Thursday, 26 February 2015

Visiting Salt Lake City - sort of

Recently I've been to explore one of many Wild West-themed RP sims that I hadn't had a chance to visit before: Salt Lake City, Utah - 1873.

As I happen to be familiar with early Mormon history, I had certain expectations from a historical RP sim based on the real place. Founded by Mormon settlers fleeing persecution, led by Brigham Young, the RL Salt Lake City was quite an interesting place in the mid- to late-19th century, thanks to its inhabitants' unique and peculiar religious beliefs, political convictions, and social practices. Apart from their attempt to run a communitarian state, by the name of Deseret, independently of any nation, they also practised polygamy, and followed the political and religious leadership of the Latter-day Saint (LDS) prophet. Seeing the 1870s Salt Lake City sim in the search results, I thought - what an unusual and interesting thing to attempt to RP in Second Life!

Let me first mention the positive impressions. The place looks like a typical Western town - architecture mostly seems to fit. The place is visually appealing - quite well done compared to some other RP sims. At the moment, everything is under snow and looks quite lovely. Also, I've experienced zero lag, possibly due to the sim being completely empty on several occasions I was there.

There's a big mine in the town center, which I took to symbolize the importance of mining in Utah from the 1860s onwards, and I spotted other details that made a lot of sense, like the train station - Salt Lake City was indeed connected to railroad by 1873, bringing in lots of new settlers, prospectors and Mormon faithful alike. So far so good.

Given the central religious and political importance of the LDS Church, I started to cam around in search of some kind of religious building. The landmark of RL Salt Lake City, the Temple, was erected towards the end of the 19th century, so I expected to find something more modest. Sure enough, there is a church - and this is where things got weird for me. It's an Episcopalian one. And it happens to be the only game in town.

This pioneer is puzzled.
As I continued to explore the sim, I soon realized there is actually no mention of anything Mormon whatsoever, making this Salt Lake City in name only. Here's the thing: I couldn't imagine role playing in 1920s Berlin sim that made no mention of anything German, or in Paris 1900 that was patently non-French. Having been active in the former, where serious attention is being paid to the actual 1920s Berlin (sometimes only symbolically, but still with the intention of educating on the broader culture of the period), I have come to expect similar from other RP sims based on real-world locations.

Perhaps, but not in Utah.
To concentrate on Wild West sims, there's Gehenna Crossing for instance, where there's understanding that it's a fictional place, so the emphasis is more on character role play rather than historical re-enactment, which is absolutely fine. But why have an RP sim based on a real place and a specific time period, and then disassociate it completely from its RL history? Shattering a guy's dream of becoming a mighty prophet with a dozen plural wives in the process... (Just kidding.)

There are also certain anachronisms, which I suppose could be forgiven.

Not the classic Mormon undergarments
Ranting about this inworld, I got some feedback from my friends, fellow Berliners, which made me think more about historical role playing in SL. Was I being too strict in my criticism of the Salt Lake City 1873 sim? Isn't the owner - and participants - entitled to make of their sim and activities whatever they wish? Yes, and yes. But I would still hope for some adherence to basic historical and cultural facts, certainly when it comes to broader context, otherwise the whole idea of historical role playing makes no sense; not to mention dubious educational value.

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