Monday, June 26, 2006

Failte go d'ti Dublin

[Images Redacted]

Update: A number of readers have pointed out a critical omission that must be corrected. During our discussion Ham and Boliver graciously credited Shukran Fahid as the sim's main builder, and mentioned that he was flown to Dublin to gather reference material for the build. My apologies for not mentioning Shukran's substantial contribution in the original post.

It's not often that one receives a personal tour of one of the world's great cities from none other than the mayor of the city itself. Indeed it felt a little like that as Mayor Ham Rambler and Chief Project Manager Boliver Oddfellow led me through a virtually reconstructed section of central Dublin (view on map | direct teleport), with each stop along the tour highlighting areas of civic and historical significance while providing another example of RL culture reflected in digital space.

It would appear that certain notions of urban design translate well from the human scale to that of the human scaled avatar, namely the sense of the city as an outdoor living room and as an extension of the domicile. The streets indeed become the most comfortable and successful parts of the build, while the shops (a mix of actual Dublin landmarks and SL resident franchises) feel less inviting given the relatively compressed amount of space for camera maneuverability. On the other hand, the impact of St. Stephens Green (Dublin's equivalent of Central Park, according to Ham) is also to be felt in relation to the streets, only from the obverse condition. While it almost feels a little too open, it also yields one of the sim's most intimate and profound moments, a recreation of the Edwin Delaney's Famine Memorial statue.

Ham reports that a few liberties were taken with the design, namely the relocation of the nearby but outlying Guinness Brewery to within the sim boundaries, given its importance as a cultural icon and exemplifying the potential fusion of place making and corporate sponsorship as a business model in the post-dwell era.

On the other hand, Ham has not strayed from controversy in the quest for realism. The Millennium Spire (unofficially dubbed 'The Spike,' or 'Bertie's Pole' in honor of Ham's RL counterpart who commissioned it) is a gleaming slender vertical needle standing 120m high, functioning less like an obelisk as a traditional organizing element, more like a javelin hurled by angry gods of antiquity. According to Ham a majority of RL Dubliners view it in a negative light.

In addition to serving as a really nifty vantage point (given the opportunity to ride it to the top with draw distance cranked way up), the spire and more importantly the decision not to edit it out provide a conceptual focal point for not only the sim but also the spectrum of potential that exists in Second Life between experiences of the familiar and the surreal. Ham has clearly sided with the familiar, even if that includes 'foreign' elements.

I completely respect this position, and yet as one begins to swing the camera around something even more compelling happens. The illusion starts to break down, and the sim upon closer scrutiny begins to feel reminiscent of a machinima set, the edges giving way to some very compelling residual spatial conditions given that the layout (again for the sake of 'authenticity') has been cranked relative to the standard north-south orientation of the island upon which it finds itself situated.

All of the interpreted 'placard' moments, all of the very real and collective efforts of Dublin's RL builders and founders are actually enhanced when the virtual version of it suddenly also becomes equally surreal, of the moment, and intensely personal. A living city in a virtual world, but perhaps more importantly, a portal of discovery.