Saturday, September 12, 2009

Visiting a literary experiment -- Virtual Macbeth

Addison and I visit the Macbeth sim.

You know how I am continually fascinated by the experiments that people try out in SL. If it's a different, I'll go look at it. So not surprisingly I got excited when Addison Leigh, a friend from Deadwood, recently told me about the build in the Virtual Macbeth sim, called "Foul Whisperings, Strange Matters - A Second Life Treatment of Macbeth." Tonight she took me to see it, and we had a great time.

According to the project website:

"Virtual Macbeth is an island in Second Life which is dedicated to the exploration, adaptation and performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth. The island was designed by Angela Thomas (virtual worlds content designer), Kerreen Ely-Harper (director) and Kate Richards (producer). Funding was provided by Literature Board of The Australian Council for the Arts , and investor partner, the New Media Consortium.

The island is designed with target audiences of Shakespeare afficionados, Secondary and Tertiary educators and their students."

So we went, and it took us a while to get the hang of navigating it (which is part of its appeal, I think--you're not going to get this build if you're a dry-humping moron). But once you do get it, and understand how to navigate and you find all the helpful directions and explanations on the wiki that you are given a link to, it's a fascinating exploration of abstract concepts and themes that are key to understanding and enjoying the play.

It's not what I was expecting, which would have been straightforward recreations of scenes and settings from the play. Instead, it was a tour of the inside of Macbeth's head (literally and figuratively) and the different elements of the build trace his journey into madness and ultimately, his destruction. There are choices to make, different paths to follow, and various surrealist manifestations of abstract ideas, such as a maze, ruins, and a "chamber of blood" in which you take on the the part of the increasingly mad king, striking out at anyone who threatens your power (provided you put on the attachment gizmo you were supposed to pick up from the fountain in the entry area).

Here are Addison and I, lashing out at the apparitions in this particular environment:

There is a throne room environment, but it is not meant as a literal representation of a medieval throne room: it is meant to represent "Macbeth's ego" according to the guide on the wiki, and includes various interactive features and ghosts and a heapin' helpin' of symbolism. It's really fun stuff--very engaging, and you can spend quite a while exploring and figuring things out, and trying different elements of the build. I truly recommend that if you choose to make a visit, you do so with a friend (preferably someone who like yourself, is not a dry-humping moron) so you can enjoy discovering the little surprises of the build together, discussing what this or that thing might mean or represent, and every now and then helping each other out with a shove or a well-timed tp when you get stuck or befuddled (there was point in the maze where I was wishing I had just a teensy bit of C4 to expedite making an exit--though I did get it figured out eventually).

Stylistically the look of the sim is very Bayreuth Opera, 1953: lots of German expressionst and surrealist vocabulary, which I found kind of fun. After all, Shakespeare is, in many ways, very operatic in scope and subject matter, so I thought it fit. And although the notecard instructions at the beginning tell you to keep the environment settings on default (which is night time), if you go ahead and put it on sunset, you get a pretty spectacular effect that enhances the surreal affect of the build.

Parts of the build are actually downright gorgeous in sunset lighting--it really reminds me of stuff my uncle did after WWII when he went to art school on the GI Bill: warm lighting washing over ruins and wind swept landscapes, expressing just a touch of melancholy with maybe a little PTSD thrown in for good measure.

So yes, if you're not an idiot, you probably want to go check this out if you haven't already. And, yeah, I know, it apparently has been up since late last year, but hey, I freely admit that I live most of my life under a freakin' rock, OK?

And if maybe you're going "hey, this is old news..." What can I say? Sorry I didn't tell you about this sooner, but I get around only a little at a time in my travels. So sue me.

Seriously, despite some confusing moments (some of which may have been the result of some of the AV stuff or other bits possibly being borked by SL), I think it's worth a visit and spending some time. Addi and I enjoyed ourselves, and we spent a good hour or so looking around and playing with many of the elements. A lot of thought and effort went into this particular experiment, and I could see it inspiring some other interesting stuff in the future.


  1. I plan to use the phrase "dry-humping moron" in a meeting some time. Soon, if people keep irritating me.

    That looks like a most interesting build (and I had never heard of it, so I thank you for pointing it out). It's always a treat to see a build that uses the 3D environment to augment existing tools (e.g., the wiki)to educate, entertain, or otherwise occupy one's time.

  2. Hey Rhia, yeah, "dry-humping moron" is an incredibly useful phrase and should you find an opportunity to use it in a business meeting, I am quite confident that you will be noticed by your superiors. Depending on the context in which you deploy it, there could be some interesting results.

    But seriously, yeah I was intrigued by the idea of this build and was surprised to find that it had been open since last October. I did some googling to see how well it had been promoted, and it seems that the coverage was a bit light, so I don't think we we should feel too bad about not knowing of it until now.

    That said, it had been mentioned in some blogs and is described at asome lenght on the SL education wiki created by Jokay Wollongong and Sean McDunnough, which is a pretty interesting site. Besiies a lot of the usual SL education stuff everyone knows about like the Info archipeligo and various university sims, they mention some other builds that I think I am going to have to check out before too long.

    And yes, you bring up an important point about what makes the Macbeth build different from a lot of other well-intentioned edu-crap in SL: the fact that the designers of this build actually tried to utilize the 3D enviromment and the various tools of SL (teleporting, flying, animations, etc.) to do something really different and new. And yeah, it's not perfect (what is, after all?), but I think the Virtual Macbeth folks managed to create something that would be challgening to pull off in a bricks and mortar interpretive context. And arguably, that's what really should be done with this type of experiment, to try to creatively employ the technology and not simply use it recreate something that can be done easily or more effectively in meatspace.

  3. I must be under a pebble under you and your stone becaose I haven't heard of it either! Now I must go because a) it looks gorgeous, b) it looks very very interesting, and c) I rather like the Scottish play :)

  4. hey Headburro,
    like I said, take a friend with you! I think you'll have more fun going through it with someone

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