Part three of ‘The man who dated his RL boss (without her knowing it).’
Naturally, he completed the assignment in just two days. He threw himself into the task, starting the moment he left the offices of SL-INK. He chose an alpine resort to write about not entirely dissimilar in theme to the one he managed, except that this one was much more focused on skiing and had its own, sim-length slope and lift. The owner recognised him immediately as the manager at Snowflaik and was reluctant to talk in such detail to a competitor at first. But Cando quickly won him round with all his passionate talk of promoting the industry to the benefit of all who worked within it. By the end of the evening he had a potted history down on paper and three great ideas he fully intended to steal. Ice fishing on the lake. Why had they never thought of that?
In real life, I’m not skier, he wrote. I had three lessons on an artificial slope back in the 1990s which ended with me literally somersaulting down the slope out of control and every last instructor converging on the point where I lay, fearing this would be at best a health and safety story on the local news programme or at worst the closure of the slope. In fact, I got away with just a couple of cuts and bruises. All the same, I knew I’d cheated death that day and the sensible person who recognises this tries not to tempt it a second time. It was either pay more money and spend time learning how to do the basics properly or never go anywhere near a ski slope again. I chose the latter.
Of course I love the idea of skiing. Who doesn’t? The sense of freedom. The beautiful scenery that conjures up childhood Christmas fantasies. The peace and quiet. The biting cold that makes the warmth of the hotel at the end of the day so welcome and inviting. Log fires. And there’s something about a skiing holiday that’s just that little bit more cut off and isolated from other vacations: it’s that tiny little bit extra ‘otherworldly.’ What is there in the world of computer entertainment to meet the skiing needs of those of us who know we’re not to be trusted on real life slopes? Thinking back, it seems to me that skiing is something the games industry has always been up for having a go at. One of the first games I ever played, in fact, was ‘Horace goes skiing’ on my brother’s ZX Spectrum, a down-the-slope-and-through-the-poles affair not all that dissimilar from ‘Ski Free,’ that skiing game on the PC for Windows 3 where you end up being eaten by a monster. More recently, the Wii Fit skiing game has become something of a Christmas Day ritual in my family as a feeble attempt to burn off some of the turkey.
Brave attempts though these might be at attempting to capture some of the excitement of the sport itself, none of them come close to actually emulating the full experience of a skiing holiday. To be fair, none of them are actually trying to do this. In Second Life, though, which many of us think of as a place in which we – or at least our avatars – actually live, why shouldn’t someone have a go at recreating the whole package? We all, after all, have a ‘home spot’ that we log into every day. What if you could go someplace in SL to stay for a few days, and whilst you were there you changed your home spot to your hotel room or your log cabin, and you didn’t leave until your time there was over?
This is the objective of the ‘Skifahren Alpine Ski Resort,’ a five year old resort in SL that occupies a private island in the northern seas on the grid. Owned, opened and operated by Frosty Featherington, a nine year old avatar who’s seen many a competing SL resort come and go in his time (in fact, I run one of them), the aim of the centre is that no guest will teleport out of it until their stay is over. “The moment people ‘pop out’ of the sim,” Frosty told me, “the bubble gets burst. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. You need to come here with a holiday mentality. If you do that, you’ll get far more out of the experience.” To discourage you from even thinking about leaving, the sim is packed full of things to do. You can sledge down the hill behind the hotel, go ice fishing on the frozen lake or enjoy a sleigh ride on a mountain path. The hotel itself has a number of social rooms and events are run on a daily basis, including guest DJs, live music, and open mic poetry and storytelling events. “My dream is that people come here and take part in stuff,” Frosty said, “and make friends that they stay in touch with after they’ve gone – just like you would in any real life holiday.”
Of course pride of place in the resort has to go to the ski slope. This sim-length feature offers stunning views and a quite fantastic virtual skiing experience. Best viewed in the first person perspective available through mouselook mode, you’ll find this significantly harder and surprisingly more exhilarating than you thought it would be, such that the very first thing you want to do when you get to the bottom is to go straight back up to the top and have another go at it. Naturally, there is a ski lift to get you back up there. Another nice touch is that the whole slope is voice enabled so that you can keep a conversation going with your partner (believe me, you won’t be able to type) whilst you ski. Standing still and listening to conversations approaching and then fading as skiers pass you lends the whole experience an extra level of authenticity.
Frosty set up the resort in 2009 with his then partner Rynn Collerton; a number of the cabins still around today identify Rynn as their creator. Sadly, Rynn passed away two years ago from cancer. Keeping the resort going has become for Frosty one of the main ways in which he celebrates Rynn and keeps his memory alive. “This place meant everything to Rynn,” Frosty told me. “There are so many happy memories of him and our time together in this place. It’s way more than just a business for me.”
Which is perhaps why you need to book well in advance if you would like to stay in Skifahren, especially during the holiday season. Off-peak prices start at a very reasonable L$100 per day for a room in the hotel, rising to $L1,000 per day for the largest of the private chalets in the resort.
Before sending it, he proof read it and then he proof read it again and then he proof read it again. He stood in his flat and read it aloud, because he’d read somewhere that doing so made you more likely to spot your own mistakes. Finally, he composed a brief, polite message hoping that Curiosity was well and taking pleasure in enclosing ‘herewith’ (always a great word to squeeze in somehow) his review. He hit send.
The reply was with him before an hour had passed: This is good! Not very much needs doing to it at all. Okay, Mr Cheeky: you’re hired. I’ll put one of our photographers in touch with you so she can take your picture at Skifahren. Thanks for getting it done a day early! CR. If truth be told, he was rather hoping for an adjective a little more enthusiastic than just ‘good’ – exclamation point or no exclamation point – but when he thought about it some more he realised he would have expected exactly this sort of response from Vicky in real life: appreciative, yes, but subdued. Would she turn out to be in SL as much a closed book as she was in RL? Because Nick considered how he became a different person in SL to be its defining feature for him, he’d just assumed that It was true for everyone else. It was at this point that he realised that he’d made possibly a fatal error in his strategy: if Vicky was very careful to observe the distinction between friend and work colleague in real life (and a work colleague she line managed, at that), why on Earth did he imagine she would be any different in SL? Was it possible that he had effectively duplicated in the virtual world almost the exact same power differential as the one that existed between him and Vicky in the real one? This would not do. Something had to be done before this had a chance to become any sort of norm.
He opened up a message box to her – grateful to not get immediately an out-of-office response – and typed a reply. Thanks for reading my piece so quickly, Curiosity. I’m really glad you like it – it was a lot of fun to research and write (especially my many turns on the ski slope). I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be part of your team. Are there any staff meetings or get-togethers I should know about that I could come along to? And may I take you out for a virtual meal as a thank you for hiring me?
It always amused Nick to think that taking someone out for a meal was somehow an accepted convention for expressing gratitude to them. He really disliked going out to eat. Why, he wondered, would you thank someone whose time you’d already imposed on by imposing on their time still more? Nonetheless, he recognised that this was a bonafide social ‘thing’ – whether he agreed with it or not – plus it also seemed like the sort of social convention that Cando would sign up to.
She replied yes to his invitation.
She set the time at seven thirty the following evening and directed him to teleport her straight to the restaurant. He spent the rest of the evening researching a good eating place. In the end, he chose the cafe at Le Mont Saint Michel.
“I couldn’t resist taking a quick look at Skifahren earlier this evening,” she told him once they’d sat down. She wore a light blue dress with red and white flowers.
“What a beautiful sim. I was moved by the story of Frosty.”
“I was too. I almost feel bad about being his competitor.”
“But by the sound of things you’re both selling out, so it’s not like either of you is stealing trade from the other.”
“We’re selling out… in December,” he reminded her. “There are eleven other months in the year.”
“Okay that’s true. But you’re both still making enough to cover costs, aren’t you?”
“I can’t speak for Frosty – that’s the kind of conversation he’d never have with me – but Snowfaiks is getting pretty close to the line. Over the year, we’re bringing in enough for the sim fees and my salary, and almost nothing else. That’s why I want to add another layer, now that we’re in the process of reclaiming prims through conversion to mesh.”
“But you’re over-booked in December?”
“And then some.”
“So you don’t raise your prices in December because…?”
“Because the owner sets the prices against standard SL rent prices rather than holiday rentals – largely because there is no such thing yet in SL as standard holiday rental prices.”
“That’s just a whole load of pointless words,” she told me. “It explains nothing and justifies even less. You’re sitting on the positive side of a supply and demand imbalance. Exploit it.”
“I hear you! It’s not me you have to convince!”
“But you’re employed as the manager? What sort of decisions are you allowed to make?”
“I’ll try not to smart too much at that question. My job is the everyday nitty gritty – getting payments from the new guests and getting them to the right cabins, and making sure that any stuff that’s been left there by the previous occupants is returned.”
“How dull,” she said. “You should be threatening to quit unless she gives you more creative control.” There was definitely a more abrasive quality to Vicky’s comments, Nick noted. Was she irritated by something about him or was it just that she was self-editing less now that they were getting to know each other more informally? “No offence, but half of what you do could probably be automated.”
“Offence taken!” Cando responded. “What authentic holiday experience is without the friendly guy who meets you at the reception desk and takes you to your room to show you where the bathroom and windows and closets are?”
“So you’re essentially the bellboy?”
“Wow!” he said.
“I’m only asking the questions that would be asked of anyone if this were a real life business,” she responded. “I’m trying to be helpful, not obstructive. Clearly the place means something to you.”
“It really does,” he said. “The owner and I have been working together for nearly eighteen months now. I don’t want to upset her.”
“Why? Are you fucking her?” In real life, Nick’s eyes opened wide at that sentence. In all the time that he’d been working with Vicky, he had never – not once – heard her swear: not to him, not at him and not to or at anyone else within his earshot. This was a new aspect of her. It meant he was finally seeing something of the human being behind the steel veil. He’d nudged the door open and was peeking inside. Nice one Nicholas, he said to himself, punching the air as he said it. You’re in.
“If you really want to know,” he said, “We’ve had sex three times. We’re not a couple, though.”
“So you care about her… but not enough to guide her towards making a better business decision?”
“Well now you have me feeling guilty!”
“Good!” she declared. “Now resolve your guilt through action. But not before you take me skiing.”
“I feel the need,” she said.
“Is Skifahren the best ski resort in SL?”
“In my opinion, yes.”
“Then why would we go anywhere else?”
Want to read another story by me set in SL? I’ve also serialised ‘The man who had an affair with his wife’ – the first part is here (scroll down past the text on NaNoWriMo to get to it).