Your World, Our Trade Demo

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Never let it be said that Linden labs can do anything without controversy, not even a landmark birthday celebration. As most of you know, Second Life’s fifth birthday is coming, and a massive festival to be called SL5B is planned which says it will showcase all the wonderful communities of a full and vibrant SL.

Like last years, it will certainly be heavily FIC focused with massive involvement by those that are famous on the grid for being massively involved. Electric Sheep will be there acting like they know something you don’t and are amused by your cluelessness, OnRez will be there showing their new consumer scriptbots for replacing players altogether, Prok will be there calling everyone (including herself) “technological neo-crypto-fascists”, the chic fashionistas will be there hoping you forget (or don’t care) they are actually men and M2 will report on it all. Business as usual, yes?

However, I can tell you all sorts of people who WON’T be involved in this wonderful display of Sl diversity. “But why not” you may ask, “Due to personal aversion to parties perhaps?”. No, due to the fact that our ever democratic Linden Labs has barred certain “freaks” from participating in the birthday bash. It seems that when they say Your World, Your Imagination…some people’s Imaginations are more acceptable then others.

In a nutshell, the main groups that are being barred are Gorean, BDSM groups and child avatars. Since LL is making the birthday bash PG only, I can almost rationalize excluding Goreans and BDSM groups….almost. I don’t agree with making it PG to begin with (see below for why), but once they did, there is a logical premise for banning groups which are sexual in nature. However, excluding child avatars at this stage of the game is adding insult to injury and is showing that, surprise surprise, most Lindens are not to be trusted and view child avatars and anything out of the mainstream as freaks. The concept of freaks, of certain residents being beyond the pale in SL, is at the core of this entire issue and always has been.

Some of you may remember the broadly offensive and possibly illegal changes to the TOS that set this sad little scene and gave LL the power to essentially do anything to anyone for any reason. This was on the heels of what I call The Night of the Iron Jump Rope, when LL eliminated most of the “ageplay” groups and areas even though they were proven to be legal adults engaging in consensual sexual role play and unleashed their forum monkeys to stigmatize an entire community along with any community with even the vaguest of connections to ageplay, such as child avatars and dolls.

All that eventually died down. Most of us admitted that due to various amorphous and badly phrased laws and the fact that the possibilities for abuse and misunderstanding did exist, it was not a bad thing for public ageplay to be reined in, to protect the players from overzealous politicians if nothing else. The fears of an expanding circle of banlines from LL that would encompass all non-mainstream sexual practices proved to be more or less overblown (though with the new TOS, LL could still do that at any time and it may have been the vocal objections of many residents that stops things from going further).

All this had tremendous effect on two utterly blameless communities, the children and the dolls (by children, I refer to those players who choose to play non-sexual child avatars). Both were faced with the crudest and cruelest of public attacks all over the grid and in the forums, being branded as pedophiles and freaks. Most members of said community laid low for quite some time. To their credit, the persecution simply made their communities more closely knit. The children especially took the Linden’s at their word when they said they only wished to restrict the advertising of public ageplay areas and ageplay items, and would leave alone any child avatars and communities that followed the rules and stayed out of trouble. The Lindens clearly still felt the children were freaks, but “harmless” freaks as long as they followed the vague and shifting rules LL had set up. The children heavily policed themselves, making sure that sexual ageplay was shunned and avoided completely, utterly taboo. They became a model roleplay community, and felt they could shed the “freak” label….for all the good it would do them.

When SL5B was announced, many child avatars rushed to submit ideas for exhibits and builds to spotlight the fact that they were a vibrant and wholesome part of the diverse fabric of Second Life. They were turned away, but told they could still ATTEND the party, just not have any public involvement. The same was true for Gorean and BDSM groups, ostensibly due to the fact that the party is to be utterly PG. The child avatars, being utterly PG (most actually would get G ratings) were denied simply for the fact that they are still viewed as freaks, and that there are kneejerk, ignorant politicians such as Mark Kirk of Illinois looking to make pre election points by taking a strong public stance against potential child abuse in SL, though they have not heard of any at this time. This is similar to some California lawmakers a few years ago attempting to pass a law against alien abductions.

It is in this treatment of utterly blameless child avatars and the act of making the entire party PG that we see the entire birthday party for what it is. It isn’t what the Lindens trumpet it as, a celebration of SL, for SL…it is a presentation of SL as a safe advertising/merchandising platform for corporate/political/media honchos. This party is not for the residents at all…rather SL is getting the residents to act like performing monkeys, to create a show that LL can use as a sort of Proof of Concept, a trade demo.

If SL5B were a celebration for the residents of SL, why not allow ALL residents to participate and create separate Sims for PG, Mature and Adult groups. After all, the vast majority of Sims (and therefore of residents) are Mature or Adult. PG sims are quite rare on the grid. If this festival were REALLY for the residents, why notĀ  allow all residents to showcase themselves as they see fit (much as, to it’s credit, RFL does). PG means parental guidance, and since all people on the adult grid are supposed to be of majority age, the entire concept is falacious. If a group goes to far, deal with them then. Why punish groups in advance, just in case they violate the TOS?

Simple answer is that LL can’t risk another high-profile PR fiasco, with flying penis griefing and people doing and saying the “wrong” thing when the cameras are rolling. They can’t risk showing the grown up, complex, unpredictable, realistic world that SL is slowly developing into to corporate America. Just like Will Smith will always play manchild roles so as not to spook white America, SL must always be presented as Neopets with better clothing and fewer plushies. If the rights of a few groups of freaks are gutted in the process…well, they could simply choose to be like “other” people. Of course, LL (like much of the corporate advertising world) doesn’t realize that there are very few “other” people left.

You are all freaks, just like me. Just like all of us.

All freaks are created equal…and deserve to be celebrated.

By the time we see SL6B, I hope the Lindens will have learned that lesson. I hope we have the wisdom and power to teach it to them.

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3 Comments

  1. And that they’ll begin to listen, which is the important thing.

    Yes, I’ll agree, it’s harder to stand up and stand fast against those who react out of fear to all new things, all different things–but it’s absolutely what Linden Labs should be doing. Our world, our imagination? Hells, even their world, their imagination? If they want to be the forefront of the coming virtual age, then they need to understand that not everything that comes out of human hearts and minds is going to be sanitized and acceptable for all ages.

    And that’s part of diversity, after all. Not everything is PG, not everything is “safe”, and that’s part and parcel of every culture. That’s precisely how it should be.

    Or why do we bother warning children by way of so very many “faery tales” that speak to such dangers, eloquently and graphically?

    In the meantime, the Lindens–typically slow on the uptake, which again seems so unusual seeing as how it’s their world, our little grid–are apparently just now noticing the storm of controversy raging through JIRA over this.

    It should be interesting to see what the next week will bring in terms of Linden response.

  2. Nice write up! And your title sums up the situation well. I’m stilling looking forward to a response for linden, and confirmation that all indeed will be PG area. :(

  3. Well said, Sir.
    I think you have nailed the main issue as well. SL is no longer a place for freaks and geeks, it has expanded to the point of becoming yet another corporate entity. Again and again both inworld and in RL you see small community based businesses become successful and transformed into faceless mulitnationals. EBay started as a community run auction venue for beanie babies and collectibles – now is a cross between a Big Box and a dollar store. Starbucks was a small local coffeehouse, WalMart was an Arkansas dimestore, etc.


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