Found this wonderful, and very funny little snippet today on YouTube, of comedian Louis CK being interviewed by Conan. I thought it was very apt to the sorts of things we complain about every single day in Second Life. So next time someone in whinging at you or you’re feeling a bit grumpy about current technology’s imperfection, watch the link and remind yourself of what is so very awesome about it all 🙂

Replies to my recent post about Virtual Illegalities, and reading this very entertaining item (“Vaginas with teeth and other sexual myths“), got me thinking about what we can learn from Second Life about sexual “perversions” and “deviance”. This post brings together a lot of thoughts I’ve expressed over previous blog entries, specifically as they relate to sexualities and adult freedoms in a virtual world. I find the more you write and get feedback on such topics, the more it helps you understand both the reality, and your own view of that reality, so as usual I’d love to get your feedback on what follows.

In Second Life adults find a safe outlet for experimenting with sexual acts and preferences they may have never followed through with in real life. In turn, it also provides a way to live out sexual preferences that you may have always had in real life but not been able to take part in due to your own or others fears and prejudices. Those may include acts which are still deemed illegal or immoral in the real world – the extremes being bestiality, paedophilia, and rape. What makes those the taboo extremes is the lack of meaningful consent by all parties involved. And that seems like a very reasonable and logical line to draw.

A world like Second Life though provides a way to overcome that moral and legal restriction, because the consent of the other party is either irrelevant (because it isn’t a sentient being playing the role of the dog etc), or because it is a consenting adult after-all who is going along with the act (the rape, for example).

The consideration that always feeds into this debate is whether allowing such things either encourages it in the real world, or stops the act being followed through in the real world. Beyond those interesting questions though, you have to be ready to ask if the answers even matters, since the virtual act itself is just that: virtual. And between consenting adults.

There are plenty of other sexual “perversions” though that people find sick and disturbing for reasons apart from missing consent – usually because they deem the act as degrading or mentally harmful. For example, the sub and dom culture that thrives in Second Life, is seen by many as a distasteful and disturbing pass-time that reveals either cruelty or deficient weakness in the participants. It is not surprising that those sexual cultures defend their activities, but at the end of the day it’s nothing to do with everyone else anyway since they are, after-all, consenting adults.

Another piece of the puzzle when trying to work out how we feel about and respond to such “deviances” is whether the people involved “chose” the preference. For example, the fact that many homosexuals didn’t choose to be attracted to their own sex, is seen by some as the “redeeming” feature that means we must learn to accept it. However this strikes me as completely the wrong focus. I have discussed in a previous post that whether you choose your sexuality is irrelevant – as long as the act is between consenting adults, everything else is people getting their sticky-beaks where they don’t belong. It is not up to us to criminalise or condemn people for doing what they want with their own bodies.

Which brings us to the question of harm. Most liberals ascribe to a theory of paternalism – trying to protect people from themselves. They either claim to know what is best for you and therefore deny you the right to choose it yourself (and that hardly requires me to point out how flawed it is, I hope!). Or they claim that the very fact you choose to do an act with is harmful (physically or mentally) means your consent is vitiated and deemed flawed in some essential way; that you have thereby already provided proof that you are not mentally sound or competent to make such decisions for yourself.

The beauty of Second Life is it degrades at least some of these paternalistic complaints – particularly in regards to physically hurting yourself (say through bondage). People will still try to tell you you are mentally damaging yourself but at least in-world  they can not stop you by physical force or by threatening your real world reputation. Second Life provides a haven from the do-goody paternalism which deems free consenting acts between adults as morally repugnant, which forces people in the real-world to live in denial and have unfulfilled sex-lives.

My hope is that through Second Life we can come to accept the huge variety of sexual acts and preferences, and realise that what matters is the consent between adults. That we can reflect on the really very large numbers of people who do what we have labeled perverse or deviant in the past (be it masturbation, sub-dom, scat-love, etc), and start to realise that it is too wide-spread to be given such labels, that in fact it is just part of our repertoire of sexual experiences that help us explore and enjoy our own and others bodies.

We’ve come a long way from seeing sex as something dirty, and masturbation as something that will make your palms hairy and make you go blind. The anonymity from our real world selves that we find in virtual worlds, helps us explore and discover not just our true selves, but others too. We don’t have to personally like and partake in the huge varieties of sexual acts out there – allowing such acts doesn’t mean anyone’s going to force you or your child to become or do something they don’t want to. Taking part in what we currently may still view and label as deviant acts, doesn’t make you different or evil or stupid, and as we interact and talk openly with such people who have different tastes than us, in the international adult universe of Second Life, that becomes clearer. One hopes.

Issues such as how we feel about Linden Labs cleaning up the adult world in Second Life – sanitising it to accord more with our dominant real world morals and laws – forces us to think about where we stand on these issues. So what about you, where do you stand on such issues, and how has Second Life changed your attitudes towards sexual perversions and deviances..? Has it perhaps cemented your hatred and intolerance of such deviance and perversion? And either way, why has that change in attitude happened..?

One of the great joys of Second Life is the ability to try-out and live-out things that you can’t do in the real world. It allows you to safely experiment with activities that you might otherwise be too afraid or unable to attempt. And it lets you do things that might be considered illegal in the real world. In the virtual world – since you’re not actually “doing” them – they aren’t illegal activities, right..? Maybe it’s not quite that straight-forward. I’m going to approach the issues of virtual illegality through three test cases: Drugs, Prostitution, and Paedophilia.

Let’s start with prostitution – one of the most wide-spread and well-known occupations in Second Life. Prostitution should be legal in the real world when it is the consenting transaction between two adults. So I find it beautiful that its presence in Second Life reflects so well what we should be seeing in the real world: An acceptance that it exists and happens and that it’s not morally wrong to the point that we must wipe it off the grid. People don’t like it being shoved down their throats (um, so to speak) – in their faces and in “inappropriate” places like the centre of a pub floor, but neither do people like having anything for sale shoved down their throats all the time – sex or a car or a plot of land. That’s not anti prostitution so much as anti rude behaviour. So prostitution is a good starting point for the discussion; showing that the virtual world can help us live in the free and ideal society that we still struggle to create in the real world.

Paedophilia pushes the boundaries, but at the same time clarifies the issue of virtual illegality. Despite the fact that it is not “real” – it is actually two consenting adults with at least one playing as a child – there is still strong and wide-spread outrage at it’s practice in-world. The concerns leak-into and are reflected in the varying attitudes about people playing as child avatars at all.

So why do people not tolerate it in a virtual world? Perhaps it is because the virtual world allows the limits of legality as the real world should be – that is to say, that things like prostitution and drugs should be allowed in the real world because they are actions between or by consenting adults, but paedophilia is something we would never allow because a child cannot give meaningful consent. Or perhaps it is because we think things done in the virtual world might encourage or normalise those actions for the real world, so despite the fact that it is not “really” paedophilia, we are concerned about it becoming such in the real world as a consequence (and that we feel that much more strongly about pedophilia becoming a reality than drug and prostitution use becoming realities).

My personal view on allowing paedophilia in-world should align with my view of pornography in the debate against the feminist movement which says it “encourages” people to treat women as mindless objects, and thereby encourages real rape. The facts go in the other direction – that the increase in pornography online has coincided with a drop in violent sex crimes (I’ve done a previous post on that point). Maybe because it satisfies the desire in the person safely at home so they don’t go live it out in the real world. So can’t we follow the same reasoning with sex crimes against children – that by living it out in the virtual world with people who are actually consenting adults – they are relieving the otherwise destructive fantasy that might have got lived out in the real world..?

Even if it did not have that flow on effect for the better, isn’t it just adults playing around with other adults, and since when did we (legitimately) put a limit on adult fantasy play?

It’s a difficult topic for me, because my “gut” says it’s disgusting – even between consenting adults in the virtual world, and shouldn’t be tolerated. But I think that’s exactly that – just my gut talking. I should be able to step back and assert the position I assert for other almost-crimes (in the real world too): If it’s not an actual crime – people doing something that is not actually illegal since it’s in a virtual world – then don’t punish them as if it was.  Murder is the most serious crime imaginable but people can “kill” each other in Second Life, so why can’t we allow all other role-playing too..? I suspect my gut reaction is in large part a reflection of my view that Second Life is the closest I’ll get to my libertarian utopia – where the only things we are not allowed to do are the actions which do not accord with our legitimate rights, and to me paedophilia (unlike prostitution and drug use) could never be OK in such a society.

Drugs is an interesting area that I think beautifully reflects the idiocy against drug use in the real world too: Let’s be clear at the out-set, drug use in Second Life is silly to me because it is in the same category of eating and drinking which I’ve never taken seriously in-world either. I don’t really get into pretending that my avie is hungry or thirsty or on drugs – if real me is hungry or thirsty or on drugs then I might say so. It’s not like dancing or sitting in a well structured animation which is aesthetically pleasing and (very importantly) doesn’t create constant green spam about how you sip the drink, chew the food or wobble from the drugs. Those other activities also don’t create huge puffs of marijuana smoke, lagging the sim and ruining your view. So my initial annoyance at drug use in Second Life is purely an anesthetic and superficial one. Beyond that – like in the real world – I have absolutely no desire to interfer with your personal drug use.

There are plenty of people who think drug use in Second Life is distasteful though and don’t like its presence in their bar or on their sim. More wide-spread is the very typical allowance and provision of legal drugs – caffeine and alcohol – in places like bars, but not the same ready provision of the drugs that should be legal in the real world: Conforming to the limits of real world legalities when they don’t have to. Of course I understand that to an extent they’re trying to recreate the feel of a real world bar, but then why allow alcohol but not provide toilets, why provide food but not a kitchen area, etc. If I was setting up a bar in-world I wouldn’t bother with the whole fake food and drink thing, but if I did I would go further to my ideal and also make available all the other drugs that should be available over a counter in the real world.

When you ask people why they don’t like seeing or allowing virtual use of illegal drugs, you get the same lines of arguments as those I mentioned above for paedophilia, but without the logical foundation behind them: It encourages or normalises drug-use, and drug use is bad… but wait, why is it bad again? Paedophilia is bad because it’s not done between consenting adults, but why does drug use fall outside those bounds? The arguments for making drugs freely available to adults in the real world are very strong ones, all the way from personal choice down to the crime drug lords that would lose their hold over the black-market if it went legal. In fact people are so blinded by what governments label “legal” and “illegal” drugs, that they overlook the immense amount of harm that alcohol for instance (as a legal drug) causes. The focus on whether you’re abusing drugs or not is just that – are you abusing them, not are you simply using them. Anything in excess can be bad for you (you’re all familiar by now about my attitude towards Second Life in that consideration).

So here’s where we end up on the topic of virtual illegalities: Trying to understand what we tolerate and what we draw the line at, as legal and allowable in a virtual world, does not appear to simply be a recognition that it is “virtual” and therefore not real. It appears to reflect the ideal society where basic rights and freedoms are allowed but we want to draw the line at things that should be illegal in every single society of the world (such as paedophilia). Some of the bad reasoning and thought-patterns of what should be legal and illegal in the real world, gets dragged into the virtual one too. Trying to understand the three examples of prostitution, paedophilia and drug use, helps us examine and understand where we draw the line and why. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on all this as well.

This is a current list of my top ten Second Life places to take pictures. Slurls are attached to the names of each place. Each description also contains a link to a picture I have taken of it previously on my own stream, feel free to click through to get a feel for the place. Also consider dropping in donations to the tip boxes on site, or to the land owners directly, to keep these places alive 🙂

Here they are, in no particular order:

(1) Chakryn Forest: Any list without this place would be incomplete. One of the most popular places on this list too (the popularity was no doubt boosted when Torley Linden decided to use it in a recent tutorial.) It is an amazing forest, with little (and big) wonders hidden all over the place – you should be prepared to wander around to find the best it has to offer. There are existing pose-balls but you can also rez whatever you might need there for your shot, so make the most of it. Suits tranquil or magical shots in particular. I’ve written a  previous post specifically about this place as well.

(2) Zero Style: One of those places that almost any lighting and angle will create amazing and memorable pictures. It has more than one attraction on site but the one you’ll come across most often in others’ pictures is the house in the field. Thankfully it’s not too popular just yet and even when people are hanging about you can usually avoid them appearing in your shot due to the long grasses. This is the one other place on the list that I’ve also done a previous post about.

(3) The Far Away: One of the most well-known picture locations of Second Life – seen people on a train-top, or standing in an endless field of wheat? That’s this place. Even my current header picture of this blog is shot there. This place is hardly ever empty, expect to have to come back a few times before you’ll get the chance to shoot yourself on the train (right click sit on the train will put you in the train-top pose). There are other special options here though too – the flying through the wind-mill (pose ball in its lower ruts), and the desk set-up off to the side with the flapping plastic bag caught in the barbed wire. Even though your background is provided for you here, lighting will still very greatly effect the end image, so remember to experiment.

(4) The Nameless Isle: Beautiful eerie place, with the generous option of being able to rez on site. To get the most out of this place you’ll need to fly to the base circling the island, look for the glow and have a good wander around the coves and whirlpool areas. Quite a magical place that will effect your mood. Dark and beautiful. I often find there’s people in the way of the shots I want to take here though due to its popularity, so take your patience with you 🙂

(5) Silvanus Forest: Sister forest to Chakryn forest. Lesser known and used (in my experience of going to both), but still quite popular. Particularly noteworthy for a giant statue of a “knight”, and an amazing waterfall area with a very special tree beside it. Explore around that waterfall area to find the hidden cavern which is also lovely. Quite good for fantasy-style shots. Overall has a similar feel and beauty to it as Chakryn does. Ability to rez here too.

(6) Templum Ex Obscurum: Be prepared to investigate little nooks and crannies to get the most out of this place. You’ll need to get into the heart of the underground temple to get the best shots. Lovely use of light, and a sense of fantasy and forgotten places. Explore the rest of the island to find other good potential shots too – like the light-bushes, and well placed trees on cliff edges.

(7) Rez: Another place you’ve no doubt seen pictures of: The train tracks that run through water, the broken bridge, and the ruined house (also sunk in water). My recent experiences here have been unfortunate ones – of people leaving behind items that griefed me, and an oddly increasing number of men going there to pick women up, which manages to ruin the special tranquil and lost feel of the place. Even as I write this from the location someone is begging me to give them lindens to buy something, and won’t leave me alone even when I said no (ending in a tirade of verbal abuse in IM after I left the sim, great). Besides that growing down-side though, still worth a visit. The picture for Rez is attached to this post, but here’s a link to the original location on my stream too.

(8) Error: One of my new favourite places. Good for dead / deserted shots. Beautiful islands even from a distance. Lovely locations across the sim, including bridges and piers. The owner is often on site and is very friendly, so remember to thank him for his amazing creation!

(9) Kowloon: Fantastic for street and city shots. Lots of good alley-ways and roof top locations. Dark, dirty, real. Have a good scout around to make the most of it, but be mindful of the fact that some people live on the sim too – I’ve received the “private residence” warning unexpectedly more than once in my wanders.

(10) Lost World: Beautiful location with many worthy backdrops. In the eerie / fantasy / magical category. Made up of well laid-out forest, water-ways, and interesting buildings and ruins. The location name says it all.

Please feel free to let me know what you thought of these locations – the good things, and perhaps the problematic aspects too. I’d love to see links to any pictures you take as well 🙂

Would you rather be in Second Life right now... or are you already..?

Would you rather be in Second Life right now... or are you already..?

A recent commenter on my blog claimed you can’t be addicted to Second Life. I countered with a “oh yes you can be”.

It doesn’t take much of a Google search to find people making the claim that it’s possible (examples of relevant links include this and this and this).

Inspired by my good friend Rrish over at Metaversally Speaking who did a quiz about Second Life body shapes, I’ve decided to provide a link to an Internet Addiction Quiz that I found quite interesting and relevant. When I took the quiz purely in regards to “Internet addiction” (which is it’s intention and wording), I received a score of:

25: Internet addiction possible: Based upon your responses to this quiz, it appears that you are likely experiencing fairly frequent issues related to your online use. This often occurs when individuals start exploring or using Internet resources (or game playing) to an extreme, without considering balancing them with their real-life needs. Think of it like this… You generally don’t spend 5 or 6 hours in front of the television, every night, nearly every day. Most people wouldn’t think that’s normal. So if you find yourself spending that amount of time online day after day and it’s affecting your ability to interact in your real life, you should seek change or additional help.

I took the quiz again specifically inserting for myself the words “Second Life” instead of “Internet”, “email” and “online”and got this (again, with “Second Life” replacing the words “online” and “Internet”):

11: No Second Life Addiction: Your use of Second Life falls within the range of the average user. From the way you answered the questions, it is unlikely that you have any problem with Second Life use at this time. You have a balanced relationship with your Second Life use.

Sounds good right? It does now. This is the honest result I would have gotten answering those questions about Second Life a few months ago:

33: Second Life Addiction Likely: Based upon your responses to this quiz, it appears that the amount of time you’re spending in Second Life may be causing you significant concerns within your real-world life. People who spend a lot of time in Second Life often find that they have difficulty balancing their Second life with their real-world life (especially if you are new to Second Life). You should look at how you’re using Second Life right now and see if there are ways that you can reduce or otherwise change your use of Second Life to reduce the issues it may be causing in your life. Think of it like this… You generally don’t spend 6 or 8 hours in front of the television, every night, nearly every day. Most people wouldn’t think that’s normal. So if you find yourself spending that amount of time in Second Life day after day and it’s affecting your ability to interact in your real life, you should seek change or additional help.

So things have clearly changed for the better, and I stand by what I’ve said before in my blog: I used to be addicted to Second Life but no longer am.

What about you? Are you addicted to Second Life? Run through the quiz the way I did – inserting “Second Life” for those other Internet terms, and if you’re brave, let me know what your score was. Or just pop it into my attached poll, or even better – do both 🙂

If you’ve been reading my blog regularly you’ll have a good idea of my opinion on social online media like Second Life, Facebook, Twitter etc: Yes they can be entertaining and have a lot to offer some people, but many people are wasting their lives to the tune of very many hours a day doing these things when they should be out there living and having new real world experiences. I think these online activities are unhealthily addictive for a lot of people. At the very least, I think people should spend less hours than they do on these “pass-times”.

So it won’t be a surprise then that I found this article (called “Why Facebook is just plain wrong”) amusing and insightful. I do recommend you link through and read the whole thing, it will only take you a couple of minutes, and it might convince you to do what he’s proposing: Take a Facebook free day next Wednesday. I’m going to. Even as I write this I have a Facebook tab up waiting for me to do my latest Mafia Wars update. Yes, I feel pathetic.

It’s healthy to take a break from things, to give you fresh perspective and some time to consider what else you could or should be doing. I think if people took a “Second Life free” day every so often there would be less drama and more happiness in-world when they got back. But I won’t suggest that just yet – one thing at a time 🙂

Just a quick link to the Resident Choice Awards being run by Linden Labs. Here’s their blog entry about it where you can comment on the idea and the categories. It only runs until April 7th so go vote now!

Again this is just a quick post because I’m a wee bit busy at the moment, but I thought this was one of those things you might want to know about and take part in 🙂