For many years, I’ve been exploring the Second Life virtual world. The environment is difficult to describe because it’s not a game. There’s no objective. It’s a platform available for people to use as they wish. Some people role play different scenarios. People create content – houses, landscaping, furniture, clothing, vehicles, pets. Others use it as their artistic medium, making immersive digital creations. Many people like to dress up their avatar, create detailed scenes, take photos and blog. I’ve attended live music performances and attempted to solve a murder mystery.
What I get out of the platform is a cross between storytelling and a social outlet. I love exploring, but it gets lonely. I also enjoy going to social events – book discussions, storytelling, and dances – but that can leave me feeling empty. To keep me logging in, I need to have a purpose and feel as if I belong to something. Two places I’ve explored this past week have promise to be my next “home” or at least a place I frequent often.
The town of Philomena is themed after a small town in Midwestern America between the years 1900 and 1920. You arrive in the Town Hall where there are free items to help visitors fit in with the area’s theme. Walking the streets of town, there are shops, apartments, a hotel, a library, and a park with a bandstand. Streetcar tracks are set into the sidewalk, but the cars weren’t running when I visited. Beyond the park was the residential area of idyllic little houses, some of them with white picket fences. It was springtime, and lush green grass and blooming flowers were everywhere.
The calendar jumped by a few decades when I teleported to 1930’s Farson. It resembles a neighborhood in the Boston area during that time period. Farson is dealing with the Great Depression, and many people are out of work. The entrance to the city is in the subway, where you learn the rules of the area and are offered free period-appropriate clothing. At the top of the steps, you emerge onto a city square, surrounded by clubs, restaurants, and businesses. There’s a grocery store for those who have some money, and next door a lunch counter offers free coffee to people out of work. Prohibition is in effect, and Tootsie’s was raided for serving alcohol. Very cheap rooms are available to rent at a rundown hotel, but the room barely has space for a bed and a chair. There are apartments above several of the businesses, and up the street there is a row of brownstones which have been subdivided for renters.
As you can tell by my descriptions, both areas have rich potential for stories. Each area welcomes people to role play. There’s a lady in Philomena trying to drum up support for votes for women. There’s a man who claims to be an antiques dealer in Farson, but I believe it may be a front for something. If I became a part of either community, I would make up my own story for being there and goals for my character. Both areas are also wise in their plans, starting small and purchasing more land if/when there are more residents willing to rent space.
I find myself returning to these two places because of their welcoming atmosphere. When I arrived in Farson, I received a private message from the owner/designer welcoming me. I received a private tour of the city from one of the residents and then chatted with him and the owner for a while. They mentioned rumors of a speakeasy somewhere in the city, but I wasn’t privy to its location. I had a similar experience when I visited Philomena. The mayor sent me a welcome message, asking if he could help in any way. I was also approached by two residents offering to show me around town. This personal attention means something to me since I’m looking to be part of a community, but it is also good business sense. Their community won’t thrive without people wanting to explore, attend events, and most importantly rent homes to help pay for their investment.
I don’t know where/if I will settle in one of these places, but the idea of living in a small apartment over a store in a city hovering between despair and hope has its appeal, and Philomena will be a happening place as they celebrate Founder’s Day this weekend.