Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why a bunny?

In my first two posts, I explained why I choose a "tiny" avatar to represent me in Second Life (SL). Among the personal questions I'm asked in SL, "Why a tiny?" is a common one. Another common question is: "Why a bunny?"

I never gave much thought to rabbits one way or another until the mid-70's.

When I moved to Minnesota in 1975, I had brought a pet gerbil with me. This lone gerbil was the last of a roomful of gerbils I accumulated in Chicago after making the mistake of buying a companion for Taco -- my first gerbil -- because I thought he was lonely. It wasn't long before gerbils begat gerbils begat gerbils. At wit's end, I put a free classified ad in the Chicago Reader: "FREE GERBILS!" As soon as it was published, I started getting calls. Some callers wanted a pet or a small animal for a classroom, but most them asked, "What's a gerbil?" In the end, I kept just one and took him with me when I moved in with friends in South Minneapolis.

One time, when I walked to the nearest pet store for the sole purpose of buying gerbil food, they had baby bunnies there, and frankly, I am a sucker for little furry animals. The bunnies were so small that one could easily sit in the palm of my hand. Resistance was futile. By the time I left the store, I was carrying a tiny bunny, a cage, a bag of litter, a water bottle, a food dish, Purina Rabbit Chow (seriously!), a book about caring for rabbits, and, of course, gerbil food. My hosts, while not exactly pleased, were tolerant, which was good, because after reading the book cover to cover, I embarked on the box-training of the bunny. I named her Joni.

Joni thrived. She took to the box like housecat, and she grew (and grew and grew). And I had a great idea: I should take her down to Lake of the Isles on a leash. What a fantastic way to meet girls! As it happened, I was wrong. I didn't meet any girls at all as a result of having a rabbit on a leash -- but I did meet a lot of little kids.

When British author Richard Adams published his rabbit novel Watership Down, I devoured it. Then I ordered The Private Life of the Rabbit, which Adams had cited as his authority for all his portrayals of rabbit life and behavior. I was hooked.

Eventually, I moved into my own apartment near the University of Minnesota. I situated Joni's box in an appropriate location and gave her run of the place. When I'd come home from classes, as soon as I entered Joni would come running out from wherever she was resting and run in little circles around my feet, making clicking sounds. And she was quite jealous, butting in and making a fuss if I had "company."

Joni moved down to Chicago with me after I finished school. Over the years since then, I've had two other pet rabbits, each of them given to me by parents whose children were no longer interested in caring for them. And while I no longer have a pet rabbit -- I have a cat named Lucy -- I will always have a special place in my heart for bunnies. Moreover, I have a whole collection of bunny-related objects made of wood, jade, china, crystal, mammoth ivory, and more. So it was natural that when choosing among tiny animals for an avatar, I would gravitate toward a rabbit.

That's the long explanation. The short explanation is this: I am convinced that if my soul had a physical appearance, this is what it would look like.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why a tiny? (Part 2)

As I explained in Part 1, I had a problem with people making false assumptions about me based on the appearance of my two human avatars. As a tiny, though, people usually only assume two things about me, both of which happen to be true: First, that I am not a threat, and second, that I am not in SL for sex. Beyond that, if someone wants to know who I am, what I believe, and what my interests, likes, and dislikes are, they have to talk to me. This is as it should be.

People do not feel intimidated by a tiny, the way they might, to use common examples, in the presence of a male human avatar shaped like a wrestler with some prominent tattoos, or a female avatar built like a pornstar and wearing a tight black leather outfit. (This is not to suggest that there aren't human avatars who appear non-threatening and not on the make. Clearly, there are.)

On the sexual side, the gender of tinies is usually determinable from how they dress. The underlying animal avatar is genderless. Sex animations and poseballs do not work with us, since we have neither the "equipment" nor the elbow, wrist, knee, and ankle joints that such animations require. Even so, somebody has seen fit to create tiny BDSM outfits, although I suspect this has more to do with humor than with sex.

Another undeniable benefit of tinyhood is that we tend to be, if I say so myself, adorable. I have no idea what percentage of SL avatars are tiny, but I imagine that it is fairly small, since even an event that draws a large (50+) crowd -- if not tiny-specific -- will have only a couple of tinies in attendance. When I attend such an event, I almost always get at least a couple of instant messages from strangers: "Love your avie!" This does not happen at events that are aimed primarily at tinies, such as those sponsored by the Raglan Shire sims.

As I mentioned in Chapter One, there is also a downside to being tiny. A large part of this lies in the fact that, the vast majority of the time, tinies are not able properly to sit or ride on things that are meant to be sat or ridden upon, and we cannot take advantage of dances and other animations that may be contained in so-called "chims."

The sitting problem inspired me to design a "sitwedge" -- an object shaped like a piece of pie that contained a tiny sit pose. I could put one of these down on any surface on which I could rez an object and have a place to sit. The wedge shape allowed me to rotate it first to the direction I wanted to face while sitting. With Wynx's Tinymatic Lite HUD (or the full Tinymatic HUD, which you can purchase separately), which comes with her tiny avatars, there is no longer a need for such workarounds. There also exists a "tiny pose lock" that allows us to use some objects and animations that ordinarily would cause our folded limbs to pop out. Abranimations sells a large variety of dances specifically made for tiny avatars.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why a tiny? (Part 1)

In addition to the human-looking majority of avatars in the online world called Second Life (SL), there is a tremendous variety of other sizes, shapes, and features that SL denizens can assume. One of these variations is the "tiny."

For the uninitiated, a tiny avatar most often takes the form of a stylized animal that walks on two legs. The term "tiny" derives from the fact that these avatars are typically about one-third the height of the average human avatar. Tinies tend to be mammals -- bunnies, cats, wolves, ferrets, hippos, elephants, tigers, teddy bears, etc. -- but they can also be dragons, birds, reptiles, robots, characters inspired by Japanese anime and manga art, and more.

(In SL, you will also encounter avatars that are small quadruped animals, insects, even objects such as books, but these are not, strictly speaking, "tinies.")

There are significant practical disadvantages to being a tiny, and I will discuss these in Part 2. For now, suffice it to say that tinies in SL are a user-side development that Linden Labs (LL) did not anticipate, and for which they have never made any accommodation in their design. For human avatars who have one or more tinies in their Inventory for occasional use, the hardships are likewise an occasional annoyance. But given those hardships, why do some -- myself included -- choose to be tinies virtually fulltime, with other kinds of avatars in our Inventories for occasional use?

First, let me explain why I chose to be a tiny, and why I have been happy with that choice for well over two years now. (For those of you who have already heard me tell this story, I apologize for the repetition.)

When I arrived in SL, after learning the rudiments of modifying my appearance, I attempted to fashion an avatar that looked as much as possible like the real life (RL) me: an Orthodox Jew of the Hassidic type in his mid-fifties, with a black hat, a black coat, and more grey than brown in my untrimmed beard. I quickly found that others made a number of inaccurate assumptions about me, based solely on my appearance. They tended to assume that I am largely unfamiliar with secular literature, film, music, and art, politically conservative, judgmental, homophobic, feel entitled to more respect than I deserve, and generally not a whole lot of fun to be around.

But I wasn't always Orthodox and Hassidic. For several years, beginning after I graduated from high school, I wasn't religiously observant at all. I grew my hair long, smoked pot and used other drugs, was active in the anti-war movement, went to rock concerts, and leaned toward socialism. Although I long ago cut my hair and abandoned the use of drugs, my political and social ideals today are virtually the same as they were then. Alongside my religious practices and theological studies, I still read a great deal of secular fiction and non-fiction, watch movies, and enjoy a broad range of music.

So I developed a second avatar that looked very much like I did when I was in college: long hair, jeans, tie-dye T-shirts, peace symbols, and a much shorter beard. I would use one or the other of these avatars, depending on where I was and what I was doing. I found that people reacted to the younger avatar, too, with a set of incorrect appearance-based assumptions, albeit very different ones.

There was something schizophrenic about switching back and forth between my older and younger personas, and over my first two or three weeks in SL, I became increasingly dissatisfied. Then I saw my first tiny -- a cat, as it happened -- and I intuitively understood that this was solution to my problem. I bought a Wynx tiny avater-- the Tiny Brown Bunny (which, as it happens, was the first tiny she created) -- and I have never looked back.