Thursday, October 26, 2006

Elvis Has Left a Building

[Images Redacted]

Hello again, patient and valued readers. I just realized that the one year anniversary of Virtual Suburbia has come and gone without fanfare, celebration, or ceremony. Which is ok. If we should be celebrating anything it is the accomplishments of the builders that I have been fortunate enough to encounter and document over the past thirteen months. Hats off to you.

As the discussion of Architecture in Second Life evolves some common questions persist, with many new and established voices jumping into the fray:
1. Realism - does it reproduce, augment, or abandon the physical world as we know it?
2. Function - What purpose does it serve? What should
it do?
3. Execution - how are its ideas expressed (Eg. solid/void, thick/thin, material/immaterial, grounded/avian)?
As it pertains to the debate of realism, Caliandris Pendragon has a number of interesting thoughts recently posted over at the Second Life Insider, where it is suggested some find realism boring while others find it comforting, especially as it regards the onslaught of big businesses coming to SL where it is the client (who has worked hard to build a brand in RL) that must be comforted as opposed to the avatar and her actual experience. Prokofy Neva also touches on some of these issues over at Second Thoughts. Not to mention, the Society for Virtual Architecture is a very lively place to hang out in-world these days.

On the subject of function, we have seen that building types translate from RL into SL with varying degrees of success. We've seen houses, stores, offices, factories, schools, and libraries, where it might be implied that function in some cases is more symbolic than literal. That said, one building type that seems to possess an acute sense of purpose these days is the 'place of assembly.' All around the grid you'll find amphitheatres of one form or another, that implicitly or explicitly respond to the dyadic needs of our physical selves and our avatars. Our camera can move anywhere, yet it feels awkward if two or more residents are not actually facing each other, or if they are standing too close together (its amazing that I 'feel' the personal space of my avatar). Therefore we've ended up with a number of spaces where we go to focus our attention on a stage to hear an interview, speech, or performance in a manner 'in person' that is quite different than listening to it on a stream from a remote location.

Of these Places of Assembly that exist in both the real world and the virtual, the ones that fascinate me the most are Places of Worship, because they seem to be the most alike one another, both serving a function that is in some senses quite 'virtual'. We trigger animations, speak in strange codes on different channels, rez objects for their communal effect with entities existing in some life that is somehow 'secondary' to our own.

So, with all of these ideas rattling around in my head, along comes the First Second Life Church of Elvis, grinding them up like a mortar against the inner wall of my skull.

The build sits on a mere 512 square meters of land in the sim of Nampo (view on map | direct teleport). While representative of one of the humble gable-roofed churches found in rural areas across North America, it also happens to be hovering in the air, fused with bling and iconography of the The King. Fittingly, a yellow porcelain toilet sits at the apse end from which the clergy (including the Right Reverend Elvis Faust and his associate SpaceProphet Jay (who kinda looked like a young Darth Vegas)) delivered the service. The pews are emblazoned with the visage of The Hilbilly Cat, allowing attendees to take part in a ceremonious sitting on his face.

Like any good piece of religious architecture, The First Second Life Church of Elvis creates a paradoxical container that is about being woven together with others in community yet completely alone before a higher power. In this case, that higher power wears a pompadour.

But then again, so did I. They were handing them out at the door.

I arrived last Sunday, just before the noon service. The congregation was waiting on a small grassy space outside the sanctuary, engaged in conversation with Reverend Faust and the particles emanating from his crotch that might only be described as blue suede ooze. The service that followed was profoundly hilarious and and yet for some reason to me also quite touching, as the tiny space was completely packed with avatars, some standing and swaying, some wearing hot dog(ma) costumes and waving placards. The intimacy of the service as constrained by the miniscule space had the effect of making the sermon more thought-provoking, the music more moving, and me more prostrate at the possibility of another Comeback Special. No less powerful and no less absurd than a religious experience in Real Life, for me anyway (although I have only the garden variety sectarian franchises from which to compare, and yet to sample any of the numerous RL churches also dedicated to the consecration of fried peanut butter and banana sammiches).

With surging popularity comes talk of expansion, of getting a bigger space to meet the increasing popular demand. I'll have none of it, and beg you not to go all Crystal Cathedral on me. You might as well take a picture of Richard Nixon shaking my hand. No, wait... Ok, well, expand as you must but in my humble opinion the First Second Life Church of Elvis as it exists today is a fitting testament to the people and spirit of Second Life. Not so much a gem as a rhinestone, a glimmering like a sequin in virtual airspace, and the kind of worship I could really get into, if only for tax purposes. Unless there was a Church of Wayne Gretsky. Waikiki Hockey, anyone?


At 10/29/2006 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brother Poutine -

Thankyaverymuch for your kind words about the Church! I found your thoughts on the "common questions" of SL architecture very interesting. I had read Prokofy Neva's article last night actually, and found the Caliandris Pendragon musings thought-provoking as well.

The FSLCoE really is all about the people - without them, the church would be little more than a floating, white, Elvis-themed box. Congregation truly is the heart of any church! And I agree wholeheartedly that there's something warm and cozy about meeting in a smaller, more intimate environment. Of course, it also bears mentioning that there's only so much kitsch and Elvis paraphanelia you can cram into 117 prims. Maybe if I was working with something other than first land, it wouldn't have turned out like that. Who knows - it could all just be a happy accident!

At any rate, thanks again again for the mention and for your insight into virtual architecture in general.

Elvis Faust

At 12/01/2006 2:17 PM, Blogger Seeker Gray said...

Golly good show chaps. I had been looking for the King for my site and I couldn't find him. You led me straight to him. Tally ho!

PS: I did link to your site, hope that helps.

Seeker Gray


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