Saturday, 21 June 2008

What's wrong with Second Life



What is wrong with Second Life

By Robert Hooker

I feel the need to join my voice with a growing chorus of once enthusiastic individuals who have come to see something deeply and profoundly wrong with Second Life.

A typical source of blame is Linden Labs. http://2ndlifesucks.com/ I think this is a grave mistake. Linden Labs has been one of the better companies to come out of the dot com explosion. It lacks Yahoo’s pathetic waste of content, Wikipedia’s unorganised inability to protect its content from Google, Google’s effort to dominate content and Microsoft’s effort to understand what content is. LL has given a place to produce content in high levels of freedom.

If Linden Labs did anything wrong is they structured the terms of usage of Second Life to much under neo-liberal patters of Capitalism. And it is the managerial rationalisation of space which has ruined Second Life.

The core problem with Second Life is the ability of a group of administrators to ban person from a space with a push of a button. It’s hard to imagine an equivalent event in the real world. I simply can’t imagine a person who owns a pub or store able to listen in to all the conversations that are going on in their store even if they are not there, and able to have a person removed instantly and banned from the space for life, with no legal recourse, with no authority to protest.

Also the official legal status of VR is a big problem. As far as courts are concerned for the most part VR is a game. And the worst is because in the end legally it’s all a game, and in games people can play assholes and villains. Legal systems for VR remain very much in their infancy and there is little pressure to make progress.

Groups form with high sounding principles about equality and access, but in the end Second Life is just another form of Gitmo. Any time you are in a space you don’t own you are under the entire power of an “owner” of the space. You have no recourse unless they do something that breaks the law seriously. So someone would have to say they were going to rape or kill you in RL.

Sadly LL suffers from fuzzy legal thinking talking about “griefing”. I can’t stress enough what a problem “griefing” is, and I don’t understand why established legal concepts and Anti-Social behaviour and public nuisance were not use instead. The undefined “griefing” (which is not even a word) allows groups that form on Second Life to ignore all their principles and exercise their Gitmo like power. If every there is a question as to why a person has been removed it can be white washed by groups with griefing.

Let me give you an example of how bad things are getting. Last year there was a protest of IBM by Italian workers in SL. I attended it. If IBM had simply removed the protestors and banned them from the space forever there would have been a public outcry. IBM could have done it but exists in a world where the ability to do something does not equal the right to do it. IBM exists in reality and is governed by liberal concepts of democracy and public discourse that it carries in to Second Life. These principles mean that IBM must to some extent tolerate free expression and protest. This does not mean IBM is perfect or democratic, but it has certain rules our society has imposed on business in reality.

But the new spaces and business opened Second Life. Let’s face it, one reason so many alts exist is that people get banned from spaces they like for the most idiotic reasons. The mental instability of land owners who one minute say they have a business and the next minute say it’s a private residence has produced a schizophrenic collage of no go zones and private forts.

This legal gray goo is the Culture of Second Life. Personally I am sick of people being banned from places I used to hang out with them for the most idiotic reasons. I was banned from a Gor RP Sim for playing a visitor from Earth who was opposed to slavery. It was perfectly in RP but someone decided it was a thing that could not be said. For “confusing the mind of a female slave” I am banned from the discourse space for every. This was a place I used to RP for 6 months, and I had often spend Linden’s at markets in the place and brought people to it.

I was banned along with a group of people from a Neo-Victorian Sim by an admin who was not where near for talking about Africa. Looking over the posts the only thing I could see that I said was that Africa was the birth place of civilization. Certainly not violating any rules but it is the kind of thing racists really hate to hear said. The violated the charger of Caledon but because of griefing the charter means nothing.

The weird thing is I had recently spend thousands of Lindens from the person who banned me.

I have friends who have all been fired and banned by the ever increasingly nutty owners of a club I used go to. One was fired and banned for being a member of a group that had another club associated with it. The right of assembly does not exist in the SL Gitmo universe.

The thing about this space is the people who were banned had, as employees, built it and made it a major community. The owners just owned the space. In RL you can’t just fire long term staff because you don’t like the groups they are in, in SL no protections of people and the community they create exist.

I know someone else who was banned from a group she loved and got much of her early SL identity from because the SIM owner she rented from referenced the group without its permission. She was told either move or be evicted. Imagine your RL church saying something like that?

Sadly it goes on and on and most long-term players can tell you about similar experiences. In a Universe where any SIM owner has the right to ban anyone, where no legal process exists to resolve conflicts, where no public duty of business owners is acknowledged, and a legal mentality founded on non-exist words like griefing; the outcome is utterly predictable.

So now its time to think about changing it, I just hope LL see the light of the need to establish civil society, to zone SIMS so that if someone is selling stuff they must follow different sets of rules about public access than apply to a home: as it is in all countries in RL.

The terrible thing about Second Life is without zoning the rules of a home owner apply to a business. So in RL people are allowed to lock their doors and ban anyone from entry at any time, in some countries by force. But a business must legally serve people who conduct themselves in a legal way. If a cafĂ© were to remove people because of the content of a conversation…well we all know that just does not happen.

It would be a terrible world if we could be removed from any space we did not own at any instant for any reason, and this is the world of Second Life. Second Life overall is a terrible world, saved only by the tender relations the form between people living in a world where community and identity are falling apart.
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