Friday, February 02, 2007

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Bizarre Berry and The Deeper Story

Tunnel
Mr. Story, Our Intrepid Correspondent

When Douglas Story wrote about Bizarre Berry's marvelous caves of Lascaux in Modesta as his World from My Window contribution, he wound up with a far longer (and just as fascinating) profile of a uniquely strange and gifted Resident, who spoke to him on everything from the taboo of ugly avatars, to creating the caves, to his custom-made crack ho, to... the Unitarian Universalists of Second Life. 

Bizarre Berry and The Deeper Story

by

Douglas Story

In the process of writing the “Caves of Modesta” piece that appeared in this space last month, I had the not-unpleasant chore of interviewing the creator of the Caves of Lascaux: Mr. Bizarre Berry. I found some of his answers to be thoughtful musings on some of the conceits and unique social situations that Second Life fosters. He’s an interesting fellow, this Bizarre Berry… - DS

Lascaux3_1

Inspiration for the Caves

Bizarre Berry:  When I first joined Second Life, like most newbies, I only had 512 square meters of "First Land" to work with.  The sim where I bought my First Land typical: crowded with ugly houses, skyboxes, a disco and various junk left by squatters.  I really wanted to create something special on my small piece of land, but I also wanted to stay close to the ground and avoid a skybox.  I decided the solution to my problem was to dig down.  I terraformed all 512 square meters to be as low as possible.  Since my neighbors all had their land at the default height, I basically had a four meter hole in the ground.  It was very effective!  I planted some Eucalyptus trees at one prim each and stretched them to their tallest height and added a few dogwood trees with some grass and bushes beneath them. 

When you stood on my little first land plot, you actually felt like you were on a large parcel of land out in the country.  Meanwhile, if you floated up six meters, you could see I was in the middle of a garish mainland sim!

Next, I began to experiment with different houses.  Before long, I had used up all of my 117 prims and had hardly anything to show for it.  I soon learned the necessity of low-prim building.  The solution I came up with was to create a cave out of large spheres with granite textures.  I was able to create a natural-looking and decent size living space with just five prims. 

I've always been a romantic at heart with dreams of living out in the wilderness. As you can see from my current property in Second Life, I have stayed with my vision of back-to-nature living and I have not created any enclosed building structures.

I outgrew my first land and purchased the land I currently own.  This land is on a hillside overlooking the water.  I recreated my cave, but was unsatisfied and still had dreams of a larger, grander cave.  In the meantime, I built my shop at the top of the hill.  Because of the slope, there was empty space left under my shop.  I've always been in love with old castles with secret passageways and hidden rooms.  I built some tunnels and added some rocks, but it was a very small space under the shop.  I fantasized about being able to build under the ground, which is not possible in Second Life.  I stopped working underneath the shop out of frustration, but the dream stayed with me.

Defying God (Mode)

Around this time, a hack was released called the "God Mode," which allowed people to disable the camera constraints. This made me think about the idea of privacy and ways that you could create privacy by stealth.  You could no longer create walls and doors and hide behind them.  You never really could, but people didn't realize that.  The God Mode hack just brought this issue to the forefront.

Inspired by Squatting

In the meantime, I was reading on the forums about a mall owner whose land tools were telling her that someone had left a large number of objects on her property, but she couldn't find where they were located.  She was very confused, and instead of just returning the objects, she was determined to find where they were located.  She searched and searched and eventually found a squatter who had set up home inside of a waterfall she had created.  The waterfall was just large enough to put in some furniture and personal items and had gone completely unnoticed.  She was astounded at the ingenuity of the squatter who found this empty space in the middle of her mall and just set up house under her nose.

I was instantly inspired.  I knew at that very moment that I needed to create a large structure that would be completely innocuous and that no one would take notice of.  I would use grass textures and plant trees and put down pathways and benches to make it look just like an ordinary hill.  People would fly over it and think, "what a nice little hill."  However, they would have no idea of the majesty that would lurk underneath. If anyone tried to spy inside the cave, they would be confused by the repetitive textures and crooked walls-- stealth via obscurity.  Trying to alt-click and pan the camera would be very confusing.

I didn't have any room left to build, so I made an offer to my neighbor that he couldn't refuse.  I bought 1,024 square meters and dedicated the entire space to the new cave.  The secret entrance would be underneath my shop, fulfilling my dream of the secret cave beneath the shop!  Of course, given the grand scale of the project, the cave had to be very lifelike.  In real life, caves are very difficult to navigate, with dark, narrow passages which open up into large caverns.  In real life, you often have to crawl on your belly through caves, but in Second Life, it is impossible to crawl, so I had to make the passage walkable.  I tried to make the passage disorienting so it would feel like a real cave.  In fact, it was so complicated initially that no one could follow it.  I purposely had to make it a little easier to navigate.

Given how difficult I was making the passage into the main cavern, I knew I had to make the payoff grand.  I wanted to simulate what it was like for those first cave explorers who stumbled upon the ancient cave paintings of pre-historic cultures.  I searched the internet for different stone textures like you might find in a real cave.  My initial thought was to recreate the Caves of Lascaux in France, but I couldn't find any maps of the caves, all I could find were images.  In my search, I found cave paintings from all over the world: Africa, Europe, Australia, China.  I decided that my recreation of the caves of Lascaux would be an amalgam of world cultures; a modern-day, virtual pantheon of the pre-historic era. 

Snapshot_239_1

Being the Caveman and Sexual Spelunking

I have met several people who said they weren't impressed with the caves, who in fact had only gone about halfway down the passage and gotten lost, thinking there was nothing else to see.  When I find this out, I guide them personally through the passage and they are always impressed.

When I first built the caves, I created a caveman avatar to live in the cave.  When I would find people in the cave, I would teleport in (I have a secret teleporter) and pretend to be the caveman who lived in the cave full time.  I role played and pretended that I was a caveman and always acted amazed at the 'magic' things that people could do and the funny clothes they would wear.

Part of the allure of the caves is that I have turned off direct teleporting.  I set the teleport landing point to be outside the cave, so that the only way to get into the cave is to go through the passage.

I have occasionally witnessed people rezzing beds, furniture and sex toys into the cave and fooling around!  Some have even asked permission.  I told them to go ahead and enjoy themselves, but to keep an eye on the mini-map and cave entrance and to stop if anyone else came into the cave.  I am pleased to host a romantic spot in SL which has been enjoyed by many.

Ugliness, Begging and the Bag Lady Avatar

Baglady

Like most Americans, I am overweight and out of shape.  I am about 25 pounds heavier than I should be and I have no muscle definition whatsoever.  From the first moment I joined Second Life, on Orientation Island, I felt it would be somehow dishonest of me to create a perfect physique.  Even before stepping foot on the mainland, I had an innate sense that this would be a world obsessed with perfection. 

In the real world, everyone, including myself, fantasizes about having the perfect body that everyone desires.  Our culture's obsession is so great that it creates a mountain of insecurity and billions of dollars in profits for drug companies selling drugs to cure people's shyness and inability to accept themselves as they are.  I knew that in this virtual world, everyone would live out their fantasies of being perfectly beautiful and desireable.  I resented this urge to be perfect and felt my way of striking back would be to wander this world of perfection as something very ugly.

My first avatar in second life was a short, scrawny, naked old man with large hands, feet and a big belly.  I wandered around and very quickly discovered that nudity is very taboo in SL.  This also shocked me.  I had no genitals.  It was a virtual world.  My av did not look realistic in the slightest, and yet I got banned from several places for being "nude".  It was quite entertaining to see people's reactions.  Later on, I would discover that people who wandered around nude were considered "griefers".  Of course, I was not a griefer at all, but a curious man exploring the boundaries of an amazing and strange new world.

I very quickly realized that to get by, I was going to have to wear clothing.  I searched through freebies for an outfit and eventually settled on a variation of little red riding hood as an ugly, fat, old man wearing pink toile.  I had a red cape and a wicker basket.

Of course, you can guess what happened next...  Having a free account and being determined not to put any real dollars into SL, I quickly began to wonder how I could get money to spend.  I made friends with a very generous person who gave me L$500 in my second day!  Of course, I didn't want to spend that money on anything frivolous, but use it as my seed money to start a business in Second Life.

I thought to myself, "I wonder if you could make a living just begging money from people."  Of course, it was beneath my dignity to truly beg from people.  I've always thought that begging was a bit distasteful.  In real life, I have never begged money from anyone.  The vision of a beggar was planted in my head, however, and it went along perfectly with my conception of the 'anti-perfect'.  I just wanted to see how people would react to an ugly, crippled old lady begging for money.  It was also my first attempt to make an avatar.  It involved learning how to make animations, objects, scripts and textures.  I created the 'Old Beggar Woman', which is for sale in my shop and is quite popular!

Within the first hour of showing off my avatar, I had someone who wanted to buy a copy of it.  I sold her a copy for L$125.  It was my first sale!  She told me that she and a friend of hers had been dying to be a homeless person.

Just a short while later, I came across a young lady who started yelling at me that her mother had cancer and that she was very sad and upset.  I of course told her with the utmost compassion that I was very sorry to hear about her mother and did not mean to cause her any offense.  I immediately left her alone, but she sent me an instant message asking why I was doing such a horrible thing.  She told me she came to Second Life to escape the ugliness of the real world and she thought I was the most horribly cruel person in the world to make fun of old, sick people.  Her boyfriend told me I was an asshole and he was going to kick my butt, although I'm not sure how he would have done that in SL.

After that, I did a search for other homeless people in SL and found a gentleman who had set himself up as a homeless man who was so poor he had only a box to cover his modesty.  He was very creative and inspired me to explore the homeless theme.  That led me to the bag lady.  I wanted to create a more sophisticated version of the beggar lady that would have more contemporary connotations and that would test my building skills.  The bag lady was an amazing success!  She has consistently been one of my top sellers.

Creating the Crack Ho

Crackho1

I made friends with another lady who asked me to make a crackwhore avatar for her.  I loved the idea, but was very busy.  It took me several weeks to get around to it, but I eventually made the crackwhore.  What was funny was that my friend was expecting a semi-glamorous avatar.  When she saw my avatar with bruises and herpes, she was taken aback.  I explained to her that crackwhores were not glamorous, but were desperately poor drug-addicts; the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.  Well, she loved it.  It was the antithesis of the perfect world of Second Life, and I really felt I had achieved perfection!  After I put the crackwhore up for sale in my shop, I met a lady who was creating a "crack alley".  She had built a row of crack houses and she bought some of my crackpipes and put them in her crack houses.

Solarsystemav

The crackwhore was pretty much the last of my "disgusting" avatars.  By that time, I had gotten the anti-perfection thing out of my system and was moving on to other endeavors, such as the Ent and the Solar System.  I had proven to myself that I could challenge people's perceptions of beauty, and decided that I would try and impress them in other ways.

On the Church Behind His Shop

Church

I set up a branch of a church in Second Life in August, which has grown to over 100 members and includes several real life ordained ministers!  I'm very excited.  We're soliciting lots of outside interest and seeking to purchase an entire private island.  With all of the corporate and educational institutions setting up shop in Second Life, I think we may be among the first religious institutions to have an official presence!  I'm quite proud of our progress.

The church is an attempt to bring together those people who are looking for something besides sex, gambling and commercialism in Second Life. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious movement suited to the pluralistic nature of the internet, which brings people together from all walks of life. 

Interested parties can IM me or any of the officers of the group, which is "Unitarian Universalists of Second Life" under the group category.  Or, they can stop by the church any time; there's often someone hanging around chatting or meditating-- church meetings are Thursday nights at 6:30pm.

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Douglas Story

Your correspondent points out that the young lady pictured above standing next to the crack ho is -not- the person who comissioned the custom avatar described.
She was arriving for services at the church, and just happened to pass by as I tripped the shutter. She has no connection to this story other than that happenstance.
-ds-

Torley

Hahaaha this totally cracks me up; what a story that touches on so many levels! Splendid reporting, Douglas. Awhile ago, I came across Bizarre too, and suitably related to his eclectic collection of avatars. I wonder out loud if he knows Tooter Claxton — the two could put a formidable menagerie of the offbeat + eclectic if they got together.

I can only hope said dirty crackwhores can find solace in the church.

This line is just too funny and brilliant: "By that time, I had gotten the anti-perfection thing out of my system..."

Regan Turas

The Caves of Lascaux was one of the first builds that I visited in SL, and although it took some time, I did indeed manage to get all the way to the end! Then, just last week I was delighted to discover there was an inworld Unitarian church and I immediately joined the congregation.

But it wasn't until I read this entry that I made the connection between the two projects and realized the full depth and breadth of Bizarre Berry's involvement in SL. Not that the revelation is so surprising if you've met Berry in person (which I highly recommend). Within the course of one hour I saw him transform from a pot-bellied old man to a water-spewing fountain and then a spinning solar system. Truly a memorable evening.

ericthere

fyi the american bashing crap is getting old not all americans are obese it's a rather small minority, and frankly its hillarious how sl is the slummy ghetto place frequented by child molesters..i hope linden sells the whole place out from under you guys to some conservative christian wierdo

rikomatic

But apparently Americans are fuzzy on the rules of grammar. Congratulations on completely missing the point.

Galbraith

Uncle Galbraith says:
don't feed the troll.
If i've ever seen an attempt to provoke an angry reaction, is that nonsense post.
By the way Bizarre, i hope you explained the purpose of the beggar woman avatar to the hysteric girl... wow, talk about misunderstanding, and jumping to conclusions...

CoyoteAngel Dimsum

BB is an astonishingly gracious individual and has typically underplayed the UUSL story. He's devoting many, many hours each week to doing something kind and genuinely new and which is inspiring others to work on real world problems through the agency of SL networking.

Thanks BB!

-CAD

Marion Rickenbacker

Thanks for a superb piece - BB sounds a true original, showing us reality and bringing moral and spiritual depth to Second Life. I shall be down at the UU church as soon as the Lindens let me log in!

Elsbeth McConachie

I have often gone to BB's place to just relax and enjoy the company. Its rare to find a group as random and global, and create a community so vibrant and compassionate with the UU gathering sanctuary. Its a place that showcases the best of what SL has to offer.

Vaneeesa Blaylock

Beautiful article, amazing work! Thanks to author and subject. This is really a wonderful investigation of so many ideas RL & SL -- I'm very impressed!

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