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"Life is the game," agrees Whittaker.
"SuperStar Avatar just gives you a language to play with," says Levkoff, finishing the thought.
Well-versed in the new idiom of social architecture and global sustainability, Levkoff and Whittaker talk easily about the social models proposed by pioneers such as Barbara Marx Hubbardof the Foundation for Conscious Evolution, Mark Comingsof the Planetary Academic Federation,and Mayumi Moari of the New World Group. Levkoff even went so far as to find mentors in some of these innovative institutions while SuperStar Avatar was still in its inception, but his complaint was always the same: no fun.
"Their language is too academic," says Levkoff, "and the goals are too rigid. They can't extract their own agenda from the tools. And they're not having any fun. How can you build a bridge to the world if it isn't any fun?"
"We insist on fun," says Whittaker. "Other than that, we have tried to keep our agenda out of it."
In fact, the only parameters of SuperStar Avatar are outlined in the Star Charter, a statement of intention that offers a set of social conventions and standards by which avatars are encouraged to play. Like "Kinky Salon"'s charter, the guidelines of the Star Charter are open to debate by the community, but it would be difficult to find fault in the three golden rules: Play with consent; know your avatar; and be equally open to receiving and giving.
SuperStar Avatar is essentially an experience economy. In avatar-speak, who you are and what you have to offer the world are the true measures of your wealth. Your powers are your currency, anything from a winning smile to home film-editing equipment to extensive knowledge of the cabala, and they can be offered in a social setting. A red identity power card bearing a catchphrase, a fashion quirk, or a favorite theme tune might be offered to someone so he can get to know you a little better. A yellow super power card reveals creative and practical assets such as sharp knives, old costumes, college degrees, or tap-dancing talent. Green activity power cards are suggestions or requests like, "Strike a pose. May I take your picture?" or "May I kiss your cheek?" or "Let's tour the party together." And blue assist power cards are wielded by folks who want to help nurture the system. They might say anything from "Are you uncomfortable?" to "Can I introduce you to someone fabulous?"
"We tried to launch SuperStar in Los Angeles," admits Levkoff, "but they didn't get it. They wanted it to be something it's not. So we had to bring it back here, where it was born anyway."
At a recent "Kinky Salon," all the rooms were decorated to reflect different districts of the SuperStar Nation: Allegoria(keywords: mythology, fantasy, poetry, romance, period re-enactment), Shamandala(keywords: spirituality, healing arts, shamanism, sacred science, globalism), Exotica(keywords: burlesque, fetish, hot rod, tiki, retro, swing, carny), and Starlight (keywords: media, music, fashion, glamour, pop-plastic culture). To the casual observer, it was a night like any other at "Kinky Salon." The theme was spring; faeries, centaurs, and Dionysian excess abounded. Levkoff's early diagrams were strung along the hall walls, and in the foyer a large corkboard representing Middletown, the online narrative center of the SuperStar Nation, had been hung. Over the course of the night, avatars tacked their cards to the board to let others know they were there, and people began to ask questions. Cards were "played" to strangers and accepted at face value. When Whittaker finally played Polly Pandemonium's "Moral Minority pledge" activity power to a roomful of people, the crowd was only too willing to intone: "In pervitude and servitude, united by our dubious morals, well-dressed and ready for action, call us perverts for we are proud!" Later, I watched as people formed spontaneous bunny-hop circles, or fell to their knees to ask forgiveness for "sins" committed or omitted; foot rubs were forthcoming, as were some very practical exchanges of information regarding surplus electronics parts. Whittaker learned from one card that a longtime acquaintance was a much-needed film editor. I learned about a fairy-porn site (www.faeriefantasies.com) from the producer Maevveand received a beautifully sad song sung in my ear by Kaosmic Kitty. Some people held their cards close to their chests, playing them like a poker hand; others wore them as flagrant fashion accessories. Everywhere, pockets of outrageous activity -- spontaneous and playful even by "Kinky Salon" standards -- erupted, and cards were at their center.
So far, Levkoff and Whittaker have not sought investment, choosing instead to carefully nurture the project through its infancy, but now that the preliminary run of playtesting conducted by "Kinky Salon" members is coming to a close, the SuperStar Avatars are ready to run riot. By the end of April, Levkoff and Whittaker hope to have a few hundred people playing in the context of a large public soiree they are throwing at an operating film studio South of Market (visit www.kinkysalon.com for details). By the end of the year, who knows? There may be avatars everywhere.