Adult Entertainment Virtual Convention: Inside the World of Wank-Craft
|The main virtual hall|
This past weekend, XBiz and Red Light Center hosted the Adult Entertainment Virtual Convention, porn's first online-exclusive gathering in a 3-D web environment called "Utherverse." If that all sounds a bit strange and complicated -- you don't even know the half of it.
Most conventions are pants-mandatory kinds of affairs -- even those of the adult nature. For the world's first virtual porn convention, however, I'm not wearing any (relax...I'm in my PJs).
Trying to explain the very nature of this whole thing requires more nerd references than I'm capable of conveying to a broad audience, but here goes: Imagine if World of Warcraft wasn't all about wizards and war but instead sex and stimulation, and was designed by Neil Stephenson and William Gibson's bastard love child. Did I lose you? What if each porn website you visited was a little 3-D world, and all of the people looking at it were in it with you, rubbing pixelated elbows (or crotches). That's pretty much it. Only the Utherverse isn't all porn, per se. Or maybe it is. We'll get to that.
|Me on the virtual red carpet|
I'm attending this conference in my PJs, but my avatar is dressed much like I would in a real-world situation like this: tie, jeans, and Chucks. But most attendees have exceeded my limited, virtual-world imagination by leaps and bounds. There are cats, leopards with wings, and dudes in Digital Affliction T-shirts (also with wings). Like most conventions, there are booths, vendors, ads, and people milling about aimlessly. Unlike most conventions, we're in this bizarre World of Wank Craft, and some people are flying.
I get a chance to talk to Brian Shuster, the man behind this whole universe. With a background in cartooning and entrepreneurship on what he calls "the flat web" (i.e., what you're staring at right now), he was inspired to create the Vancouver-based Utherverse in 2002 based on observations of some early pre-WoW MMORPG (massive multi-player online role-playing game) adventures. "We found that these games became a flirt fest," he says. They were full of lonely dudes, but "one girl would show up, and everyone would lose interest in whatever quest they were on. They'd want to show her around or help her," he says. So he and his partners created the Utherverse, which was just about social interaction, and more or less a competitor to the better-known virtual world, Second Life.
He added a Red Light Center, a virtual adult world based on Amsterdam's Red Light District, to the Utherverse in 2006 after being Inspired by a trip to city. In this little world there are bordellos, bathhouses, and hookah bars where subscribers can live out whatever fantasy they can conceive of using self-styled digital avatars. "When you think about it, Facebook is so isolating," he says. "Here, people are mentally stimulated in the same way as they are in real life interactions."
But at the outset of this convention, I personally did not feel as stimulated as I would at a real life adult-con. Walking around with an avatar offers no real-world sound or smell. The environment looks like a convention space: hanging banners, exhibit tables, and even a networking bar. It's certainly easier to navigate, and I can do my laundry while my avatar mingles online -- even when other avatars are just standing around publicly sucking face. But there's something missing, though I can't put my virtual finger on it.
Opening-day sessions are all aimed at adult-industry insiders, as there are sessions on social media, law, and virtual-world monetization. Stephen Yagielowicz, senior editor at the adult industry publication XBiz, gives a rousing set of opening remarks, reminding attendees that the adult entertainment industry is full of some pretty erudite and well-reasoned freedom fighters. The biz generally concerns consenting adults interacting with other consenting adults, not some menacing Moloch out to corrupt your children, even in the 3-D virtual world.
Later, lighter topics include managing your Twitter account and making sure that your twit-pics stay sexy (as well as legal). At this point, the 3-D world is actually kind of growing on me. I'm getting tons of chores done in real life, and my avatar's eyes don't reflexively glaze over, no matter how tired my real self gets of hearing the same lame body humor jokes again and again. In the fake world, I have a giant digital badge that identifies me as a journalist, and quick work is made of introductions. Everyone's avatar is linked to their online Utherverse profile, eliminating at least half of all informational small talk. But I feel a little more awkward in this world than I am in reality as I am unable to rely on human facial expressions and body language.
For others, the virtual world makes interactions easier. Derek D, the Main Hall's DJ, puts it succinctly: "My avatar's looking real sharp. In real life, I'm fat, hairy, and I've got a small dick. In cyberspace, everybody's sexy," he says as he spins tunes and invites attendees to interact with him at the booth.
|Virtual dance party...with virtual butt crack|
Utherverse and Red Light Center are pretty easy to mock. Why don't these people just get out and meet people in real life? Maybe get some actual sex? Isn't the internet teeming with ways for people to get filthy in reality? "Sigmilla," a 40-something woman and Utherverse member since 2008, offers some insight into the allure of an online life. Active users like her customize their world, designing Zabys -- or fake living spaces -- that range from small apartments to country mansions. They also customize the clothing they wear, the items they use, and even the different iterations of the digital skin they have underneath those clothes, including muscles, scales, and purple fur.
Sigmilla has two jobs in the Utherverse: as a virtual event planner and, yes, a virtual model, something she probably wouldn't do in real life. While she models in exchange for Utherverse virtual cash, called "rays," others do more nefarious things for those fake dollars. "SaphyreRose" is an Utherverse call girl, and she's the best there is. So good, in fact, that the AEVC honored her as this year's Best Verified Working Girl. Her in-world husband (yes, Utherverse hosts about a thousand virtual marriages a year), Eros, shared the honor as this year's Best Working Guy. Utherverse's working guys and girls like Rose and Eros book virtual sex sessions with ray-paying customers. The couple -- who are in an open, long-distance relationship with each other in real life -- revel in being virtual royalty of the oldest profession.
SaphyreRose personally walks me through the seedier side of virtual online sex. Each encounter takes place in any number of virtual bedrooms or spaces decorated according to taste. "It's very alluring... very erotic," she says. "Well, it can be with the right person and the right chemistry and the right setting. Some think it's strange, but it's really just a new avenue of enjoying sexuality." During a session, which is communicated through text chat or voice chat, each participant controls their naked or partially clothed avatar through a variety of sex acts and positions, which all build to a (somewhat comical) animated climax.
SaphyreRose charges an hourly rate of rays, and services dozens of clients a week, all of whom leave her charming and positive feedback on her personal page. They seem to enjoy that she is verified as a real person with real pictures, though she generally doesn't show her whole face in her photos or use the site's webcam. "I'm on the PTA," she says. "We can't have that getting around the web. It might show up on Mysluts.com or something, or be seen by the school principal." With her warm and inviting Midwestern accent she could be mistaken for a scrap-booking lecturer. But instead she's advising would-be virtual sex workers on the benefits of stewarding their clients. "If there is no chemistry with a client, there's nothing wrong with telling them that you two wouldn't mesh. But you have to be gentle so you don't hurt someone's feelings," she cautions the crowd. There's definitely a positive community vibe here, and her lecture is one of the few AEVC sessions that are specifically geared towards the Utherverse world.
|An interview with porn legend Seka|
Over the remainder of three real-life days, the convention introduces sessions with real-world porn starlets like Aurora Snow and industry pioneers like Seka. Mixed in are more intense freedom-of-speech type talks, and a bummer of a condom-law lecture. Starlet Sabrina Deep, best known for her marathon group sex videos and fan inclusion, gives that bummer lecture, clarifying for fans the new California condom laws that threaten the adult industry's historic home base in Los Angeles. While her arguments questioning the safety of condoms fall flat, her impassioned portrayal of the industry's enemies ring solid. "Due to the nature of productions, the adult entertainment industry makes for an easy target for many individuals and organizations with personal, political, and religious agendas," she says.
Seka, one of the first major porn stars, answers a number of questions about the early days of porn with the class of a debutante. "In the late '70s and early '80s, I didn't even drink. I was so freaking naïve," she says. She also calls out current performers for their party lifestyles. "I enjoy my job. I'm not a lazy porn star. Excuse me, bitches. You put on your bra one titty at time, just like everyone else," she crows to virtual giggles.
|Kelsey Obsession on "The Art of Anal"|
As charming as Seka was, the stand-out session goes to fetish model Kelsey Obsession, who discusses "The Art of Anal" to a packed digital theater. On webcam Obsession showed the in and outs -- well, mostly the ins -- of anal sex. She demonstrated on her own body, with her own toys, how to safely and effectively... do that kind of thing. Her hands-on approach got high marks from every avatar we chatted with. "That's how it's done!" one attendee exclaimed.
Even if the Adult Entertainment Virtual Convention is indeed the first of its kind -- and it did draw over 10,000 unique users over the weekend -- organizer Shuster really wants us to know that sex is not the Utherverse's primary concern. "There are over 80,000 user-generated worlds, and a million personal worlds," he says. Most of them are not adult, supposedly; there's even a Virtual Vancouver. "There are even folks who do karaoke on there," he says. Perhaps sex is just at the forefront because it's more exciting than virtual karaoke? No one will disagree with that. !-- "I>