Late at night, after struggling with my first serious build effort, I took a walk along the coastline of the Sonogno Sim toward the power station. I came upon a small quiet avatar sitting by an enormous unfinished tube covered in grid marks. The avatar was dressed in a muted grey sweater, stripped muffler, and had small pointy ears poking through a stocking cap. She was dressed in a careworn, but beautifully detailed way, in hand made woolens, and her face displayed a kind of kindness and child like openness I had never seen in my short life in SL. Her hair was black and she wore “Harry Potter” style black glasses and to my surprise she had a tail. Something about this avatar was different, for her appearance did not scream sex, or surface glamour, or even the flash of most avatars. Instead there was a quiet confidence, innovative originality, and a welcomed freshness I had not seen before or since. Above her head was the name bubble that read “Arcadia Asylum.”
Thus began a collaboration, in which I was allowed to study and assist Arcadia Asylum and Dagmon Zhukovsky, in building Slum City. Alas, Slum City is now gone, and its passing has been documented and discussed by many in this and other forums about Second Life. I leave the positive and negative attributes of Slum City to others, for in my mind I can no longer dispassionately, or logically, or accurately remember Slum City. It has become like Camelot, and I no longer consider my remembrances to be accurate or reliable about this wonderful creation.
However my recollections about Arcadia Asylum remain as crisp as a fall morning, and as sharp as her wit, as stinging as her temper, and as warm as her smile, kindness, and patience in training a novice builder who never deserved a teacher of her stature and accomplishment.
Arcadia sat next to a giant tube, which later I discovered was an early section of the sewer system of Slum City. The grid covering the surface of the tube gave the object an odd appearance and as a new builder I had no idea of the critical function of the grid as a texture alignment mechanism. Arcadia had been texturing and was taking a break and thus was open to a conversation with a “noob.” And what a “noob” I was.
I asked what she was building, and she replied in text, through the most amazing and detailed image of a phantom typewriter, that she was “texturing” a section of sewer to be placed under the power station. I proceeded to display my ignorance of texturing and all things “build”, and she laughed. Arcadia then carefully explained why texturing was important and how much effort and care were required to create interesting, detailed, and amazing objects in the virtual world. We spoke at some length and the essence of her advice to me was that in creating objects of wonder and worth in SL, one had to put 10% of the effort into primitives or “prims” and 90% of the effort into textures. “The eye is fooled by textures, not by prims,” she said.
I offered friendship and she declined. I felt hurt at first, but later I was to learn that was her way, and that if she accepted all the friendships she was offered she would never be able to build. Arcadia was a most amazing mix of private person and public figure. However I did discover how to find her in SL without the need for friendship. She was a compulsive builder and artist, and she must have spent 10 to 16 hours a day building and assisting others in mastering the arts and crafts of virtual life. When building she would be in Sonogno Sim working on the city, when socializing and assisting others she could be found at the New Citizens Incorporated (NCI) Sim where she was a mentor and teacher to legions of newbie’s or “noobs”. Understanding these two modes in which she worked made communicating with her possible. In the Slum City build, I would remain silent and watch her build and when she was ready to talk she would initiate a conversation or remain silent. At NCI she was open to conversation and had many friends there who grew to love her and appreciate her artistry. To this day, many of her objects remain in freebee vendors at NCI and NCI mentors remember her fondly and mourn her passing from the SL scene.
Within a few days of meeting her, a decision was made to split the Sonogno Sim into two parts in order to facilitate the plan for a Sim that would reflect heaven and hell, beauty and ugly, magnificence and decadence in the same environment. The idea had been discussed for some time among the collective that held the sim and was an abstract, if not philosophical idea. Beauty cannot exist without its opposite – ugly. The idea was that the build in the Sim would encompass a beautiful section, a middle mixed city, and a slum at the other extreme. However the shape of the land, and the desire to preserve the coastline, led to a decision to split the city into two sections, one at sea level, and the other at 300 meters in the sky. Shortly after this decision a frenzy of building occurred in the Sim. To this day the lower city remains beautiful and in some respects elegant. The upper city, soon called Slum City, exploded in a frenzy of original, detailed, and in many cases innovative building. The effort was led by Arcadia Asylum and Dagmon Zhukovsky. Arcadia set the tone with her amazing sewers and hidden rooms filled with lovely freebees. The freebees were her own creations, many of which can be found at the Arcadia Asylum Recovery Group’s location in SL. Others have been lost or are missing.
In addition Arcadia placed within the city the first of several buildings of intense detail and interest which still bring amazement to the visitor today. The City Mission was placed in the city and shortly thereafter Arcadia created her astonishing Bodega. Other buildings were to follow, but after these two great buildings she focused her attentions on both the Sewers and objects, such as phone booths, pigeons, the grundged taxi, a school bus, and a myriad of details that made the city come alive. These details, like her conviction that textures are the most important element in a convincing and interesting build, made the city an amazing place to visit. To this day I have seen some wonderful builds, often with excellent textures, but they remain sterile and somehow emotionally hollow. However in Slum City these tiny details and the many puns that punctuated her builds, made the city build endlessly fascinating and interesting as well as inspiring Dagmon and myself to keep pace with Arcadia’s wit, skill, and artistry. Dagmon succeeded and is today one of SL’s outstanding builders. As for myself, I plunged into texturing and building with a fury, and a few of my buildings were “interesting” and one or two were good. However what I learned by watching Arcadia build and listening carefully to her advice, was a priceless gift that inspires me to this day and makes me realize that a skill like Arcadia’s is truly rare in SL or in RL
NEXT CHAPTER – EARLY BUILDING IN SLUM CITY.