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Meet Passport Citizens!

Figure 11.24 ch6aa.jpg
The Chicago Black Sun Five pose at the Adler Planetarium.
Click here for print resolution version

The design and content of worlds are only interesting for a limited period of time. After that, it is the people who make a world worth revisiting. Emperor P'ter's simple world attracted a big crowd because he had designed a clock which would count down the New Year, and he had gone out and found people to share this experience.

The Chicago Five

The Chicago Five (pictured in the previous figure) are Dave Maloney (nicknamed Guy) and his wife Debbie, nicknamed Gal, and their friends WildBill, Pegasus, and Jedi (their avatar nicknames). They are posing in front of the Planetarium in Chicago where they all journeyed to meet in the flesh after knowing each other only as avatars in Black Sun worlds. Their stories, which are recounted below, are about human contact through the new medium of digital space, and how new friendships can blossom. You can find the full story of all members of the Chicaco Five on the companion book website under the Black Sun link. Let us now hear about the Chicago Five from its ringleader, Guy:

Guy, avatar ring leader of the Chicago Five, and Gal

by David Maloney (a.k.a. Guy)

Hello World!Ö.Those were the first words that I typed into the keyboard. Before me on my computer screen was a world totally new to me, and unlike anything I had ever seen before on the World Wide Web. A three-dimensional world filled with color and light that I could walk and fly through in real time.

I had been rummaging around on the Internet since November 1995, and had seen my share of Web sites and chat rooms. In early March of 1996 I was paging through a copy of Computer Graphics World magazine, and came across a small article announcing that a company called Black Sun Interactive had released a product called CyberGate. Reading that it was a beta version of a multi-user virtual reality chat room really did not mean much to me, until I went to their Web site, downloaded the program, and installed it on my computer. I soon understood what they meant.

This is a virtual space that allows people to communicate and interact from anywhere in the world as if they were in the same room. I could see other people that were also logged into the world that I was inhabiting, and communicate with them though a chat box below the 3D window. They appeared in the form of avatars, three-dimensional shapes that could move and fly just as I could. Black Sun had provided an avatar room filled with interesting and bizarre creatures that would allow you to change how you appeared to others simply by clicking on the avatar you wanted. At first, all we could say to each other was, ìThis is incredible!î and, ìWhen did you find this?î

It was Black Sun Avatar #12 that I first crawled inside to inhabit the 3D spaces, and took the nickname of Guy. To this day, I am not sure why I took this name, except that Avatar #12 was a kind of generic-looking robotic shape, and I felt that I would start out simple and hopefully transform over time, as I learned more about these virtual worlds. I soon felt at home here, and started to investigate this world. I was in the main meeting room called PointWorld, which had links to many other 3D spaces, some of which linked to web sites.

Although this new approach to surfing the Web was interesting, it was the interaction with the people in these worlds that really caught my interest. I spent the next couple of months popping in as time allowed, and I began to learn more and more about some of the people who kept returning. Slowly, I began to think of some of these people as true friends that I saw almost daily, much more often than I was able to see good friends in the real world. An incredible dynamic was being created here. People linked through worlds alone, and never actually met.

What made the conversation so dynamic was the diversity of the people there. There were housewives, computer system managers, Web developers, graphic designers, programmers, kids in high school, just to name a few. All connected though one thing: words. And it was through the use of these words that we got to know each other. Not by how we looked, or how we were dressed, or where we lived, or even the expression on our faces, just words. Some of the conversations that took place were incredible. Subjects ranged from books, movies, new hardware, new software, to a new Baywatch episode. I guess we could get blamed for abusing this great new technology, but we also used this place to amuse and delight each other with our wit (or lack of it) and humor after a hard day at work, school, or home.

My wife, Debbie, soon became interested in these strange shapes moving across the screen, and was wondering why I was sometimes laughing hysterically at the computer. After she began to see some of these shapes start to emerge as real characters and real people, she decided to beam in and join our little community. Guy and Gal soon became part of the virtual landscape of PointWorld and beyond, sometimes causing friendly races to the computer terminal after work, as only one person could log in at a time.

As with any community, there can be problems. And we had our share in cyberspace. Because we were using only typed words to communicate, there was always the chance to misinterpret what someone said. This caused problems more than once. We had to learn to be careful of what we said. As Black Sun states on their site: ìDon't forget that there is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person on the other side of that computer screen communicating through their keyboard, just as you are.î

As with any chat room, there is always the problem of people who enter only to cause trouble and ruin the experience for others. We came to call these people ìrudies,î not to be confused with newbies, who were new arrivals, and had not yet learned all the rules associated with these VR spaces. We even had set up meetings to discuss the behavior of these people and how to deal with them. These meetings were not pretty, as this was a decisive issue for some. Some believed that it was an issue of free speech, while others believed that the rooms should be patrolled for such people, and their right to be there revoked. Black Sun eventually created an elegant solution to this problem by installing an Ignore button into a new release of their software. This allowed those who did not want to hear someone to block them out, while others would not have this censorship forced on them. Peace reigned again in cyberspaceÖ. for the time being.

Figure 11.25 ch6ba.jpg
Avatars made by Guy, Gal, and Pegasus of the Chicago Five.
Click for print resolution version

One of the most fascinating things for me was to first learn that we could create our own avatars. My first project was to create custom avatars for Guy and Gal. I had experience working with computer models in the engineering field that I work in, so I began to investigate VRML, and how to create for it. It wasn't long before we were using the avatars shown here. Gal also took on the alter-ego of the evil penguin, Feathers MacGraw, from the British claymation movies, Wallace & Grommet by Nick Park. I would change my avatar depending on the location from which I was logging in. Currently, I have over 80 different avatars posted on my Web site for use by the community. (see Guy's site at I always thought that everyone should be able to have their own individual avatar.

Another great feature of the Black Sun browser is that, as well as adding your own avatars, you can also build your own worlds for yourself and others to inhabit. Black Sun supplies information on how to make them multi-user. Besides the Black Sun homepage, another great place for information about world building can be found at Gerry's Inner Sanctum (

As I write this, we are planning the one-year anniversary party for PointWorld. It first opened on February 13, 1996. As part of the celebration, we are going to try to set a record for the number of people in a Black Sun world at one time. The unofficial record is 44, I believe. We tried once before, and made it up to around 36 avatars in one world, but I know we can make it up to 50. (See Guy's Pile-in report at

Last summer, several of the regulars had an opportunity to actually meet for the first time. The meeting place was in Chicago, where some lived, but others traveled all the way from North Carolina. One even rode his motorcycle all the way from New Jersey to be there. I think we were all a little nervous meeting for the first time, but it did not take long for us all to get talking, just as we did in Black Sun worlds. We are also planning to make this a yearly meeting out in the real world, each year adding new people that we have met.

Won't you join us?


Don't forget to see the full story of the Chicago Five on the companion book website at

Netiquette in Passport Worlds

Here are some guidelines from the good folks at Black Sun about building a civil cybersociety.

If someone is bothering you

If someone is offending you in any way, you have the option of ignoring them. This means you will no longer see their avatar or any of the text they may write. To do this, highlight the offending party's name on the list of people and click on the Mute button. Use Mute as a last resort. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be if someone suddenly refused to acknowledge that you even existed!

Lurk before you leap

This is one of the few times virtual voyeurism is OK and actually encouraged. Listen in on what others are chatting about to get a general sense of how the regulars act. Once you understand a little of the lingo and tempo and topics, go ahead and participate.

Introduce yourself

In real life, it can be daunting to go up to a group of people you don't know and say ìHi,î but in avatar cyberspace that's the best way to get started. You'll find that the people are happy to greet you (even if you are a newbie) and show you around.

Remember the human element

This is the Internet's (and life's) golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Imagine how you'd feel if you were in the other person's shoes. Stand up for yourself, but try not to hurt people's feelings. Don't forget that there is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person on the other side of that computer screen communicating through their keyboard, just as you are.

Think before you speak

Avatar cyberspace is a community, and like every community, it has members of all ages, including minors. With this in mind, please try to refrain from obscene or offensive language. If you wouldn't say it in front of your mom, boss, or child, don't say it here. One of the joys of the Internet is that you can express yourself freely, explore strange new worlds, and boldly go where you've never gone before, but this should not be at the expense of the other community members' sensibilities.

Be careful when using sarcasm and humor

When you communicate electronically, often all you see is text on a computer screen. You don't have the opportunity to use facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice to communicate your meaning; words are all you have, so be as clear as possible.

General communication tips

DON'T SHOUT! Typing in all capitals is the equivalent of yelling, so typing in mixed case is a softer touch.

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.