Second Life, First Neko
Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Give him the ability to make ears and a tail however, and he just might tell you what it was like to be the very first Neko in Second Life. Allow me to introduce you to Chibi Chang, the oldest known catboy in all of SL’s virtual universe.
Chibi was born on the seventeenth day of May 2003, a full five weeks before Linden Labs released their first official version of Second Life. At the time, SL was little more than a collection of a few adjacent sims, populated by about 100 active members… “all of us geeks,” recalls Chibi, “with the tools to create, be, and do anything we wanted.”
“In those brave new worlds, there need be no scarcity, no ugliness, nor pain. We can be whatever we imagine or wish ourselves to be, and suffer none of the limits of ordinary, mundane life.” – Avi Bar-Zeev
Many of these first residents chose to replicate characters and situations they could not normally participate in; some formed tightly knit communities.
“There was a community of people who envisioned an Asian-esque world, another who wanted a medeival community, a third who wanted to re-enact World War II, as well as some aviation fanatics. Those who didn’t knit so well into a community simply did their own thing — much like life is today in SL,” Chibi shared.
For Chibi however, the opportunity to “be or do anything” meant something much more. For the first time in his life, there were no limitations to his true nature. Suddenly he could “really be myself, rather than fitting into social norms.”
And what, pray tell, was Chibi’s inner self? Why a catboy, of course…
“Ever since I was young, I felt I was a bit… cat-like,” Chibi shared with me as we sat cross-legged at a low table inside his airship. “My sleeping behavior, movements, mannerisims, being amused by silly little things, never sure how to communicate my needs… all of the characteristics mirrored the common housecat.”
Add an innate attraction to Asian culture, mix gently with Second Life building tools, and SL’s first Neko was born.
Chibi designed an outfit that blended a bit of China with a bit of America, topped off by a cat tail and ears. “My first tail was rather crude, and my ears looked very plastic, but still, I was able to make myself who I felt I was… a cat.”
“Your avatar is your representative in Second Life. It’s you. Sort of.”
– Second Life Reference Manual; June 20, 2003
A little over a month later, Second Life officially opened to the public. The more Chibi explored and interacted with new residents, the more his exceptional cat qualities began to catch on with others, many of whom were delighted to discover a world in which they too could express their inner selves more authentically, contributing “an extra gene pool on top of what people were already bringing themselves,” Chibi explained.
So what sets a true Neko apart, in Chibi’s definition?
Apparently it’s all about inner motivation: “A true cat person feels an actual kinship to the spirit of a cat in some way, while embracing their humanity as a given… recognizing that they have been born into a human body and there’s not really much that can be done about it. Yet our human limitations never prevent us from letting our inner cat selves influence who we are.”
As for the “Neko” label?
“I guess I can’t shove it off any longer,” Chibi sighed. “Certainly it’s an acceptable label, since it shortens ‘cat boy’ and ‘cat girl’ and seems to evoke the feeling of being a feline, though I’m fairly certain most of us oldcats don’t happily embrace the term, as it seemed to become widely used right about the same time that Neko became a fashion statement.”
“Sometimes I feel like I started a fad, but at the same time, I know that can’t be, because few people actually know who I am or how I feel. So my word isn’t the end all be all. Sometimes Anisa worries that she started the fad, since she was one of the first to sell ears/tails, much to the duress of some of the other oldcats. And yet there were other small dealers and traders back in the day. I believe she just brought quality and pride to those of us that could only express ourselves in a limited way.”
How do you think the younger Neko differ from oldcats the most?
“I think a lot of them are feeling the fur manifesto: they do it because they want to, because it’s what they want to be, versus a reflection of what they feel on the inside. Most of the people in our oldbie clique are never not cats. Whatever our reasons and feelings, we accept each other as that being who we are. So I think what many of the younger Neko are missing is the firm belief that they are feline inside. Or maybe that this feeling is even possible.”
Where do you stand on the line between “virtual” and “real” life?
“I actually had a pretty interesting argument with someone in the real world,” Chibi chuckled. “I was trying to explain to someone that I was a cat. They kept asking questions… ‘You mean you THINK you’re a cat? You dress like a cat sometimes for fun?'”
“No. I am a cat. I have a human body. But I am a cat. And no matter how much I tried to drill that point in to this person, they just couldn’t understand or accept it. I even tried to put it in a more copeable term. Some people in the real world believe in reincarnation, so I tried to explain it that way, that I have the soul of a cat. And it still didn’t work.”
“I don’t like to live in reality when I’m in Second Life. Second Life allows me to express my soul, while still recognizing that I am a human. Why live in a house when you can have a floating island or an airship? With a window underwater, you can see all of the delicious fishies!”
Clearly the same is true of Chibi’s avatar in Second Life: Neko is a window to his soul.
What Chibi Was Wearing (at last, a little Neko Guy Fashion!)
Clothing: “There’s really only one place I actually go out and buy things, because it balances price and quality pretty nicely, June Dion’s Bare Rose. (Stacia’s note: his shoulder armor is “Lady Tuberose” and that link is for Bare Rose’s amazing online database, by which you can search to find an outfit, and teleport directly to its location in June’s massive store). Before June became really popular, back when she was still learning the tools, she did a few customs for me. Where many designers often take real life inspiration, she really turns creative ideas into fashion, pulling creativity out of nowhere. Often I can even wear outfits from her women’s section.”
“My pants came from Deracine (sadly this Japanese store no longer exists), and most of my accessories are by Penny Patton, sold in her store Happy Bivouac… kind of a German industrial revolution sort of place.”
Skin: I recently gave myself a tuneup and found a really nice male skin at &Bean that also fits well on a female shape. (Stacia’s note: everything at this store is on SALE currently… male skins are marked down to just $450L. Walk into the store and click the sign to get up to the second floor sale.)”
Hair and Neko Bits: As for natural features, I really like the Hairstyles at KiN, and Anisa’s cat parts at Outland Tech and Curious Relics. (Stacia’s note: his glowy armstrap also came from this store). Also nice are Fa Nyak’s bits, which are sold in the same location.”
I have some old bits by Aestival Cohen that I don’t commonly wear anymore, but she was one of the first to bring in a quality touch of Japan.”
I’m such a hermit I really have no idea where to go or what to do unless someone points me somewhere, and I rarely spend money in world. If the people above didn’t capture my style so well, I’d probably still be wearing my chunky old ugly handmade Chinese clothes.” :3
See Chibi’s Photos of Second Life from 2003-2004
Read More about the History and Context of Second Life
Enjoy the Unauthorized History of Virtual Worlds (by Avi Bar-Zeev)
Peruse the Very First Second Life “How To” Manual
© Stacia Villota / Virtual Neko in Second Life – 2010