See Copyright and Usage Notice

“Like any place in Reality, the Street is subject to development. Developers can build their own small streets feeding off of the main one. They can build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows and special neighborhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored.”

—Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, pages 24-25.

What Hath They Wrought? Builders and Their Creations

Getting tired of just jabbering with the socialite set? Then you may be getting ready to become a creative force in AlphaWorld! When Worlds Inc. opened AlphaWorld for business in the summer of 1995, there was just a Ground Zero, a few buildings, and a seemingly infinite green plain. Over the next year or so, some of AlphaWorld's 125,000-plus citizens took it upon themselves to fill it. And fill it they did. The original AlphaWorld got so big that teleports were invented to carry people to new outlying cities. Now there are whole parallel worlds. AlphaWorld is now made up of around 12 million objects, all placed there one at a time by people. AlphaWorld builders have arranged these objects into everything from a Roman Coliseum, to an underground city, to a popular bar in the shape of a glass pyramid—the largest Lego construction project in history.

The following amazing image was taken from a very high altitude above the center of AlphaWorld. It shows a 10 kilometer by 10 kilometer area around Ground Zero. Traveling up this image is the same as AlphaWorld north, down is south, left is west, and right is east. It took only a few minutes to find Sherwood Forest Towne (which I will show you later). This image was made by the creators of AlphaWorld who processed the city database and painted colors for each type of object they found. See if you can find the airport (hint, look in the northeast) and the Roman Coliseum.

Figure 7.72: bigas.gif
Satellite picture of AlphaWorld! Click to get print resolution version.

You can find this remarkable map at the AlphaWorld Teleport Station at: At the Teleport Station you can click on this map and land in different spots in AlphaWorld. This image is also reproduced in the color pictures in the center of this book. Like the quote from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash which we reproduced here, AlphaWorld has realized the dream of a digital street in a shared virtual city. Stephensonís fictional Metaverse may not be far from reality, and you can do your part to build it!

Just do it

The builders of AlphaWorld are no different from you or me; they are just ordinary people, often working from home. Laurel (her world nickname) has beautified many areas of AlphaWorld with spectacular flower gardens, waterfalls, and rockeries. She has done all this on her laptop computer sitting at her kitchen table at home in Louisiana in the U.S. Builders range in age from under 10 to over 80 and come from all walks of life. One of the best features about life in digital space is that your skin color, race, sex, size, religion, or age does not matter; neither does what you do for a living or how many degrees you have. If you want to be an architect and learn how to build beautifully for the virtual realm, you can just do it.

So much is built every day that it is impossible to show you all of it. By the time you read this book, there might be another dozen cities completed. I suggest you go into AlphaWorld and tour around. Use your Avatars! companion Web site at as an up-to-the-minute guide to the hottest spots in AlphaWorld.

Let us take a look at some great buildings (and some great builders) in AlphaWorld.

Figure 7.73: shday11a.jpg
This is your office in cyberspace.

BlackThorne (his AlphaWorld name) has built his home office in cyberspace. The computer on his desk doesn't work (but it just might one day). You might recognize that the screen shows a view of AlphaWorld Ground Zero. Perhaps one day we will use simulated workspaces like this to do our real work (all we need are those little sticky notes in there!).

Figure 7.74: awstada.jpg
Roman Coliseum: if you build it, will they come?

The enormous Roman Coliseum down in South AlphaWorld was built to seat thousands, but will they come? Will we see gladiator bots (automated avatars) battling each other in great city games? Constructed out of dozens of stone archways, the Coliseum is part of a class of large structures you can find in AlphaWorld. The builders of these megastructures show the depth of our drive to create and leave our mark on the world (even if it is just pixels in digital space). But our planet can use fewer bulldozers, and building booms in virtual space may provide a safer option.

Figure 7.75: awca3a.jpg
This sleek batmobile is parked at the Black Sun Café and Bar in Colony Alpha.

It was so wonderful when there were no cars in AlphaWorld, and then someone had to go and build one! The AlphaWorld Police Department may figure out one day how to issue parking fines! This car owner is lucky, because his hot rod is parked in Colony Alpha, a separate Active World hosted by citizen Moria, where the AWPD has no jurisdiction. Why have streets and cars in a world where you can just sail through the air? Because nothing works as well as the familiar. In the beginning, this new form of real cyberspace will probably stick close to the familiarÖbut wait!

Figure 7.76: awn7es.jpg
Cyborg Nation is a different place.

Cyborg Nation is an Active World built by Dataman, longtime AlphaWorld citizen and editor of AlphaWorld's first community newspaper, the New World Times (see Cyborg Nation is an experimental world which is not comprised of streets and towns and mailboxes. Cyborg Nation features weird geometric scenes, stunning visuals and, we expect, cyborgs. Bots or automated avatars are not common in virtual worlds yet, so maybe Cyborg Nation is the place where some will evolve. Cyborg Nation is constantly changing. The preceding figure shows me rocketing through the colony dome and into the harsh vacuum of space. Cyborg Nation gives new meaning to the term digital space.

Figure 7.77: awn7gs.jpg
TheU Virtual University development center.

Another Active World is TheU Virtual University, hosted by the Contact Consortium (of which I am a part). A real architect and AlphaWorld citizen, San Marco, who lives in North London in Great Britain, is serving as the coordinator of a global architecture competition to build a functional virtual university in three dimensions. This project grew out of Consortium members' prior experience with MUDs (Multi User Domains), text-based interactive worlds used in education, which are very widespread on the Internet. San Marco has built a university development center in TheU, which is shown in the preceding figure. On the walls are images representing links to Web sites. Clicking on these images will bring up your Web browser and point it to a particular Web site. We use this space for discussions, in-world meetings, and as a shared information library about TheU project and other virtual education projects. For more information on TheU, see

Figure 7.78 awnecra.jpg
Necropolis City.

Necropolis City is a marvelous creation of transparent glass panels and terra cotta brick. Do avatars go there to die? I don't know, but Necropolis is certainly inspired and inspires citizens to practice dive bombing over the area, which we described earlier in this chapter. One unique feature of some cities like Necropolis is that they are built partly underground. You can descend into subterranean vaults. You can also travel through the ground (it is just transparent) and see the vaults connecting together like rabbit warrens.

Figure 7.79: awundera.jpg
Flying beneath Sky City.

Nothing says you just have to build on the ground, and so there are plenty of floating palaces. Anti-gravity not invented yet? No problem, you can lift a whole virtual city to great heights! Be careful approaching the edges of these towns, the vertigo effect is very convincing!

The Story of Two Builders

Builder's story: Tazunu Inoue and his Japanese palace and gardens

Tazunu Inoue is a dedicated AlphaWorld builder and citizen from Japan. This is Tazunu's story, in his own words, and a look at his magnificent creations. These include palaces and castles in a very Japanese style and a water garden with rocks set in the shape of a map of the Japanese home islands. You can find Tazunu's property at 7786S 7964E facing north in AlphaWorld, and his home page at

Figure 7.80: awtaz5s.jpg
Tazuni Inoue built an elaborate Palace House.

Figure 7.81: awtaz4s.jpg
The interior of one of Tazunu's creations.

Tazunu's own words

Figure 7.82: awtaz1.gif
Tazunu Inoue

It was in February 1996 that I came to AW for the first time. A virtual world that is quite like the real world came into my eyes. Everything seemed to be exciting. But I could not manipulate my body freely. As a lot of Japanese must be, I was not good at reading or writing English (and the situation has not been changed so much). So I was like a child.

One day, a kind person led me to this place (North of Lock Heaven, over 100 kilometers far away from Ground Zero). He showed me his house and taught me that I would be able to build my own home, too. He was very patient. (He is one of my neighbors now.)

I have been building my house since then. It is a Japanese castle. I did not mean to build a big home from the beginning. But, a castle is an originally big thing. With such reasons, my castle is still under construction 8-).

By the way, there are two reasons why I made this home page. One reason is that it is difficult for many of us to see all of my castle at a glance. Because there are too many objects. You might say…our computer is suffering from the nearsightedness 8-). Another reason is my ability of English...It's not so easy to explain everything about my castle in English while we are in AW. So, a glance of this page may bring you better understanding than hundreds of my words about the castle.

Like Tazunu, citizens tiring of brick and mortar return to a natural state of gardens, waterscapes, park land, and bird-song sounds (see Laurel's story below). Plenty of water shapes (hand me flowing stream, two by two, round, stat!) let the builder go off the straight and narrow.

Builder's story: Laurel and the greening of cyberspace

Figure 7.83: awshvw5a.jpg
Laurel's Herb Farm is in Sherwood Towne.

Laurel (her nickname), a resident of Louisiana in the American Deep South, and a master builder in AlphaWorld, created this beautiful herbalist's farm and shop in the Sherwood Forest community. Inside is a wonderful rustic setting that would please any merry man and his lady. Laurel specializes in beautiful, natural outdoor architecture and landscapes throughout the Active Worlds universe. Visit her Web site at, where you will find Web teleports to her many creations.

In Laurel's own words

Figure 7.84: laurel.jpg

Once upon a time, there was a woman who loved gardens and natural places. One day while wandering through this new realm called cyberspace, she happened upon the most wondrous place she had ever seen. This new place was called AlphaWorld. She was enthralled by the opportunity to create as many gardens and parks as she could stay awake to build. The following is a visual odyssey through her creative endeavors.

Gallery 1- The Mountain

When Laurel first arrived in AlphaWorld, she gazed in wonder at all the lovely buildings. But as she spent more and more time in this enchanting realm, she realized that there was something it lacked. Although the buildings and little flowers were lovely, the land was absolutely flat! Where were the hills and streams that she longed to walk beside? So Laurel set out to build the world's first mountain, and this she did.

Gallery 2- The Interim

After the mountain was finished, Laurel was very pleased at all the lovely visitors that came. But she was also very tired and rested for a long, long while. Besides, after creating a mountain, whatever could she do that would compare? She planted a little garden here and a little garden there, while she thought of what else she might do.

Gallery 3- Moving to Town

Laurel met many wonderful people as she wandered around in AlphaWorld. Solus and Dataman helped her with all her many questions and kept her company. One day, she met some people who were building a special community called Sherwood. They were part of a group called the Contact Consortium and all seemed very nice. They invited her to come and live in their community of Sherwood, so one day she started building a little cottage, and then a little garden there. Laurel loved herbs and decided that her garden would contain all of them that she could find.

Gallery 4- An Invitation

Not long after she had settled into her new little cottage, Dataman told her that there was to be a very special event in AlphaWorld. Tomas and Janka were getting married, but they needed someone to build them a pretty place to hold the ceremony. Laurel smiled happily and said that she would be thrilled to help. And so, after many long hours, the pavilion was created. Tomas and Janka got married there and made history as the first couple to be wed in a virtual world.

The Future

What will Laurel's future hold? Planting more gardens in AlphaWorld, I'm sure; but Laurel is intrigued by the emergence of this new phenomena of worldlets, and would love to help build in them. If you've looked through her galleries and like what she's done, why don't you tell her? If you'd like to share your AlphaWorld sites with her, why don't you write to her? If you or your company has need of a person like Laurel, why don't you let her know? She is anxious to get on with her mission of the greening of cyberspace.

Cities within Cities: the Community Building Phenomenon in Suburban AlphaWorld

Figure 7.85: shmapm.jpg
The early Sherwood Forest Towne.
Click to get print resolution version.

Figure 7.86: img src=shrwdtnm.jpg
Sherwood Towne after just two months of building.
Click to get print resolution version.

Sherwood Forest community is an experiment of the Contact Consortium. Sherwood brings together a large number of people to craft a community space for the purposes of beauty, function, and personal expression. Members of the Sherwood clan include anthropologists, architects, urban planners, teenagers, homemakers, university students, writers, artists, a rabbi, a government economist, and many others. Cartographer Steven Hanly created a series of maps of Sherwood Towne as it was being built. The preceding figures show the pace of growth between March and May 1996. Our goal with Sherwood was to create a space in which builders would have to cooperate closely (the building lots were kept very small), and to create an area of AlphaWorld that people would want to revisit. Find Sherwood at coordinates 105.4N 187.8E 180 skew and see the Sherwood Web page at

Figure 7.87: awshvw3.jpg
This is an aerial view of Sherwood Towne from 400 meters.
Click to get print resolution version.

After some searching of the satellite image of AlphaWorld (which we saw earlier in this chapter) I found Sherwood! Perhaps I just know the layout so well that it was easy (it might be like a needle in a haystack for you), and here it is!

Figure 7.88: bigshs.gif
We found Sherwood in the satellite picture of AlphaWorld!

The community has its own newspaper, the Towne Crier, which documents life in a real inhabited virtual town. Lessons learned in Sherwood are helping consortium members to enrich the experience of culture and community in digital space. Sherwood is an attempt to overcome the "build and abandon" effect that leaves so many ghost towns in AlphaWorld. Sherwood is ongoing, and you are welcome to join the merry townesfolk. Find information at the Consortium Web site at

The mad rush into digital space and away from our communities?

Human beings have always dreamed of creating the perfect society and the most beautifully designed utopian city. Like the sooners of Oklahoma, we rush madly into the digital promised land to stake our homestead. There are those who question this. They claim that the growth of virtual communities is a symptom of a loss of the community around us. They say that we all yearn for the neighborly contact we had in ìthe good old days," yet today we sometimes distrust or avoid our neighbors. Many of you now reading this book will end up as avatar devotees and spend hours online having a great time. I hope that you make new relationships that are interesting and creative. I suspect, however, that you will find an avatar hug won't feel quite the same as a real one.

There is a balance to everything. Writing this book has required me to spend hundreds of hours in virtual worlds, and I have met hundreds of wonderful people there whom I never would have met otherwise. I have had the good fortune to meet some of these people in person, and they have often surprised and delighted me. Perhaps the virtual world, like the telephone, is just another way to make contact with fellow human beings. The telephone has extended our community of friends and family, overcoming the isolation of distance while bringing humanity closer together. I believe that the virtual worlds of avatar cyberspace will be as important to the twenty-first century as the telephone is today. I also believe it is important to get out of that seat every once in a while and hug your spouse, kid, parent, cat, dog, or neighbor. Goodness, what a thought!.

Digital planet

Enough of today's sermon! There are so many fun and creative community projects in AlphaWorld and other Active Worlds that you will never be able to keep up with them. Who knows, one day in a few years, someone will calculate that there is more land being tended in virtual worlds than the area of the surface of the Earth. Goodness, what a thought!

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.