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Doings in the Palace

What is doing in The Palace? It turns out…quite a lot! This next section will give you a sampling.


I have been interviewed twice in The Palace. One reason The Palace is so good for interviews is that you can save the log of all conversations. Another reason is that many people can get into the interview area and participate. The first interview I did was for Artificial Intelligence Watch, a British computer science newsletter. I was able to do this while on vacation in July 1996, up in the woods outside Seattle on a friendís Internet connection. This also saved huge telephone charges (to call London).

The second interview I did was for Fabrice Florin, of Zenda, creator of innovative environments and games for citizens of virtual worlds. Fabrice produced Minds Palace for Howard Rheingold, working with cartoonist Jim Woodring, and ìspoon manî Mark Petrakis. Minds Palace, as a first-rate social spot in The Palace cosmos, holds regular interviews and publishes them later on their Web site at I was recruited for such an interview, so showed up early in the dressing area of Minds Palace. You can connect to Minds Palace by choosing File È Connect and entering

Digi gets a dressing down

I had arrived early at Minds Palace for my interview, nervous as a mare in the springtime. It wasnít exactly like appearing on the Tonight Show, but I still wanted to look my best.

Figure 6.23: pa7p.jpg
I arrive at Minds Palace prop wall to get dressed for a big interview.

Minds Palace has a great prop wall, where you can collect and use props to dress up your avatar. The prop wall must have seen me coming, because it had just the accessories for an out-of-breath, red-faced roundhead like me.

Figure 6.24: pa7r.jpg
I pull rubbery legs into my Props satchel.

I dragged and dropped a wonderful set of rubbery arms and legs into my Prop satchel, opened it up, and found them all nicely stashed there. From that point, I could just drag the props onto my avatarís body, and use the Edit window to adjust them and voilà: Digiís got legs!

Figure 6.25: pa7q.jpg
I Plopped my new prop legs onto old round head!

Snatching a crown and a funny thing that looked like a crumhorn (my voice is pretty soft, so I need to get attention somehow), I was off to my date with destiny…famous author interviewed (well, famous in his own computer room, anyway).

Camera! Action! The interview of famous author Digi

Out of breath, there is quite a crowd here, and there is…Coyote, the avatar representing Fabrice of Zenda. I sure liked his avatar; must be someone from the Hopi or Navajo legends. It reminds me fondly of times spent driving through Arizona and New Mexico.

Figure 6.26: pa8e.jpg
My interview with the famous creator of Zenda starts!

The interview is just starting, when one of our honored members of the studio audience, mr. rotten, starts to heckle from the peanut gallery. As these interviews are posted all over Minds Palace, any kind of rabble can just show up!

Figure 6.27: pa8d.jpg
mr. rotten is not happy!

mr. rotten is not happy, or rather, very happy to have a stage to do his number. So what can we do? Well, we carry on the interview to see if mr. rotten sees something of interest, or just gets bored and goes away. Letís tune in now to the action (my comments are in italics). What follows is part of the log of my interview.

mr. rotten sets the tone

mr. rotten: uuhh this sucks, this is like boring i am going to go do something productive like beat up a trashcan or something

some time later

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): Well, shy people or people with dull lives can become more…

Coyote: virtual community versus physical community

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): flamboyant. And it is a community of the mind, like any academic pursuit.

mr. rotten: who the hell are you??

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): Community is in the mind.

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): Or starts in the mind, our model of communities. So virtual worlds are…

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): places where we build new mental models of community which

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): may be ephemeral (these communities may only last weeks,

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): if that).

mr. rotten is being ignored

mr. rotten: bunghole

Guest 5443: What do you mean, community is in the mind?

Guest 5443: For me community has always be strongly associated with place

mr. rotten: uuhh i do not understand these words

mr. rotten: they are confusing me

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): Good question, but say you took all the people out…

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): of a village and into another altogether different place…

Coyote: you have visited a lot of communities in the past few years: which ones have turned out to be most interesting? why?

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): would they re-form the community they had, their relationships?

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): Do they need the village buildings?

mr. rotten starts to get interested and conversation turns to him

mr. rotten: hey Bruce exactly who are you so i know what to ask you in questions

Coyote: we're talking about social life in places like this, mr. rotten

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): Oh, for all you, see for what I do.

mr. rotten: oh i see

Coyote: Bruce has studied those and is writing a book on the subject

mr. rotten: like when you are talking to someone or having friends

mr. rotten: kinda like in real life??

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener):, avatar central

Coyote: yes, exactly.

mr. rotten: pretty cool

mr. rotten: basically what we are doing right now.... right??

Coyote: my question is: is the way we interact here as valid as real-life interaction?

Coyote: or is it a bit of an illusion?

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): What do you think, Mr R?

mr. rotten: about what??

mr. rotten: i am kinda tired

mr. rotten: sorry

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): about Coy's question

mr. rotten: good question

Coyote: are we hiding behind our avs? or are our avs a true representation of ourselves?

mr. rotten: put on the spot

mr. rotten: not for me

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): what does everyone think?

the truth is out!

mr. rotten: i am a totally different person on the computer then in real life

Coyote: i try to represent myself as honestly as I can on the computer

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): what are you like in RL?

Guest 5443: Perhaps we are particular facets of ourselves

mr. rotten: well for one thing i am only 13

Coyote: good point, 43

mr. rotten: i mean

Guest 5443: I think it's rather difficult at this point…

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): are you a big cheese here in The Palace, how do you see your role here?

mr. rotten: on the computer i come on to have fun and kinda be a different person

Guest 5443: to represent the entire complexity of a person in a virtual setting

Coyote: are you rowdier on the computer?

mr. rotten: i see my role (sorry to say) as a person who bothers people makes jokes but is also a pretty nice guy

mr. rotten: OH YES I AM COYOTE

mr. rotten: OH YES

mr. rotten: VERY TRUE

Coyote: are you more reserved in real life?

mr. rotten: yes

Coyote: so this is a bit of an outlet for you

mr. rotten: uh huh

Bruce Damer (DigiGardener): these are interesting questions

mr. rotten: i am like a whole different person on here

Figure 6.28: pa8h.jpg
Bye all my friends! This interview was conducted partly in French.

So, this interview went a whole different place than I thought it would, and we learned something about mr. rotten, life in virtual worlds, and in RL (real life). These interviews are snippets of life, streams of thought and can be quite touching (or stupendously boring!).

Figure 6.29: pa8b.jpg
Shameless plug for this book, Coyote adds an image prop into The Palace.

Expand your Mental Capacity in Minds Palace

Figure 6.30: pa6e.jpg
Minds Palace Logo.

The Minds Palace is a Palace world created to explore new forms of social interaction. Developed by Zenda Studio (also described in the following section on Games) as a companion to Howard Rheingold's new Electric Minds Web site, this new site features the day-glo visuals of comic artist Jim Woodring (who also designed Comic Chat), the creative direction of Mark "Spoonman" Petrakis, and all sorts of new inter-activities, such as interviews (like the one I did described above) and Zenda's addictive Charebus game (see the next section). (This repeats info given on p.33.)

In Minds Palace, you can make your own character from a large collection of outrageous body parts and, if you're lucky, get your 15 seconds of fame in their monument to cool avatars. Drop on in, enjoy the view, and pursue good conversation with other like minds. Find the Minds Palace home page at Connect directly with Minds Palace by entering into your Connect dialogue box.

Games! Charebus

Zenda studio, working with Minds Palace and the Palace Inc. has produced Charebus, a combination of charades and rebus in which you solve picture puzzles while chatting with other players from around the world. A new twist on charades, pictionary, and rebus puzzles, Charebus is currently played in the Minds Palace at 5 p.m. each Saturday. Groups of five or more can play at the same time. Each Charebus puzzle features a different mystery phrase (movie, song, TV show, etc.). To solve the puzzle, you must guess picture clues related to that mystery phrase.

Find information about Charebus and other games in the Palace at Zenda Studioís home page at You can even submit your own puzzle ideas for future episodes of Charebus.

Avatar fashion shows

So many Palace citizens (who are registered users) have created their own avatars that it seems like a real pageant. Some citizens have created multiple avatars, which they change in and out of in the course of the avatar parade. Take Turbodog for example.

Figure 6.31: pa5j.jpg
Turbodog, the turbocharged roundhead.

Roundheads are the ubiquitous smiley faces everyone starts with as a guest in the Palace. When you become a registered user, you get a red roundhead and the power to create your own avatar. Turbodog, who I met one day, is a student from the Bayou country of Louisiana, and a total pro in the avatar creation game. Take a look at his turbo-charged roundhead here!

Figure 6.32: pa5k.jpg
Turbodog as Ren (or Stimpy?) of MTV cartoon fame.

Wow, who is this character? I think it is Ren (or Stimpy?) from his glory days on MTV. Avamarks, otherwise affectionately known as avatar trademark violations, abound in virtual worlds. As avatars are still small potatoes in the world of entertainment, we have yet to see hundreds of blue-suited avalawyers chasing down avamarks and serving them with avasuits.

Figure 6.33: pa5h.jpg
Beavis and Butthead got a life…in The Palace!

Get a life, Beavis and Butthead, and come on into The Palace! Turbodog brings you two more famous MTV characters in another of his avatars.

Figure 6.34: pa5i.jpg
BRB avatar; very useful for personal survival.

Here, Turbodog is showing off one of his more practical avatars, the famed BRB (be right back). One has to eat sometime, lest The Palace eat up your whole life!

Using Macros to switch between various sets of grouped props is the way to create an avatar fashion show.

IptScrae…better living through scripting

Scripting, using The Palaceís very own programming language, affectionately known as IptScrae (pig Latin for SCRIPT), is a powerful way to automate yourself, create bots, and have a whole lot of fun.

Figure 6.35: pa6b.jpg
Snowball script in action…gotcha!

I used the snowball script built by Turbodog to chuck this hunk of white at my fellow avatars.

Figure 6.36: pa6c.jpg
Oops! I got it back!

Snowballs work both ways, so I did get it back in my cheery face.

Figure 6.37: pa6a.jpg
The IptScrae language makes snowballs work.

And here it is, the IptScrae programming language which makes the snowballs happen. Describing all the details of IptScrae is beyond the scope of this chapter. If you are an ordinary user, you might be satisfied with running scripts that other programming nerd types give to you. If you are afflicted by deep nerd thought, you may want to learn IptScrae by checking the references in The Palace, ìFrequently Asked Questions (FAQ),î section at the end of this chapter.

Bots: itís the Borg!

Appearing more often in virtual worlds are things called bots (a virtual world shorthand for robot). In other types of computer software, bots are called agents or angels. Bots, agents, and angels are all pieces of software that run on their own, and sometimes look just like other users who communicate with us. However, there is no person behind a bot (apart from the programmer of the bot, who may not be around). Bots can be very helpful, as greeters or guides, or sometimes they can tell you who has been in a particular area in the last 24 hours. However, some bot builders are pretty devious, and design their bots to trick people into thinking that the bot is a real person.

Back in the early days of computers, the first scientists who dreamed of thinking machines built a program called Eliza. Eliza would take in text typed by users, and then, with a big word and phrase association table, carry out a conversation. Eliza could fool people for long periods of time. Eliza could act as a psychotherapist, taking statements like, ìwell, I finally got to speak with my father,î and throwing back, ìwhat did you speak with your father about?î and so on.

Figure 6.38: pa5m.jpg
Is it a bot? Or has the Borg arrived to assimilate us?!

Talking bots can be designed to mimic Eliza, which could make for embarrassing situations when real users discover that they have been talking about their deepest, innermost feelings with a bot for an hour (especially if it was a good-looking one!). We in the virtual worlds business have been wracking our brains for years to come up with a standard symbol for bot so that no user is tricked (if people will use the symbol). After finding nothing suitable, users came up with it for us: the eye piece on the Borg characters, as depicted on Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. As we can see in the preceding figure, a user is proudly displaying a Borg avatar (in this case representing a real user). This kind of bot facial markings (black ring around the right eye as you are looking at it) is now being used increasingly to signify a bot .

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.