Monday, November 19, 2007

The Animal Kingdom

Human beings always have had fantasies about the experience of being an animal, even if they wish to change shape only temporarily. There always have been tales of shapeshifters as well, human beings with the power to assume another shape, whether that of a natural beast or a supernatural one.

Writers have managed to create animal psyches that allow us to imagine what it would be like to walk in an animal's skin. Science and fantasy both have combined to give us some idea of the experience of seeing through an animal's eyes. Interactive video games, including Second Life, actually allow us to become animals or mythical beasts, even if our experience is limited to any world that can exist within a computer or television screen.

In a previous post, I displayed photographs of Second Life 'Nekos', who are half-cat and half-human. In my next post, I intend to explore more mythical creatures, but I thought I would share some natural animal avatars first.

These are photographs of Black Leopard and White Wolf Avatars in Second Life. The artist who created these creatures includes animations and sound with the actual skin and 'attachments' that allow the avatar to assume the form of the beast. The same artist creates many mythical creatures with some of the same abilities.

There are video games that allow one to assume an animal form, but the most interesting aspect of Second Life in this particular respect is the ability to become a shapeshifter. The same avatar can appear as a human, an animal, a winged being or any other creature he/she may desire, including that of a fully functioning hermaphrodite.

The experience can be quite real, oddly enough. I always preferred games that allowed the player to see his/her character fully on the screen, rather than 'first person' shooters or other games that place the camera at the position of the vision of the player's character in the game. The experience of seeing myself as another human being or creature allowed me to immerse myself far more than the experience of seeing everything in the game from my character's perspective.

Those who play intensely realistic fighting games where the character is an ordinary human being may prefer the first person vantage point, but seeing my wolf walking on the screen as I perform the actions that make him move is far more 'real' to me than any screen that does not show my character.

There are many different animals and creatures in Second Life. Some, like those shown here, are far more sophisticated and 'empowered' than others. I tend to marvel and revel in complex technological achievements by artists and builders but the imagination itself actually needs few aids to function.

As children, we had a few beautiful dolls with detailed, exquisite clothing but I can remember how we played sometimes with simple building blocks and cylinders when nothing else was at hand. We could create as detailed and magical scenarios with those as we could with the most sophisticated 'props'.

I do find it rather odd and depressing when very magical or extraordinary places in Second Life fail to inspire magic in their viewers. Very often, 'chat' I have overheard in a wondrous spot will be utterly banal. Worse than banal sometimes, it seems to be more mindless than the chatter of monkeys in a jungle. Is it a fear of silence? Is it anxiety or the need to DO or SAY something to prove that one exists? Why is it that so few individuals, even in a virtual reality can be perfectly still and allow themselves to simply experience the world that is laid out like a banquet before them?

I probably am as guilty of the fault as the next person. Perhaps if I assume animal forms more often, I will experience a less verbal reality.

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