I am not much of a video game guy. I haven’t really been one since I was a kid pumping quarters into the arcade machines in the early 80’s, an era when video games were measured in single-digit bits and accompanying music was robotic at best. Video games were a diversion in-between sets at a gig, where I tended to play boring games like golf, or even volleyball. My exposure to video games as I grew older diminished as the term “gamer” became a proper noun as a title worn by kids seemingly attached at the wrists to the latest game system controller. I bought the first NES system for myself, and once I rescued the princess I was pretty much over it.
I'm a musician first and foremost, and a publisher of books and videos on audio and sound technology, music business and related subjects. I'd rather spend my time noodling on my favorite Les Paul than conquering gnomes and dwarfs or space aliens. That's just me. That said, I've been a computer geek as long as there have been personal computers, and I've been involved in online publishing and content management since the stone-ages of CompuServe, where I established an outpost for Gibson in 1993 before leading them to the Internet a year later.
Sure, along the way I’ve dabbled in grown-up games on my Mac, but they were card games like solitaire or even casino simulator games, but the whole “MMRPG” (that’s Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Game for the unschooled) concept was completely lost on me. My kids play World of Warcraft, and similar MMRPGs, but I didn't have the time or interest. A trip to the supermarket was soon to change all of that, but I'm getting ahead of myself there.
I was occasionally messing around with Sim City in one of its various forms. For some reason I liked that one. Other than that, my interest was limited to amazingly good father-son time playing Lego Star Wars or Lego Batman with my ten-year-old son, my youngest child. You haven’t really lived until you’ve connected a video game console to a projector and kicked back with your progeny to conquer the galaxy on a 9’ movie screen.
But in spite of my lack of direct interest in games, I finally became curious about the whole “virtual world” thing only because news about the Mac version of the software for the virtual world of Second Life kept popping up in the new media blogs and news sites that I frequent.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock the past couple of years, the hype around Second Life has been in every media out there, even finding its way into police dramas on TV. Still, I wasn't getting it. There's a reason for that, as it turns out, there is a lot to get. One day in the summer of 2007, the update for the “Second Life Viewer” caught my eye on Version Tracker, and having watched, heard and read the hype, I decided I’d create a free account, log in and see what this was all about before issuing my standard “bah humbug” response to spending my time on an MMRPG.
Second Life is different than most MMRPGs out there. Its not a game, there is no strategy, nothing to win, no quests to go on. It just is. Its a blank canvas where your "avatar" self can run around and see what people have made, buy every imaginable item for your enjoyment and "buy" virtual land using the micro-payment currency system, learn to build things and sell them yourself, and much more. Its pretty fascinating stuff, really. Second Life is a virtual world where nearly all of the content, nearly everything you see, is created by the people who are members of this online community, using the tools provided to them in the “viewer” software that they use to connect to the 3D world of Second Life. Sounded interesting enough, it was free to setup an account. I dove in, headfirst.
I downloaded the software, created and account and signed into Second Life choosing the avatar name Von Johin (pronounced Yo-Hen) and poked around a couple of hours. You have to select from the list of surnames that Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life, have active at the time, but you can choose your first name. A word to the wise, choose that name carefully. Its going to stick with you unless you create another account. Why Von Johin? Uh, I think I was thinking "Van Halen" or "Bon Jovi" or something similar, and I was kind of in a hurry. I now find myself having to often explain how to pronounce it to people who routinely have taken to calling me "Von John" but that's a whole other story.
So, I logged in, took the basic training tour and learned to walk, to fly, to change my look. The learning curve was a little high for me, especially in the first sitting. I didn’t have somebody showing me around, so I shut it down and walked away. I could see this becoming a huge time-sucking thing that one could easily lose dozens of hours on a week. Besides, I'm a musician, what's this got to do with me?
I logged off, not sure what to make of the experience, but not even close to really understanding everything that was possible. I need a tour guide to show me the ropes, but in spite of their being an average of 55,000 people logged into the system at any given time 24/7, I didn't know any of them, and was having enough trouble figuring out how to walk around, let alone sorting out how to strike up an intelligent conversation with another resident using the text chat feature most use to communicate. I was a shiny new kid, frankly an intimidated one.
The next day I went to the grocery store and happened to run into an old friend I had not seen in years, a fellow musician, and I asked him the normal catching up questions, including the obligatory “are you playing out much?” His answer, “Yes, but in the virtual world, not the real world. I am doing shows primarily in Second Life and making great money doing it.”
Huh? What did I miss when I signed up? What on earth was he talking about? Was this some kind of serendipity, my signing up coincidentally the day before I ran into my long lost friend? Was this my fate?
I didn’t see anything on Second Life that would have led me to think I was looking at an innovation new platform for live concert performance. I had no idea you could perform in Second Life, or even what the heck that meant. I felt kind of dumb for not instantly getting what he was saying. Maybe it was fate that the day before I ran into him was when I just happened to have installed the Second Life software and setup my account. I didn’t even know how to make my new avatar self look good, let alone understand how I was supposed to have gotten the concept that I could become a virtual world musician. My friend told me he had a show that evening, and told me to log on an hour before it and he’d “teleport me” to where he was and explain it in person. Teleport? Uh, like Star Trek? Yes. Exactly.
Little did I know where all this was heading, and never in my wildest dreams did I think it would lead me to getting signed to the same label as Marcy Playground, KC & the Sunshine Band and Krokus some nine months later.
Tune in tomorrow, there is just too much to this to write in one sitting.