Nekos in Real Life, SL’s NekoZone and InFuZion, and a talk with Fox Daviau

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This weeks Virtual World article will be a bit of a whooper, touching not only virtual worlds but some of it’s transition into real life. This week, we’re taking a look at NekoZone, owned by Fox Daviau, and touch a bit about neko in general.

Neko, for those who are new to the concept, is a human with cat features, such as cat ears and a tail. The reason to have cat features, as well as how many features a neko can have, varies and can be simply a pair of ears or as many cat features that the lines between neko and furry (furry: anthropomorphic animal) become blurred. The word comes from Japan and is an abbreviation of the word nekomimi, meaning cat.

Neko isn’t a culture that is entirely virtual.  Since the mid-80’s people have worn diadems with cat ears or belts with tails, but recent technology have made the transformation into neko a bit more realistic. A Japanese company called Nekomimi Inc. released a set of cat ears with an attachment that you put on your forehead (and preferably hide with hair or a hair band) that will read your emotional state and control the ears based on your mood. This is not a “fake science,” like the 60’s mood rings; it actually reads your brain activity (though no thoughts can be read, so don’t worry about mind reading) and acts according to certain patterns.

Both the company that made them and several third party companies have made several “ears” to attach to the device, so you’ll get exactly the type of ears you want. And, it does not stop at cat ears — there are fox ears, dog ears and several different animals out there. If you can think of it, chances are that someone has made it.

I found this demonstration video from Comic-Con in San Diego.

Nekomimi have announced that they are developing a tail that will be controlled by the same unit as the ears. It is currently in the end-stage of development and is due to be released late next year.

Speaking of neko and foxes, we met up with Fox Daviau, owner of the Blade Runner-themed city of NekoZone in Second Life. He told us about the start of the city and his club, InFuZion.  He told us about the dark times and how they came back from those dark times.

Fox came to SL in 2007 and made his second living out of his background in web development and design. He made textures and built on a smaller scale for a while before buying a small parcel in 2008.  He named it NekoZone, both due to him being a neko and the fact that the neko community really thrived at the time. From the start, Fox set out to make a dark, urban theme, a theme that sticks to this day. He got a lot of traffic and most of the stores around the parcel rented out quickly. When demand rose, he managed to buy the neighboring parcels and had enough space for a club. He built a mall around the club, making it the center piece of NekoZone and soon he had rented over half the sim. The owners approached him about buying off the whole sim and he jumped at the opportunity, officially renaming the sim NekoZone.  At the same time he renamed the club InFuZion to separate it from the sim and make it one of the buildings in the city instead.

After some trial and error with different formats, like rentals and different designs, he managed to get every piece of rental property on the sim rented out. This was in 2010… the following year was not as kind to NekoZone.

After a downward spiral of renters leaving the sim, the club soon lost its patrons. With no people around, the staff soon followed suit and NekoZone was all but abandoned. Shops were empty, the club was deserted and Fox was thinking of quitting. In order to keep the city afloat, he had to sell the sim, but was able to keep half of it as a renter again. The city was barely breaking even for over a year and Fox didn’t dare take any risks to upset that balance. In late 2012, he made what he thought would be his final effort to promote NekoZone and InFuZion.  As if a sign from the sky, renters started coming back.

NekoZone was once again starting to thrive, more so than before. Suddenly, Fox found himself with every shop rented again and a completely re-themed city, this time with a slight futuristic bent.

The acquisition of the very prominent club manager, GiseleVuitton Niseru, in mid-2013 helped bring NekoZone back to the limelight.  “I decided to advertise for a new manager for InFuZion, as I thought I might as well give the club another chance,” Fox explained.  “A passing shopper (GiseleVuitton Niseru) walks into the club while I was just hanging around listening to music.   She began talking to me about the SIM/Club and I explained how I was looking for a new staff and a Manager to manage them.  Gisele was up for the challenge and took on the role of InFuZion Manager.  She quickly got staff in and the events started.   The club was being managed really well.  Me and Gisele became very close and I realized we have much in common.  We worked really well together.”

Today, NekoZone is once again on its own sim and Fox and GiseleVuitton are now in a relationship. Although the move to a new sim meant they lost the Editors Pick they had gotten from Linden Lab in the Destination Guide, their collective effort managed to get the traffic up again.

NekoZone offers a lot to its visitors, whether you’re new or old to Second Life. With its entire sim-wide, several story high, border-to-border shopping mall, you are sure to find something you like in there. If you don’t have the money, there are plenty of lucky chairs to be found and there is a huge freebie store at your disposal. The city is filled with hangout spots and wonderful scenery for photography and has been used by several SL photographers both for live shoots and to shoot backdrops for their studios. NekoZone is beautifully detailed and works perfectly for near-future RP as well, with its massive sky scrapers and intricate sewer system. If you need a high-traffic location for your store, for a reasonable penny, there have bee more shop locations added over time. There are also rentals available if you need a place to stay.

And that’s not even mentioning the ever-growing center piece, Club InFuZion, with its many contests and events.

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