What Have We Learned?

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In the time since I suspended study on my degree course I have tried a number of avenues, with only one of those having persisted. I speak of my part in the creative and virtual world of Second Life. I came to SL over a year ago now, adopting my own second persona and exploring what the world could offer me. Not wanting to remain unproductive while there however, I embarked on co-operative design of a privately-owned island – space rented from Second Life‘s developers to propagate an independent estate – in the hopes of earning some experience in environment design and modelling.

My results so far may not have been stellar, and my portfolio won’t be gleaming for it, but much to my relief I have learned things from the experience. For the subject of my first article in this new blog, I take these lessons learned from my well-intended time spent in that most digital of toyboxes.

First of all, I came to one realisation. Online communities are not a good place to present a unified vision. Nor are they places where posting a free canvas is good practice. For my part in attempting to found the walls and paths of a community I believe my year has been a lesson in managing a constant to-and-fro – between my own creative visions and the demands of a changing and indecisive audience. To regard such a sentence as that when tacked to a job description may encourage a degree of reluctance in accepting such a post. Still I came to find it my passion. Why might I even think I can impose a strong creative vision in a world which people make their own? Part of that is arrogance, and some of the reason was my notion that doing so would inspire others to create a harmonious community – one that follows one direction, one path, with the benefit of immediately communicating its culture to new visitors. There is value in that practice, I think. Where I failed was in moderation of that idea, allowing myself not only to devote resources and efforts towards follies, but also to chase the idea to the extent that I may sometimes have rejected valuable input.

So now I know.

I also came to learn a lot of my faults when putting up actual graft, though I should point out that as yet I still have no concrete solution to these faults of mine. Even when I had worked my way around a number of the problems which Second Life‘s blunt building tools presented me with, I often took far too long when building. I believe part of this may have been anxiety. The idea that Second Life can present my work with immediate effect has pros and cons. Those cons are inflective, causing me to nitpick my own work sometimes. There’s also a lot to be said of a problem which will face my in my chosen career too, even if I have hopes that such issues will present themselves to a lesser degree: digital design is a very hands-off, abstract medium.

The most physical medium I seem to have at my hands is pencil and paper. Real-world architects may present scale plastic models for display, but such pieces appear a waste when one considers the already model-like nature of our 3-dimensional craft and, of course, the pressures to avoid distractions and get straight into the product. At times I found myself forgoing even pencil and paper in order to try and achieve the smaller goals at my job. This worked to my advantage at times when I felt more free to use extravagant shapes in my early-stage models, however I then faced a second problem. It is easy to become lost in the process of creating. Design has artistic merit, however artistic license has to be reeled in. Too much of it slows productivity and creates works which ignore or sometimes insult their core client or purpose. I believe that the ‘cure’ for this may simply be practice. Having made these mistakes, I had them pointed out to me and was encouraged to take stock. Every time I make a new design now, those mistakes churn around my conscious thought and focus me. A sad symptom of the past attempts is that my making these mistakes cost others time and money, and that in itself is disheartening. It takes a lot for a client to keep me on while I rough these lessons out. Even if it doesn’t factor in, I tend to feel that it should. Hopefully these obstacles shall pass in time.

So now, as my second life winds up and I try to make amends for past mistakes while founding new endeavours, I take greater stock of what I have made and of who I am, what I like to do, what others are right to expect of me and how best to merge the answers that I glean from asking those questions of myself.

Now is a good time to learn, and so I’m glad to be returning to a place where that attitude can be channelled through structure. My one cautious hope for re-learning games design is that I do not come to rely on that structure too much though, else when I lose it and I am faced with a year as tough as this past one again, I fear I may crack.