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National Portrait Gallery in Second Life

There hasn’t been an enormous fanfare about the launch of the National Portrait Gallery’s doppelganger exhibition in Second Life, but there probably deserves to be. For its first foray into virtual worlds, the Gallery has created an impressive exhibition that beautifully showcases the power of digital artwork.

I asked the architect of the exhibition, Greg More (SL: Dynamo Zanetti) to explain each of the exhibits, which he kindly agreed to do. Greg is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT. Since 2002 he’s been primarily engaged in the use of 3D, realtime environments for architecture design visualisation. The RMIT’s island in SL, for RMIT architecture and interior design students, came into existence in early 2007. Greg also happens to be the driving force behind OOM Creative, a local virtual worlds design consultancy

iMirror

Artist: Cao Fei

It seems natural for an exhibition like this to feature machinima, and it’s certainly a striking one that is being shown. Superficially, it’s a montage of Second Life residents’ faces, but the overall effect is much greater.

Greg: “Developed for the Venice Bienale 2007, this is the only work in the show that wasn’t developed specifically for Portrait Island. Space designed to envelope the viewer into a screen experience, and also marks the limits of the landparcel supporting the streaming video.”

CodePortraits

Artist: Patrick Lichty

Aside from the vivid ‘Last Supper’ portrait, which is alone worth a visit, there are also QR codes for each of the portrait subjects, readable by smart phones with the appropriate software installed.

In CodePortraits we can extract these representations from their native environment via Quick Response codes which enable us to watch his archive of footage on our own mobile devices. Viewing these videos on a portable device, that can be played anywhere, at any time, reminds us of the photographs of loved ones and family that we may keep in our wallets, or the earlier tradition of the cameo.

Another fascinating mix of digital media with more traditional imagery.

temporary self portrait in preparation for the singularity

Artist: Andrew Burrell.

The largest work in the exhibition, it’s difficult to provide an explanation of its scope and purpose that’s better than the one provided by the artist himself. In short, the exhibit is a virtual device offering a glimpse of the narratives of the artist’s life, “both remembered and imagined”:

Each of the cubic nodes within the device can forge new connections with its neighbours creating a navigable network of narratives to which the viewer is given access through text and image. The work questions the site of the self and its relationship to the narratives of memory.

Autoscopia

Artists: Adam Nash, Christopher Dodds and Justin Clemens

I have to admit this was probably the exhibit that fascinated me the most. The Autoscopia website explains it nicely, but essentially you enter a phrase such as your Second Life name, and you receive (after a wait) a link to a detailed profile of yourself as found on the internet more widely. Try it for yourself and you’ll likely be surprised with the results.

Autoscopia’s portraits are built using data from internet-based ‘vanity searches’ conducted within the Second Life installation. Each name creates a unique outcome composed of 27 ‘limbs’. Each limb is fed data from websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter etc, with colours, geometry and audio affected by variations in search volume. Data is then re-published via discrete web pages automatically composed through snippets of text and images collected during the search

iGods

Artist: Gazira Babeli

The experience of entering iGods can be a little disconcerting. The Greek temple exterior contrasts against the impressive experience of having your avatar transposed onto one of the seven ‘sins’ on the inside:

Move a little closer and the clones come to life, morphing into the appearance of the observer’s avatar; replicating their image back at them. Gaz’s hall of mirrors reminds us that, in Second Life, DNA is code and in virtual worlds this code can be replicated or borrowed. This unnerving experience exposes fears associated with identity theft and the often reluctant realisation of personal identification with one’s avatar.

The Wrap

According to Greg, the main approach for the exhibition, and the build, is not to replicate existing notions of portraiture or exhibition space. “Gill Raymond, the curator, set a really open brief for the project, and luckily on my advice we developed the space over a couple of phases, allowing for the environment to evolve, accomodate the artists developing the work, and tie things together with the website content”.

Feedback from visitors to date has apparently been enthusiastic, with a significant cohort of visitors spending more than an hour interacting with the exhibits. Kudos to the National Portrait Gallery for their investment in the exhibition. Alongside the ACVA initiative and the momentum built by the University of Western Australia’s Art competitions in Second Life, it’s fair to say that Australian art in the virtual world is an incredibly lively part of the wider art community.

Check it out in-world

Popularity: 1% [?]

UWA Art 3D Art and Design competition: December 2009 winners

The University of WA’s 3D Art and Design competition continues its significant momentum, with the December 2009 winners now announced. The full announcement below, plus you can view pictures of all the entrants on the UWA in SL blog.

As on of the finalist judges, each month makes me more nervous as I realise the depth of talent amongst the artists that have submitted so far. As always, have a look for yourself - the range of art and sculpture is astounding. The December round saw more than 70 entries across the different categories, so it’s an understatement to say there’s lots of interest.

The winners announced:

Igor Ballyhoo & Patch Thibaud truimph in DECEMBER ROUND of UWA 3D Art & Design

Two incredible works took out top honours in the December Round of the UWA 3D Art & Design Challenge announced on the 10th of January at the University of Western Australia’s IMAGINE Challenge Art Platform. On the tie-breaker ‘Chaos In Order’ by Igor Ballyhoo took the top IMAGINE art prize over Anyunie Daviau’s ‘Araucaria Artist Book’ (which won the Artist Book Prize), and renowned architect Patch Thibaud’s submission called ‘UWA Cultural Precinct Nexus’ beat all comers and set a new standard for the FLAGSHIP Challenge.

Igor also took the People’s Choice Award in another close battle that saw over 300 votes cast. This time it was neck and neck with ‘The Cub Rescue’ by Really Scrabblebat and came down to the final hour of voting. An amazing double by Igor, becoming the first to top both categories!

Stunned by the awards win, Igor said, ” I thank all people that voted for my work and I thank the amazing J.S. Bach for inspiration”

The Flagship Build of Patch Thibaud is true masterpiece and has already received a lot of attention in architecture circles. Frolic Mills, a judge for the Grand Prize and CEO of BOSL & CO said, “Patch has been an inspiration to many here in Second Life: From his first build, ‘The Best of SL Boulevard’ to ‘Ciudad de Mexico’ he has received outstanding critics even from people like SL CEO: Mr. M Linden. But what is trully remarkable about his University of Western Australia enty is that Patch was able to build something that can totally be executed in Real Life and that fits right in with the purposes of the University. I would love to see this art gallery come to life in the real world some day! Well done Patch and congratulations!”

Commenting after his win, Patch said, “The University of Western Australia is doing a wonderful thing, in their Flagship Challenge, for architecture in Second Life. The idea of encouraging creations in SL that could be used for a real world building is an innovative and exciting use of Second Life as a design tool, and further strenghthens the relationship of SL with real world applications. And I think the inclusiveness and openness of the process is an inspired and fertile platform for encourageing the arts in SL in general.”

The build can be seen here through the end of January: http://slurl.com/secondlife/University%20of%20WA/70/128/1999

A record total of 69 entries were submitted for the IMAGINE challenge for December and 5 entries to the FLAGSHIP. Professor Ted Snell, Director of the UWA Cultural Precinct (RL), Chair of the judging panel, had this to say about the entries this month:

“The range of works submitted in December was extremely impressive with a much larger number of entries moving on from technical competence in rendering images and objects to speak with an original voice and engage audiences in a conceptually challenging and intellectually rewarding encounter. The winning works were reflective and thought provoking, using the medium as a means of exploring ideas and concepts rather than merely re-presenting borrowed images or reworking existing concepts. They remain vividly in your memory after the screen has been switched off.

The architectural winner displayed a high level of sophistication and combined extraordinary technical competence with intellectual rigour and practicality. ”

At this point, the Challenge has reached 6 continents of the world, with only Antarctica out of the mix. Canada, the USA, the UK, Scotland, England, Spain, Italy, France, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Serbia, Tunisia, Germany, Japan and Australia are all represented!

A number of other awards were also presented including the the ‘Best Non-Scripted Art’ prize taken by Sistagrlro Wei with ‘Black Soils Plains Running Through My Veins’. Other winners included Miso Susanowa, Jedda Zenovka, Nyx Breen, Scottius Polke, LollyPop Congrejo, Asmita Duranjaya and Oldoak Merlin.

The competition is now receiving entries for the month of January. Location is http://slurl.com/secondlife/UWA/64/132/250

A new prize has also been added to the IMAGINE Challlenge, and this is ‘The Casey Cultural Award’, which encourages artists and builders in all disciplines to research Western Australian historic OR contemporary Culture and present a piece which demonstrates aspects of Western Australian culture, ecomony or society.

A Machinima Challenge with a L$60,000 1st prize, closing on the 31st of January has also been announced.
http://uwainsl.blogspot.com/2009/12/machiniuwa-uwa-machinima-challenge.html

WINNERS FOR THE DECEMBER ROUND

Imagine Challenge 1st Prize: ($L5,000 + Custom T-Shirt)
CHAOS IN ORDER by Igor Ballyhoo

Imagine Challenge 2nd Prize: ($L1,250)
AURACARIA ARTIST BOOK by Anyunie Daviau

Best Non-Scripted Entry: ($L1,250 + Custom T-Shirt)
BLACK SOIL PLAINS RUNNING THROUGH MY VEINS by Sistagrlro Wei

Honourable Mention Prize for TECHNICAL BRILLIANCE (L$500)
VECTOR BEEHIVE by Scottius Polke

Honourable Mention Prize for SERENITY (L$500)
RADIANT STALLIONS by Miso Susanowa

Honourable Mention Prize for MESSAGE (L$500)
SPRAY ADDICT by LollyPop Congrejo

Honourable Mention Prize for BODY OF WORK (L$500)
WORKING FOR YOU & ME, DEVOTIONAL TRINITY & MECHANICAL BIRDS by Oldoak Merlin

Honourable Mention Prize for IMMERSION (L$500)
HEART SEED by Jedda Zenovka

FLAGSHIP CHALLENGE – BUILDING DESIGN

Flagship Challenge 1st Prize : ($L5,000)
UWA CULTURAL PRECINCT NEXUS by Patch Thibaud

Flagship Challenge 2nd Prize: ($L1,250)
FUTURELab by Nyx Breen

ARTIST BOOK PRIZE

Artist Book 1st Prize : ($L2,000)
AURACARIA ARTIST BOOK by Anyunie Daviau

Artist Book 2nd Prize: ($L500)
ASMITA’s PHILOSOPHICAL BOOK DISPLAY by Asmita Duranjaya

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD (L$500)
CHAOS IN ORDER by Igor Ballyhoo

Popularity: 1% [?]

UWA 3D Art and Design Challenge – November round winners

uwa-nov2009-winnerThe latest round of winners in the University of Western Australia’s 3D Art and Design Challenge have been announced. The momentum of this competition continues to grow, with a huge number of entries and the addition of Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon to the final judging panel.

All the details on the November winner from Jayjay Zifanwe:

Glyph Graves & Silene Christen take the NOVEMBER Awards by Storm

A sublime submission called ‘Tendrils‘ by the jewel in the crown of Australia, Glyph Graves took out top spot for the IMAGINE Challenge for the november round of the UWA 3D Art & Design Competiton. Not to be outdone, some incredible work by Silene Christen of the Balears Islands in Spain saw her winning the top non-scripted IMAGINE entry for ‘Jackob’s Stairs’ as well as the FLAGSHIP Challenge, where the challenge is to build and Art Gallery that could perhaps be built. With this, Silene became the first person to win the major prizes in both the IMAGINE & FLAGSHIP categories.

A total of 58 entries were submitted for the IMAGINE challenge for November and 7 entries to the FLAGSHIP challenge of the University of Western Australia’s 3D Art & Design Competiton. Co-hosts Jayjay Zifanwe and quadrapop Lane were astounded by the rise in entries month to month and the also how the entries coming in were spread across the globe, with artists and builders taking from Canada, the USA, the UK, Scotland, England, Spain, France, Brazil, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, Tunisia, Germany and Australia.

With the year long competition growing from strength to strength, it was announced during the award ceremony that the judging panel for the Grand Prize which already included Second Life personalities from the art, architecture & journalism world, including Frolic Mills, Will Dreadlow, Sasun Steinback, Lowell Cremorne and White Lebed was boosted by the CEO of Linden Labs, M Linden joining the panel!

An artist book prize was also awarded for the month of November. This was won by Oldoak Merlin for his work Offenes Buch (Open Book). Book prize panel chair, Juanita Deharo commenting on the piece said ‘The words and print won’t stay on the page but float and swirl, sometimes forming words, sometimes not. The work asks us to consider the nature of words, story and text, while staying within the known bounds of ‘bookness’. The dedication to Ramon Llull gives us an indication of the creator’s intent. It is a very well concieved and aesthetically pleasing work that operates on a number of levels, and is well deserving of the prize.

Commenting on his win, Glyph said ‘There was a lot of high quality work in this month so I wasnt expecting anything. My piece, Tendrils is a portrait of a person … both closed and open to the world showing a different facet of themselves depending on who and how many are around them. Theres an undocumented feture that I’m not sure many saw .. the sphere will change colour depending on how many people are inside it. Oh and of course it sends out tendrils .. of sound and colour’

Stunned by the double award, Silene said, ‘I’m happy, and surprised. Suprised for several reasons. Jackob’s Stairs is..very conceptual very ..in my style..and I didn’t think it would be ‘in vogue’ in SL at the moment. So I was really suprised. The FLAGSHIP prize… well, this is an honour. To see people dancing and walking and looking at the things in it makes me feel … extremly happy. I made things for people, and is very great for a builder to see poeple using them::)))’

A number of other awards were also preented including the People’s Choice Award taken by Dusty Canning’s ‘Letting off Steam’. Other winners included Miso Susanowa, Jedda Zenovka, Sledge Roffo, RAG Randt, Sabrina Nightfire, Nyx Breen and Ichiko Miles who took 2nd prize in both the Imagine Challenge and the SArtist Book prize (full list below).

The competition is now receiving entries for the month of December. Location is http://slurl.com/secondlife/UWA/64/132/250

WINNERS FOR THE NOVEMBER ROUND

IMAGINE CHALLENGE – 3D Art
1st Prize: Tendrils by Glyph Graves ($L5,000 + Custom T-Shirt)
2nd Prize: Consolation of Philosophy of Ichiko Miles ($L1,250)
Best Non-Scripted Entry: Jackobs Stairs by Silene Christen ($L1,250 + Custom T-Shirt)

Honourable Mention (Simple Beauty): Budding by Sledge Roffo ($L500)
Honourable Mention (A Short History of Everything): Offenes Buch / Open Book by Oldoak Merlin ($L500)
Honourable Mention (Immersion): Sweet Sid & the Singing Sidlets by Jedda Zenovka ($L500)
Honourable Mention (Behind the Veil): Primary Emotions by RAG Randt ($L500)
Honourable Mention (Atmosphere): Turbulence by Sabrinaa Nightfire ($L500)

FLAGSHIP CHALLENGE
1st Prize : Art Galery by Silene Christen ($L5,000)
2nd Prize: FUTURELab by Nyx Breen ($L1,250)

ARTIST BOOK PRIZE
1st Prize : Offenes Buch / Open Book by Oldoak Merlin ($L2,000)
2nd Prize: Consolation of Philosophy of Ichiko Miles ($L500)

THE EXCALIBUR AWARD (for new / returning artists)
Miso Susanowa: 1000 prims in perpetuity at Excalibur Aquitaine compliments of Phillip Vought

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
Letting off Steam by Dusty Canning ($L500)

—-

With thanks to iono allen (via the UWA blog), here’s a machinima of a number of the November works:

The University of Western Australia 3D Art & Design Challenge from iono_allen on Vimeo.

Popularity: 1% [?]

UWA 3D Art and Design Challenge – October round winners

uwa-art-oct09-1st A fortnight or so ago we covered the great work being done by the University of Western Australia in Second Life. One of the centrepieces of their activity is the 3D Art and Design Challenge, with the October winners now announced.

You can see all the finalists here, but here’s the summary:

IMAGINE CHALLENGE – 3D Art

1st Prize:Willow by Bryn Oh ($L5,00
2nd Prize: Holophrasis by Snubnome Genopeak ($L1,250)
Best Non-Scripted Entry: Concentric Shells by Ichiko Miles ($L1,250)

Honourable Mention (Emotion): In Uterus/Pregnant First Record by Silene Christen ($L500)
Honourable Mention (Harmony): Living in Syn by Maya Paris ($L500)
Honourable Mention (Immersion & Application): Come Go With Me by Alizarin Goldflake ($L500)
Honourable Mention (Hidden Wonder): Beauty/Beast by Feathers Boa ($L500)

FLAGSHIP CHALLENGE

1st Prize : Sci-Fi Gallery by Nyx Breen ($L5,000)
2nd Prize: Art Gallery by Dusty Canning ($L1,250)

For those interested in the real detail of what UWA is doing, Jayjay Zifanwe’s speech announcing the winners is worth perusing. I’m really thrilled to be on the final judging panel for the competition and the UWA team have done a brilliant job in building some real interest in its activities through encouraging one of Second Life’s real strengths: creative expression.

Jayjay’s speech:

Greetings everyone, and welcome to the University of Western Australia, or UWA as she is known and also welcome to the October Round announcement of winners for the UWA 3D Art & Design Challenge. As is tradition at UWA, I would like to acknowledge that the University is situated on Nyoongar land and that the Nyoongar people remain the spiritual and cultural custodians of their land and continue to uphold their values, languages, beliefs and knowledge.

I am so happy to see all of you here today. You honour us with your presence, and we have also been honoured by the incredible, varied and wondrous artworks submitted by the artists of Second Life for this round, with a total of 40 artworks and 11 building designs.

Artists & Builders taking part so far have come from Canada, the USA, the UK, Scotland, England, Spain, France, Brazil, Denmark, Holland and Australia.

Before going on, I would like for everyone to give a big round of applause to a tireless champion of the arts, the person most responsible for everything we see all around us now, and co-host of the UWA 3D Art & Design challenge, quadrapop Lane !!!

I also want to acknowledge the Cultural Precinct at the University of Western Australia and ShedworX.com and www.etshirts.com who have all contributed such that the total prize pool for the UWA 3D Art & Design Competition is sitting at well over $L357,000.

Something new for November only at the moment, is that an Artist Book Prize is being awarded. Juanita Deharo who owns Second Edition group is offering a L$2000 prize for an ‘artist book’ . “An artists’ book is an artwork in a book format, or an artwork which has its origin in the form or concept of the book.” You can interpret this in any way you want. This prize may be ongoing. All entries to the IMAGINE CHALLENGE that have conceptual roots in a book will be considered for the Artist Book Prize.

The special Artists Participation Pool that had been established, raised $L6,000 for the artists participating in the October round. I want to acknowledge the generosity of Sasun Steinbeck, Tranguloid Trefoil & Phillip Vought whose contributions form the bedrock of this pool.

I would however like to quickly acknowledge evryone who did contribute. Please forgive me for this long list, but it is important to me to acknowledge them!

Thank you MidnightRain Glas, Jesse Keyes, Lady Caitlyn Inglewood, Dusty Canning, Juliete3D Quinzet, Kayo Houston, Ichiko Miles, Lubnatsi Papp, Rae Larkham, Mab MacMoragh, Tweetie Birdbrain, Mrs Brandi, Genivieve Caproni, Briarmelle Quintessa and Bacon Hellershanks

As described previously all artists who submit a genuine entry (not a block of plywood) and who do not receive one of the main prizes, will receive a share of what has been contributed to the donation jar for that month. Nothing is being kept for the land tier, 100% will go back to artists.

I know the amount is not a whole lot, but following this months total contributions, all participating artists who are not one of the main prize winners will receive $L220 for the October round. I know for a few it will be the first time they received Lindens based on an art creation by them, and for the vetrans, I am sure this can be out to you in furthering the cause art or helping others in need!

This was reset today, and the pool restarted with $L4,000

Also, something else new that was initiated a week ago is A People’s Choice Award, along with the judges categories. We hope to give this award every month. Voting panel will go up each month for the days between the closing of the month’s entries and the announcement of the winners. The panel will be just along the pathway between the main entry landmark and this platform holding the IMAGINE entries. You register your vote by touching the image of the work you like best – one vote per person. This award is a fun award with a $L500 prize.

I would like also to acknowledge the members of the judging panel. On the panel were:
1. Professor Ted Snell (RL) – Director, Cultural Precinct, The University of Western Australia
2. Frank Roberts (RL) – The University Architect, The University of Western Australi
3. John Barret-Lennard (RL) – Curatorial Director, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery
4. Raphaella Nightfire (SL) – CEO of the Evane Model Agency, CEO of the SW&MB Fashion Productions, Seniorr Writer for Best of SL Magazine, Owner Sanctorum Gallery
5. Tranguloid Trefoil (SL) – Owner of WASP at the University of Western Australia
and yours truly

The panel for the Grand Prize will be an expanded one and will include:
1. Frolic Mills – Best of Second Life & CO CEO
2. Sasun Steinbeck – artist, scripter, and maintainer of the Art Galleries of SL list at http://sasun.info/ArtGalleriesofSL.aspx
3. Wil Dreadlow, ICON Lifestyle Magazine CEO & Publisher
4. Lowell Cremorne, Owner of The Metaverse Journal

On the panel for the Artist Book Prize, are:
1. Juko Tempel – Australian living in Paris. Librarian, photographer, linguist, educator and collector of new media art.
2. Victor Vezina – Journalist, artist, writes weekly column on digital toys and virtual worlds for Guardian newspaper, London. Gallery owner, experimental artist, art collector in SL.
3. Juanita Deharo – Gallery owner, Art educator, professional artist specialising in artist books, small sculptures, printmaking.
and yours truly

I apologize for the long speech. Now to announce the winers. The winers will be announced in 1 minute intervals. We do invite everyone to comment and congratulate the winners and for the winners to respond before the next announcement. Winners also please do ensure you get a photo of you and your artwork taken by quadrapop before you go. This will go into the UWA in Second Life Blog and a number of other journals and blogs. http://uwainsl.blogspot.com/

A lot of images of the artworks and buildings are also up on KOINUP (with thanks again to the expert camerawork of quadrapop) http://www.koinup.com/UWAinSL/works/

4 Honourable mention prizes have been awarded by the Judging panel for October for the IMAGINE challenge.

The Honourable Mention prize of $L500 for EMOTION is awarded to:
‘In Uterus/Pregnant First Record’ by SILENE CHRISTEN

The Honourable mention prize of $L500 for HARMONY is awarded to:
‘Living in Syn’ by MAYA PARIS

The Honourable Mention prize of $L500 for IMMERSION & APPLICATION, is awarded to:
‘Come Go With Me’ by ALIZARIN GOLDFLAKE

The Honourable Mention Prize of $L500 for HIDDEN WONDER, is awarded to:
Beauty/Beast by FEATHERS BOA

Next we move to the newly established People’s Choice Award which carries a prize of $L500. It was very very very hard for people selecting to only choose one single work. It was extremely close, and almost impossible to seperate, but in the end, by a nose…. the award goes to:
Drill by GINGER GRUT

Next we move to the 2nd overall prive for the IMAGINE Challenge. There were an incredible array of remarkable entries, and it was very difficult for the judges to seperate. After long consultation, the 2nd prize ($L1,250) was awarded to:
Holophrasis by SNUBNOSE GENOPEAK

Failing by a whisker to defend his win from the September round!

Next is the prize for Best Non-Scripted Entry ($L1,250). There were a number of very interesting pieces, but the one that caught the judges eye the most and to whom this prize is awarded is:
Concentric Shells by ICHIKO MILES

Now, we go to the 2nd Prize for the FLAGSHIP CHALLENGE (L$1,250). There were 11 submissions for this challenge for October, and a number of fascinating ideas. Again a close battle among the top 4 entries…… after much deliberation, 2nd Prize was awarded to:
Art Gallery by DUSTY CANNING

Can everyone please set land to midnight, and CAM to look at the front area and balloons from a distance.

Now for one of the overall winner prizes. Again,as mentioned, very little seperated them the art… as all of you can see…. so many deserving of honour, but in the end, the judges decided that winner for the October Round of the UWA 3D IMAGINE Challenge (L$5,000) is :
Willow by BRYN OH

Willow has a secret, that I hope all of you managed to find :)

The final prize for the day, is the winner of the FLAGSHIP CHALLENGE (L$5,000) for October. Now we had the fireworks for the winner of IMAGINE, but we are going to go party at the location of the winner after the announcement, as quadrapop Lane will reveal a special TP panel to take us there where there will be music and dance with our wonderful DJ, Briana Spires (and I ask all of you to please look after her for me). And so, the winner of the FLAGSHIP CHALENGE for October is:
Artstractions Gallery by NYX BREEN

With that the official parts of today have come to a conclusion. We already ahve 15 artworks submitted for November, please do start submitting your works for the November round, and letting your friends know about the competition.

quad can you please reveal the TP panel, winners please find quad, and have your photo taken with your artworks & buildings. Everyone please join us for the party :)

Popularity: 1% [?]

Beautiful Kate – screenings move outside the capital cities

Just a quick heads-up for those living outside Australian capital cities, interested in seeing Beautiful Kate. There are now screenings in a range of other towns and cities throughout Australia. For example, Event Cinemas (formerly Greater Union) now have sessions schedule over the coming couple of weeks for Wollongong and Newcastle in addition to capital Darwin. Albury-Wodonga has been screening the film recently as well.

You’ll need to check your local cinema guides to determine times and availability, but it’s good to see a little wider distribution of the film. Still no word on international release dates at this stage. For those new, here’s a brief snippet of the Second Life scene in Beautiful Kate:

For those who have seen the movie, we’re always keen to hear your thoughts, or whether you agree with our assertion that the movie as a whole is an impressive piece of art.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Dark Siren: Part 5

Dark Siren CoverIt’s time for the final part of the Dark Siren serialisation. This takes the story up to the Chapter 10. Don’t forget you can see Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here.  If you like what you read, please do support an up and coming author and buy the full book as a PDF here for only US $7.95. Payments are accepted via PayPal or credit card.

A big thanks to Clifford Wycliffe for letting us run this serialisation. It’s a novel deserving of success and I have no doubt that’s just what it’ll achieve.

Chapter 9

Nez took of his jacket and hung it around the back of his chair. Learning to play Avataria like an old hand felt like a daunting task, and it was. One redeeming factor was that thousands of new residents were joining Avataria every week, so provided he could master the basics he shouldn’t stand out too much from the crowd. On the other hand, his aim of joining the AvPost as a freelancer wouldn’t succeed if he failed to persuade the Editor that he had a good working knowledge of the place and some new angles on stories about the citizens. He was also acutely aware that if he posed as a journalist he would have to write and converse lucidly. Then again, he could always say he’d worked for Hello! magazine.

Lauren’s first outing seemed to be going well. Once Nez had mastered the use of the page up and down keys to propel her around, he began to relax and enjoy himself. The first thing he noticed was that there didn’t seem to be too many other avatars around, although what few there were certainly reacted positively to Lauren’s seductive sashay. On Nathan’s advice he visited a few clubs, although these too appeared to be mostly empty as it was too early in the day for serious business both in the U.S. and Europe. Hardcore clubbers rarely surfaced before 11pm.

After several hours had elapsed and Nathan hadn’t returned, he ambled down the corridor in search of something to eat. Just off the Nursery he found what he was looking for, although it resembled a small boutique café rather than the institutional canteens he was used to.  The young man behind the counter was just shutting up for the day, and cheerfully offered Nez what food was left: sushi, zucchini, tofu, brown rice and a black bean salad, all washed down with organic orange juice or herbal tea. Nez grimaced, but took the free food over to a corner table where he’d spied a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lunch over, on his way back to the room where he and Nathan had been working he was met by Bremer.

“Frank, there you are. I came down to see how you were getting on. I’ve got everything that you asked for.”

The two men carried on to Bremer’s office, where some more coffee was ordered and the door securely closed. Bremer settled back in his chair.

“This is one aspect of my job that I really hate. No disrespect to you Frank, but the thought of all this information on our own citizens being mined by the agencies gives me the creeps. Sure, our country must be protected, but do we have to totally undermine our civil liberties in the process? Your case has merit, but some of the requests I get here are glorified fishing trips. Anyway, lecture over. Here it is.”

Bremer passed over a CD to Nez and continued, referring again to his notebook.

“You realise that we don’t ask for street addresses, so the only real way you can get an accurate fix on those names is by tracing their credit cards. IP Addresses are useful, but aren’t really enough by themselves, and in any case some of the griefing fraternity use anonymisers.”

Nez interrupted: “I understand how anonymisers hide the IP addresses, but what in God’s name is a griefer?”

Bremer laughed. “I can tell you don’t play computer games on the net. A griefer is usually a player who doesn’t stick to the rules and gets pleasure from messing up things for everyone else. Don’t you remember the Avataria property developer and the flying penis affair? That was in all the papers.”

Nez shook his head. “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”

Bremer continued: “OK… as I was saying… on the CD you’ll find detailed chat logs, but don’t get too excited – we only keep these for two weeks so they may be of limited use. You’ll also find printouts of their public profiles which you may have already, plus the date when they first logged on.”

“First of all – Ariana McDowell, the Avataria alias of your villain Kyrylo. A big let-down. As you thought, he disabled the chat logs so there’s no information there, and the email address amcdowell@hotmail.com is, well, just a Hotmail address. He gave his real name as Ann Doe, and the only thing we can say with certainty is that she befriended Carmen Verne on November 7th last year and Menuti a few days later. She did seem to be into BDSM though. There’s a bondage group called Hellfire Inc. to which she, Menuti, and interestingly, the AvPost Features Editor Roxy Ryder belong. But all the activity on Ariana’s account stopped on the day of the Sydney raid you mentioned.”

“Second – the boys Ginger Stallion and Blow Dailey. As you correctly inferred from their profiles they’re in-world male escorts, and judging from their email addresses are students at UCLA in real life. The groups they’ve listed in their profiles give an indication of where they usually hang out: gay bars and BDSM parlours. On the positive side their credit card numbers are on file.”

“Now. Our friend Mr. Menuti has an email address at Yahoo, which is a little odd when you consider he’s supposed to be an executive. Joined in 2005, no credit card information at all, and when he logs in he rarely strays beyond the AvPost offices and a skybox in a residential sim called The Garden of Lust. He’s an advertising manager, but he never seems to visit potential clients. I have to say this is unusual behaviour, especially with rusted on business types.”

“The fourth name – Carmen Verne, the Editor of the AvPost – has been doing the job for two years, and she’s been a resident for as long as Menuti. No mystery about her real life name – Melissa Thurmann – she’s got credit card info on file and there’s even a real picture of her in her profile. I’d say she’s kosher.”

“What about her colleague, Roxy Ryder?”

Bremer glanced down at his notebook. “She’s been in Avataria for over two years, and spends all she earns at the Post on clothes. According to the info on file, she’s Roberta Harding with an email address at a community college in Houston, Texas.”

“Now we get to the interesting bit. I’ve been doing a little detective work here.”

Nez leaned forward in his chair in anticipation.

“There is another name – Joss Guest – which appears in the friends lists of both Ginger Stallion and Blow Daley. Nothing unusual, you might say. Could just be a regular client/friend/relative – whatever. Well, it could, but not with a real owner called Jack Gallagher.” He paused for effect.

“Senator Jack Gallagher, you mean?” said Nez, trying to sound unconcerned and neutral.

“Yeah. And how do I know it’s Gallagher the Democratic Senator and not any old itinerant Irishman?”

“Tell me.”

“Because three months ago, Senator Jack Gallagher became the first major league politician to set up his campaign office in Avataria. You must have read about it in the press.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Now he was given dispensation to use his own name to log into Avataria with – a $1000 privilege he paid for with a credit card. He certainly didn’t use the name Joss Guest, and he filled out the application form online like anyone else. So when I saw that name I went back through the records and checked. Not only are the credit card numbers the same, but so are the email addresses: jackgallagher@globelink.com.”

Nez digested this information silently, instantly aware of the implications and repercussions that could ensue if it became public knowledge. Bremer however was ahead of him.

“I know, I know. You don’t have to say anything. My lips are sealed. You and I are the only people who know about this so far. Of course I can’t vouch for our criminal friends.”

Nez let out a long low whistle. “Boy oh boy,” he said finally, “if this is going the way I think it is, the whole lid could be blown off the race for the Democratic nomination.”

“Absolutely. Not to mention the whole electoral process. Unless there’s an innocent explanation. I suppose that’s always possible.”

“Possible, but not very probable. If Gallagher happens to be some kindly old relative of Blow Daley’s mom, why wouldn’t he pick up the phone rather than communicate in that convoluted way? It wouldn’t make sense.”

“No. Perhaps not.” Bremer had placed the tips of his hands together and was staring out of the window, lips pursed.

“So is that it?” Nez suddenly became businesslike.

“Uh… Yes, I think so. I’ve recorded all the IP addresses of the computers used by those names, also a list of credit card numbers – they’re on the CD – and backdated the entry into Avataria that shows up on your profile. That will help when you talk to Carmen and make sure you’re taken seriously. Newbies have no status at all.”

“Martin… I really appreciate your help on this. May I call you if I have any more questions?”

“Of course. And I wish you the best of luck. Here, let me show you out.

Chapter 10

San Jose, CA.  26 January 2008 : 6.05am PST

It was still dark when the phone rang the next morning. Nez had just fallen into a deep sleep, having spent most of the night tossing and turning, unable to stop thinking about Gallagher and Kyrylo and the avatar they apparently shared. His hand groped blindly for where the phone should be. It was Everett on the line, and judging from the number in the LED window on the handset he was still at home.

“Frank?” the tone of voice was sharp.

“Cameron? What the fuck do you want? It’s six o’clock on a Saturday morning for Chrissake!”

Everett ignored the outburst.

“Things have moved on since we last spoke. There is now a joint operation in force between the FBI and the AHTCC – that new hi-tech crime agency downunder. So I want you to pack your bags, get down to the office as soon as you can and file a report on everything that Bremer told you yesterday. You’re booked on a flight to Canberra tonight.”

“Canberra? Canberra Australia, you mean? Why me? Why Australia? From what Bremer told me the action’s all at home,” said Nez bad-temperedly, now completely wide-awake.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but the Feds want Kyrylo ASAP and the Aussies have already screwed up. They want you there on the ground to help catch him.”

“Have you cleared this with Rod Finlay?

“Frank… it was Finlay who wanted you to go. We both agree your skills will come in useful.”

“Kyrylo’s Avataria communications weren’t coded.”

“Don’t argue with me Frank…”

“I’m sure the Aussies have analysts and internet specialists too, you know.”

“That’s not the point. Do I have to spell it out for you? With your background and inside access to Avataria management… “

“All right Cameron. Keep your shirt on. I’ll discuss this with you later.”

Nez replaced the phone and mouthed a silent ‘Goddamn’ at the wall. He swung his legs out of bed and headed for the bathroom and the shower. What game was Everett playing now? From the sound of them, Simon Austin and his team were more than capable of bringing Kyrylo in on their own. Maybe Finlay knew more than he was telling Everett. His thoughts turned to Gallagher. Should he mention Bremer’s detective work in his report? On balance, no – let Everett sweat a little longer. If he didn’t know about Gallagher already, another few days wouldn’t hurt.

He quickly dried himself and shaved, then went back into the bedroom to dress. What was the climate like in Canberra this time of year? Hell, he didn’t even know what season it was – the southern hemisphere summer? Jeez – why did every conversation he had with Everett put him in such a bad mood? He wrenched a case from a shelf in the closet and irritably packed it with his passport, clean summer clothes, shaving gear and a few toiletries from the bathroom. He was just about to go down to the kitchen when he had second thoughts.  Dropping the case at the top of the stairs, he instead went across to the spare bedroom that he kept as an office to carry out his ritual morning prayer to the White Dawn.

Ten minutes later he retrieved the case and carried on downstairs to the kitchen, feeling in a much more positive mood. The American way of solving problems through argument and analytical process had its advantages, he knew, but somehow he’d always fared better with k’é, the Navajo spirit of peace and harmony, gone for the most part these days. The calming effect of those ancient rites his father had passed on to him never failed to surprise, even though in all other respects he had completely given up any semblance of living the traditional lifestyle. He stirred a teaspoon of instant coffee into a cup of boiling water and cursed when the fridge failed to yield any drinkable milk. He lit up his first cigarette of the day and thought about what he had to do and whom he had to notify before leaving for Australia. Too early to phone Alex and Julia, he’d do that later from the office. So apart from them, the depressing answers were 1) nothing much, and 2) nobody.

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Dark Siren: Part 4

Dark Siren CoverIt’s time for part four of the Dark Siren serialisation. You can see Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and if you like what you read, please do support an up and coming author and buy the full book as a PDF here for only US $7.95. Payments are accepted via PayPal or credit card.

Chapter 7

Instead of going back to his office, Nez headed to the courtyard for a smoke. He sat on a wooden bench in the afternoon sunshine and studied Everett’s folder. There were contact details of the main players: the FBI’s rep in Canberra, James Whitman, Wayne Chapman from the Australian Federal Police, and Simon Austin of the AHTCC – a new high-tech crime agency he hadn’t heard of. The next page contained a list of the four Avataria names Kyrylo had been in regular contact with: Carmen Verne, Alan Menuti, Ginger Stallion and Blow Daley.

Stapled together was a scanned copy of a standard NSW Police evidence log – a long list of items that had been seized in the raid including the contents of the laptop. A number of things caught his eye – the presence of Steganos software, an article from the political e-zine Salon.com about Senator Jack Gallagher, and a memo from Simon Austin noting the possibility that a certain Joss Guest was another of Kyrylo’s avatars.

The use of Steganos was kind of ironic, he thought. Developed initially to foil hackers, it was now being used by them. He knew the FBI were concerned that they were intercepting fewer and fewer communications between Druzhba operatives, but far from meaning that they were doing less business, this actually suggested that they were using a new way of communicating each other without being tracked. Steganos could insert encrypted files into all sorts of files including bitmapped images – one of the formats used by thousands of Avataria residents to take screen snapshots and pass them around.

Back in his office, Nez checked his watch and picked up the phone to call Canberra. An assistant answered, but Simon soon came to the phone. Nez introduced himself.

“I’ve been asked to call you about your interest in Avataria.”

“Are you with the FBI?”

“We work with them.”

“You know about the raid, then?”

“I’ve just read the stuff you sent me on Kyrylo. Interesting reading. We have a history. So what do you want to know?”

Simon came straight to the point.

“I’ve been logging on to Avataria and some other online games for several months in connection with an Al-Qaeda inquiry. That didn’t go anywhere, but we’re taking Avataria seriously as a potential criminal medium for money laundering, identity theft, communications channel – you name it.  When we busted Kyrylo’s office we found a laptop with a Avataria viewer. There was evidence of credit card scams and identity theft of some of Avataria’s Australian residents. Would that ring any bells with you?”

“Bet your life! Before Kyrylo skipped to Sydney he was into the same sort of scams in LA, but the Bureau could never pin anything on him. I didn’t know he was doing stuff in Avataria, though. That’s a new development.”

“Once the raid threw up the link, I went online,” Simon continued, “and checked out all the avatar names on Kyrylo’s viewer. I’ve sent you the list of them: Carmen Verne runs an in-world newspaper, the AvPost, and Alan Menuti is its Advertising Manager. But it’s Ginger Stallion and Blow Daley who interest me – particularly in the light of that Salon article on Jack Gallagher. They’re rent boys.”

“With those names, could they be anything else?”

Simon laughed. “They’re not monks, that’s for sure.”

“So what are you saying? That Jack’s been playing away from home in a virtual gay bordello?

“Not exactly. But isn’t he the great white hope of the Democratic Party in the next Presidential election?”

“You wanna be careful, using that phrase in American politics.”

“Great white hope?’

“Yeah. Do you know what it means?”

“Sort of…”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then.” Nez laughed.

“Tell me.”

“It was a play, then a film… the story of a successful black boxer that a racist society wanted to bring down… with one of their own.”

“Hence the term, Great White Hope?”

“Yes.”

“So not applicable to Gallagher?”

“Not really… but I know what you mean. Let’s just say that Gallagher’s the frontrunner.”

“I don’t want to sound alarmist, but given Kyrylo’s background…”

“Mainly fraud, forgery and extortion,” said Nez, “but so far no blackmail.”

“There’s always a first time.”

“So how can we help?”

“I’ve been told to catch Kyrylo. As you can imagine the federal cops here aren’t exactly happy with a heavy duty crim like him on the loose.”

“I thought the Bureau gave you a tip off where to find him.”

There was a slight hesitation on the other end of the phone.

“They did, but he got away.”

“Got away?”

“The place we raided had an exit we didn’t know about.”

“Surely the regular cops will catch up with him sooner or later?”

“Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath. I reckon the best chance of finding him is through Avataria.”

“Tracking him when he next logs in, you mean?”

“Possibly, although we think he may have more than one avatar. I think we should try to trace those other guys.”

Nez leant back in his chair and put his feet up on the corner of the desk. “You seem to have made some progress already.”

“I’ve gone as far as I can online. I’d guess that all those avatars on Kyrylo’s contacts list are American citizens. I can’t trace them from here – that’s a job for the FBI.”

“You may be right,” said Nez. “but first you’d have to find out who the avatars belong to.”

“Could you lean on the Avataria management?”

“The CEO’s an old friend of mine. I’m hoping I won’t have to.”

Martin Bremer answered the phone with characteristic energy.

“Frank! What a surprise! Good to hear from you… how’s life at No Such Agency?”

“Bugging you all as usual,” said Nez good-humouredly, used to wisecracks about his old employer’s legendary obsession with secrecy. “But you’re out of date. I’ve moved on.”

“How come?”

“It’s a long story. You know the current administration’s love affair with public-private partnerships. I’m still technically with the Agency but I’m on attachment to one of their contractors.”

“Is that so? Funny, only the other day I was reading about you wiretappers being privatised.”

“Martin,” said Nez, “I’ve got a favour to ask. We think some very bad people are using your game for all the wrong reasons, and we need your help to stop them. I’ve got some names I’d like you to check out, and I want to come over tomorrow to get me set up in-world with a fancy avatar.”

“No problem. I’ll do whatever I can. I’ll ask Nathan, one of our guys, to help you  – he’s a whiz with avatars.” Then casually, “Do you have a warrant?”

“I’d like to keep this unofficial for the moment, Martin. Are you comfortable with that?”

“Sure… as it’s you, but do remember if it comes to court…”

There was the tiniest hint of alarm in Martin’s voice, Nez could tell. Come to think of it, he was alarmed as well. Why had Everett wanted it kept hush-hush? These weren’t terror suspects, they were almost certainly ordinary Americans. Was Everett holding something back? That was a no-brainer – he was such an obnoxious son of a bitch, secretive and always covering his ass… if push came to shove, he would deny all knowledge.

“Yeah… I know. 9.30 tomorrow morning OK for you?”

“You know where we are.”

On his way home, Nez pulled off the freeway and stopped at his local mall to get a takeaway dinner from his favourite Chinese eatery. At this time most shops were deserted and the bookstore next to the takeaway was just about to close. On impulse, he went inside and started browsing the computer gaming section. One title jumped out at him: ‘Life and Love in Virtual Worlds’. He thumbed through the pages; not all of it was relevant to Avataria, but there were some promising chapters on sub-cults, cyber prostitution, how to conduct online business, and, much more relevant to his present frame of mind, virtual speed dating. He took it to the cash point and paid, picked up his Singapore noodles from next door and headed home on the freeway just as the light was beginning to fade.

Chapter 8

San Francisco Bay Area, CA. 25 January 2008 : 9.35am

The offices of Avataria were located just off the Mountain View-Alviso Freeway with an attractive outlook over the County Park. Nez pulled into the shiny new complex a few minutes after the designated time and walked the few yards from the visitors’ car park to the main entrance. The sun was shining with the steely brilliance of a Californian winter. For the first time in months he felt a spring in his step – he was looking forward to catching up with Martin and sniffing around his virtual empire.

As he approached the building he couldn’t help noticing the Porsches, Jaguars, and other exotic marques parked in the executive bays on the other side of the walkway, which he guessed was the designated domain for the staff. The building was long and low in an almost Japanese style, with a shallow moat on either side of the entrance. The whole effect would have been of stylish, restrained opulence had there not been life size figures of a male and a female avatar in garish outfits on either side of the entrance steps. Disneyland had a lot to answer for. Nevertheless, he made unfavourable comparisons with his own seedy workplace, a far cry from this and the glass-and-chrome extravagance of NSA Headquarters at Crypto City. For a brief moment his ebullient mood left him and he felt quite depressed.

The glass doors opened automatically, but instead of revealing a conventional lobby with a receptionist and a desk there was a large circular area painted brilliant white, vaguely resembling a Star Trek teleport. A hi-def plasma monitor faced him, set into a curved teak panel set well forward from the back wall. Below and in front of the screen was a highly polished teak surface with a built-in keyboard and screen for checking emails, a few pens and notepads and a cordless telephone. On either side of the room were more screens showing constantly changing panoramas from Avataria, but more surprising were the seats: four beautifully made garden swings in the same teak as the TV wall panel, upholstered with exquisite Thai silk cushions. The subdued but distinct tones of Gamelan music could be heard issuing from hidden loudspeakers.

As he approached the screen flickered into life. An attractive female avatar vaguely reminiscent of an Asian flight attendant appeared and smiled as he approached:

“Good morning Mr Nez, how are you today?”

The voice was synthesised, but he could hardly tell. Stifling his astonishment, Nez replied coolly that he was good.

“You’re here to see Mr Bremer, I believe? He is expecting you, will you take a seat for a minute please?”

The avatar continued to smile, but in a slightly vacant way. Nez half expected her to fold her arms behind her head and pout like many Avataria women with custom animation overrides did when they were conversing.

He sat down nursing his briefcase on one of the swings, which gave a slight creak as he rocked gently backwards and forwards. He had to admit he was impressed, although he wondered how the avatar receptionist would greet a visitor who wasn’t on the database of the face recognition software. Default to ‘Good morning Sir/Good afternoon Madam’ perhaps, though determining sex based on CCTV data might be risky, he thought with a wry smile.

“My, what a long time it’s been. Eight years?” Martin Bremer was standing in front of him, right hand extended in welcome.

“Martin! I was miles away. You’re looking as fit as ever. I was just admiring your receptionist.”

“Oh… Maya? She’s cute, isn’t she?”

Bremer led the way behind the teak wall into an airy open plan room decorated in primary colours with large north facing skylights. It couldn’t really be called an office. In one corner was a group of young men and women clustered around some monitors on a bench, in another an arrangement of squashy sofas around a couple of plasma screens, and in the middle where the nearest thing to conventional work stations could be seen, Nez observed two small dogs lying asleep on an old blanket. On the right was a mezzanine level punctured by a fireman’s pole that terminated underneath in a heap of bright yellow plastic cushions.

“Love the fireman’s pole.”

“It’s the nearest thing we could get to a teleporter,” Bremer said with a laugh, nimbly stepping over a Segway personal transporter someone had abandoned in the middle of the room.

“Toys for the boys?”

“We call this the Nursery,” said Bremer without a trace of irony in his voice, and turning left passed through some double doors into a wide corridor. Here the atmosphere was more corporate, with several small glass-walled offices on one side and computer rooms on the other. Bremer’s office was at the end, sparsely furnished in the quasi-Japanese style of the building’s exterior. They both settled into easy chairs away from the desk and Martin called an assistant to provide some coffee.

“How’s the lovely Eva? Are the kids still at high school?.”

“Yeah. Alex is in Year 10 and Julia wants to do a gap year teaching kids in Africa when she finishes next year. Eva and I aren’t together anymore, by the way.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I presume that she got custody?”

“Yeah… well… life goes on.”

“You’ve got a list of those names for me, I assume,” said Bremer, tactfully changing the subject. He pulled out a small notebook from his inside jacket pocket and produced a pair of half-moon reading spectacles, “so what would you like to know about them?”

Nez handed over Simon’s list of avatars and detailed his requests: the names they signed up with, credit card information, chat and Instant Message logs, IP Addresses, and a list of ‘friends’ of each of the names and any records of whom they might have met online.

Bremer dutifully recorded all this in his notebook, then looking at Nez over the top of his glasses said, “I’m willing to do all this off the record for you, Frank, but I have to say this: until the day Congress legalises all this eavesdropping you might have a problem getting any court convictions without a FISA warrant.”

“You’re right,” said Nez, “but this directive comes from above, and I don’t really have any say in it.”

Bremer shrugged.

“Now. How else can I help? You want to go into Avataria undercover?” He laughed. “I almost said just like all the others.”

Nez smiled. “Well, look at it this way. I’m not exactly your typical Avataria demographic, am I? I need all the help and advice I can get so I don’t raise any eyebrows.”

Bremer continued to look over his glasses, but made no comment.

Nez continued: “We can only do so much with electronic snooping. This guy Kyrylo is already wanted by the Feds for a whole bunch of serious crimes, plus we think he may be up to something even more sinister. There may even be a political angle to it. I’ve gotta to go in there and do some old-fashioned investigating.”

“OK. But let me assure you of one thing. There is no typical Avataria demographic. Not really. It’s not just a game for students and computer geeks. You’ll be surprised to know that over 40% of our residents are over 35 years old. The way things are going in a few months’ time you’ll be just about average. And here is a statistic that might interest you: 27% of the women in Avataria are really men! Isn’t that something? I can’t remember how many gals are playing guys. Far less, I’m sure.”

“So it’s all about roleplay, then?” Nez was fascinated.

“Yeah. Roleplay… sex… and money. The usual elements of the human condition. Why would it be anything else?”

“Fertile ground for carpetbaggers and sharks with an eye to the main chance, then?”

“That too. It’s still caveat emptor out there…” He put his notebook away in an inside pocket and stood up. “OK… let’s go find Nathan.”

Bremer led the way out of his office to a technical area off the main corridor. In one of the cubicles a young man with a shaved head and an earring was scrolling through some code on a large plasma screen.

“Frank, I want you to meet Nathan King. He’ll take you through the basics of downloading the Avataria viewer, logging in, exchanging money, teleporting, and communicating with the residents. I��ll catch up with you later… have fun.”

Nathan was a bright Jamaican-British ex-pat from South London. He waved Frank into a seat next to him and typed away on his keyboard launching some 3D software. A few more strokes and a glamorous looking avatar appeared standing on a small plinth.

“OK… you’re the geezer who wants to go into Avataria as a chick, yeh?”

Nez nodded in affirmation. Bremer had recommended a female avatar as it was easier to talk to both male and female residents. He’d also hinted that if Nez wanted to get into the AvPost, a woman would be more likely to succeed as some of the management listed lesbian predilections on their profiles.

“This is Lauren Falmer. Tasty bird, innit?” He pointed to her luxurious shock of blonde hair. “Took me bleedin’ ages to find that ‘air. Now, before we start, have you played with Avataria before?”

Nez shook his head. “Not really. My daughter used to play it and showed me the basics.”

“You’ve gotta understand that some of the residents are very observant. Especially the ones who’ve been there a few years like the girls at the Post. Which is where you want to go, right? A lot of blokes who try to pass themselves off as women make some really basic mistakes. Like giving their avatars enormous tits for a start. Another dead giveaway is coming on too aggressive.”

Nathan paused, and revolved the camera around his creation. He glanced at Nez.

“So my advice is, don’t get too technical and always compliment the chicks on their outfits and hairdos. Believe me, it works a treat.”

Avataria supports the Equal Rights Amendment, I take it?”

“Not wiv you, mate.”

“Never mind.”

Nathan continued undeterred. “Now, Have I explained lag to you?”

“No.”

“You won’t get it here, ‘cos the computers are fast and you’re not going through the internet. But if you was to play on a slow connection, or in another country, you’ll get lag.”

“Which means?”

“That your av will take a few secs to respond. So you’re tapping away on the direction keys and Lauren’s not doin’ nuffink. So you keep hitting the key and she suddenly takes off… can be quite awkward.”

“In what way?”

“Well, climbin’ stairs is the usual one. Mind you, if it was me I wouldn’t bovver wiv stairs in Avataria at all. Too much trouble. That’s wot teleporters are for.”

“Then why have them?”

“The punters want ‘em. Reminds ‘em of home or somefin’. I dunno, you tell me.”

Punters?”

“Residents, customers, players, wotever… I calls ‘em punters.”

Nez couldn’t resist another dig.

“It’d be so much easier without the punters, wouldn’t it?

“You’re telling me.”

After explaining the options available to enhance Lauren’s movements and expressions, Nathan switched seats and let Nez try his new character out. He urged him to experiment with the everyday routines of changing Lauren’s clothes, adding animation overrides and walking without bumping into walls.

“You know there’s voice communication, dontcha? Not many people use it – they’d give the bleedin’ game away… know wot I mean?” He chuckled, and looked at Nez knowingly. “So if anyone asks you to talk to ‘em, say you ‘aven’t got a mike.”

Nez nodded, totally engrossed in propelling Lauren through a landscape of Gothic castles, California bungalows, night-clubs and shopping malls.

Nathan continued, “Okay, you seem ‘appy… I’m going off to do summink else, but here’s some places you should check out, yeh?” He pointed to a printed list next to the keyboard. “Visit a night club, go dancing, chat to people, get the ‘ang of the place. Then I’ll come back and test ya. Let me know if there’s anyfink you don’t understand.” He flashed a broad smile revealing a row of gleaming white teeth and a stud through the centre of his tongue. “Just keep off the cyberbonking, yeh?”

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