an innovative conference venue! I learned a lot and plan to follow up with some of the other people at the conference.

Onion Tears is really responsible for getting me interested in the virtual world via Everquest. I am looking forward to reading her senior thesis on the online gaming world.

This is a great new world for anthropological research and it avoids many of the problems associated with the colonialist history of anthropology. I encourage anyone interested in human behavior to pop in to SL and learn about post-human society. As a matter of fact, an innovator in anthropological applications in SL offers a course on ethnographic methods (registration is $1800).

Back to the conference. After the final open dialog session, music was piped in, a dance floor appeared and a brief period of socializing occurred. I changed into my “real” avatar look and boogied down with the others for a few. After I re-entered RL (real life), I pretty much crashed for the rest of the day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mister Man and I went out to a local tavern on Friday night and stayed up a bit past our bed time. Normally we don’t go out late on Friday’s, but Mister Man wanted to catch a show by a long time acquaintance. So, I dressed in my lazy going out wear (black velvet jeans, black t-shirt, leather jacket) and touched up my makeup. Once we got to the tavern, I got the vibe . . . “sister, what are YOU doing here.”

It turned out to be a VERY interesting evening! Our neighbors went with (they are Tejanos) so we were quite the spectacle walking through the bar. The place was packed and I leaned over to my neighbor, a statistics whiz, and successfully made a joke about the female population of the bar and how she and I skewed the sample in terms of IQ (take my word for it, it was pretty funny).
As I stated before, I felt a strange vibe walking in . . . and was concerned about being harassed. Well, turns out that Mister Man DID get into a scuffle! Fortunately, no blows were exchanged and the offending party was pushed/pulled away from our table! Mister Man still knows how to show a girl a good time!

So, today (Sunday) we are going to catch up on all those little tasks that need to be taken care of . . . so I’ll sign off now.


Halloween, a bit late

Posted in Musings with tags , , on November 6, 2008 by xxxicana

I spent Halloween this year in Bellingham, Washington for a Board of Directors meeting of the National Association for Ethnic Studies. Although the weekend was very productive and I had a great time with my NAES colleagues, I did miss one of my favorite holidays. Mr. Man and I had the best time a couple of years ago at the Q — Lincoln’s gay bar [yes, Lincoln does have a gay bar; there’s also a Lesbian bar, too!] — except that I kept having to shoo off a VERY tall and husky Mae West who was keen on Mr. Man. It seems that every time we go to the Q, Mr. Man comes home with a phone number . . . so I asked that he NOT go to the Q for Halloween without me. Out of respect for the holiday, he did buy THREE BAGS OF SNICKERS BARS. Now, mind you, over the four years I have lived with Tom, not a single trick or treater has knocked on our door (probably because we turn off the light and the door bell doesn’t work and we leave!]. So, my question was, why THREE BAGS OF SNICKERS BARS? “uh . . . just in case ” was his weak response. So, now there are THREE BAGS OF SNICKERS BARS in the house screaming to be eaten . . . I’ve had two so far (two bars, not two bags).

Surprisingly, someone did brave the dark and knew to knock on the door . . . it was Sam and Ben! Sam is my grad student that asked me to officiate her wedding. Here they are in their costumes:


Can you guess who they are? [Hint: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou]. I was disappointed to have missed our trick or treaters.

I did go out to dinner with the NAES peeps to this fab Thai restaurant. Later that evening back in my hotel room I logged on to Second Life to do some “ethnographic research.” I found SL pretty empty! Seems like in some ways SL is not a substitute for RL!

How can I have a Second Life if I don’t have time for my first one?

Posted in Musings with tags , , , on October 29, 2008 by xxxicana

It is strange how life is full of coinkydinks. I just read Onion Tears’ blog about spending the weekend playing Zelda. I spent a better part of the weekend exploring Second Life. I made two avatars, here’s my main girl:

I was clued into Second Life by my mentor Mark, a world famous archaeologist and all around great informant regarding popular culture. He recommended a book recently published about SL and Identity. I’m putting off reading it until next year when I have more time. Anyway, I thought I would enter SL to check it out. When visiting Onion Tears a couple of years ago, I really got into EverQuest. I had a great looking avatar and had a lot of fun. After I returned to Lincoln, I decided not to play anymore since I get so sucked into the game (don’t even ask me about Tomb Raider). I loved “Zelda, Ocarina of Time” and “Marathon 2, Durandal,” and like Onion Tears, I will forget about RL for hours! So, I was a tad trepidatious once I stepped into Second Life that I might not leave for hours. Not to worry — YET. I spent a lot of time outfitting and wandering around. I had a couple of interesting encounters and like a good anthropologist spent some time eavesdropping in on other conversations. There was a group of people talking about the global economy – and this is how they sounded: waawaaawaawaawblahblahblahwaawaawaaa, heeheehee (woman with girly voice) waaaawaaawaawaawaa (guy pontificating on the market). BORING. Later someone admired my avatar — he looked like a normal guy. You know the type, jeans, t-shirt, average height, etc. After a bit of generic conversation he started to shape shift! It was very cool. His avatar has a randomizing effect that allows it to go from “normal” to quite fantastical.

As an experiment, I made a fat ugly stupid looking male avatar. I wanted to test if people would interact with me in the same manner as they did with my main avatar. I’d put up a photo, but I messed up his appearance and need to redo him. Anyway, the results were AMAZING! I was hanging out in an area with a lot of people just flitting by, posing, observing, and conversing. I was treated like crap! One character harassed my poor guy and no female avatars would speak to me! So, on the basis of very limited exposure to SL, I can say that it seems like people act pretty much the same in SL as in RL — maybe even worse. Great stuff for ethnographic research!

But, I’m not going to spend much time in SL. Unlike games, there’s no “point” — no quest, no fighting, no treasure to discover, etc. So, it isn’t really all that fun from a gaming sense. However, I might just keep dropping in now and then to study social interactions based on avatar appearance.