“Virtual reality” is one of those phrases that means different things to different people. For me, it is a reality partially removed from real-life interactions and identities. Despite this remove, some of my closest friends are people I knew online first. Being a part of virtual communities has changed my life, and I am grateful for this every day.
BBSes & DDials
My interest in virtual communities started in the ’80s. By the end of 1984, I was quite active on BBSes and DDials in the Chicagoland area, particularly God’s Country and Point Zer0. This picture is terrifying evidence of my life at 300 baud.
MUDs, MUCKs, & MUSHes
As bandwidth improved, so did my understanding of computers and networks. In 1992, I had discovered how to use the research terminals in the library at University of Illinois at Chicago to check my email. (The irony this created for my later profession as She Who Busts Sophomore Miscreants Who Insist On Using the Library Reference Terminals to Check Gmail is not lost on me.)
I had also learned how to “finger” a remote machine to see who was logged in, and to “talk” someone on that machine, the precursor to instant messaging. One day I was bored and fingering a machine in Colorado, looking for a friend of mine, and he wasn’t logged in but someone else was. I decided to send that person a talk-request.
That person was Merlin. Merlin, being interrupted by a total (albeit semi-charming) stranger, was eager to turn my focus elsewhere, and so he thought to turn it to a virtual community. He told me how to login to TimeTravelerMuck.
TimeTraveler was a whole new world for me, literally — a text-based one. I created a character and began to wander, meeting fascinating folks along the way. Like most worlds of its kind, TimeTraveler stopped spinning, but I found other ones, like DruidMuck and QWestMuck. That’s where my longest-living character, Carinah, was born. When QWest stopped spinning in 1994, my friend Mystikite started DelusionsMuck, and asked me to be one of its first Wizards. I accepted, and have been the Wizard of Citizen Relations ever since.
A few years later I branched out to other types of worlds, and role-played on a few, especially Tales of Ta’veren (as Tazendra), ChivalryMUX (as Tiamat and Seadlin), and TrekMOO (as Lhana). Each of those worlds stopped spinning, though, which left me yearning for a creative outlet that combined storytelling and wandering and all of the things I love best.
In 2004, Jopsy told me about Second Life, explaining it as a graphical version of MUDs. I was so attached to text-based worlds that I was skeptical, but I created my avatar, Cygnoir Blanc, and started to explore. I quickly fell in love with SL, enamoured not by how its content creators can manifest surreality, something particularly difficult for me to capture with words when I was still world-building in MUCKs. I have made some wonderful friends as a result of my decade of wandering through SL, and it is the place I consider my virtual home, far more than any other online community. I visit Twitter; I live in Second Life.