“There was nothing left in them except sorrow for what they had done, and love of Big Brother. It was touching to see how they loved him. They begged to be shot quickly, so that they could die while their minds were still clean.” (ORWELL, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four.)
Science Innovation Company, S.I.C., is a classic in Second Life. It has been there for years and keeps standing as one of the best examples of the cyberpunk universe transposed to the virtual world. There, technology created not a flawless plastic experience, but a decayed post-industrial environment where progress is far from immaculate.
S.I.C. is an atmosphere. By visiting the sim that hosts it (which is called “sick”, one should notice), we do not actually know what the company is about, but it is easy to identify there a wide variety of elements that help to build a cyberpunk scenery. To start with, the place feels like a dystopia, with robots controlling the streets at the visitors’ arrival point. In contrast with a post-modern misery seen everywhere around, videos displaying messages of “love” and “hope” here and there immediately reminded me of the doublethink, described by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them […]. […] To deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary”.
While sharing a certain dark future representation with part of the sci-fi tradition, S.I.C. also borrows its ambiance from a reinterpretation of film noir elements which movies like Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys or Dark City helped develop. Of course, S.I.C. is not a full narrative and, because of that, I refer mainly to its visual characteristics, not to the plot components of noir stories it could possibly have. As for what we see: the urban industrial/post-industrial atmosphere is there, as are the dark alleys and the somber places. And if the proper WindLight presets one chooses (nowadays, most viewers for SL, including the official one, have plenty of them), it is easy to reproduce the chiaroscuro photography which is typical of the noir visual effects. One can identify there, as well, some influence of the early 20th Century German Expressionism, which is considered to be one of the sources from which the noir takes inspiration – and which, itself, gave us one of the earliest examples of a dystopia in a movie: Metropolis, by Fritz Lang.
As in other cyberpunk scenarios, S.I.C. mixes those effects and the colorful mess linked to the imagery of postmodern cities – and in many cases to their realities as well. Think of contemporary big cities, not only in the Western world, but also in Asia, for instance, with their neon advertising devices, their tall buildings with lights on during the night, some of them topped by LED screen billboards… S.I.C. has some of that feeling, too.
Though to a limited extent, S.I.C. is interactive (i.e. it is not only a static scene). It is possible to step on certain bases found on the ground where one can dance or fight, or to take self pics at an automatic photo machine… This time I also got locked in a jewelry store when I touched a glass display case there, activating its security system – was I was accidentally stealing jewelry? And, of course, watch out at the arrival point, the robots are there! But if you want to buy stuff with the sim’s atmosphere, it’s there, too, where you will find a store. Probably the most interesting experience, though, is the visual tour provided by a panoramic viewer device that one finds after climbing some stairs and which works by driving one’s camera all around the sim.
Finally, I ended my visit to S.I.C. by going to a jazz (?) bar and playing the piano to the little monsters that are long-time habitués there. After all, even in such a somber place, there is music as well.