Three other blog posts generated a fair amount of feedback over at SL Universe this week. First was a protest over in world copying promoted by the Shopping Cart Disco blog. Second was an article at the Pixels and Policy blog about how real life gender affects second life play. Third was a proposal by Hamlet Au at NWN about integrating Facebook and Second Life in an effort to get more players into SL.
My response to all three was decidedly negative. Even though these three separate issues have little to do with one another, they all deny the whole vision and purpose of Second Life as if they are a part of a concerted effort to turn SL into something it is not. Have we lost the vision of what SL is supposed to be?
The bulk of my venom is over the second and third posts, but I should begin and end with the first. I did not participate in any protests over copyright issues. Not that I am opposed to copyright protection or removing counterfeit goods, or punishing those that violate copyright in world. I am opposed to changing the rules of SL to accommodate copyright protection. I have explained why in previous posts.
Every now and then we get an article about how people play avatars that are nothing like who they really are. Men pretending to be women, women pretending to be men, adults pretending to be children, children pretending to be adult, humans pretending to be animals, animals pretending to be human. You get the picture.
My response is always: That is why it is called SECOND Life. Yes, there are fake people in SL. In fact the vast majority of players look nothing like their avatars in RL, whether it being a few inches taller, or 20 pounds lighter, all the way to playing fantasy alien species.
The truth is there are plenty of fake people in real life as well, the fake people in Second Life are a much more interesting fake. In real life we pretend to be something other than ourselves, because societal norms tell us we should. In Second Life what we pretend to be is a personal choice, a creative representation we choose to project.
As I have pointed out before, there is a large part of the general population that doesn’t get this. They believe that our online persona should be real, that the virtual world should mirror the real world, they are offended by even the idea of “role play”, and they are likely to show up more often in social networks like Facebook.
I did finally get a Facebook account and use it to talk to family and old friends. I don’t bother with all the other crazy stuff that goes on there like Mafia Wars and Farmville. So yes I understand that SL’ers may be ok with social networks.
I’m not so sure a typical Facebook user would be that interested in Second Life. Advertising SL or integrating Facebook in SL will not work. The TOS policies in FB are decidedly anti role play, and they will occasionally suspend accounts of people using fake names or 3D rendered profile pictures.
Bringing in the Facebook crowd means bringing in the kind of players that reports people wearing child avatars for being under age; that think it is cool to “out” the gender benders; that take offense at furbys and goreans and nekos; the type of people that don’t understand “role play” and generally cause problems for those that do.
These kind of players don’t last long in SL anyways. If SL wants to attract future loyal players, they need to hit sci-fi and comic conventions, SCA and Renaissance fairs, war reenactors, and other places likely to attract the role playing types. I’ve met lots of SL players who are into all of this stuff IRL as well.
Second Life is a world designed and built for role players of all types. That is what it has always been and needs to remain. Concerning yourself with real life identities is a waste of time. Trying to “mainstream” Second Life is counter productive and wont work.
Linden Labs needs to stop marketing Second Life as a place to make money, especially since only about 2-3% actually do. They also need to stop marketing as a social chat environment as there are dozens of better places to chat. It is far more effective, I believe, if SL were marketed as a fantasy mecca, as a place to create your world. Its what those misleading ads for Evony and IMVU do, and they have attracted millions of players.
Which brings us full circle to those concerned with copyrights and stuff. SL was not designed to protect copyright. Many real life 3D artists don’t bother with SL for that reason. I figured this out a long time ago myself. If you release something cool in SL, it will get copied and stolen, and spread around. Somehow this idea that SL is a place to make money has caught on and has turned into an entitlement, they are demanding that the Lindens protect their investment with draconian rules to limit play for non-paying players, or to limit what can be uploaded and by who.
From a role play perspective this whole thing is silly anyways. I build my character, make or buy clothing, make or buy housing and enjoy the world. If I want to play the role of “fashion designer”, I design avatar clothing, and have fun doing it, and if I make money too, great! It means I can play the role of successful fashion designer. If others are making cheap knock-offs of my product line, well that’s the life of the virtual fashion designer.
Worrying about what others are doing with your stuff just leads to stress and burnout. Aside from filling out the occasional DMCA ticket, people shouldn’t waste their time over it. This is all antithetical to the whole spirit of Second Life. SL was designed as a fun diversion, a fantasy escape, with as much freedom as possible, not a big business platform that needs to be scrutinized and regulated.
With the recent departure of some key players, Second Life seems to be at another crossroad point. In these times, there is always this serious risk that things could change enough to destroy what has been built.
It is time to remind people of what the whole purpose really is.
An interesting but long article about the merging of virtual worlds appears in this months Technolology Review. Here’s the link, but it will probably require registration to read it.
The cliff notes version of the article is this:
Second life is a social virtual world you can explore and interact with using a customized avatar. People are building and programming cool things in Second Life, the scripting langage and access via XML allows people to build objects that tie the second life world to the real world.
Meanwhile, Google Earth is adding all sorts of cool things to their map of the world software, like building 3D models of buildings where they exist, linking to photographs, wiki information, restaurant and driving directions, pointing out geological features etc.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could merge the two?
Personally, I do not think we could geographically merge the two, in fact I do not think we need to. I do not see the point of making the continents of Second Life conform to the real world.
What would be cool is to merge the abilities of both games, add avatar walking/flying and local chatting and maybe even scripting in Google Earth, while adding geotagging and other advanced web integration to Second Life.
As currently constituted though, this makes no sense in either program, If you want to add links to photos or geotags to wiki info in Second Life, just put a scripted object on your land. On the other hand, while it might be cool to be able to explore google earth with a customizable avatar, it would not really add much to the experience (unless it were possible to take your avatar to say Times Square and be able to chat locally with anyone else whose avatar is in Times Square)
What should be a goal is to create a 3D internet standard “browser” that can handle both kinds of environments. Instead of launching Second Life or Google Earth, you could launch one browser that could read both kinds of data and link back and forth or with the 2D web.
But, lets add a geolink to someone’s recreation of Times Square in Second Life, and instantly teleport there.
As you can see, this is already fairly easy to do. but you have to launch 3 seperate programs to do it. What if we only needed one, and what if the links all work the same way, and the avatars and usernames stayed similar, etc.
That is the goal of various metaverse projects. Thats where we are eventually headed.
In part one, I mentioned that Second Life players can pretty much be lumped into two categories: Role Players, and Virtual Utopians.
The role players are the ones who come into the game pretending to be someone else. It could be as simple as a change of race or gender, or as complicated as an alter ego. This is what Second Life was designed to be. There are lots of people who play as animals, or mythological creatures (there is a large Vampire subculture), or warrior like characters. There are also accompanying settings for all of these roles.
There is also the subculture of sexual role play. A lot of people who are in real life probably decent upstanding citizens, like to roleplay all sorts of sexual fantasies. Escorts and strippers are pretty frequently viewed. There is also Furby sex (people playing as animals) which is pretty much can only happen virtually. But there is also some sexual role playing that personally are a turn off for me. You have of course your BDSM groups, which are big enough that even if you are just a casual explorer in SL you have probably run into various props. Another related subculture are the Goreans or Master-Slave role players. Related to these is of course Ageplay where the submissive player takes the role of a child.
There has been a recent crackdown on ageplay in Second Life, partly because of its association with pedophelia and even fake pedophelia is illegal in some European countries, where Second Life is growing in numbers (in fact, Second Life is more popular in Europe than the US right now.) But the truth is that ageplay in second life always involves two consenting adults. Yes, occasionally kids make their way onto the main grid, but in order not to get caught, they ALWAYS play as adults. So any child avatars you see running around SL are adults role-playing.
The role-players of Second Life are pretty universally upset with the crackdown on ageplay. Not because they condone ageplay, but because a crackdown on one form of role-playing sets a precedence that other potentially offensive forms of role playing could find themselves under close scrutiny as well.
The other side of the player set are the Virtual Utopians. They pretty much play the game as themselves, or more accurately an idealized version of themselves… at age 20 and with a perfect body hair makep and clothing. They come to SL for various reasons, mostly to meet people, or make money, or build the perfect house.
From a standpoint of someone interested in making a mainstream metaverse, it is the virtual utopian view that should be emphasized. The Role Players do not have to be sold on a metaverse, but the vast majority of the population are not role player types.
And there lies the reality for Linden Labs and all other virtual world companies. If you really want to see growth, you have to sell the game to the virtual utopians out there. One upcoming virtual world (ok it was PS3 Home) has already announced that roleplay is pretty much discouraged and unsupported in the game.
So it comes as no surprise that virtually all upcoming changes encourage VU behavior rather than RP, even the seemingly innocent ones.
- Lets start with Voice (which apparently wont be out for a few months). As a rule, role players dont like voice. It spoils the illusion, especially because most role players are crappy voice actors. Having been in There when voice came out, I can tell you that voice will have a divisive effect on the community. there will be those that refuse to use it, and those that refuse to associate with people that don’t use it. Virtual Utopians, in general like voice.
- Age Verification (which rumor has it may not even happen) is another anti role play move. Role players prefer to keep online activities and real life activities as seperate as possible. The truth is, most role players don’t really give a damn who is on the other side of the keyboard, as long as they are into the same stuff.
- I have already pointed out how the crackdown on ageplay affects all role players.
- What about innocent radical changes like the new atmosphere effects? Role playing islands like strict control over their islands, and ideally want everyone to be experiencing the same thing. As cool as the atmosphere effects are, they will generally differ from player to player, thus at least partially disturbing the common experience of role play.
- Sculpted prims pretty much benefits everybody though.
Lets add to the list the potential disappearance of internet radio, which LL has nothing to do with, but will ruin the game in many ways as I wrote earlier. Bottom line is that the Second Life experience may be very different by the end of the year. I forsee a lot of voluntary exits by lots of old timers over these issues.
For years there has been room enough in Second Life for both groups, and to tell you the truth I feel affection for both philosophies and I don’t like seeing them pitted against each other.
It is only fair that I wrap this up by acknowledging the growing legal mess LL finds itself in. This seems the fate of anyone trying to be new and different. I already mentioned in part one the whole TOS being legally scrutinized by a judge in Philadelphia. It is also well known that the casino crack down and ageplay crackdown were the result of regional laws (US in the case of Casinos, Ageplay in the case of Germany) where Second Life does a lot of business.
But there is another ugly side. A recent court case sets a precedent that if Linden Labs starts censoring the players, they will lose an exemption under the communications and decency act. Could LL be forced to legally censor everything?