Flames and Matchboxes

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Rumors seems to follow Linden Labs the way liquor stores follow Lindsay Lohan…and like the Freaky Friday star, LL certainly seems to be making no great effort to drive them away.

In the tech blogs, Second Life is always just a few days from death, and if not, they have the stake and mallet all ready. As these intrepid haxxorz report on the fact that SL is uberlame as opposed to such profound online experiences as WoW and LotRO, they also take time to comment on the newest group of “freaks” that LL is rumored to be about to ban at any moment. Two months ago it was Pedophiles (aka Ageplayers and Child Avatars), now it is Beastiality fans (aka Furries)…oh and don’t forget gamblers, but that makes poorer headlines. In between, Dolls and Babyfurs and Goreans and any number of other non-mainstream fetishes were rumored to be facing the Linden Axe in the near future.

These rumors tend to come from two different sources…one fans the fires, while the other lights the matches.

The tech press, which once viewed Second Life as the golden child that would legitimize virtual worlds have turned with a vengeance over the last year and are fanning any flames for all they are worth. This feeding frenzy is partially caused by the fact the tech camp is split into two groups, both of which hate SL. The Gamerz despise SL because they view it as little more then an animated MySpace with no goal and no purpose…and too much sex. The Gearheads hate SL due to the fact that it’s continuing performance problems fall short of their dreams of what a virtual world should be…and that it has too much sex.

These two groups first answered the call when Robert Scoble, the dean of the tech blog A-list and an early SL fan decided a year and a half ago at a major tech con that the rules didn’t apply to him (he tends to do that a lot) and showed the crowd how he and his young son could build together on the main grid. LL responded by blocking his son’s account since he was a minor on the adult grid in clear violation of the rules and was violating them in a public demonstration…and Scoble has held a grudge for being embarrassed ever since.

Since then, Scoble has attacked Second Life endlessly, using three main sticks (beyond the fact that, y’know, it just sux). The first is server performance, the second is too much sex (see a pattern here?) and the third is having no reasonable way to deal with the issue of kids on the adult grid (‘natch). His solution to the third issue, that is simply opening up the grid and telling kids not to go into mature areas, is more then a little ludicrous but that is beside the point. He feels he has an axe to grind and grind he will.

Since that incident, blood has been in the water as far as the tech press is concerned and you need to search very carefully to find positive, well-informed commentary about SL. Well known tech journalist Bill O’Reilly calls it “the Anti-hype surrounded Second Life“.

However, what has this to do with rumors of groups being banned?

Simply put, the tech press is eager for ANY rumor which casts SL in a bad light, or discourages resident confidence. If you posted to a tech blog that logging onto SL caused your grandmother to speak in tongues and then explode I guarantee that some blogs would run it as news. Therefore, when they get a good rumor, they run with it, spreading either derision and upset in it’s wake, depending on where you stand about Second Life.

So, if the press are fanning the flames, who has the matchbox?

Linden Labs of course.

Buffeted by America’s well publicized concerns about offshore gambling and online predators while rocked by splashy European TV shows “exposing” deviance in SL and threatening some kind of retribution, Linden Labs has been running scared for ages.

They have fallen prey to the temptation of trying to please all of the people, all of the time…which any huckster could tell them is impossible. They are trying to cater to both US and European laws as well as both US and Euro morals. In trying to perform this impossible balancing act, they have learned to address controversies by having someone named Linden make a semi-official announcement that can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. Therefore, they can tell the “anti” crowd they have done something to stop whatever horrible thing they are upset about, while telling the “pro” crowd that their sacred rights are still essentially protected.

However, neither group are buying it. So instead of pleasing both sides, both sides feel victimized and marginalized.

Linden, for all the upset, have never actually banned ageplay or any other practice explicitly…they have used some very slippery substitutes instead, such as warning people not to “promote or advertise” such activities and nixed a few search terms. Some groups were banned, but very few if any actual players.

Lots of talk, fiery rumors, no action.

What about their famous statement that players can be reported for doing things that are “broadly offensive” that so many, including myself, attacked liberally? Know anyone who is doing time on a Broadly Offensive rap?

Lots of talk, fiery rumors, no action.

Really the only actions they have taken are against gambling and that is simply because it is easily enforced…and then they have only made it harder to bet and win money in SL. No one as far as I know have been banned.

While I abhor the continued sense of paranoid and stigmatization that these half hearted statements from LL have engendered, I am learning more and more to simply ignore them and the rumors they produce.

In the end, Linden Labs only really cares about one thing…resident numbers. The more residents, the greater the traffic, the more successful SL appears to be, and therefore the more likely to keep attracting big name corporations to try their luck in the brave new world, no matter how many have muffed it in the past.

They are not going to screw that up by banning large groups of residents, or by losing large groups of residents by not taking their concerns seriously.

The Lindens are using confusion and rumors to walk the middle ground, making the protesters believe that the hated deviants are soon going to get the axe…without ever having to sharpen it up. Therefore, I see no change to the status quo in the near future, despite our fears.
Besides, every cloud has a silver lining. Rumors keeps Second Life in the public eye…just like Liquor Stores and Lindsay Lohan.

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5 Comments

  1. Well written!!!!! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  2. Well, to be completely trite, Second Life is what Second Life is.

    It is an amazingly glitchy three dimensional internet thingee with ONE key difference from all the prettier and faster 3D interfaces out there: it allows user created content.

    This is not just important for those of us who like to build–it means that Linden Labs does NOT have an active role in determining what Second Life looks like.

    If tomorrow, everyone in Second Life decided to be a badger and live in a pirate ship, they would (one has to admit, it would be more intriguing than at least what I’ve seen of World of Warcraft) USERS determine what the game (if there is any game) is “about”.

    So, the reaction to the bans is simply that it seems to strike at the foundation of what SL is. If Linden Labs is dictating “no casinos” or “no ageplay”, the feeling goes, it is about to pounce on anything else that it feels might run counter to their corporate goals of Selling the Product.

    Now, the truth is greyer. IMHO, LL is clumsily addressing real problems. If it allows Casinos, they might very well get shut down by the American Federal Agents. As for Broadly Offensive, on of the chief targets for the current American Administrations Justice Department (when they aren’t wiretapping us) is reduction in online obscenity. Until LL moves to an offshore island, they are forced to deal with not just user perception, but the perception of American law.

    But, it is setting precedence, is it not? I doubt they would do some extreme such as ban furries (come now, Disney has furries)–but it might have an eventual review process for sims. All very sensible sounding at first, but anytime there is an increase in hurdles to take before one is allowed to be creative, well, that is when people start looking elsewhere.

  3. Is it just me? I do agree with everything else you said, especially as a member of two marginalized communities, but…now I really want to see a sim full of badger pirates!

  4. Badger, badger, badger….

  5. Someone wise once said that it is a mistake to fight evil directly, what is important is to promote good. In SL of all places where it is impossible for economic, political and territorial issues to poison discussions of values we should be able to find a balance. A balance between freedom from the actions of people who for example might want to sexually exploit children and the freedom to use our imaginations and creativity without restraint.
    SL promotes harmonious social contact. It can be the greatest good because here it doesn’t threaten individual creativity and freedom (including ironically the freedom to remain alone and keep ones own counsel). In my RL neighborhood, children are brought into life by parents who at first don’t let them any further than the front yard, then the local street, then the local community….We don’t ban them from social contact altogether we concentrate on giving them the resources to cope on their own. We need to develop a parallel in SL.

    In SL if you want to practice a religious purity keep your group on an isolated island and carry on. If you want to practice sexual deviance – go ahead but do it where I can avoid it. The principle – this is my land I can do what I want in it is a problem in RL because there is a shortage of land not in SL. Here is an opportunity for developing tolerance through social contact. It’s an antidote to the isolation common in modern culture. No longer a game, it’s too damn important for us not to work towards balance or to allow polarization of views to deflect it’s development. LL probably don’t have many options but to fudge things so that SL continues to grow. The SL community can think more deeply about how it wants that growth to take place. Maybe a bit of badgering is needed.


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