The Oldbie

They found his avatar standing motionless next to a pile of prims, slumped at the shoulders like a marionette whose strings had been cut. T1g3r bumped Daisy45 to get her attention, “Hey Daze, take a look at this guy.”

Daisy45 sidestepped T1g3r’s aggressive moves and zoomed her camera toward the motionless avatar, orbiting her view to examine it from all sides. It was a male avatar, shorter than average, with unfashionable, helmet-like mesh hair that hugged his skull like a lump of clay. He wore a tight-fitting charcoal flight jacket with the words, “Abbotts Aerodrome” printed in gold across the back, and on his feet, to Daisy45’s amusement, were default avatar shoes. Not even prim shoes: just textured feet.

“Phht, some noob,” she smirked. “Default hair and shoes. Let’s go.” And with that, Daisy45 turned to scout for more interesting material to scavenge, with T1g3r scampering ahead on all fours. Honestly, Daisy45 found T1g3r’s presence annoying, but useful. He had a way of sniffing out previously-undiscovered content.

For several hours, they had been combing the remains of this grid. It wasn’t glamorous work, but for every unique new texture or object they could scrape from this dead world and upload into the OpenGrid, they earned gridbux for new toys and an item of clothing or two. Maybe even an upgrade to their avatars so they could get into the popular sims. Enough, eventually, to leave behind the salvage business altogether and earn full grid citizenship. Daisy45 suppressed a sigh at such distant goals. Here in the decay of the first grid, all of that seemed infinitely far away.

As T1g3r rushed ahead to explore an old airplane hangar, Daisy45 heard the clattering of a keyboard behind her. She spun to see the strange avatar now standing straight with his hands thrashing in the air, as if typing. Finally his hands dropped to his sides. “Hello there,” appeared his words near the bottom of her view. “I haven’t seen anyone around Abbotts in years.”

Agitated, Daisy45 stepped back to put a safe distance between her and the stranger. She momentarily even considered risking a teleport to another sim, but  here on the first grid, inter-sim TP was more likely to result in  disconnection. Sometimes permanent disconnection. After all the years of use, the aging user server couldn’t be relied on for a clean logout.

She evaluated the stranger carefully and dropped a cagegun into her palm.  Although he had typed his words, she chose to speak aloud and  hoped that he could hear her even if he chose not to speak.  “What do you want, noob?” she demanded.

At that, the man arched his back with hands on stomach and mimed a deep belly laugh, which then stopped suddenly, leaving him staring once again at  her as if nothing had happened. “Noob?” he wrote. “You can call me noob when you have more than a  dozen years in SL.”

She peered again at him with incredulous eyes. She noted again the default hair and shoes. And that was definitely base-layer skin, she observed, tinted an  unpleasant shade of pale. As she re-examined him, she began to understand — this is what all avatars used to look like in the first  years of this grid. She was standing face-to-face with an oldbie.

Sad, strange, and unable to handle change, many of the oldbies refused to  evolve and move on to greener pastures after the first grid sickened and declined.  “Damn,” she sneered. “I thought you were all dead by now.” She allowed her scorn to drip from her voice.

But the oldbie only nodded without emotion. “I guess I should be,” appeared his  text. “I guess I’m just sentimental. I still love this place.” His  eyes focussed briefly on the airport tower behind her and beyond to something she perhaps couldn’t see.

Daisy snorted. “This place? Crap this place is a dump. It doesn’t even  have physics.”

“Ah, physics.” The oldbie paused from typing to take a seat on a  plywood cube. “I miss the physics. Planes.”

“What?”

“Planes. That’s what I used to make. Planes, helicopters… whatever. None of that works now.” With that, he briefly slumped  again, his thoughts absent.

Although the oldbie was just as irritating as the old ones tended to be,  Daisy45 suspected that he might be hoarding some useful content. Something worth more than a few gridbux. So heaving a sigh, she  dropped a cube of her own and took a seat near him.

“Hey,” she prodded. There was  no response. “Hey!”

Suddenly, the oldbie sat bolt upright. “Sorry,” he typed. “Was lost in  my thoughts.” He fell silent again, staring into the distance. “You  know,” he said finally, “Abbotts used to be the most popular airport  on the grid.”

Daisy frowned. “Airport? What’s the point of an airport? Where would  you go?” She glanced at the grid map, which showed only a handful of  broken-down, half-deleted sims.

Again, the oldbie belly-laughed. “‘Where would you go?’ Well, first of  all, that wasn’t the point. The point was to just have fun flying. Back then we would fly right across the grid in squadrons.”

“Wow,” she rolled her eyes. “That must have taken entire minutes.”

“Oh, no,” he wrote, his arms thrashing archaically on an invisible  keyboard. “Back then, there were thousands… tens of thousands… of  sims. Several hundred on this continent alone.”

Daisy45 had heard ridiculous claims before, but dismissed them as hyperbole. Tens of thousands of sims? It was hardly believable. The new grids were, of course, many times that size, but anyone only had to look at the wreckage of the old grid to know how well and truly lame it was. But she had to get this oldbie to open up if she was going to extract anything useful from him, and contradicting him wouldn’t be productive at this point, so she nodded and tried to appear impressed.

The oldbie rambled about the glory days of the grid, telling unlikely stories of countless islands dotting the map offering every imaginable attraction. In the old days, he explained, Abbotts was just one of hundreds of connected sims that formed the old grid’s first continent. To the west, there once lay a vast city, and to the east had been a series of rivers, lakes, mountains, canyons, and stretches of snow-filled regions complete with winter lodges and ski hills.

Daisy45 cast a skeptical eye to the east, where Abbotts ended suddenly at the endless but inpenetrable ocean-filled void.

“No, I know it’s hard to imagine now,” he conceded. “But even right there, just beyond the edge of Abbotts, was the Old Forest of Kahruvel, with towering conifers and a seaside village. It was lost in the Second Great Erase, of course. With so many more of the Old Places.

“So many things were lost in the Erase,” he typed. “I might have gotten wiped too if I had ever disconnected. That’s the trick, you know. Never log out, never teleport. As long as you stay, it stays. All of this stays.”

“Maybe,” said Daisy45 carefully, “you could save some of this. More permanently, I mean.”

Once again the oldbie focused on his young guest. “Save it? Save it how?” he asked. “Just give it away, you mean?”

It was impossible for Daisy45 to gauge the oldbie’s emotional state based only on his chat text, but she proceeded anyway. “Me and my friend over there,” she gestured to the line of dead aircraft where T1g3r had scampered, “we’re collectors. We rescue things from the old grid.”

Suddenly the oldbie stood up. “You mean you RIP THEM. Content thieves. Why shouldn’t I eject you now?”

Daisy45 stood quickly too. “No, no… we preserve things. Listen,” she insisted. “What will happen to this place when it goes offline finally? What will happen to your inventory?”

He seemed to hesitate. “Well, obviously. It will be wiped like everything else. I’ve known that for years.”

“And you’re OK with that?” Daisy45 knew she had to make her offer or lose her chance. “Let us save it. We can save it all. Once it’s in the new grid, it will continue for decades. Imagine that. All your work, saved.”

After a pause that seemed endless, the oldbie rezzed a cube and began to work on it. Although his actions were invisible to her, the selection beam connected his hand to the cube. Daisy45 kept an eye on her mini-map, and saw a little green dot far off at the end of a runway. While T1g3r was busy raiding content, she smirked, she was going to score big-time.

Eventually, the oldbie turned to face her. “In this cube is a copy of everything I’ve made. Thousands of items. Scripts, gadgets, vehicles, buildings. Everything.” He paused a moment, then took the cube into his inventory. “I’ve known for a long time that I would have to do this eventually. This grid is done. And now I want someone to take all of what I’ve protected here to the new grid. I guess it might as well be you.”

At that moment, Daisy45 heard T1g3r’s voice behind her, bellowing. “Go hang somewhere else, noob!”

A black ball whizzed past her shoulder, struck the oldbie in the chest, and knocked him back a few meters. Immediately, a cage materialized around him.

“Noo!” Daisy45 screamed, but it was too late. The cage accelerated up and away from her, dwindling as it disappeared into the distance with the oldbie trapped inside. At the edge of the sim, the cage froze for a second, then vanished. The oldbie was nowhere to be seen. Disconnected for the last time, Daisy45 knew.

She spun and confronted T1g3r’s quadruped avatar. “What the hell?” she cried. “He was just about to give me his entire inventory!”

“So? What’s the big deal?” T1g3r sulked. “Let’s get out of this dump. It’s depressing. I can’t find any—”

His words were cut short by a glaring announcement that appeared simultaneously at the top of their views: “THIS REGION IS SHUTTING DOWN IN 5 MINUTES. PLEASE LEAVE OR BE DISCONNECTED.”

“Fine,” T1g3r spat. “It’s a crap-hole anyways. Seeya in OpenGrid, Daze.” With that, he vanished, leaving Daisy45 alone with her thoughts. The sun began to set in the west, lighting the airport tower in a delicate golden glow. She wasn’t sure why, but a sudden feeling of regret washed over her. In the embers of daylight, Daisy45 pressed CTRL Q, and Abbotts faded to black for the last time.

65 Replies to “The Oldbie”

  1. This sad apocalyptic tale grabs me in the gut. I have been in SL since early 2004. Not only that, but I lived in a scrap of Abbotts up in the corner, until I moved and sold the land to the Aerodrome. Now I live in the Forest of Kahruvel, still standing until this future comes about.

  2. Amazing, beautiful, unfortunate, and realistic future-tale… So very well told in every way. I feel like saying so much, but you’ve said it all so well. See you ’round the ‘Net, old man ;)

  3. Having written this, I just want to add that the end of SL doesn’t need to be bleak or heartbreaking. The important thing is to not be afraid of moving on and taking our talent, connections, and content with us. But that time is still far down the road, I think.

    The Second Great Erase isn’t yet upon us.

  4. Wow… brilliantly written! Sad and spooky. The idea of a Second Great Wipe deleting so much of the grid is chilling. This piece brings back the way I feel when some favorite place disappears.

  5. I knew this was going to be an amazing article (story it turned out) when I saw the author and the title. I am understating this tremendously, but let me just say “well done”. It does expose the fears and frustrations of many.

    Two weeks ago, I posted a blog article outlining the reasons why the current Linden Lab-demanded automated ownership checks were inappropriate, even though I spelled their name wrong: “Linden Labs, It’s My Stuff”:
    http://jimrantsnraves.blogspot.com/2010/10/linden-labs-its-my-stuff.html

    You were already a veteran, now an oldbie, when I started in 2006; I feel that more and more veterans are starting to worry about their content, and that it will take a campaign by new users, veterans and oldbies alike, to encourage Linden Lab to either implement some form of authorized usage by others (e.g. DRM) that allows creators to export their creations for use beyond SL, or perhaps if they do not wish to invest development effort because there is an end in sight for SL, then perhaps they could just open it up as it was. Really, I think our main concern in that case would be getting banned before all of our own content is exported.

    This is yet another example of DRM gone wrong. Punishing the legitimate creators to try to enforce some misguided and ill-conceived notion of protecting others.

    My feeling is that this is best solved the same way that many laws solve this — through a clearly stated policy (laws), and punishment for violations. The rights of the creators to use their own products need to trump the rights of other creators to protect usage. In other words, scrap the current feeble excuse for automated DRM tests enforced at the viewer end, and replace them with TOS policy and enforcement, at least until such time as LL can provide something better, something that protects the investment of content creators in SL.

    Otherwise, virtually all significant content creation is going to move off-grid, to other grids. And it may not be imported back into SL. That is the case for my work now. I am probably not the only veteran who feels this way.

  6. I’ve linked to this article in my latest blog posting on a related topic (if not the same topic): “Who Really Owns Second Life?”
    http://jimrantsnraves.blogspot.com/2010/10/who-really-owns-second-life.html

    I missed your earlier posting: http://www.cubeyterra.com/2010/10/have-sim-will-travel/ until today, although it seems that your comment on Pathfinder’s “creator” comment agrees with my “It’s My Stuff” posting on the same day. Seems we tend to share the displeasure over the differences between a content “creator” and an SL “Creator”. Frankly, I don’t think LL cares enough to try to solve this issue, and it will be another nail in the SL coffin.

  7. Beautiful and bittersweet.

    Like you, I too believe the future is not bleak. Folks will bring their social networks and wisdom into the future, wherever it may lie.

    The most important things in virtual worlds…are not things.

    It’s the people and their dreams.

  8. Caoptures the appeal of the world… and the nature of what is being created, in large part to creative and connected people like Cubey. The important stuff will continue – the new friends we have made and collaborations forged.

    Just take care with the technicalities.. and remember you have to have a way to move it on through formats and changes of technology. Those if us engaged in data bases, knowledge-based systems and 3D modelling, etc. have already (as Oldbies) had to go through several generations of technologies while preserving the true content and intellectual value.

  9. Excellent read! Very touching! Me crosses fingers hoping
    Cubey makes this into a short film/machinima :)

  10. I have only been in SL for 3 years, so I am not an oldbie. I still feel a great sadness over what I see happening. So much so that I began looking for other places over a year ago.

    I still go into the old grid sometimes, but I spend less time there than the other that I am now calling home.

    Thank you for the wonderful story. Superb.

  11. Excellent, well written story. It’s true too, so many have left the Old Grid for greener pastures. Myself included. I will always miss the old days, and I will miss my friends who have chosen to stay, or picked a different alternative grid.

    Thank you for writing this.

  12. A thoughtful and thought-provoking tale that alludes to a similar events in SL’s past. I wonder, were there folks that were unable to escape the first Erase, who experienced similar events to the one in your story? Were there pockets of survivors who remained behind, cut off from the rest of the world and protected by whatever means from the Void? Perhaps a shield similar to the one that hid Nautilus City for so long? The letter my mom wrote years ago tells the story of the Erase from our perspective. Could there be folks still out in the Void, cut off from the Mainland and private estates? Still waiting.

    You can find my mom’s letter at one of these web addresses:

    Original Second Life Forum Archives w/comments
    http://forums-archive.secondlife.com/120/ed/31858/1.html

    Kahruvel Web Site
    http://web.mac.com/salazarjack/Site/Valdora_Graysons_Letter.html

    Short URL
    http://tinyurl.com/greaterase

  13. Yup, that’s the “Great Erase” that I was alluding to. Maybe history is cyclical. Maybe the erases are part of a process of renewal that keeps the world from stagnating.

  14. that’s it. time to start building the Ark. there’s a rumored portal to World of Warcraft up above. i’ve heard it’s around the one trillion meter level. we will find it, or die trying.

  15. Outstanding short fiction. You have the touch!

    But we should not end up like that oldbie. You folk are smart enough to know your e.e. cummings: “listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.”

    The difference today? “Let’s go…build it.”

  16. Great story, Cubey! You should write some kind of novel (if so inclined)! Very nicely written… a dark dystopian day indeed!

    Question is, will this ever be the future of SL, or will we see something brighter?… depends on what choices LL makes from here I guess…. and if the majority of us oldbies are progressive with changes, or simply give up & let our grid stagnate.

    If LL gets their act together… market SL properly…. If their client & internet in general gets just a little more secure…. SLAM this timeline becomes impossible.

    Internet is still fairly new remember… I think now parallels the lawless Wild West days, but forces are at work to stop the banditry of our digital outposts in this bold new civilization.

    Onwards to Utopia :)

  17. Very nice story, though unfortunately true. Unfortunately you left out the part about griefers littering places that allow build and scripts with objects to ruin everyone’s experience, which seems to be the case with abbott’s right now :P

  18. Nice story, Cubey, but… they can have my Second Life when they pry it from my cold, dead pixel hands! Microsoft’s gonna buy it all out soon enough anyway, right? Right? ;)

  19. Excellent. Engrossing. Well played, Cubey. More, please.

    I think of you as the cranky avatar who posts comments on Dusan’s blog. Having arrived only in 2006, I didn’t know you in the olden days. Clearly, there is more going on.

    I love SL history. I need to read up on the first great Erase. And what an illustrious set of Oldbies in the comments here…fascinating. Oh, I flew some of your planes and helicopters on Aditi grid just the other day. Beautiful.

  20. Wow, this is a very moving story, and I’m not ashamed of saying that I shed a tear or even two, which is rare for me… I missed your writing skills in the past 6 years! You’re a very compelling writer — and I always knew you for your programming skills, and, later, the machinimas!

    This is Hugo award material — if, of course, people would catch the importance of the message underneath. It certainly requires a few years of SL to fully absorb the deepness of the emotion we all have towards SL… and which makes us cry.

    Nevertheless, as a cautious optimist, I don’t think that the Second Erase is upon us yet.

  21. Nostalgia. “The pain from an old wound”. *sigh*

    I turned off the lights to my sim without really ever letting anyone know several months ago. I don’t know that I needed to, but I felt like the writing was already on the wall, for everyone to see. Perhaps there is life anew with OpenSim. See you there?

    1. The “Great Erase” is a reference to a work by SL oldibe, Salazar Jack, in which he creates a fictional history of the beginnings of Second Life. In that history, there was a vast, populated world that preceded the one we see. It was erased, and we are only “rediscovering” portions of it as sims come online.

      Here’s a link to the complete story: http://forums-archive.secondlife.com/120/ed/31858/1.html

  22. I started to read with the thought this would be childish, but I was in for a pleasant surprise, beautifully written, engaging and had me thinking at the end. Well done!

  23. The world keeps changing.
    But that is the nature of worlds, and this one is no different. And while there are those who, entrenched in their profits, continue to fret and furrow their brows at each new innovation, fearful of their premature obsolescence, there are also those, like us, who understand.
    We are not obsolete at all.

    We are the keepers of the flame.

  24. Cubey, I remember coming to the Aerodrome early in my SL life… must have been fairly soon after you opened it. Just wanted you to know that this is VERY well written and that I posted a link to over on the SL Flying Forum. I hope the Second Great Erase doesn’t occur any time soon.

    http://slflying.org/forum/

  25. But there WAS a “Great Erase”. More than one, actually!
    In the very beginning, SL was FULL of prims. There were no prims with which to build anymore! It was a “Tragedy of the Commons” situation, where prims did not work on a per-parcel basis. The prim limit was for the entire sim.

    So, during Beta, before we had to pay for land with real money, LL decided that unused accounts should expire and free up prims for everyone.

    There was an even more drastic Great Erase after Beta – when SL launched, it was no longer free to play, people who did not purchase an account (the vast majority), had everything wiped.

    Slightly later (v1.1 I think) LL changed the old “tax” system and this lead to the failure of some projects that were relying on a loophole and avoiding taxes.

    Still another “Great Erase” was when LL switched business models and started charging for land and tying your allotment of prims to your parcel size. This meant that a lot of large projects built by the traditional MMO audience (people with a lot more spare time than money) suddenly failed, and detailed builds had to be torn apart.

    And then of course there were the catastrophical asset server failures… etc.

  26. Very well written.

    I hope the maingrid will stay a little longer but with mesh and completly new physics calculations an era for Sl vehicle makers will end. Maybe the “great erase” will be as you said just a transformation: replacing the old and giving new things room.

    The new content creation tools of the future will bring Sl into a complete new era.

    Open Sim is still very unstable (in many cases). Especially physics wise it still needs to make the big leap. So the maingrid is right now still the main place to be for our kind.

    Other Virtual Realities with content creation still do not reach the variety SL offers. So i do think in this segement it will stay a little longer (unless the competition makes a real leap forward and does see what made Sl so big in the first place: sex and easy content creation).

    Digital rights management is an ageold problem and not limited to SL. either it is too restrictive or it doesnt work out. A hack is in most cases soon provided and the hunt goes on from the beginning.

    So what will come? What will stay? Where will SL go?
    I am not really sure and i wouldnt gamble on it. I dont see things very pessimistic nor optimistic. I feel the breeze of change on my skin and the storm comes soon. I cannot say what it will bring for us, but changes are definatly on the doorsteps.

  27. Wonderful post. In the rush to embrace the new and throw stones at what SecondLife has become it *is* very worthwhile to remember what a beautiful place it is and keep alive the creative spirit. Empowering users to create content was a monumental decision and one that created no end of headaches for LL. But it allowed things like Abbots and others to emerge. Thank you for embracing that spirit. I hope in whatever form the grid takes it remains alive and well.

  28. Hi,

    read your story and feel touched. Can I translate it into German and publish in on our weblog “The Grid Gazette”? Of course, you will be named as the the author.

    Yours,
    Case Schnabel

  29. Well written. Instead of a reminiscence, it’s one enfolded within a story. And an effective one – it evoked emotions from me. I enjoyed it but felt bleak reading it.

    I’ve warned avs for years not to log out, because rl kills people, while sl hasn’t. :)

    Your Aerodrome was one of the first ten spots on the ‘gotta visit’ list I made from reading a year’s worth of New World Notes and Metaverse Messenger while I waited three months for broadband access. Half of the 30 spots no longer existed when I arrived in SL …

    I wear an Abbott’s longsleeve under my tie-dye shortsleeve as part of my main av’s standard outfit. :)

    1. Thanks, Weed. And thanks for the tip about the typo. Sometimes when I proofread my writing, I read what I intended it to say and not what it actually says.

  30. We all miss you Cubey. Thanks for the years of content creation, support, friendship and wisdom!

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