︎This Digital Life. Three stories of physical existence and digital self.Bethany Edgoose
See You In the Virtual World!by LALUNE
I hope this letter finds you well during these uncertain times. I shall share with you what I can about my virtual life, but I must admit that I cannot tell whether the following accounts–drawn from scattered fragments of memory–were witnessed by my physical self, or my many avatars. As far as I can tell, there is no difference in behaviour, character and disposition between this writer, “_lalune_” on Discord, “lalune_in_pixels” on Minecraft, and “la________lune” on VRChat. My digital presence is not an alternative or extended version of my identity, but part and parcel of who I am.
I am in quarantine in my room, where I am penning down my thoughts. I’d never have thought that I’d test positive for COVID-19. It appears that everyone, myself included, is susceptible to the virus, even though I have been tucked away in a sweet and remote place–what people call the virtual world–over the past year. Having lost my sense of smell, my reality feels less immersive as if I were living in 2D. I am so weak I can’t find the willpower to lift my body. Days go by while I lie in bed. I pick up a book and try to read, but my mind wanders off and flashes back to the thoughts of home, friends, and that one summer–the beginning of some of my dearest cyber-friendships.
I remember, upon joining Minecraft for the first time, how I was taken aback by its strange yet beautifully-crafted world. It was dusk and the lanterns along the river had just begun to lit. The air was crisp. A rippling body of water surrounded the ground where I was standing. I could almost feel a fresh breeze on my face and hear the rustle of wild green grass. It was the lockdown, and being out in the open air was much needed. I was dressed in a way I never did before. I donned a freshly-picked skin, a lilac top with a crescent shape on its back, a hip-length wig and a cute little sword to complete the look. I felt at peace with my appearance, and decided it would remain so indefinitely.
Gestalt Intelligence was not at all difficult to spot with his pink hair. We had met IRL once before, at a Thundercat gig. Sure enough, music was the starting point of our friendship. If he had not shared a poster to a Minecraft festival that had Mark Redito under its line-up, I would not have ended up in Infinite Summer. As a long-time fan of Spazzkid (Redito’s previous stage name), I was elated to see his performance. I had waited a long time for this moment. I thought the festival might interest Coune, my working partner in the arts who had been toying around with the concept of NET art, so I convinced him to join us.
It was the three of us against the world, and what an immense world that was! At first it felt like we were in a theme park, sitting on a rollercoaster or a Ferris wheel, passively waiting to be taken on a ride. Then I realised that it was up to us to navigate the sites. We could roam freely. There was no plot, narrative, mission, nor any assigned challenge, but we had to start somewhere. Intuitively, we kicked off the game by visiting a one-of-a-kind art exhibition, Internal Server Error, at the main museum. It was nowhere as impressive as the outdoor site-specific installations which required us to climb ladders, cross bridges, and ride boats.
By the time we boarded a wooden boat, the sky was much darker, and hundreds of stars appeared above us, hinting at the coming of night. By then, we had probably spent hours exploring. We felt hungry, but dinner was slightly delayed. I wasn’t able to get out of the boat due to a glitch so Gestalt Intelligence had to destroy the boat, as a result of which I fell into the water. Its warmth reminded me of a summer that my brother and I had spent as kids, swimming in the tropical sea. It’s been a year since I returned home due to the pandemic. In times like these, flashbacks of my home and childhood warm my heart. Technology really teleports you to unexpected places and moments in time, I thought.
Coune led the way to a hill where he had earlier found a chest full of chicken drumsticks. After boozing, we headed to the main stage where the gig took place. One of the most memorable sites of the night was the battlefield, where we spent hours trying out different weapons and armours to fight each other, only to reappear in the game after each death. We felt immortal and summer seemed infinite. The adventure lasted till dawn. From the edge of a cliff overlooking the waters, we witnessed the sky turning pink as the golden sun slowly rose from the horizon. That was probably when I fell into sleep.
The next day, Minecraft was, yet again, the first thing I got up to. After a full day of adventure, a voice in the background called for Gestalt Intelligence; I believe it was his mom. “Ibo! Maghrib! Buka!” Ibo is his nickname IRL. In Islam, the period for Maghrib prayer heralds the coming of night-time. It is also the time for a Muslim to break fast–an act known as Buka in Bahasa Indonesia–during the holy month of Ramadan. Just before leaving his screen, Ibo told me, “I don’t feel extremely hungry after all the drumsticks.” I felt the same way too.
Meanwhile, I attended other virtual music events and made new friends on the hangout platform VRChat. During self-quarantine, I slid a message in the “#general” main board of our “INTUHNET FWIENDZ :3” channel on Discord in the hope of chatting with someone. Muzzfeed, who was online, described himself “hopping around, talking to people, and drinking”. I thought I’d do the same. I wanted to be reminded of what it felt like to hang out.
On VRChat, I was a catwoman with short hair, bangs, a pair of black ears, wearing a dark purple dress and a fierce look on my face. I seemed friendlier next to Muzzfeed who looked like a steel robot. The first portal led us to a world consisting mainly of a green field that seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance under a moody sky. Its vastness offered me a space to breathe, and I felt grateful for it. Jumping into the second portal, I found myself underwater, feeling the water’s gravity as I swam in the company of sea creatures. In those moments, I felt less restricted.
It was not long before my migraine kicked in and I had to sleep, but memories of my cyber-friendships were enough to remind me of the possibilities that the virtual realm can offer. More than a form of refuge, the virtual world has empowered me in ways I could never have imagined before. It has helped me to deal with uncertainties in the past year. Not only has it allowed me to feel the presence and support of a community, but also it has provided me and my collective with a safe space to experiment creatively.
For example, Gestalt Intelligence and Coune, along with myself and a few other like-minded collaborators, co-founded a virtual nightclub on VRChat. When we started this club, Gestalt Intelligence and Coune had not yet met IRL. The project was dedicated to progressive electronic music. Taking off just before the start of 2021, the pilot gig featured five musicians and reached an audience of 588 in one day. Although I may feel like an alien at times–far from the world and everyone else around me–the high attendance was a reminder that I was not alone to desire comfort and fulfilment in the virtual world.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my virtual life. I shall wrap up this lengthy letter with a short poem, which I wrote and carved onto the nightclub’s entrance portal. I wish you may discover it in person someday. Till then.
Have you ever questioned why—
as human beings,
we are always
in search of portals.
Their praying mats
are their stair cases
as your screen
becomes your bridge
to another reality.
PS. LALUNE would like to give a shout-out to Club Matryoshka (Creator of Infinite Summer). She also sends love to KLUB KIDUL family and her VRChat friends: Nabilla Wardhana, Hilzam Hindami (Coune), Ghiffari Haekal Noor Tujuanto (Gestalt Intelligence), Randy Danistha & Nara Anindyaguna (Randombrothers), Will (Muzzfeed), and Jorge Juan B. Wieneke V (similarobjects).