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Second Life Adventures Number Whatever: Pretend Houses and the Performance of Class

Second Life Adventures Number Whatever: Pretend Houses and the Performance of Class published on

I’ve talked about nice things enough! This time, I’m going to make fun of somebody’s house.

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Click the picture to zoom in and read the text. It is hilarious.

* It is a “Luxury Lodge,” with ad copy visually calculated to make one think of a ski lodge – the little bare-wood structure at the top of a sharp slope that the signs are in, the snowy picture (there’s no snow in the actual sim). And it has “privacy windows,” and you can also get a “vacation lodge” version of the house. So far we are doing a pretty good job here of invoking the Western stock symbols of wealth and privilege, but can we take it further?

* We can! We can call something “exclusive.” “Owners Group: An Exclusive Group for Arc Owners.” This group is only for people with big ridiculous houses.

* It’s called “The Arc.” This is my new favorite marketing thing ever. It conveys moral superiority, legitimacy conferred by authority, escape or sanctuary from a teeming rabble and/or hostile world, a sense of vast size and weight, and wood. It’s so perfect.

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I’m not an expert in architecture, but, you know. Even I can see that this is not all that great of a building. The top’s very high and light, but the bottom’s way too heavy to be part of the same house – there’s that big dark gap between the first and second floors where nothing’s really happening visually, and those stone columns that look like they were intended for a different structure entirely.

Though maybe this is the intention. Maybe it’s ultra-ironic, sort of a Murakami Takashi-type thing, and the bottom-heavy pretend internet house is intended to imply the luxury home’s status as an image rather than a dwelling. The physical house becomes overloaded by its own symbolic weight and sinks into itself, becoming something too dense with meaning to be comfortably lived in.

(I don’t think this is the intention.)

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And the sides and the back just have nothing going on – the house is intended to be seen from the front. Or, preferably, the inside. The copy did mention “privacy windows,” and the designer obviously knows her market.

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A separately-purchasable bedroom set. Every SL merchant selling furniture intended to make you feel upper-class has a flat-screen TV or two, and they never do anything. They’re just pictures of flat-screen TVs. The pricier ones are pictures someone made from scratch in Photoshop, and the cheap ones are pictures someone took off Circuit City’s website.

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The second floor, which privacy-minded people probably won’t be spending much time in. You can usually set “privacy windows” so that you can see out from inside but not in from outside. But when you can see the other guy, it’s hard to convince your brain that he can’t see you.

The first floor has some optional furniture sets, but the second doesn’t, though there is a fireplace that is obviously too small to heat the huge skylight-covered room. The second floor also has some things resembling overhead lights, which the first floor does not.

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Despite the house’s size, the inside of the first floor manages to feel claustrophobic. The Second Life client obviously illuminates everything whether there’s an actual area-light nearby or not, but the dark texturing, filtered windows, and lack of anything looking like a strong light on this floor the house make it feel dark. This is intentional, as the candles and dark red-and-yellow lampshades attest.

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The aimed-for mood is presumably coziness and security. Most Second Life architecture and furniture sellers have at least a few items going for this sort of ambiguously-domestic privacy aesthetic. When people leave their SL houses open to the public, they tend to fill them with the sorts of things they feel convey their ownership – big pillows and soft lights and wooden tables and seashells and stuffed animals, so crowded together and texture-heavy your avatar can’t move and your computer grinds to a halt.

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My instinctive feeling is that the desire for these sorts of things comes from the same place as the desire to bling out one’s blog/social networking profile/message board sig/whatever to within an inch of its life, until even the owner can barely read it. The simultaneously personal and public nature of these methods of communication instills a psychological need to stake off a “safe” territory for oneself. So, one needs kitchens and sofas and paintings and things, because their presence is how you tell yourself a place is yours.

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And if one’s things are really expensive-feeling – like a “vacation lodge” (left) – obviously they offer even greater psychological security.

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Here is a sign found outside the designer’s main shop, an ad for this person’s clothing store. It says “Please Join the Tableau Society for Well Being to receive Notifications of ever increasing necessities for well being in modern life.” It pleases me.