It’s nearly November again, the month of NaNoWriMo – which is, of course, to say, the month in which complete novels get written. As usual, I’ll be diving in and creating a new something-set-in-Second-Life. November just wouldn’t now be November without a mad dash to create a new novel by the end of it. It has to fly by in a lumbering, awkward and yet slightly panicked manner, a bit like the bus that somehow takes you unawares when you’re walking beside the road and is suddenly passing you in a way that’s somehow both shockingly fast and unfathomably slow.
As usual, I’ll be dropping into Milkwood inworld, which has been the SL home for NaNoWriMo for the last few years now (say Hi if you see me there). Proprietress Harriet Gausman runs daily events there for eager writers keen to get away from writing their novel in a manner that makes them feel like they’re still writing their novel. This very piece of task avoidance stratagem, in fact, is how I discovered Second Life in the first place.
And, as usual, a whole eleven months of considering potential plots for my next SL-related fiction has resulted in plenty of rejected ideas being tossed to one side along the way. Here, then, for the fourth year running, is my annual round-up of discarded SL novel ideas.
It’s the future, and things haven’t turned out quite the way we were hoping for. Both Second Life and project Sansar have been superseded by ‘FaceWorld,’ in which the most popular activity is bombarding friends with gifts of grumpy looking cats pre-programmed to fall off your prim furniture in an amusing manner. On the plus side, virtual world streaming has finally got a working pricing structure sorted out based on the amount of finger food you consume whilst online. Enter Carpet Churchill, a wealthy virtual real estate entrepreneur who runs his business empire from his bedroom in his parents’ semi-detached house in Worthing. Carpet is just sixteen years old and already owns nearly a fifth of all rental properties in FaceWorld. He’s also on his third virtual marriage and facing legal action from four different brick manufacturers for using the appearance of their product in his buildings. When he sells out to the Russians for a lifetime’s supply of frozen hors d’œuvres, the market plummets. Austerity measures are proposed. FaceWorld launches a new, ‘Upper tier’ service for the one per cent. Other inexplicable things happen that cause the reader to gnash his or her teeth in fury at the unfairness of the world. A child is rescued from something. Shit gets blown up. A bad guy gets killed (we’re not entirely certain what it is he does that’s bad, but he sits in a luxury office and speaks slowly in a British accent, so that’s reason enough). Everything seems solved by the end of the book, but in Bright Canapé 2 we learn there was an even badder guy above the bad guy all along.
A new virtual world is launched based on mining. Not only do residents dig down into the ground to make their creations rather than building on top of it, but they get extra points for each member of the proletariat that they exploit. Ross Polcraft is the mine captain that bucks this trend, offering a fair working wage to his employees and taking Demelza, the poorest and fairest of them all as his virtual wife. All would be well but for Polcraft’s evil cousin, JR Frances. Over the course of twenty years the two branches of the family battle bitterly. At one point, Polcraft appears to have left the game completely, but he returns suddenly one year later – cutting grass topless in the field as though nothing has happened – and it transpires the whole thing was dreamt by Demelza. A side plot explored – one which might even get its own spin-off novel if the series proves popular – concerns the phenomena of people watching YouTube videos of other people playing Polcraft.
Game of Prims
The issue of whether the metaverse is or isn’t a game has divided residents so profoundly it’s become a full-blown war that’s spilled over into real life. Battles are fought almost daily, with the Is-Game Army (IGA) insisting that results are recorded in a league table. The story begins during a key advance made by the Not-Game Freedom Fighters (NGFF) as they successfully leaflet the enemy trenches with anti-war poetry. It’s Christmas Day and soldiers from each side declare an informal truce, meeting up to partake in a session of non-competitive picture frame making. When it emerges that the IGA have secretly sourced a better quality of bamboo, however, all hell breaks loose. Thinking she’s striking a blow for the NGFF, Lieutenant Nogay Merr embarks upon a one woman, armed-to-the-teeth campaign that takes her deep into enemy territory. With a cry of, “Gameify this!” she launches a nuclear tipped rocket at IGA headquarters, blowing it and her into a million tiny pieces. NGFF are declared the winners of the war and therefore the losers of the debate. In the final chapter, the place of love within the life-as-a-game paradigm is discussed: it’s proposed that, just as light behaves as both a wave and a particle, love can be considered as both a transcendental phenomena and an in-game currency.
As we all know, stereotypes are illusions made real only by acts of faith in them, not all that different from the way that confidence in a market can impact on that market regardless of its actual original state of health. The more people call on them, the more they reveal their own insecurities. Mercy Abigonia is a virtual world designer in a future where virtual worlds are as plentiful as websites thanks to the Sansar World Publishing Platform (SaWPP). Her private mission is to rid the world of stereotypes through the creation of a series of interconnected universes where gender, hair colour, skin colour and breast size are variable characteristics revised on a daily basis according to a secret formula. But the problem is that people want stereotypes. They’re reassuring. And so it is that ‘The Blind Many’ loses out to ‘Virtual Earth,’ a huge recreation of our planet created by Mercy’s childhood rival, Vacuum Wednesday, and which positively revels in the unashamed marketing of stereotypes. Drink afternoon tea in an English Garden. Shoot Injuns in the American West. Cycle the streets of France with garlic strung around your neck. And so on. As VR technology develops, the immersive details of these experiences become so compelling that real world tourism collapses. As people become accustomed to less and less travel that challenges their worldview and constructs, the perpetuation of stereotypes becomes greater and greater still. Somewhat ironically, however – since no-one is really interested in roleplaying their own culture’s stereotypical depiction – the actors employed in these scenarios are increasingly drawn from the visiting rather than the visited culture. Everything becomes more and more and more inward looking and, over the years, the human worldview becomes increasingly inbred. Fast forward a millenia and aliens from another world land on Earth to discover the world covered in one-person cubicles where occupants are plugged in twenty-fours hours a day to virtual world recreations of themselves.
Header image by Eve Kazan