A Death Knell for OKAPI Island?

An interesting (and aggravating) confluence of events occurred this week, all of which may have some bearing on the future of OKAPI island, where we host our experimental reconstruction of the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük. You can check out the history of my experience with OKAPI island if you click on the “Second Life” tag in the sidebar.

On October 5th, Linden Labs announced that they are discontinuing the academic discount, effectively doubling our already exorbitant fees for OKAPI Island. The changes will take place 1 January, 2011. We just found out about it a couple of days ago–already in mid-semester full-swing development–we were implementing several projects, including the creation of a script that automatically recreated pot-prims from rim drawings, hosting the Bristol TAG film festival, a fully developed lesson plan for elementary school teachers that used the island, and a new more interactive museum. Needless to say, this has thrown a considerable monkeywrench into our semester.

On that note, it is also Open Access Week. We are looking into porting the project to OpenSimulator, which we probably should have been using from the start. Sadly the learning barrier is even higher than that of Second Life, so it is not obvious that OpenSim is a viable solution. We have had to switch from our existing projects to a kind of virtual triage–the downside of using proprietary formats and worlds. We will probably try an appeal to Linden Labs, but are pessimistic of any results. OKAPI Island was never intended to be “forever,” but the end may come faster than anticipated.

As a side note, the anticipated comic session for Bristol TAG was cancelled (booo!), so I threw my lot in with the CASPAR (audio-visual practice-as-research in archaeology) folks. I submitted this abstract and title:

Machinima and Virtually Embodied Archaeological Research

OKAPI Island in Second Life has been the site of archaeological research at the University of California, Berkeley since 2007. During this time the island has hosted lectures, film festivals, tours, educational outreach, and archaeological reconstructions created by a team of undergraduate and graduate students. In Fall of 2009, the OKAPI team pushed boundaries in interpretation and filmmaking by making archaeological machinima (movies made entirely within virtual worlds), the actor/avatars wearing the “skins” of the Neolithic residents of Çatalhöyük, a 9,000 year old tell site in Turkey.  This virtual embodiment of past peoples confused modern social boundaries of student and professor, archaeological subject and object, artifice and artifact.

In a session bringing together practice and research within audio-visual representations of archaeological sites, this presentation will explore the profound discomfort, complications, and surprising insights that come with navigating archaeological “fact” and fiction through embodied storytelling in a virtual world.

So, if you’ve never checked out OKAPI Island, I suggest you do so ASAP:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Okapi/128/128/0