Cover story Misc

Living in a virtual world, making real money

massive multiplayer online role-playing is already one of the most popular
forms of entertainment on the Internet with more than 15 million users in 2006.
It is also a business opportunity whose revenues are expected to reach over a
billion dollars by 2009, according to recent studies.

{mosimage}Second Life
is one of the most popular virtual worlds. It has nothing to do with
interstellar wars or medieval battles. As its name says, Second Life proposes
an alternative life in a virtual 3D world where people (or avatars) meet and
chat, assist in lectures and concerts or do business, buying and selling land
and items. To enter this world one just needs to create a free account through
the website and download a small program. More than two million users have
already done it. The avatars can dress up prettily, flirt with each other or
walk naked in the nudist beach

Since its
launch in 2003, Second Life has attracted the attention of mass media. The BBC
and the New York Times have echoed every day’s happenings in this virtual world
and news agency Reuters has developed the Second Life news center. However,
among bloggers and analysts there is also criticism that has accused Second
Life of just being a hype, since a large percentage of the more than two
million residents do not actively participate in the virtual once the account
is created.


Doing business

Lifers own the virtual goods they create and retain their copyrights. This way,
they can traded in Linden dollars (L$), which have a real world value: around 260
L$ equals 1 US $. Linden dollars are necessary to buy land or to get married (marriage
fee is 10 L$, but divorce gets more expensive, up to 25 L$). Some users are
starting to earn a living from working in the virtual world, for example
through virtual clothing design. The more dramatic voices have already suggested
that the Second Life world could be used as a money laundering centre.

The virtual
world has produced its very own millionaires who have become very wealthy
people in real life. Last year Anshe
(or Ailin Graef) became the first online personality to achieve a net
worth exceeding one million US dollars from profits entirely earned inside a
virtual world. The avatar even made it to the cover of Business Week last May.
Chung made her first stake of money as a virtual escort, and soon moved to
virtual real state. She buys up land in Second Life, develops it (building
houses, adding rivers, mountains, etc) and then rents it or sells it to other
users. It is a continent she named Dreamland.

entrepreneurs and corporations are not always well received in Second Life.
Recently Anshe Chung’s interview with CNET was interrupted due to an attack
with animated items. Some corporate events are met with protests by
placard-waving avatars and the Second Life Liberation Army fights for voting
rights for avatars.

This year
seems to be a milestone in finding out if big business operations in Second
Life can pay off, especially since it recently opened its source code.
Available under the GNU Public License any developer can legally modify the
software. A good bunch of add-ons and bug fixes is expected.


Media circus

August, Suzanne Vega was the first
major recording artist to perform live in Second Life avatar form. Lectures and
cyberclasses are organized by professors and colleges. Newspapers are read and
video and music can be streamed while living in the virtual world.

The game
expands the community possibilities of the web. Gates between the real and the
virtual world can be created with SLurl, link that connect a website with a
location in Second Life. Movies made by second lifers and starring by avatars
are broadcast on popular sites like YouTube and film festivals are organized in
the virtual world. Whether the next generation of supermarket will be a 3D room
on the Internet is still to be seen.


Finland’s own virtual world

{mosimage}With less
hype other virtual world exists and even predating Second Life, in 2000 Finland's
Sampo Karjalainen and Aapo Kyrölä created Hotel Habbo, which has
been expanded to 29 countries already. Around 80% percent of its users are
teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18. Instead of complicated 3D environments,
Habbo uses simple cartoon graphics, creating a pleasant retro look. Users can
create their own character, their rooms in the hotels and even their own
virtual worlds to interact with others.

The rules
are strict in the Hotel Habbo. Conversations and comments in the community pass
through a filter before they appear in the screen. Swearing, racist and sexist
terms are not allowed.

In six years
online, Hotel Habbo has gathered 70 million registered users. Each month 7.5
million unique users visit the hotel and play. Some of these are pretty
popular. In 2005, the band Gorillaz performed a virtual world tour around twelve
Habbo hotels.

Cover story Misc

Uncovering the Underground

{mosimage}Conrad, born in 1940, was in charge of the opening concert at the Kiasma Theatre. In the early sixties he was a seminal figure in the art scene in New York, being part of the legendary Theatre of Eternal Music with John Cale and La Monte Young, among others. Projecting his shadow on a white sheet while playing, he offered an hour-long nonstop piece of improvisation with an electronic violin. His compositions are based on what is known as minimalistic music.

Before the musical performance, the festival showed two of most acclaimed films by Tony Conrad, who graciously chatted about them with the audience. The “structural” short film Articulation of Boolean Algrebra for Film Opticals (1975) is a hypnotic succession of six patterns of alternating black and white stripes imposed upon the full surface of the film strip. In Conrad’s words, the film “literally unifies the optical and sound tracks. Both are the result of a design that follows an algorithmic system of stripes. The scale of the six stripes on the film strip positions them in relation to screen design, flicker, tone, rhythm, and meter, all with octave relationships”. On the other hand, the amusing Cycles of 3’s and 7’s is a sort of musical performance in which the harmonic intervals that would ordinarily be performed by a musical instrument are represented through the computation of their arithmetic relationships or frequency ratios.

{quotes}The festival’s programme was also devoted to rescuing the history of experimental Finnish films and video art.{/quotes} Several screenings were organized all over the weekend to show an array of underground Finnish films since the 1960s. This series of screenings was presented under the name of Sähkömetsä (Electric Forest), which is also the title of an upcoming book from the Finnish National Gallery which aims to document this forgotten story of Finnish filmmaking. Special emphasis was placed on the work of Pasi Myllymäki who showed his experimental works during the 1970s and 1980s in the original Super 8 format.

Following the tradition of tape music concerts, sound reproduction equipment took the stage on Saturday to play original works of Jim O’Rourke, who was a member of Sonic Youth and is responsible for Wilco’s latest sound and success. The festival commissioned and premiered works of O’Rourke and German composer Ralf Wehowsky.

Cover story Misc

Playing Dress-Up

Embroidered panties on top of jeans. Treasures from great-grandmothers’ trunks. Japanese fashion designers. Fox collars. Lacy parasols. Glam rock hairdos and tight, tight jeans.

The Hel Looks exhibition is an off-shoot of a street fashion site that Liisa Jokinen and Sampo Karjalainen created in 2005. The mission of their project is to portray stylish, original and individual dressers from Helsinki. Currently the site features 400 photographs.

Jokinen says the idea for Hel Looks developed during her bike rides to work in the spring of 2005. The first photographs were taken in July, after a trip to Stockholm. “We realised that street fashion in Helsinki is actually much more diverse and interesting than in Sweden. {quotes}Stockholmians are fashionable, but in Helsinki people look more original{/quotes},” she says.

But why traipse around Helsinki streets and clubs, take hundreds of photographs and post them online? On their website, Jokinen and Karjalainen say that they want to encourage people to dress individually and create their own styles, and to promote emerging Finnish designers. However, the main reason is that Helsinki-dwellers look great, they say.

{mosimage}The staff at Jugendsali say that craft teachers particularly have taken to the exhibition. Not a day goes by without a group of school children visiting. Expect a new generation of stylish dressers! The Hel Looks exhibition is a source of craft inspiration indeed. Jokinen and Karjalainen’s subjects refuse to make do with what chain stores and fashion magazines offer them. They create their own styles with second-hand and vintage clothing, and have no fear of modifying and customising.

In her portrait, Anni, 14, shows off her revamped shoes. “I bought my shoes from a shop and decorated them with pearls. When you make clothes yourself or customize them, you get exactly the clothes you want,” she says. And who says boys don’t sew? “I bought a jeans jacket for 50 cents from the recycling center, cut off the sleeves, dyed it, added the patches and made this vest out of it. My mother bought the jeans for me and I took the seams in to make them smaller. I don't go to shops,” says 15-year old Heikki.

In the age of big clothing chains with even bigger logistics operations, you can buy the same dress or shirt in almost any major city in the world. However, you don’t have to, and Hel Looks showcases people who don’t. Small labels spring up from basement workshops and self-taught seamstresses create unique designs. Fashion is no longer created only in Paris. Tokyo attracts Jokinen more, however. In fact, Hel Looks was initially modelled after Fruits, a Japanese street fashion magazine by Shoichi Aoki. “You have to admire the sense of style of the Japanese, but both Japanese and Finns have their own styles and that is good – it isn’t obvious anymore, as mainstream fashion becomes more and more uniform,” Jokinen says.

At its best, dressing up brings a bit of art and whimsy into every morning. “Dressing up is entertainment for me. I never take it too seriously even if I can spend hours thinking about clothes. It is a hobby and lifestyle that I couldn't live without,” says Minna, 25. Jokinen agrees: “Dressing up means having fun, being creative and playing. I don’t want to take fashion deathly seriously. Lots of things can be fashionable right now, in their own way.”