In my long journeys across the cozyverse I have discovered many a strange sight. The other day I stumbled upon a party of paintings — yes, paintings: portraits, landscapes, of all kinds. They walked and talked and wobbled and danced and looked to be having great fun.
There exist worlds upon worlds in this place. I got lost in a dungeon of endless twisting passages for weeks before I was at last rescued by a group of VARPers (virtual-action role-playing), who were themselves running away from some great unsightly beast.
They took me kindly back to their village (for which I was humbly grateful for I had heard rumors of a fearsome Grue down in the depths of the dungeon.) It was a quaint little cybertown, busy enough to see the occasional passerby on the street — or hanging about in one of the many taverns around town. This little round green fella with pointed ears told me this was because “all adventures must start in a tavern, eh? ’tis the rules in ’round these parts”
It was, it seems, my lucky day. That night a group of travelling performers were passing through — a music and light show made with live-coded sounds and visuals. It was quite the experience and I spoke to many a folk in the festivities — some of whom were travellers themselves, visiting from far distant subcultures.
By a series of happy coincidences I became friends with one of the performers and accompanied them to their next destination.
I have to admit spending a few moments drawing myself a jacket for we entered a rather freezingly cold little village next, with some of the warmest-hearted people I’ve ever met. The community — nicknamed “club cozy” — seemed to be a nostalgic gathering place for people particularly fond of this old video game involving penguins and icebergs. They’ve recreated their entire world inside of here, and some folk even waddle around looking like penguins themselves. There was a snowball fight escalating in the square as we arrived.
I have tried to understand, I really have, what drives people to different communities in this world? Why do they spend time hanging about public places in cyberspace? The answers I received were all the same — or at least similar enough that I think I can paraphrase it down to one word: serendipity.
My own understanding had been limited, hampered by reason. I wished to find a reason for which they spent hours on end hanging about in digital space — but the answer lay simply in the fact that there didn’t have to be a reason. “Physical spaces are dead” one student told me, who was studying city-making and community at a new kind of university sprung up within the cozyverse, “go to starbucks, or your local coffeeshop for example — everyone is there for a reason: to pick up their coffee and go, to meet with a particular person, to work silently on their laptop, and so on…” he continued, “contrast this to bars and coffeeshops of old — even 30 years back people would visit their local coffeeshop or bar for the simple reason that they might bump into friends, or other likeminded people who frequented the space. In essence, people were open to serendipity. Today they are not.”
“Fascinating,” I said, “so people spend time here just on the off-chance that something will happen, or that they’ll bump into someone interesting?”
“Exactly,” said the student, “paradoxically, people need to actually communicate less with each other to develop more natural friendships over time. With the advent of smartphones, people began to coordinate every meeting, and every detail of their lives. Our technology stifled serendipity.”
The conversation continued like this for awhile, and he told me that this place is, in its truest essence, about being human. “that’s what we’ve lost really”, “community forms around reciprocal need. In today’s world we are more reliant on corporations than we are on the people around us. We’re trying to break away from that, I’ve found my own community here and we all rely on each other to keep it alive.” He told me this as we walked around his campus where people everywhere were thinking, brainstorming, and solving problems together. Coming closer to one of the groups, they welcomed us into their conversation, welcoming strangers like they would a friend.
As I reflect on my journey, I begin to notice patterns. The moments of serendipity, the sprinkles of humanity, the smiles of the friends I’ve met along the way, and I feel like I’ve begun to understand this place a little bit better; how it’s different; and what makes it special.