In this column, I have previously discussed my initial surprising forays into the world of simulated or virtual reality. Unlike most participants who travel into the digitally altered universe of realities, I arrived as an adult and I was there for work.
Did I realize it was addicting? That, despite my self-righteous decades of bally-hoo-ing with my children and my ex, I would one day find myself here… gazing into the abyss. Never say never, ‘tis said.
Appropriately, the sim is called Second Life. My actual work is with an online global school of magick and the arcane sciences, called Grey School of Wizardry. The addiction is my own, but don’t worry—I have it entirely under control.
This particular afternoon, for instance, it is a gorgeous day in the garden and I am inside, on the computer. Awww…
That is not the worst of it. One might rationalize sitting at my desk to accommodate the hours of bookkeeping and email that comprise a good portion of my regular day. It is the other rationalizations that bother me. The ones that come next…
A new favorite hour for me is at the end of the day when I allow myself a bit of time on our virtual campus, the international classrooms and meeting grounds for students and faculty alike.
Another of my favorite things to do is grade papers from my students. Each time one lands in my basket, I like to imagine that a magickal friend has arrived at my door for a cup of tea and conversation while I read the work and mark my comments. I love what I do.
I have a digital office on our virtual campus, where students can sign the guest book, and leave me messages. It has a waiting area, and a desk with two guest chairs and an executive chair behind the desk that looks much more comfortable than my real one at home. There is a cup of coffee, a lamp and a laptop on the desk. Everything, including the laptop, works.
Today is the day I fear I have fallen into the very rabbit hole I somehow avoided, and then played beside, for decades. Picture if you will, a beautiful morning in early summer. The sun is shining, and the day is mild. My garden beckons and then pouts, seductively.
I am oblivious, with gamer headphones on my ears, bee-bopping to Elton John on my music library and the thought occurs as almost a whisper in my ear. You could do it, you know…
I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat back in the chair at my desk at home. The coffee in my cup was tasty, but cold. I bet it would work…
Truth is, we have a small but dedicated core of student body and staff at our school. Being a global campus, time zones are (literally) all over the map. I have the ‘luxury’ of being on-call and am often available in the day time when our students in Europe and the East Coast are ending their work days. It is nice to have a lovely place to visit in your sim world. It is even better if someone is there to say “hi!” so I do what I can to be there for our students. (The dedication is truly heroic, folks…) And this is how I rationalized my next move. I wrapped it up in tireless dedication.
Purely in the spirit of scientific curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge, I had to know if it would, in fact, work. I also was fearful there might be a rift in the space-time field if it did work. So, with all the determination and trepidation of the one who flipped the switch at CERN, and perhaps a bit more, I then logged in-world, as the lingo goes.
I arrived, or rather, pieces of my avatar and house began to appear on the screen, assembling themselves with color and clothing texture resolving themselves last of all. Eventually my avatar stood, fully dressed and beautiful as usual at my secluded virtual homestead.
Avatars never have a bad hair day, and can even wear a ball gown while surfing, it just doesn’t matter. Fall or fly, your avatar will never be hurt. Everyone is taller, curvier, and more handsome than in real life, because they want to be. For instance, my virtual home is an ancient castle ruins beside the sea, beautifully decorated and complete with a ride-able fire breathing dragon on the roof. Real me says, “I wish…”
And this is of course one of the amazing features of teaching the lessons of magick in a digital universe, it is easier to create the tools that help us visualize working with energy. It is also possible to talk with and teach students in real time, asking and answering questions in our own voices, from anyplace on the globe, in this venue.
I teleported my avatar into the Dean of Students office at the virtual campus, sat my avatar at the desk and accepted the offer of a digital cup of coffee for my seven-foot tall, red-headed, elven avatar to drink. As she held it in her hands, I could see the cup of coffee she held was steaming, and obviously much warmer than the now icy brew I’d been sipping from this morning’s pot.
There were a selection of sitting animations that the chair itself offered me. Among them, my avatar could sleep, drink coffee, work at the computer, or sit back and appear to listen thoughtfully. I decided my avatar should work at the computer, and selected this option without putting the coffee cup down. Another plus to the virtual world: the laptop was unharmed.
Ho-hum, okay… so what is so weird about all this?
Well, the laptop works, remember? And I work online at this virtual campus, see? So, (prepare to step into the hall of mirrors…) I turned on the virtual laptop on my desk in the virtual world, then called up my account for work in the real world and began grading papers from my avatar’s desk.
And, just like CERN, the experiment was uneventful in the way that truly successful things often are—it seemed normal from the start, and contrary to early hypothesis, the universe either digital or otherwise, did neither implode nor explode. In fact, student avatars soon arrived to sit in the chairs opposite my avatar and chat. The experiment seems to be working.
Since then, when I make my daily commute up the steps to my desk I often add a digital round-about to roust up the ol’ avatar and sit her in her desk chair, too. Of course, it’s all for the students, you know.
I taught my avatar to dance the Funky Chicken, too – it was also for the students, of course, but that is perhaps, another story.