An attempt to delve into the significance of death in a person’s virtual realism brought me to the Second Afterlife Cemetery. Opened to the public on 8th March, 2008, the cemetery isn’t just limited to role play.
“My father was cremated and I move around a lot, it gives me a place to go ‘visit’,” replied an individual when asked about why they decided to remember their real father by renting a memorial space in a virtual cemetery.
“It’s a way to honour their presence that I feel every moment in my life and it gives me great strength to sit in front of their virtual grave,” explained another renter.
To such people, a little parcel of land in the cemetery either encapsulates the lacuna created by the demise of a loved one or reinforces that soul’s importance even in their permanent absence or both.
What follows is an in-depth chat, condensed for clarity, about Second Afterlife Cemetery with its owner Lena Anthony or maybe her spirit…
How did the idea of owning a virtual cemetery occur to you?
The cemetery has a lot of history, and while the idea was mine, I didn’t even do the first build because I was so new and could barely make a cube! The builder and I became business partners. His name is Rocket Flasheart. My vision…. his build….The idea came during a drum circle in Etopia back in late 2007 or early 2008. The topic of conversation was, if we could start a business in SL, what would it be? I said cemetery as sort of a joke since I had know someone who was being stalked because she shared too much and wanted to leave SL. I thought it would be a good way for people to leave a memorial here to their old avatar. As you might have noticed, it is so much more than that now.
Do you want to tell us something about the first renter that wanted to rent a memorial space at the cemetery?
The first renter was a friend who wanted to leave a memory of one of her avatars that had been lost my Linden Labs. Since then, there are so many stories from so many who are genuinely grieving from the loss of a loved one. The most common memorials are created for people who were active in SL, and have died in RL, as well as people making memorials for their RL loved ones though they never participated in SL. The lesser common are memorials for pets and for avatars who have left SL and are still living in RL, but are very missed.
What do these renters usually prefer when it comes to selecting a space at the cemetery and how have these preferences changed over the years?
Most that use the cemetery want 15 to 20 prims, and a few request more, but because the space is so small, it’s rarely needed to make a nice memorial. Because of the changes that Linden Lab made with the prims on mainland a couple of years ago, I can accommodate most requests within what I believe to be reasonable. At one time, I even added a few spaces as everything was full. Usually though, there are anywhere from 6 to 12 spaces open since early in 2014. I’ve also added spaces next to where the renter already had a space for another member of their family. Like, I said, if the request is reasonable and I’m able to accomplish it by not changing the overall organization of the cemetery, I make subtle changes.
Decorating styles from the different parts of the world are very different when creating memorials. I have a list of guidelines with a hope to maintain some order and most stay within those. For the times I’ve had to request something be changed, for instance a message that would pop up every time someone walked by, or an audio message that played constantly without requiring anyone to touch an object to listen if they wanted to, people have understood. I automatically return anything that is not appropriate, for instance, the giant penis that was placed. Sometimes Second Lifer’s think anything goes!
Tell us more about your experiences of maintaining a virtual cemetery…
In 10 years there have been only two griefers. One ran around naked and annoyed visitors and renters. The other actually made me laugh. It was someone who rented a space and then put a zombie device on the ground so when one walked over it, out popped zombies that rushed you. The more you walked over it, the more zombies that crawled out of the ground. Overall, people seem to respect the dead even in a virtual world.
Also, in all that time, there has only been one instance of negative drama (I’m one that believe’s some drama will exist in any world if people have feelings). This though was a case where a woman had put up a memorial for an avatar that had been her partner. They had parted ways and she made the memorial. No one else would have known unless you knew the RL name of the avatar it was made for. He got wind of it and came to investigate, and IM’d me to demand I remove it. I never take action based on another’s accusation, but did IM her to ask. She freely admitted what she had done so I recommended that she could maybe think of another way to create it without using his name. I think she would have done it except that he was a hothead and couldn’t let it go. They both started IMing me sharing what the other one said, telling me about their level of involvement, she saying why he was dead to her, he saying it was all her fault, and on and on it went. I have a busy RL as well as a busy SL, so that’s what I faced when I logged in…. IM after IM. I messaged them both and told them they had 24 hours to figure it out and I didn’t want to hear one more word about their “drama” as it would result in banning and blocking. It’s the only time I’ve had to go to that drastic level. She fixed the headstone and he did IM but it was to apologize.
Being a good listener is a quality that goes hand-in-hand with owning a cemetery. Some people need to talk about their experience and because I have had my own experiences with the death of loved ones in my life, I know how to listen and not rattle off platitudes like, “they are better off now” or “Heaven has another angel”. Listening is what is required and, when appropriate, a virtual hug.
Friends tease me about the cemetery and I’ve heard all the jokes like “people are dying to get in there”, etc. Strangers IM me to ask about it and while I can tell them what it is, I always encourage them to visit because it speaks for itself in so many ways. Most are taken aback by the seriousness of it in a virtual world.
Is the business commercially successful?
The business is not profitable but I knew that is how it would be when I took over the total responsibility and did a total rebuild. Nothing horrible happened. No fight. No one taking off with funds or any drama that is less than above board. It was a matter of my business partner moving to the other side of the world for a RL adventure that was taking over his life! I rely on the plots being rented, of course, and also donations to help cover the costs; I never take in enough to make tier. I know the day will come when this will be a problem, but until then I’m committed to provide the service.
At a time when we have Sansar and rapid virtual reality advancements, what is the future of Second Afterlife Cemetery?
I’m honestly not that knowledgeable about the new things happening. I’ve made an account for Sansar and visited once. Without paying for a lot of extra things that I need to make it the experience it is meant to be, I sit out. I’ve have tried other virtual worlds, most recently Sinespace. What they lack for me, as well as others I know, is our friends. I figure it’s like a Universe filled with planets. Some of us live on Earth, while others have made homes on Mars, or wherever. If we seek a virtual life, we will all find our place at some point. I’ve found mine in SL.
Visit Second Afterlife Cemetery: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Saeneul/99/209/1206