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Posts Tagged ‘linden labs’

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..?

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I find myself actually proud of the Second Life community for their outrage at Linden Lab’s latest controversial decision, to remove “adult” content currently found on the mainland. I’ve spent a lengthy amount of time reading the responses of residents on the forums – you’ll find links to them at the bottom of that announcement. Hearing residents ask sensible questions (some clearly rhetorical) – about the definitions that will be used to decide who goes and who stays, who’s idea of adult counts, how’s it going to be policed and enforced – was interesting in itself. But the parts that made me surge with pride were the references to freedoms; the ability of adults to make their own decisions; and defences of adult activities as not deserving this “get out of my sight” attitude.

Between reading the Linden announcement, the forum responses, and various blog posts, I’ve got to the point where I feel informed enough to voice my view on the matter.

Let’s pretend for the moment that it’s doable – that Linden Labs can actually find a workable way to impartially implement some sort of definition of “adult” for who stays and who goes, and then is able to police and enforce the distinction. (I sincerely doubt they will be able to do that in anything approximating a fair and consistent manner but let’s play make-believe). The question remains: Why do the adults who are doing adult things, have to be the ones to move? They started up their various businesses and locations under the belief that they were doing nothing wrong – Linden Labs doesn’t present itself as enforcing some rule it already had in place here, it is implementing a new rule that tells these otherwise rule-abiding residents to bugger off (“relocate”). As if they have done something wrong, as if they are doing something wrong. When all they are doing is being adults, in a world that is only for adults.

Since they are already established, does it not make more sense, and is it not fair, to ask anyone who is offended by their activities to be the ones to move to some new Disney-safe location? As is, if someone wants something other than what they find themselves in, they can teleport somewhere else or (even better) buy their own happy-place away from the scary adult stuff. I would have thought the status quo was better – the lovely mix and variety of different peoples and lifestyles – than segregating the very adult from the merely adult. But if the separation is seen as preferable, shouldn’t it be the offended people moving by choice, not the adult-activity people moving by force?

I, like so many others, saw Second Life as a new frontier: A sort of paradise of the freedoms so many of us fight for in the real world, where others’ moralities and prejudices are constrained within their own property lines and not enforced upon all by the over-arching sky-daddies. But at the end of the day Linden Labs is a business, making decisions to turn a profit and I respect their right to do that. I just find their reasoning and approach to how to best run that business, confusing and counter-intuitive. It is not surprising that you find so many residents coming up with conspiracy theories about what Linden Labs are really trying to achieve – are they really doing this to bring in teen-grid, or to avoid foreseeable law suits, or to soften the blow of something not quite so bad that they actually had planned? (These theories are voiced broadly across the forums but Dale’s post also brings them up and is worth a read).

I was not surprised to see one resident on a forum say (in what I thought was quite poetic): “If you force us to move, we’ll move all right – straight to the exits.” Another resident stated this was the last straw and they would be leaving once their Premium Membership runs out in October, despite having been in Second Life since 2006. I don’t expect this will lead to some mass exodus, but for quite a few this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back – they have no idea what Linden Labs will throw at them next or what it will actually mean and they don’t want to stick around to take anymore consequent losses. Can’t say I blame them. Some don’t think this is a particularly vital issue and people are just over-reacting to what was foreseeable (even though Linden Labs openly denies that this is part of some long-term plan to merge the grids).

As usual with any debate you have those who are personally effected, those who aren’t, those who care and those who don’t. It is one of those issues that is about more than just a few extreme sexual and violent activities carried out by a few people; it is about how Linden Labs conduct themselves, but also about upholding the freedoms of consenting adults, and expecting adults to remove themselves is something offends them instead of demanding the world moves for them – as happens far too often in the real world. And for that reason, I am glad that most people do care.

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While doing research for a post I’m writing about the merits of porn and Second Life, I came across this story, released a few hours ago, about Linden Labs cracking down on Second Life Porn. Here’s the release from Linden Labs themselves. This should be interesting…

(And I’ll be posting my piece about porn and Second Life soon, just had to put that link up first).

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Link to my opinion piece about Linden Lab’s decision: https://landsendkorobase.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/too-adult-for-adults/

Link to the piece I wrote about Porn and Second Life referred to in this post: https://landsendkorobase.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/the-merits-of-porn/

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You may be aware that people can set their islands to only allow access to people with payment info on file. A friend told me about this a while ago and after a bit of thought I decided it was time to give Linden Labs my credit card details so I had payment info on file, and therefore wouldn’t be restricted from enjoying those sims. I gave Linden Labs my credit card details three weeks ago, and it still shows as no payment on file, in-world. I submitted my credit card details again a few days ago – still, though the Second Life site says they have my details, my in-world status is no info on file and I am suffering the consequences of not having access to these places. I have submitted a support ticket after reading that this is a very long running issue, according to this it dates back to at least June 2007. That’s a year and a half ago. Come on!

Now even if Second Life didn’t have this running issue, even if my payment info was showing as on file, I would still be think it a silly decision to make your island only grant access to people who had payment info on file. I can sort of understand the motivation for the people who have introduced this restriction: I’m guessing they think that it will lower the number of griefers, and will lower lag on their sim from having people there who have no intention of actually purchasing anything..? As soon as I say that though the flaw in the reasoning becomes obvious: There are huge numbers of people in-world (and I am one of them) who makes and spends lindens without ever having had payment info on file. By placing this restriction on access to their islands they are blocking legitimate customers from their products. Note also that having payment info on file does not mean you ever bought a single linden or have a premium account, all it means is you gave Linden Labs your credit card / paypal info.

As for griefers, having payment info on file doesn’t magically stop you being a griefer, though I’d agree that it lowers the chance a griefer would make it to your land. Having said that, you would have to have very wide spread griefing and significant lag issues, to think that blocking everyone without payment info on file was a good decision. I just don’t see it. I see so many more bad things than good things that come from implementing this policy on your island.

Having being blocked from one significant location so far because of this restriction, I can tell you another result of the policy: Bad blood. It’s a very unpleasant  feeling when you get told you’re not allowed onto an island, particularly when – for the one I’m talking about – I’ve given the owner lindens previously as a thank you for the sim because I loved using it for pictures. I was under no obligation to give them money for letting me do that, it was just something I often do. But now that I’m blocked I feel like it wasn’t appreciated and that my pictures which promoted the place as well, weren’t appreciated. Maybe it sounds like I’m taking it personally… well it is personal. I’m considered a lesser resident in the eyes of these people, even though I am part of the economy since I both make and spend lindens in-world. It makes me not want to go to these places once the payment info on file issue is cleared up. Once it is dealt with I won’t be able to tell which places do and do not block me based on this factor because I won’t get the warning when I try to teleport,  but in the meantime I will be keeping a not-happy mental note of each sim which does this to me.

Yes it is their own land, they can block or grant access as they choose. But it is insulting to the people excluded, and it strikes me as a bad business call. If I owned an island it is not a measure I would implement, not least of all because it detracts new members who are just getting a feel for Second Life from experiencing whatever I’d have to offer on my island – whether it was a store, a club or “just” a beautiful sim. I would actively encourage traffic and make people feel welcome. Maybe that’s just me, what am I missing here?

So until Linden Labs sorts out this issue (which they should have done before implementing the option for island owners to block people with no payment info on file, don’t you think?), I am on the outside looking in. And it all looks bad and pointless from this side of the divide.

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Most Second Life residents don’t know what’s going on at Linden Labs – the changing personalities, policies and major decisions – and most simply don’t care either. They live their daily Second lives the same way most people live their real lives – equally ambivalent and uncaring about the politics that run their world, and what happens to the money that gets taken from them to “provide necessary services”. The main exception to this truth is around election time in the real world, though I’m not sure Second Life has an equivalent regular time of increased awareness and concern across their wider resident population.

I stayed away from caring or being interested in such things relating to Second Life for a year or so. The few times I did click on a link from friends about Linden Labs issues, I was invariably directed to the main Second Life site, and so confronted with a lot of technical terms and a lot of spin.

To get people interested and knowledgeable about these things, the information needs to be presented from a Second Life user point of view, not from the point of view of the people trying to make you love their every decision. It needs to pull out the bits that actually matter and effect the Second Life experience, and it needs to do it in a clear and brief way – I don’t want to be strolling down four screen-pages to get a story that could have been conveyed in two (using links within the article often helps cut down repeating information that the more informed resident is already aware of, and the less informed one can go off and read if need be). It needs to go one step further though, I like to see an opinion: Hearing other people’s opinions gets me thinking about my own – do I agree with them, or not, and why. It also makes the reading so much more interesting. The opinion shouldn’t overwhelm the information provided though – no point rushing in to say “I hate decision x” before explaining what decision x is.

It is remarkably hard to find blogs that do this well. I’m not going to say I’ve read every major Second Life news blog, but I’ve read enough to know that most blogs do a very poor job of meeting the standard of being all of useful, informative and interesting. One stands out: Metaversally Speaking. Strictly speaking it’s not just a “news blog”, but it gets listed as such on some people’s blog rolls, and if I split my blog roll up into different categories I’d consider doing the same. So when I have no idea what everyone’s upset about that’s my first port of call, or if I want a good indicator of public sentiment I read all the comments attached to a post.

I understand why so few Second Life people actually take an interest in Second Life news, since I used to be one of them. But I also think that that would change more if people knew there were well written blogs out there which could bring all the relevant information together for them. I for one know my Second Life has been greatly enriched by the increased level of awareness. If you want to see what you’ve been missing out on I suggest you check out today’s post as just an example of the major rumblings that pass so many of us by, but effect our Second lives daily and in very real ways.

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Watching the Open Space Sims drama is like watching a whirlwind and trying hard not to get sucked in to it. I get the issue – severe price hikes based on poor grounds and reasoning. And there is no doubt that’s bad practice. Ok, got it. But it’s what’s happened in response to it that has made me cock my head to the side and say “huh”.

What started off as a rather disappointing announcement by Linden Labs has turned into this, just as a taste: At the lighter end, the humourous attention-raising approach http://www.pradprathivi.com/latest/wrong ; some helpful and thoughtful suggestions here and there as well http://baileylongcloth.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/debate-continues/ ; reflections on what happened leading up to Linden Lab’s decision and how it fits into a history of bad calls by Linden Labs – and you’ll notice in this one you gets a heads-up of just how many posts and groups were starting to set up in response to the issue  http://raulcrimson.wordpress.com/2008/10/28/openspace-sims-another-linden-mistake/ ; accusations of effectively Linden Labs lying – with evidence of ulterior motives http://www.vintfalken.com/raymond-conspiracy-theory-is-ll-gaming-us/ ; and, of course, protest groups with serious infighting leading to dissolution of those groups then setting up of rival groups, with what appears to be major misrepresentations of people’s motives for their actions in regards to those groups *takes a breath* http://foo.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2008/10/vryl-valkyrie-n.html .

From a human-behaviour-observing point-of-view I find this all highly fascinating, and a bit tiring too; it can be draining to constantly be reading such high level of emotion. I have some pretty strong philosophical based views on what Linden Labs did in terms of economic theory, governance, and a bit to say about contractual rights too, but right now I’m just going to keep those to myself. I would be sharing those views from a somewhat dispassionate sideline since I don’t own land in SL. Yes their decision about Open Space sims will effect me because of those who do own such land, but I’m not directly effected and it will be relatively easy for me to adapt to any changing SL realities in response to the issues. So for now I’m just going to keep my hand out of this particular fire. I don’t think anyone would attack my views, hell they’d be very likely to whole-heartedly embrace them under the current climate, and god knows I’m not afraid of standing up calmly and rationally for any views I put forward, or being persuaded to view the world differently by a competent argument based on sound premises. But I don’t have the time or passion to get involved with this particular issue and the heated responses at this point; my RL is on overload and just trying to keep up with the constantly changing situation in regards to Open Space Sims is sucking up what little on-line time I have left.

In particular, I don’t want to encourage people in-world to send me anymore notecards, links to petitions, (in particular I keep being given the same notecards and links over and over *sigh*), or start up extensive conversations with me about it. I log into SL to escape and relax and have some fun, and I do whatever I can to help other people achieve these goals too. And this issue meets none of those criteria. So I’m just going to leave my good and influential friends to battle this one out and instead quietly support them with happy thoughts and distractions in the breaks they take from fighting the good fight, since that’s probably the most I have to offer them right now anyway.

At least this whole topic has given me rich ground for future posts: I’m going to be discussing why I’ve never become a paying member of Second Life for starters, and around about now that decision is really starting to feel vindicated.

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Many months ago I became an SL Mentor, a title which allowed me to help new-comers to SL adjust to the world, and help more established SL members enrich their experiences. To get this title I filled out an application stating why I would make a good mentor, which was accepted in time, and then attended an hour training session. Since then I have worked many long hours at Orientation Islands and in SL proper, doing my utmost to live up to and deserve the title. All for free – no one paid me, I did it because I could, because I wanted to, and because I was proud of my title as a mentor.

And they took it away from me.

Across the last 2 months I had limited to no computer access because lightning took out my computer, and the insurer took 6 weeks to replace it. During that time I missed notices relating to having to “renew” my mentor membership, which was not something I had ever heard of having to do, they definitely didn’t tell us about it at training. It was something they chose to do, and since I didn’t renew (because I didn’t know about it), they removed me from the group and took away my title.

When I contacted one of the key Lindens in charge of this area, and explained the situation, I was told that they won’t be reinstating anyone who is removed and that I should apply at some point in the future when applications re-open. Yeah. Ta.

Let me be clear. I am not happy. I applied properly, did the training, and worked hard to maintain the title. And it was taken from me without fair warning. I am upset. I feel unappreciated and discarded.

So what do I do now? Just get on with SL, keep helping people the way I always have, but without the recognition of the title I worked for. Without the rights of access a mentor has to Orientation Islands. And without even the right to appeal this blatently unfair situation. I’ve lost the immense support network that I had at my finger-tips through the mentor group too, my ability to help in the way I used to, is severely hampered.

After months of supporting other people, complete strangers, at no cost to anyone, Linden Lab’s Volunteer team have let me down and left me without support. How would you feel…? :/

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