Beira da Ribeira, by RioSisco Productions, mixes one of the most interesting promises of Second Life – the one of taking its residents into amazing journeys – with the idea of using the platform for reflecting on present and momentous questions, such as the place of the Amazon rainforest in our days. And it does so by presenting us a scenery which is, by the mere placement of its elements, already full of stories, narratives or statements.
It seems strategic that the region’s landing point takes the visitor straight into a deforested area. At your arrival in Beira da Ribeira, you immediately encounter one of the most worrisome problems that affect the Amazon today. The fact that a ship waits nearby suggests that we are not seeing a small-scale operation, but a more devastating timber extraction effort. This is what I mean when I say that the place offers us some narratives: it delivers some stories with their specific contexts and circumstances.
The sim (I would probably face Patch Linden’s anger if he learned that I used the word “sim” instead of “region” here, but since I enjoy no more than 6 or 7 regular readers, I doubt he will ever be aware of this post 🙂 ) has two small inhabited areas. One of them is a village with houses built on stilts – and it’s interesting to compare them with the stilt homes recently released by Linden Lab in Bellisseria. While in Belli those dwellings are part of a suburban landscape that would easily fit the US imagery, houses in Beira da Ribeira look much more modest. It is interesting to notice, too, that in a section of the village, an entire group of houses counts on an single outhouse for their residents – which implies a more traditional way of building latrines (and which also makes perfect sense in an area with no sewage network, as it seems to be the case there).
The other area is a classic settlement of a native people. It is set in a clearing and displays items like huts, hammocks and traditional cooking utensils. I missed an adjacent vegetable plot, but it’s true that it’s not a mandatory element for all native communities. Finally, of course the region is full of different plant species and animals like alligators, macaws, woodpeckers, jaguars and so on.
It is clear, in the sim, that tradition is not a pure extension of the past into the present, but a continuity that shapes life as long as it makes sense for those who follow it. The region represents it well, as it does not depict traditional elements in a purely stereotypical way. Actually, it places them along with items such as a communication tower and solar panels, indicating a more complex dynamic between permanence and transformation.
Of course, Beira da Ribeira is a static scenery, but it does refer to the complexity of the real Amazon where its inspiration comes from. And it does so not by reproducing any particular part of the Amazon in the virtual world: instead, it represents the rain forest’s elements – that’s how the region by Fred Hamilton (frecoi) and Lotus Mastroianni takes us right into the Amazonian multiplicity.
Let’s be honest: for the majority of SL residents, the Amazon is a distant part of the world that they know by movies (which often distort it) or newspapers and news programs on TV. So, Beira da Ribeira transports us into a more realistic Amazon even if it is not a reproduction of the forest. As a matter of fact, reproductions generally face problems in SL. A building found in real life, for instance, will always have to deal with the quandary of proportion in Second Life: if it keeps ratio between its dimensions, avatars will feel uncomfortable inside it, even if you change your camera angle, and it won’t be possible to translate into the virtual world the sensation of being inside the real (as opposed to virtual) building.
That’s why, in Second Life, feeling real (and by that I mean translating into the virtual world the sensations or impressions that one has when they experience some real-life reality) may be more important than being real (in the sense of reproducing some real-life reality as accurately as possible). That’s what happens in Beira da Ribeira: even if it does not depict any particular place in the Amazon, it can evoke in visitors the feeling of experiencing the Amazonian environment. Of course, it is a limited experience, compared to what it could be in the so-called real world. Yet, it is powerful enough to allow us to understand a bit better the challenges that the forest and its communities have been facing.