Saturday, February 18, 2012

Destinations: Memento mori...Remember your ChouChou

This is a reprint of an old forum post of mine (September 8, 2010).  I thought I'd trot it back out (again) because of all the wonderful articles recently published and the pictures on the SL Feed celebrating the reopening this year of one of my all-time favorite sims.  I think Chouchou represents the best of what can be in Second Life.  It's magical.


The Memento mori region is where the cathedral is located in Chouchou. It's not an activity sim. The effect, for me, is most like being a tourist in Europe in a parallel world. It's a sightseeing sim.

The old cathedrals in Europe are enormous, weighty, cold and beautiful. This place recreates that mood. The region's environmental settings are dark and cold. My avi is wearing a t-shirt and jeans, much as I would in life, and I can just feel that familiar shiver of going from the sunny outdoors to the dim and shadowy interior of a historic and spiritual stone sanctuary with a colorful tourist pamphlet in hand. People come and go in the same numbers and time as tourists do in real cathedrals. I go in and see one couple wander about while another person decides to sit in a pew and another goes to take a look at the piano. All the while there are sounds...the bells of the cathedral, a piano playing, angels singing... the wind.

This region pushes my sense memory buttons. That's a big reason for why I respond to it the way I do. It's that and it's my utter appreciation for people who have the vision, energy and patience to create something that is so beautiful and can push my sense memory buttons so satisfyingly. There's also something lovely about knowing there's an unspoken connection to strangers based on something like this. I get it. I get what they were saying with this and while they don't know me, they get me on some level. Same with anyone else who responds to this place the way I do. Silent communication and connection. It's cool, man. 

My mother, who died in 2003, was a Brit living in the states. My Dad, an American, was in the Air Force and then later had a civilian career. We lived in England for a time and traveled around Europe and returned for visits regularly, not only to see family, but to see that part of the world. I've literally been travelling and seeing the world since I was a baby. 

So we traveled. We also saw movies. I grew up in a household that relished the whole experience of going to the movies. When I was a little girl, I stood in a line that literally stretched blocks, the very definition of blockbuster, to see a movie that had created the most palpable excitement among almost everyone I knew. My parents brought games and snacks and a blanket to sit on and we waited. Chewbacca worked his way down the line and stopped to give me a "May the Force Be With You" button and to pat my head and give me a thrill to break up the wait. And then I saw the premiere of Star Wars. It was amazing. I loved the movie, but I also loved the energy around it. Excitement like that, in my little mind, makes a community out of strangers for a moment. I think that's cool too. But I'm easy. I get a rush out of seeing crimson curtains swing back and forth while the projectionist cues up the flick at old movie houses. Seriously. That's all it takes.

Something as simple as giving me that cinematic HUD and letting me loose in a pixel cathedral really gets my amateur cineast juices flowing. I feel shades of Roland Joffé's The Mission, Alex Proyas' Dark City, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, Steven Soderbergh's Solaris and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, even a little of John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven and Michael Crichton's Westworld. It's like catching a whiff of tobacco when you don't smoke anymore or smelling baking cookies when you are hungry. It's little hits of something oh so good. Hits of things that make you yearn a little and stretch that particular emotional muscle.

I also have a love of music that I won't go into here and now, because this post is already too long and I'm about to bury it, but I know the power of music too. And clearly, so do the sim builders.

So I love to travel, I love movies and I love music and I love the evocative power of architecture and art and film and sound and I'm one big jukebox of sense memory. 

This region is nothing more than a pixel build meant to resemble a cathedral with some sunlight, a piano and a streaming soundtrack. It's a bunch of prim pixels and some music. That's all there is. Period. You can walk through it. You can sit in a pew. You can listen to the music. You're done. This is really much ado about nothing. Unless it hits you. And what are the odds of that?

It's also one third of something that two Japanese artist-musicians chose to build over the last two years in order to experiment with sight and sound and to themselves...share? Why build it?

As simple and humble as it is, it hit me right in the core. It's just a moment on the cartoon side of the old internet, but I think it's beautiful. I don't romanticize relationships, so I romanticize...other things.

No, I take that back. I don't need or want to apologize or diminish or qualify. This sim is beautiful and I was simply, gloriously, happily blown away.

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