29 October, 2008


This year's Monsterfest on AMC is shorter (if memory serves), with a worse lineup (where's my Hellraiser?!), and renamed to Fearfest. What's the tradeoff? We get a celebrity host in the form of Rob Zombie. Which is kinda neat, but I'd rather have more and better movies. Still, it's a whole week of horror titles, and there's bound to be something good in there. Following are some notes about some of the movies I've watched in the past week - mostly the ones I *haven't* seen before (though not exclusively).

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - The first Nightmare on Elm Street movie is undeniably one of the great classics of the horror genre. This sequel, though unsurprisingly, doesn't hold a candle to the first installment. One thing it does have going for it, though, is the kickass rock music - which sounds great despite being very 80's.

Motel Hell - This movie was so great. The perfect combination of comedy and horror. It was funny without making fun of itself, and without killing the creepiness of the plot. The innocent motorcycle accident victim girl was very alluring throughout, and Farmer Vincent was delightfully demented. The climax involving a pig's head mask and a chainsaw duel was just totally outstanding. Two thumbs up.

Constantine - This is one I saw back in college a number of years ago. Really more of an action film featuring [supernatural] horror elements rather than a horror film, but entertaining just the same. I think I understood it a bit better this time through.

Panic Room - And this one's actually a thriller, not a horror. Jodie Foster and her daughter (her movie daughter, that is) hold out against three robbers looking to steal a fortune hidden in their house. Pretty tense, and overall an entertaining movie. Forest Whitaker plays very well the part of a bad guy who has enough morals to make you feel bad for him when things don't work out in the end. I liked it.

Pet Sematary Two - For once, a sequel that's actually pretty decent. Maybe even as good as the first. The Pet Sematary movies are so sick in that they play on that fear of children losing their pets, and then pervert it by adding a creepy zombie twist. Good stuff, though. I found the fat kid to be pretty easy to sympathize with, and the bully was just a real jackass. He totally has it coming when he gets done in later in the story...

House on Haunted Hill (the remake) - Entertaining, and actually manages to sit outside the realm of crappy "no soul" remakes. This one claims to be "faithful" to the original, and while it's totally respectful to the original, and in no way "unfaithful", I just don't know if "faithful" is a word I'd use, since it adds this whole totally supernatural element to the story. Anyway, I love that the one actor totally pulls off the "Vincent Price" persona. It gives the film a whole 'nother layer of authenticity. Anyway, it's a fun ride, and who can say no to Ali Larter? Not I.

Return to House on Haunted Hill - Crap. Pure, utter crap. I couldn't even watch it. It's just got that whole sleazy, modern direct-to-video feel, meaning a crappy plot, with really crappy actors. Don't bother. (Still better than Pinata: Survival Island, though...)

Bordello of Blood - Taken for what it is (a Tales From The Crypt movie - and thus, not to be taken seriously), this was a rather entertaining flick about a vampire whorehouse hidden in the basement of a mortuary. Dennis Miller absolutely sells this movie, in the role of a witty private investigator. His quips are without a doubt the main feature (intended or not). By the way, watching another "tale from the crypt" reminds me how much I absolutely despise The Crypt Keeper. It's not just that his puns are absolutely terrible (which, let's face it, is true of most puns), or that you can see them coming from a mile away, but the way in which he hams them up so much just completely kills whatever impact they might otherwise have had... and his laugh is just so damn obnoxious! Moving on...

Jeepers Creepers - Wow, the first act of this movie is outstanding (by the way, note to Quentin Tarantino: the beginning scene in this movie is how casual chit-chat in a horror movie *should* be done). If only the rest of it stood up, this would be one of my favorites, but unfortunately the movie sort of descends into mediocre supernatural horror by the 1/3 mark or so. And that's ironic, because I usually say that I prefer a good supernatural monster flick to another run of the mill serial killer story. But this movie starts out as a *really* good serial killer movie, then drops to the level of a run-of-the-mill devil-on-the-loose story. Still worth seeing, though.

An American Werewolf in London - A classic of the werewolf subgenre, and, from what I can tell, frequently compared to The Howling, which I saw last year. I have to say, I *much* prefer the werewolves in The Howling - the ones in An American Werewolf look too much like bears, actually. But, the whole part in the moors, and the Slaughtered Lamb pub, is totally atmospheric and creepy. And the rest of the movie is pretty entertaining. I think I like The Howling better overall, but they're both good lycanthrope classics.

The Dark Half - Interestingly, a Stephen King novel adapted and directed by George Romero, about a writer (whodathunkit?) whose dark and gritty alter-ego literally comes to life. It's an entertaining story very well-executed, with lots of suspense and mystery, but as far as being strictly /scary/, I wouldn't necessarily call it a straight horror. The flocking sparrows did seem to channel The Birds just a little bit, though.

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday - Mediocre at best. Too much plot, and not enough horny teenagers. Jason just isn't as intimidating hopping from one body to another. It was an interesting surprise to see the mysterious informant "X" from The X-Files (Deepthroat's replacement) playing the part of a bounty hunter who inexplicably knows all the details behind Jason's secret supernatural origin. What the hell was Freddy Krueger doing at the very end there? Was that supposed to be a setup for Freddy vs. Jason? That was weird.

Willard - A captivating story about a timid man who is driven mad by his jackass of a boss, and seeks revenge after befriending a host of rats he finds in his basement. But not all of the rats are so willing to follow the man's orders. Excellent acting by Crispin Glover in the lead role. Pretty darn good for a movie about rats.

Christine - Another Stephen King story, about a geek who buys a junk car (named Christine) and then turns into a cool cat practically overnight. Trouble is, the car is possessed, and a pretty jealous lover. Yeah, it sounds kinda silly, but this was actually a very good movie. And hey, it was directed by John Carpenter. I love how Christine always plays these old 50's-style rock n roll songs (she was "born" in 1957), and then the last line in the movie, by one of the survivors, is... "god I hate rock n roll". In most situations, I'd be annoyed by a line like that. But here, it just works.

28 October, 2008

Virtual (In)Ability

One of the cool things about Second Life is that you can overcome a lot of the physical limitations that you might feel are holding you back in first life. This is most apparent in the realm of physical appearance - considering how easy it is to look young and beautiful. Second Life also provides a vast world for people to explore who might have trouble exploring the real world, due to certain physical handicaps.

Second Life also provides its users with a sort of clean slate with which to build a brand new persona, allowing them to become whoever they want. Yet, there is a limitation to this kind of identity sculpting - a limitation which exists in the user. Although most people with half a mind and the will to do it could pull off any number of "identity guises", via a certain level of roleplay, most people do not have the skill to change their actual feelings or subconscious reactions by will.

What I mean is, you can take what you're thinking and feeling and mold it into a specific form to express it within the confines of a chosen personality role, but you can't change what those initial thoughts and feelings are. You can control how you act, but not how you react - your behavior but not your cognition (in a sense). You can choose the signals you send out into the second world, but not the ones you receive from it.

What I'm getting at is, a person with a mental disability in first life, still has a hard time overcoming that disability in second life.

Second Life is a social place. I spend most of my time there alone, however. It helps that my schedule seems to be more or less at odds with the average Second Lifer's schedule. It also helps that I tend to avoid people, and especially crowds. When I do a search, looking for new and exciting sims to explore, I have a tendency to look one up on the map before teleporting in, to see if there are (m)any people there. If there are a lot (or sometimes even just some), I'll likely pass and look for another place to go.

And yet, loner that I am, Second Life provides a nice low-stress environment for me to meet people. And it's no secret that I get lonely. Better yet, with the right avatar, it's pretty easy to get people comin' up to /me/, so I don't even have to exert any real effort. Of course, that might be asking for the wrong kind of attention...

So I thought I could be a friendly person. And sure, I'm friendly. But like I said before, the more friends I make on Second Life, the less I want to log on. It's not that I don't like these people that I've befriended, or that they bug me (most of the time they just ignore me anyway), but it's just the stress of knowing that I might be walking into a social situation that I would have a hard time avoiding without further burdening myself with the worry that I might be hurting someone's feelings.

I'm shy, and I'm introverted. I read somewhere that the two are not equivalent, despite the fact that the terms tend to be lumped together, and even interchanged quite a bit. An introvert tends to direct his focus inward, being more concerned/interested in the self rather than others, whereas a shy person is just someone who takes their time warming up to people. Therefore, you can have a shy extrovert, who acts timid in front of strangers, but becomes the life of the party as long as it's the right group of people.

Well, that's the general gist of it, anyway. And I consider myself both shy *and* introverted. I guess the shy part is more important in this discussion, though. I take a long time to get comfortable with someone. I have to know them well and for awhile before I can relax around them and stop worrying about all the stupid things I worry about. The point is, when confronted with the possibility of having to face someone socially that I'm not entirely comfortable with yet (which is, effectively, everyone), my avoidant personality kicks in. And you can guess what I end up doing.

Of course, I could start a new account - an "alt". Then nobody would know me. And although this is something that I'm planning on doing (for this and other reasons), I can't just throw away my current avatar. I've invested too much (objectively and subjectively). And besides, it would be pretty damn dickish to just disappear and leave my new "friends" guessing. I don't want to be mean like that.

On a slightly related note, I really wish there was some form of free private zone in Second Life - a small area that comes with every account, that's entirely localized to the computer you're running SL on, and has no direct connection to the online SL worldmap. It would be a place where you could go to try stuff out on your own, without interfering with the community - like clothes and building projects and whatnot. You'd still have to pay to get land "on the grid" that other users can access, but this would just be something for yourself, to fool around with, with zero distraction.

23 October, 2008

Taking a Second Look

To my surprise, I have encountered an inordinate amount of negativity towards Second Life, in my discussions about it with friends (or in some cases, with person(s) who I thought were friends). And my experience of Second Life has been so positive, that it's left me guessing. Why so much hatred? I could understand if these people just didn't like the program, but they seem to feel the need to express fairly strong negative opinions about it.

For example, one "friend" - who is no stranger to MMORPG addiction, by the way - seemed to take pleasure in deriding Second Life, despite the fact that he's never even tried it. It's not just that he never bothered, but, in his own words, he "couldn't bring [him]self to actually play it." And yet, he apparently knows it well enough to profess that the "lowly" SL isn't worth his hard drive space.

I tried to figure out where his prejudice was coming from, but all he could tell me was that SL "does everything *poorly*" (whatever that means), and that he pities the "zombies" that play it. This coming from a WoW addict. And despite the fact that I'm the one actually playing SL, and actually having a great time with it, he insists, "given that I have more knowledge and experience with games like this, you'd damn well better give me credit that I know what I'm talking about moreso than you." So I gave up.

That's one thing, but even the friend whose opinions I actually respect has expressed negative feelings towards Second Life (although he at least took the chance to try it). It seems that he has more of a philosophical problem with the game, and the whole idea of embracing fantasy instead of reality. I can understand that, though, because he's doing pretty well dealing with reality, from what I can tell. I, however, have good reason to escape into a fantasy world.

But that's not all. This friend has repeatedly referred to Second Life as a low place that must be sunk to, and on different occasions compared it to, and also professed it to be even lower than, 4chan and its ilk, stating that it exists in that same niche of the internet. Which one? Well, "the shitty one", of course. This, to me, was quite a blow, because frankly, I don't see the relation, and I agree that places like 4chan are pretty shitty.

Look, I'm not trying to call names or be bitchy or anything by using direct quotes - I just want you to get an idea of the kind of abuse I've had to deal with. I mean, my one friend actually said that Second Life was, and I quote, "worse than drugs". Okay, to be fair, I've said that WoW is as bad as drugs in the past. But worse? Seriously?

So how do I make sense of all this? Well, I read some stuff recently that might just clear things up a bit. Specifically, I've read about cases of people getting hooked on Second Life and letting their first life fall apart. The classic case of addiction. But unlike with other games, there's the added confusion that comes from Second Life pretending to be real life. This is especially difficult when it comes to forming relationships in SL. Does it count as cheating if a married (or otherwise committed) person falls in love on SL? When you've got SL friends to hang out with, do your rl friends matter anymore? If an exciting adventure is just a teleport away, why should you bother leaving the house?

My response to this angle is to say that you shouldn't hate the drug, you should hate the addiction. The simple truth is that Second Life can be just as much a positive influence in a person's life as a negative one. It depends entirely on the user, and how they choose to live their second life.

I'm reminded of a specific scene in Chobits - a series that takes place in a world where intelligent computers in the shape of pretty girls (called persocoms) are commonplace. There's a lot of drama that goes on about people who fall in love with persocoms, and whether they should be treated like people, and all of that ugliness. Well, in one specific case, there's a man who falls completely in love with his persocom, to the point of neglecting and then completely forgetting the very existence of his wife. The "best friend" character in the story befriends the wife, and learns to hate any man who would fall in love with a persocom, forsaking reality for a fantasy. But later on, he comes to the realization that it's not a man who falls in love with a persocom that he hates - what he hates is simply a bad husband, a bad person, who would cheat on and forget his own wife.

I approach Second Life in the same way. If a married person falls in love with someone on SL, and allows their rl marriage to fall apart; or if someone gets so engrossed with SL that they give up on important matters in rl; then it's the *person* who is making bad judgements in his/her life. It's not the game's fault.

So maybe people that hate Second Life so much, only really hate the people who play it irresponsibly. Maybe that's part of the puzzle, after all. But I don't feel it's a complete answer. I think some people just aren't ready for the metaverse yet. They can't handle a virtual reality that pretends to be actual reality. And I don't blame them. Although I do think that it's the way of the future. Someday, the simulation will become reality itself. I find that idea exciting. Others may find it scary.

Don't fight the future. Embrace it.


I had another vivid dream last "night". And yes, it involved that feeling of imminent death that I have become so familiar with. I was exploring a futuristic power plant with a girl - the cute, short, supergenious type. She had some kind of connection to the plant, which is why she was able to get me in to take a look after hours. I have no idea how the power plant worked, except that it was similar to a nuclear reactor in one aspect - the dangerous potential for a devastating meltdown, should things go wrong.

Well, the plant was housed (ironically) in some kind of biosphere, so wandering around it was actually quite like wandering through a forest. And since it was after hours, it was dark, so it was also pretty creepy. And it was huge, like a forest, not just a little greenhouse. After exploring a bit, we were back at the entrance, where there are these huge circular monitors. The girl wanted to test out the system or something, but as soon as she activated it, things got bad. A few of the circular monitors were flashing red, and I had a feeling something was wrong. Whether the girl explicitly said something to the effect, or if it was a subconscious realization, I knew that the place was going to blow. When I heard the words "four seconds" uttered, I ran like the devil towards the door.

The explosion at four seconds was mercilessly minor, but I heard the girl shouting something about another one at 27 seconds or so, as I kept running. She was quick on my heels. Exiting the building, there was a gateway ahead, and the girl shouted that the explosion would be centered on that gateway, for whatever reason. I realized that I was running towards my death, but I also had an understanding that to stop, or to go back, would be even worse, if the whole place was about to go, which I believed it was. The only thing I could do was keep running.

I expected to be annihilated in an intense wave of heat and wind as I passed through the gateway, but the explosion, while serious enough to shake me up and hurt my neck, wasn't bad enough to stop me running, let alone kill me. Still, I was running for my life, hoping that I'd be able to get far enough away from the building before the big bang, or that the automatic-response rescue team might arrive and save me before then.

And that was the end. Of the dream, I mean. The stuff we saw inside the biosphere was totally awesome, but unfortunately I can't remember any of it in enough detail to describe.

21 October, 2008

The Solace of Psychosis

I just started playing Silent Hill 4: The Room a few days ago. Not because I've given up on Second Life, or that I grew bored with Second Life, or anything like that. The main reason is that it's October, and Halloween is coming up, and this is my favorite holiday of the year, and I don't want to let it pass me by unnoticed because I was too engrossed in a virtual world. And this is really the best time of year to play a Silent Hill game. I played Silent Hill 3 last year around this time, and I've just been waiting for the right opportunity to pull out Silent Hill 4.

Okay, Second Life does hold /some/ responsibility for my decision to start playing SH4 right now. Firstly, I spent a few days exploring some Silent Hill related sims on Second Life. They were really cool, though not as good as I think they could be. With a few teleporter tricks, you could totally pull off the "Alternate transformation" of the town and really freak people out. Still, it's not the same experience as playing a real Silent Hill game. Secondly, one day I thought about logging onto Second Life, and I thought to myself, right now I feel like playing an actual /game/, that has some kind of plot or purpose, other than wandering around and talking to people. And thirdly, with each new friend I make in Second Life, the more "social" the experience becomes. And to be fair, Second Life is largely a social experience - much like life itself (at least the way it's intended to be lived). And so I increasingly find myself wanting to log into a more solipsist-friendly world, where I don't have to interact with any other sentient beings and I can just wallow in the mists of my own self-absorbed experience of existence.

And then it hit me. Silent Hill is not just an abandoned resort town gone [literally] to Hell. Silent Hill, with all of its hellacious flaws, and abandoned buildings, *is* the resort. I realized that I go to Silent Hill to get away from it all. In Silent Hill, I can crawl into my own mind and fight against the schizophrenic demons of my life, without being bugged by people from the real world, telling me to straighten up and get a [real] life. In Silent Hill, it's perfectly okay - even expected - to be psychotic. The demons, at the same time that they scare me and disturb me, also, in a way, comfort me. The silence and the psychosis of the town is gradually becoming my home.

18 October, 2008

Living a Second Life

Everytime I read an article about something related to the world of Second Life, there's always a brief section that explains what Second Life is to people who aren't familiar with it, and I always brush over that section because it's incredibly boring to read pretty much the same tacky description over and over again about something that I'm already quite familiar with. And yet, I don't feel comfortable discussing Second Life here, without some kind of an explanatory preface. So I apologize for the following paragraph, but it must be written.

Second Life is a computer program. It's /like/ a game, but it's not really a game. Because there is no plot, and there is no goal. It's as undirected as actual life, and it means only as much as the meaning you put into it. For some people, it's a glorified three-dimensional version of irc, or a really neat social networking tool. Others see it as a commercial or intellectual prospect - a place to create things, and, perhaps, sell them. Still others like to focus on the adventure aspect, exploring the landscapes and attractions that others have built. And for many people, Second Life is just that - a chance to start a new life, and become either the person they've always wanted to be, or someone else entirely.

The very premise of Second Life brings up difficult philosophical and moral questions for those who are inclined to explore such matters. It's kind of like a "Pong version" of The Matrix, if you will - except that everyone who is "plugged in" is a knowing and willing participant. But how much importance should a person's Second Life have, when weighed against their first life? How authentic is their "second" identity, when and where it differs from their "first" identity? Just how much of an overlap is there between these lives, and what effect does that have on either?

So how did I start "playing" Second Life? The truth is, I was bored. I had heard about the program, was interested enough to check it out, and became intrigued when I found out that it's absolutely free to start. So I said to myself, "let's find out what Second Life is all about." I downloaded the program, created an initial avatar (my Second Life persona), and began to explore this new life.

I like Second Life because it lets me be somebody else. That somebody else is still entirely me, but it's a dormant part of me that isn't able to express itself in first life, for any number of reasons. When I'm this second self, I can momentarily forget about my first self, and all the things I hate about it. And so far, I like my second self so much better than my first self. Instead of being cynical and depressed, I am bright and cheery. And the happiness of my second life actually leaks into my first life. I'm not just acting happy, I'm *actually* /feeling/ happy.

As you can imagine, I don't enjoy talking about first life when I'm living my second life. It really spoils the mood. At first, I thought that would be a hard angle to explain to people, but then I realized that a lot of other second lifers feel the same way. Which reassured me, but even in this case, it's still hard for people to ignore first life entirely. Because you can never completely disconnect the two lives. Maybe I'm taking this "game" of second life too far, but I really want to be able to pretend that there is no such thing as first life when I play it. When people ask me questions about *me*, by default they're asking about first me - which /drives/ second me - and not about second me myself. And sometimes I have to actively wonder how many of my first life details are actually relevant to my second life, and how many of them are expendable. It's a confusing mess of affairs.

One area of Second Life that concerns me dearly is the realm of sex. For the uninitiated, yes, there are copious amounts of sex in Second Life. And given the nature of the environment - particularly the high level of fantasy versus reality - there is an opportunity for second lifers to explore modes of sexuality they may not otherwise consider in first life, for any number of reasons. From just being a little more sexually promiscuous than usual, to diving head first into a grab bag of perverse fetishes, a second lifer can experiment to his/her heart's content, with relatively little risk.

Well, I've made a little discovery. I'm not gonna pretend that it's any surprise that I was curious about sex in Second Life. Given all the parameters stated above, it was natural for me to want to explore the possibilities of being a little more... let's say "open for business", than I generally am in first life. And here's what I learned: when having sex in Second Life, the avatars (second lifers) may be the ones to engage physically, but it is still the first lifers who engage emotionally. And what I learned about myself? I may have a fully healthy appetite for sex, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm a pretty exclusive and deeply personal lover. (Which may not really be much of a revelation after all). Though I may feel the desire to get down and boogie at any time, the release just isn't worth picking any guy or girl off the street who happens to be horny.

A few notes on the carnal act itself. I guess when most people get off in Second Life, they're actually more interested in getting off in first life, and their avatar is just a means to that end. Maybe that's obvious. But maybe that's not the way I feel. The question that always bugs me is "r u horny irl?" It goes back to that whole spoiling the fun thing. You're not supposed to be having sex with first me, you're supposed to be having sex with second me. And once you ask that question, you've crossed that boundary into my discomfort zone. I ask again, am I taking this "game" of life too far? Or are there others like me, who want nothing to do with first life?

I have to admit I'm not a fan of cybersex. I guess it could be imaginative. If the people involved care enough, I suppose it could be like writing real-time interactive erotic fiction. And that doesn't sound so bad, right? Well, yeah, the real-time part. And that pressure to perform. It's like two authors working together on a choose-your-own-adventure story. When I make something up, I like to have total control over it, to be able to guide the long chain of action and reaction. Because that's what it takes for me to craft a compelling story. But the goal of cybersex isn't to tell a compelling story, it's to get off in real-time. And well, frankly, I don't like being put on the spot when it comes to words. Like having to make an impromptu speech or something. Put me in bed and I'm happy to explore, but just please don't make me write about it. It's like turning sex into a book report or something.

And here's the hook. Despite how happy I feel actually being an attractive personality (to completely ignore my appearance), I'm increasingly feeling the desire to be myself (my first self, that is) again. My own dull, unattractive first self. Then, I wouldn't have that pressure of having to continuously impress people and live up to their standards. But the question is, have I really learned anything? Or am I just telling myself that I don't have what it takes to be the kind of person I want to be - the kind of person who can be happy? Because that would be pretty depressing. And we're right where we started.

The psychosocial experiment continues on...