Last summer, Walter began to worry about the future of Second Life in the face of growing evidence of the financial struggles of Linden Lab. In particular, he worried about how we would keep our family together, if Second Life should suddenly tank. He decided to work on a backup plan: building us a second home, in another virtual world. Not to leave SL; but to establish a beachhead, a fallout shelter, a Plan B.

After a few months of experimentation with various virtual worlds, he decided that we would build in the OpenSim world of OSgrid. One attractive thing about it is that there is no TOS, and no restrictions on “adult” lifestyles. Also, it is incredibly cheap. For less than the cost of a single homestead sim in SL, we could have 24 full regions, each one with no less than 20,000 prims, some with much more. Unlike SL, we are connected to OSgrid but our regions are hosted on our servers; that gives Walter full control over our world. No overlords; no being at the mercy of someone else’s poor business decisions. For Walter, and for our family, this was perfect. Walter was really excited. I think this is something he was born to do.

Walter’s imagination saw the possibilities, not only for our own family, but for the whole BDSM community on SL. Linden Lab is, to put it charitably, increasingly less hospitable to the BDSM community. But having our own grid would put us in charge. We would not need to conform to someone else’s rules. We would make our own rules, and protect and celebrate our way of life. So Walter hatched a plan to create a virtual world, not just for our family but for the whole BDSM community. And thus, Littlefield was born.

“Our hope is that Littlefield will be a safe, fun, and rewarding environment for the BDSM/Adult/Fetish community. We hope this community will bring together like minded individuals who will be able to create, interact, and have fun with very limited cost. We hope to offer some clarity and education about the BDSM/Fetish lifestyle to help anyone who is curious or wants to learn about the practices of BDSM in RL.” –About Littlefield, by Walter Balazic

As good as that sounds in theory, I will admit that at first I was reluctant. I love Second Life. It has been my home for four years. I love the creative people and the amazing builds and artworks they have made. I love my friends. I love the visual splendor of the world. I love being able to explore strange and wonderful new environments and experiences. I marvel at what people are to pull forth from their minds.

My first few visits to alternate grids did not reassure me. I love Walter very much, and I believed in his vision. Yet, at the same time, my initial experience was unappealing. For one thing, it was lonely: 5000 sims and I rarely saw more than 80 people online in the whole grid. Then there was my appearance, of which I am very conscious in Second Life. I am not a fashionista by any means, but I do love looking good; I have taken great care selecting skins, shapes, hair and clothes and I really appreciate the artistry that goes into making them. Alas, upon arrival in OSgrid, I looked like a 2006 noob; and even worse, the only skins, hair and clothes I found were freebies from that same era. I couldn’t find an AO so I was stuck walking like a duck. The buildings and landscaping around me were amateurish, lacking that spark of design sophistication that makes SL so appealing. I got very depressed over it. What would my life be, here? Yes, Walter would be in the new world, but the prospect of disconnecting from everything else I loved in SL seemed grim beyond words.

So I sat down to think things through. As I often do when pondering a dilemma, I begin by reminding myself of that which is most important, the sine qua non. And that is Walter. He is the most important person in my life. I may live in a virtual world, but my home is in him. He is my center, my ground, my reason for being. At my collaring, I made a vow to stay with him, to follow him to the end of all things. And I will, even if it were to mean forsaking everything else.

Having established that, I began to ponder my dilemma. Staying with Walter was a source of happiness. So what was making me unhappy? I focused on two things. My avatar looked terrible; and the world around me looked grim. Well… what if, instead of just lamenting the problem, I tackled it head on? Could I fix those things? Would there be a way to procure good skins, decent clothes? Instead of accepting as a given the uninspired world I saw, could I build something better, a world that was visually pleasing?

The more I thought it through, the more I began to see myself, not like a refugee, but almost as a character in a science fiction novel–a pioneer on a spaceship sent to colonize another planet. If we wanted something, we would have to find a way to bring it with us, or, more likely, make it ourselves; there would be no stores where we could just buy things. Could I do this? I was pretty sure I could make buildings, but could I make my own trees, my own clothes, my own hair… my own skin?

I thought about it for several days. Then it was time for action. I had to build just one thing, something simple, something that could reassure me that other things eventually would be possible. I sketched out a simple plaza, with fountains and planters and benches. When my friend VonGklugelstein Alter gave me permission to use his textures in our new grid, things suddenly started looking up. I built a few stores. They didn’t look half bad. Inspiration hit, generating ideas for a community center. I experimented with making a tree. I bit the bullet and started to learn Photoshop. I found clothing templates I could work with.

I’m not sure exactly when the transition happened, but somewhere in there, I went from being dragged reluctantly into what seemed like a prison, to voluntarily spending almost all my time there, because it’s so much fun.

There are a LOT of challenges. But now, instead of depressing me, the challenges energize me, and even entertain me. If I need a building tool, I can’t go out and buy it. I have to make it. (But it’s not such a bad thing, is it, to learn how to do it myself?) There is no fashion world on OSgrid; no other designers, no shopping, no couture, no skin makers, no hair makers. But some makers of clothing templates in SL will license their content for other grids; so I can make some cute outfits, and we have one person in our family who is really good at making clothes and shoes. I found a free skin on the internet that’s really good. Hair is still a challenge, but we are working on it. Animations are another, but we now have one pioneer who is applying herself to that trade. My avatar now looks almost normal.

It is a different way of being. My SL has been, not so much about creativity, as experiencing and appreciating the creativity of others. It is a somewhat passive experience of consumption. On OSgrid there is not much out there available to be consumed. Whatever we want to consume, we must make. The experience of Littlefield is proactive, one of creating, colonizing our own new planet, building a world that we’re in charge of, for the benefit of our family, our friends, our community.

Walter was right about this. He usually is right. I am learning to trust that.

I am still in SL–I don’t see myself ever leaving SL–but pixel by pixel, the Littlefield part of my world is coming into focus. It stimulates a different aspect of my mind and heart. It is a place of limitless possibilities. A place that is all potential, all promise, all vision, unrealized as yet, but well on its way.