Due to the fact that I was on vacation in mid-August and the ensuing need to play catch-up with just about everything after I returned (not to mention a flurry of chaotic activity at work in RL), I was unable to blog about these two episodes of Draxtor Despres’ much-acclaimed series “The Drax Files”. So, to make up for this, I’m going to give you a (terribly belated) double feature this time. Now, there are only two ways for someone who runs an avatar in Second Life to not know about Draxtor Despres and his series of videos; one is to have given up on SL completely; the other way is to lead an extremely limited in scope SL, caring only about very few things that keep them oblivious (sometimes blissfully so) to what’s going on in and around SL.
[Episode 9: Elie Spot]
In the fashion world of Second Life, Elie Spot is a rather well-known name; together with three of her friends, she runs the Mayfair sim, where they have two stores – basically, two brands: Celoe, which focuses more on high-fashion clothing, and Mon Tissu, which is more casual. Having joined SL in 2006, Elie is no stranger to the ways in which the line that separates the physical (or “real“) world and the virtual can become blurred: her father used to be a games designer and her mother is a graphics artist. With this background, I believe one can understand why Elie herself chose to be a digital artist. Of course, there’s far more to Elie’s SL story than this.
She was nineteen years old when she joined SL, seeking an escape from her hectic daily routine – pretty much like many of us, actually. However, whereas most of us settle for consuming other people’s virtual goods, Elie established two successful in-world brands, and used the experience she gained, the skills she acquired and the lessons learned by running them to expand her business horizons to RL, where she founded Offbeat and Inspired, a DIY lifestyle blog that she and a friend run and have monetised, in 2012 and, in the Spring of 2013, she became creative editor for the Cake & Whiskey magazine, which aims to inspire women in business.
As is the case with setting up an RL store, in SL one has complete control of the store’s appearance, style, feel, everything – down to the music played therein; but, in SL, the level of control (and freedom) one can have in setting up their business can far exceed anything we have experienced in RL: if you actually own the sim where the store is set, you can landscape it however you want; with Windlight settings, you can create a unique atmosphere for the shop’s surrounding area, making it match your store’s style and your target group (see my coverage of Nalena Fairey’s Zigana for another example of this). Many business owners in SL take advantage of this freedom – and Elie is no exception to this; she and her business partners have styled Mayfair to make it look – and feel – like downtown London.
Benefitting from both her in-world business success and her years of being a user of SL, Elie has a firm grasp of the platform’s nature and nuances, and those features and attributes it has that make it so appealing and attractive to long-time users. In SL, as she explains, people can create whatever they want, and even be whatever they want, escape from the trappings of reality, and share their creativity and imagination with others in a plethora of ways. And, of course, people can also start businesses and brands, like she (and many others) did.
It is a well-known fact to all of us Second Life users that, for a number of reasons that are well beyond the scope of this post, SL has a certain stigma and its users are not seen particularly favourably. Elie touches upon this perception in this episode:
“It’s just a very common misconception that if a person sits down at a computer and starts talking to other people online that they’re hiding, or that they don’t have social skills. I mean to take a personality type and look down on it like that and to project that on an entire culture of people? It’s just a little bit strange.”
Elie is not the first of Drax’s interviewees to touch upon this misconception; all SL users have, at one point or another, encountered outsiders’ perception of them as socially inept nerds who need to “get a life”. In reality, though, things can be quite the opposite: SL users who expose themselves to people from different countries and with different cultural backgrounds, and befriend and appreciate those people that differ so much from them, are actually far more open-minded than people who only get in touch with people of their own race, religion and nation and adopt the mentality expressed by Geriatrix in Asterix and Caesar’s Gift:
“You know me, I’ve got nothing against foreigners, some of my best friends are foreigners, but these particular foreigners aren’t from this village!“
A user of Second Life – and any other similar platform that allows people to express their personalities freely and to connect and share with people from all over the world – is far less likely to have hang-ups like that. The reason is that SL users have experienced, enjoy and cherish the freedom SL gives: SL users not only are able to interact and share with people from all over the world, not having to worry about borders and geographical and/or geopolitical limitation, but they can also explore the limits of their creativity, imagination and skills.
It must also be said that, even the geekiest SL user is in no way worse than one of the “car tuning” crowd whose entire life revolves around his favourite car brand and how to “tune” his car (usually a dime-a-dozen hatchback that he believes he can turn into a fire-breathing supercar), carries a bunch of car tuning magazines with him everywhere he goes and bores everyone to tears by incessantly talking only about car tuning? Unfortunately, as Exotix (Inara Pey) pointed out in her own coverage of this episode, this perception/misconception is also adopted and promoted by many SL users (often organised in cliques) who, to use Her words, take a stance of perceived moral / social / intellectual superiority over others, simply based on how those others like to portray themselves within SL, even though in doing so they do not impinge upon the lifestyles or in-world activities of those looking down on them. Of course, the fact that these people choose to reject, belittle, denigrate and even harass others purely on the basis of their in-world appearance speaks volumes of their own prejudices, narrow-mindedness and shallow thinking. Unfortunately, it is exactly these cliques with their mentality and behaviour that justify and confirm every negative stereotype that SL’s detractors keep perpetuating about SL and its users.
Elie’s thoughts on Second Life should give many people – in SL and out of it – food for thought, especially given the fact that she runs a very successful business in Second Life, managing two popular brands, and also making a good income in RL as well. As Elie points out in the final moments of the video, in Second Life, there are far fewer hurdles than in RL; overcoming what in the physical world might even prevent others from taking you seriously is far easier. Thus, it is a lot easier for someone to focus on developing and expressing their own personality and imagination in Second Life and – yes – turn their passions and interests into successful businesses.
Also, the post written by Exotix (Inara Pey) on this particular episode is especially worth reading, as She has included a discussion with Draxtor himself.
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