The absurdity of awards in a virtual world.
Couple of things on my mind lately in between project work and theoretical applications. There might be a link between them all, but I haven’t found it yet so bear with me.
There is (of course) the Avi Choice Awards! In which that single sentence is about as enthusiastic as you’re ever going to see me get about it. If awards ceremonies in real life are about as sincere as voting for prom king and queen, reduced to nothing more than a popularity contest where you might go home with a trophy, then my view on virtual world award ceremonies has been double the shallow and half of the accomplishment. A lot like going to Starbucks and ordering a decaf... people need to be bitch slapped for that.
Don’t get me wrong, people should be recognized for their contributions in the creative space. But I would think simply being popular would do that as a recognition of your talent without taking home (metaphorically) an intangible digital object to glorify the popularity contest to boot.
That’s what the Avi Choice Awards are about, for the most part. It’s an informal popularity contest where people in a clique get together and vote for other people in that clique. I have a low tolerance to stuff like that because to me it’s ultimately meaningless (if not insulting). I speak from experience on this one and not from “exclusion”.
A lot of things in Second Life draw a similar parallel to older virtual worlds, but one thing that never seems to change is that the same things seem to arise from each community in a weird sort of hive-mind where you know they aren’t (as groups) really influencing each other or having regular meetings in a round table but still manage to come up with the same outcomes.
Case in point is the SLxB events. Ok, I get it... prolly more than people think. It’s a community celebration of the virtual world they call home and all the great things within it. That being said, it is really no different than AWExpo from ActiveWorlds... which is more or less the same exact premise and preceded Second Life by a number of years. Back in 2006 and 2007, I was a big contributor to the AWExpo when I worked at VR5 Online, taking home “Best of Show” both years.
People got together, built plots, booths, and whatever in a sort of celebration of community and it, too, was quite massive and varied. Wandering around SL10B all I could think about it was how eerie it was that ten years later I’m in an entirely different virtual world and doing the exact same thing.
The Avi Choice Awards aren’t exempt from that thinking either... since ActiveWorlds in the 1990s –> Today regularly has (had) the Cy Awards which is exactly the same premise and outcome of the Avi Choice Awards. Right down to the “let’s vote for our favorite...” blah blah blah and including the endless pandering and ass kissing to even get on that “list” for voting.
I’m no stranger to virtual worlds awards ceremonies... [Cy Awards: ActiveWorlds]
I could have told you who was going to win those Avi Choice Awards well in advance because the formula to figure it out is dead simple:
Those with the biggest groups, social media presence and highest ratio of personality to Linden Lab cheerleading will win.
Stuff the ballots and be a relentless fanboy/fangirl of the medium as a cheerleader.
That’s it... and it’s reflected quite clearly in the results, now isn’t it? It was the same thing years ago in other virtual worlds as I watched clearly superior works and people get ignored and passed over simply because they weren’t popular or the event organizers didn’t “like” them. Countless times I watched “popular” people march their fanclubs into the voting in order to stuff the boxes... which to me is pretty much like getting a Group Message in Second Life from somebody who is on the ballots telling you to go over there and vote.
I’ve won enough of those awards in the past and even then I didn’t think too highly of it. In a way, I suppose you could say I’m in the same camp as Crap Mariner with my opinion of the whole superficiality of it all. Which is to say that if in the unlikely event I won anything remotely like an Avi Choice Award in this day and age, I’d dress up as Santa and punch the audience. Even in the event that I even remotely showed up on one of those polls, I wouldn’t bother to show up to collect the pretend award that went with it because to me they are an insult.
I’ve been there and done that all before. It’s not an honor, nor is it particularly satisfying to be proclaimed the king of the prom – unless of course you validate your work and effort through an inanimate and superficial object as justification of your worth.
Hey, some people do... and for them it’s whatever cup of tea they wanna have. Makes them think they’re really accomplishing something. But to me, actually accomplishing something is the award...
Personally, if you pander for an intangible award based on opinionated popularity, it makes me think that maybe you’re being rewarded not for the work or effort but for being popular. In that sense you’re an excellent and shameless promoter of self.
What you do, and your works/efforts/contributions to the virtual world (and real world) should be self-evident and speak for itself. The outcome of your efforts are far better a reward than a hollow Collada file in a virtual world sitting on a virtual shelf in a virtual home for virtual people to admire and know you are virtually popular.
It’s about as meaningful as the VEJ (Virtual Education Journal) giving out award after award to Blizzard and World of Warcraft from a stage in Second Life, where Blizzard isn’t showing up for that award because they rightly couldn’t care less about it. I sat through that entire award ceremony and all I could think was “If World of Warcraft is so awesome, then why aren’t we having this award ceremony in WoW at a local tavern?”
So maybe you’re thinking “You’re just bitter cause you weren’t on the list!” – to which my reply is simply “No... I’m thankful I wasn’t”. I can’t convey that sentiment strongly enough at this point. Really... I have collected enough of these awards over the years and I certainly don’t need another one.
If you came over to visit me in-world, I have my own shelf and it’s filled with awards just the same and it also has accomplishments that are tangible such as a copy of my book, the research paper which was published in ACM over the summer to great acclaim. I did actually win a Cy Award for “Best Build” in which I built a photorealistic and functional gas station. The irony being that I entered it as a joke because it was actually just a project to teach somebody else how to build and pay attention to the complete atmosphere of immersion. When I entered it into the Cy Awards as a nomination, it was explicitly for the purpose of illustrating the very points I’m explaining here – and that the process can be socially engineered/rigged quite easily.
I also have an SAW award (Support AW) which I consider far more meaningful because it’s for “Best Use of Innovative Technology” referring to the fact that I had single handedly repurposed the entire AW Viewer (Browser) and added functionality nobody had ever seen before, and even successfully turned the online virtual world into a functional desktop paradigm in 3D in which you could launch programs on your local computer from the virtual world. I had done so through carefully reconstructing trigger commands (sort of like the precursor to LSL scripting) based on the idea that there was (back in the early days of AW) a version called the AW Hi-Rez CD in which the assets of the popular virtual worlds such as Alpaworld, Metatropolis, Mars, etc were double resolution and on a CD to pull from locally. Back in the day this was a big deal to go from 128x128 resolution textures to 256x256 due to the fact this was during the days of Dial-Up internet and 56k.
The premise was that there were commands that the viewer could recognize in order to access content locally. I did some more archeological digging in the world Metatropolis (one of the original worlds, and also one that I played a part in rebuilding twice) whereby I found an object with a local file command on it built by one of the staff members of ActiveWorlds themselves (JP McCormick to be exact) whereby it was a touch link to call an old Microsoft VoIP program locally on your desktop.
I got to thinking that if the viewer could still interpret that command as a local link, and the Hi-Rez CD code was still in there to handle local content in the configuration files, then wouldn’t it be possible to figure out the format for local or internet links and tag the configuration files for buttons on the viewer toolbar as well as objects in-world?
It took me four months, including countless denials by ActiveWorlds themselves that it was even possible, but I managed to create what today is still a pinnacle of ActiveWorlds in showing off what could be done – titled simply Metaverse EX. The toolbar was rewritten using commands that AW themselves denied even existing, resurrecting functionality and repurposing it in the modern age to run programs on your local desktop, open local folders (where you could keep shortcuts or your file downloads from the virtual world for easy access), external tools for helping with building, and even managed to make an online help system accessible instead of the CHT old style help file itself. The last version I made simply had access to Twitter and a few other things natively in the toolbar, and included a small version and large version to save space (which ActiveWorlds themselves adopted, among other functionality I had rediscovered). I didn’t stop there, either... because I went on to figure out a way to link an Object Path (like an asset server) to a P2P redundant content distribution network worldwide, making the object path nearly indestructible no matter how many simultaneous users were in the world.
That’s a big deal considering I managed to host a live concert and have 100 people standing in the same spot without the server crashing. This was back in 2005/06 and today I’d like to ask anyone what the odds are that they’ll be able to have 100 people show up to their event in Second Life without the server going under?
Of course, “concerts” are commonplace now in Second Life, but back then it was unheard of because it was a logistics nightmare. This was before that concert across the “Metaverse” happened as well, so here’s an example of doing something that changes everything... though quite arguably it wasn’t as good as the second concert we did a year later in 2007 when we went all out with a custom stage, choreographed lighting and fireworks, and a laser lightshow with particle effects... Geez I wish we had filmed that one... it was freakin amazing.
That’s what it means to deserve an award... when you not only create something awesome but manage to change the history of the company and countless citizens in a virtual world, influencing everything going forward. But the award itself isn’t what matters... the award (to me) was simply knowing it could be done and that I had altered the course of virtual world history for the better in doing so. Seeing what other citizens of AW were building based on my own inspirations and advancements (such as particle lighting and shadows), seeing citizens push their builds and set the bar much higher... that is satisfying. So it’s a paradox really... if you’ve done nothing to deserve an award, then you won’t get an award... but if you *have* done something great enough to deserve the award, then the award is pointless by comparison to the great things you have done... so why bother?
I’d be far more apt to give an award to whomever thought up Liquid Mesh versus the most popular DJ or Photographer in SL. Liquid Mesh changes the entire virtual world going forward and has a positive impact (even if I don’t necessarily agree with the circumstances). But was there a category for “Best Innovation” in the Avi Choice Awards? If there was, I didn’t see it.
The category itself could have been named “Stuff that’s going to matter in ten more years”
I think maybe the problem with award ceremonies like this is that they are based purely on subjective opinion and not anything that looks like objective fact. I might think Crap Mariner has amazing stories while other people might think he needs to take his meds and stop bitching about people standing on his lawn. Totally subjective thinking... and is that really the basis for an award that should be taken serious?
Hence the reason I’m writing this post today... and explaining the types of awards I’ve received in the virtual world and what they were for. Some weren’t subjective (SAW Award) while others were totally just popularity contest and (my own social engineering) – Cy Awards, AWExpo, International Flight Festival, and so on.
There was another award that I had gotten as well but it amounted to “Best of Show” from the AWExpo in which our booth was a photorealistic replica of a real world booth complete with banners and arcade games. But the big reveal for that year at the Expo was that we (as VR5 Online) had created a photorealistic avatar in mesh while keeping the polygon count reasonable. At that time it absolutely blew away the avatars in ActiveWorlds by a lightyear and likely still blows away the avatars in Second Life by comparison. Even the employees at ActiveWorlds stopped what they were doing and came over to see what we had done with their technology.
After that, ActiveWorlds as a company no longer participated in the AWExpo because whenever we threatened to show up, the entire expo (including ActiveWorlds themselves) immediately threw in the towel conceding defeat before we had even bothered to put our booth in. To say it was an unfair competition was an understatement... we felt like we were NASA competing in a High School Science Fair. So after our second year at AWExpo we declined to continue participating because we were showing up everyone else, and we didn’t want to do that... our goal was just to show off the potential of the AW System (and we did that by far).
I’ve had my share of the awards ceremonies and pandering over what is now close to twenty years in virtual worlds. Yes, I’ve been in virtual worlds about 20 years now and the thought hit me the other day when I was trying to think back to when I first got into them when I was much younger. It puts the Rez Day idea in a proper perspective in comparison... lots of people acting like 8 years in SL is seniority or something... which I suppose being a big fish in a small pond can definitely give you that boost of ego.
For me, the existence of tangible things in the world and knowing my efforts are having a positive impact on another person’s life in a profound manner is the only award I’ll ever need. When a PhD student in Stockholm at the Mobile Life Centre is writing a thesis for his doctorate and thanking me for the wonderful work I’ve done - when that happens and I find out about how I’m helping to enable such a profound change in thinking or advancement in the industry and academics, or that my work is fostering a new generation through a virtual worlds certificate course - that is my award.
I helped change the real world for the better, and my efforts will continue to do that in a meaningful way. Because of my efforts, the world will change for the better for years to come like a ripple cascading in a pond outward, touching millions of lives and (hopefully) leaving a positive outcome. My goal in life is simply to live it one day at a time and answer a single question:
What have I done in this world that, when I am gone, will be my legacy of positive change?
I believe I continue to answer that question satisfactorily. I may not entirely be the most personable character in the world, and I absolutely agree that I am a right bastard quite often. But despite that, I’m leaving ultimately a positive impact on the world for real. In twenty years nobody is going to really remember that virtual couch you made, or that skin... it’ll fade into obscurity just as much as that award you won when you were popular for your fifteen minutes.
I don’t want to be the rain on the parade, no matter how often I actually am... because ultimately my intention is to help people understand that what is truly important versus superficial is what matters. So every day simply ask yourself -
If I dropped dead today, how long would anyone remember me for what I’ve done in this world?
Live your life like that, and strive to leave a lasting and meaningful legacy of positive change on the entire world. As Steve Jobs once said -
Make a dent in the Universe.
If you’re awesome, you don’t need an award to tell you so. You simply are because it’s self evident. You see it in the people who tell you their stories about how the things you’ve done have changed them or touched them for the better. I’d rather people had donated to Immersiva in that moment to show appreciation to Bryn Oh instead of casting a vote for an award... and as Crap Mariner said in his own group notice – he’d rather people paid their tiers as a show of appreciation.
Something I might consider writing about in the near future:
ZUI (Zoomable User Interfaces) and Hyper-dense Information or;
There’s too much **** on my screen!
Remember to pimp me out on the social networks. Because sharing is caring, no matter what the state of Utah says.