Monday, September 21, 2009

I laughed, I cried, it become a part of me: Perceval Dryke and the creation of content that is more than just stuff

Perceval Dryke and his town--Deadwood 1876

There are an astonishing number of people who make stuff for consumption by SL residents: clothing, weapons, furniture and accessories, shapes and skins, structures vehicles, animal pals, and entire immersion environments, as well as music, cultural activities, art, and even ideas somehow expressed through a virtual manifestation.

That was the real genius of those who created the platform--giving the participants the power to say things like, “hey, I really would like to have a Gatling gun that fires flaming chipmunks as projectiles, but nobody is making one that meets my high standards, so by gum, I shall jolly well fabricate one myself.” And then you can go ahead and do it (alas, poor chipmunks).

So literally ANYBODY can do it. Even cyber luddites like me are capable of making SOMETHING (you should see my late 19th century cigar boxes, woohoo!). While most of us may generate a bit of this or that which is moderately useful or amusing, there are those people who contribute something that is really honest-to-Jehozephat outstanding. Some of these people are well known, while, not so much so. Recently, Hamlet Au challenged his readers to submit the names of people who have done brilliant things in-world but are relatively unknown for their contributions. Among the lesser known creators and leaders who were nominated for a bit more recognition, was Perceval Dryke, the guy who is primarily responsible for the part of the world that I play in most often--Deadwood 1876.

I have to concur that Percy deserves more recognition. I can be found most often in Deadwood because I have found it to be so thoroughly entertaining and engaging. Yes, it makes me laugh, I have cried there, I have learned a lot, and it has, in fact, become a part of me.

Percy has done a remarkable job in creating and nurturing something that is not just a very cool place with lovely stuff that you go look at and say “Oh isn’t that extraordinary” and then you wander off to passively consume the next bit of lovely stuff. It is a place you can inhabit and live in even as it evolves and encourages learning, creativity and a sense of community. Now lots of you hearing me make that statement will shrug and no doubt say, “oh, but that’s like a lot of other immersion environments and rp communities on the platform.”

And yes, that is true. There are a lot of places that accomplish these things in some form.

But what Perceval Dryke and his co-owners, Estwee Vansant and Rynn Dryke did when they started the Deadwood 1876 sim a couple years ago, was to take a step beyond what had done in previous role -laying immersion environment sims and take it to level where, as my friend Aldo Stern has said, people can begin to develop a new way in which they come to “understand and interact with their own history.”

Percy was the principal builder of an environment that was designed to recreate the look and feel of the historical Black Hills mining town of Deadwood. It was not a mishmash of prefabs and feeble representations of movie-set western structures--it was a gritty collection of false front buildings of weathered wood, rambling barn-like grand saloons and seedy little booze parlors, mixed with tents and shanties. There were both placer and hard rock mining operations represented, along with necessary but unglamorous features like a laundry, a livery stable, an assay office, provision and hardware stores and a seedy lunch tent. It had a look and feel that was different from other western sims at that time..and unlike most museum-like historical builds then and now--it had life. it wasn’t simply some elaborate build that was plopped down in a finished state to be passively viewed and enjoyed--it was designed for the residents to interact with and to reshape as they came to comprehend more aspects of real life on the western frontier in the 1870s

Perceval and the other owners recruited players and admins who developed a community that experimented with continually evolving social and political structures. They initiated a forum that allowed the community to collect and share both narrative elements and actual historical research. The players were encouraged to learn on their own, to discover and discuss how the real west differed from the mythological one we are so familiar with, and to pursue answers to questions that arose out of the roleplay.

Mind you, this verismo representation of a post-Civil War mining settlement that Perceval and his friends and associates invented, with hog pens out back, laundry drying on lines, mud in the streets, snow in the winter, and raw lumber serving as one of the primary interior decor schemes, (and with the larger part of the non-period vendor activity isolated in an OOC entry area, which at the time was something of an innovation for most history themed sims) could have stood very well on its own as it was. But, like the social and political institutions that the residents developed, the sim itself continued to evolve in an organic and authentic way. Time passed and activities in the sim were connected to actual historical events (the time frame in the sim is now 1878). Shanties and tents were taken down and replaced but more substantial buildings. Civic institutions, such as a church, school and library were added. Single story buildings grew a second floor, while interiors and furnishings became a little more polished looking a bit more comfortable.

People who have stuck with this build for a while have seen it change in a fashion that substantially mirrors how a frontier boomtown would change and be transformed over time.

Even though the town has become more "civilized" in its two years of existence, it still offers a gritty and hard-edged context within which disputes are still sometimes settled by the judicious application of lead and black powder. By the way, speaking of authenticity, the guns that Percy has built lately are scripted to produce a substantial quantity of smoke, such as would have appeared when firing black powder-loaded ammunition.

I would also like to point out that an important element of what went into Perceval’s vision for this build was not just authentic structures. He and others worked on clothing weapons, furnishings, and other bits and pieces of 19th century impedimenta that were more consciously authentic in appearance and function than had been seen previously. And eventually folks including co-owners Rynn and Estwee, along with residents such as Addison Leigh, Astolat Dufaux, Bobby Troughton, Lockmort Mortlock, Marrant Vita, Ernst Osterham, Unwound String, Rod Eun and many others were inspired to generate increasingly realistic, usable content that immensely enriched life within the sim. The roleplay literally set in motion a series of both collective and self-directed learning experiences, and creative output that has given many of us new insights into life in a different time and place.

What would a mining community be without a mine or two? Percy included this interactive underground "hard rock" mining environment where players can go to carry out the difficult work of finding gold. And yes, it's dark, gloomy and easy to get lost in. Can you say "Kon-Tiki?"

What set Perceval on the path to create this opportunity? He is a US Navy veteran, now working in private industry (on a wildly unpredictable schedule, I might add, making his efforts in community building even more remarkable), and has been in SL since the later part of 2006 . While he has not had any direct involvement in the history profession, he has a sincere and abiding fascination for the subject of history which he eventually translated into the inspiration for this and other projects (he has produced some pretty impressive medieval fortifications and armor as well as what he has made for Deadwood.

Is Perceval the greatest builder ever? No, bless his heart, he ain’t. He’s damn good, and his skills have evolved along with the town and it’s various accessories, but he’s still not the best in certain specific categories. For example, his recreations of Colt Navy pistols and other firearms are awful nice and fun to use, but they’re not quite museum-quality 3-D working models like Lockmort or Jasper Kiergarten make. But that’s ok, and I know Percy will be the first to admit that he’s not the be-all and end-all in lots of things. But what is truly special about what he creates is the depth and complexity of his content: structures, accessories and landscaping that form a complete environment full of life AND a new level of historic authenticity, fostered by the sim leadership, the information resources of the forum and the creativity of an enthused core group of players. Plus there is the fact that this package keeps evolving (not just physically growing).

In addition to building an environment, Perceval made authentic furnishings to enhance the look and feel of it. At right are examples of items he made for everyday use in the sim: a model 1875 Remington revolver and a copper miners' lamp

I know from direct experience within the build, the social interaction has not always been pretty or idyllic. Builds like this are not for everyone, especially as they evolve over time. There is an interesting parallel between what has happened in the Deadwood sim as it has become more “civilized,” and the social tensions that were felt in the actual towns of the historical West as the boomtown era faded. In an odd sort of way, it also kind of parallels what is going on in Second Life itself, as the “Wild West” times are passing, and new social, political, legal and economic pressures make themselves felt. Not everyone is going to be happy. A lot of the old giddy spontaneity of a population unhindered by the usual limits of polite society--and the riotous entertainments that once predominated--have faded. And pioneers do move on. But by damn, there have been a hell of a lot of interesting experiments, and I think Percy’s unique vision stands out within the category of historical sims. I really hope I get to see what it is going to lead to next.

If you haven't been to Deadwood 1876 and are interested, even if it's just going to the OOC area and looking at the great vendors there, here's the slurl:


  1. I have similar feelings for 5 people in my SL life (1 of whom I haven't met). Salazar Jack for Cowell, Kahruvel, nova albion & Magellan Linden. Enjah Mysterio & Osprey Therian for The Show Must Go On. TotalLunar Eclipse & Tensai Hilra for Steelhead (I've never actually met Tensai).

    Without these folks, my SL life would be a shit load worse off :)

  2. Hey HB, yeah, I think the similarity here is that these are people who may love to build, but they don't just build and then walk away from it. Not that there is anything wrong with folks who create the Stuff and let it go at that, but there is something special about the kind of folks who create content and then put in something else...heart, humanity, perhaps? Especially those who breathe life into a build that evolves over time.

    I know some of the people of whom you're speaking. I've met Salazar once or twice on an alt and chatted briefly, and while we didn't talk about anything earthshaking, I got this sense that I was speaking with someone who just exuded patience, kindness, and all around decency.

    I know something of Lunar, of course, from some of the discussions we've had here, and he's just one of those people you think of as a Good Guy. I also had the pleasure of speaking with Tensai recently, wearing my news-hound hat, and I think she's going to figure in a post pretty soon. Again, considering her open-hearted nature and even temperment, as one of the Good Guys.

    The grid needs more of this sort of resident.

  3. Yup, you're right about Sal and Lunar (and I'm sure Tensai too) - kind, paitent, open and sharing. Exactly what SL is for me :)

    Os is an instigator (sp?) who creates and brings people along for the ride. I still don't know the extent of all her work in SL. Hell! I doubt she does! :-D

    Enjah is Puck. Enj makes things that are fun, including fun itself. SL needs fun and without Enj, my SL life would be 90% less fun. :)

  4. Very nice, but where's the SLurl to this place? You might want to add it so readers can visit...

  5. Hey hamlet, thanks for looking at the piece, and thanks for the reminder about a slurl. Dammit, that's the kind o 'thing that happens when you're posting this stuff at Oh-dark thirty.

    I went ahead and added it in.

  6. ROBLOX is driven by an ever growing community of over 300,000 creator players who produce an infinite variety of highly immersive experiences.

    These experiences range from 3D multi-player games and contests, to interactive adventures where friends can take on new personas imagining what it feels to be a dinosaur, a miner in a quarry or an astronaut out in space.