Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

A Eulogy

For the record, I hate change. The problem is, in the years I’ve been on this planet change has been the one single constant. Everything changes and online in our virtual communities, change comes even faster. Smaller changes can also cast wider ripples that spread faster and diminish more quickly. Just as our communication moves at light speed, so too do changes in virtual space.

Ancient pagan religions began the ritual of celebrating change, recognizing that the death of Nature in the winter would eventually give rise to new Life in the spring. Those traditions were adapted for modern religions as well, though we call them “Christmas” and “Easter” today. And that’s the important part to keep in mind – when one door closes, another opens. When something we enjoy goes away, usually something else springs up into its place to continue the cycle of death and renewal, change and progress. Without that cycle, Nature would stagnate. We humans and our societies would become dormant, unchallenged, bored without the adversity that change brings.

My second SL birthday is coming up on Wednesday and I’m not sure I’ve seen any changes in Second Life that were as dramatic as what we’ve seen happening this past month or so – not even the precursor event in June of 2006 when free registration was introduced. Some old doors are closing and at this writing we’re not sure what new doors are going to be opening or what will lie on the other side. But it’s the proper time to say goodbye to some things — a few we will miss, a few others not so much.

Say goodbye to massive naked newbie orgies. They’re easy to find – just search for “sex” like a lot of new residents do and teleport to one of the top 10 in traffic. Wear a movelock shield because the avatars are so anxious to get to the pixel-bumping that they’ll run everywhere and run over everyone regardless of who’s in their way. You’re liable to be poked by outsized prim genitalia and, if you’re female you will be asked to play in several languages and with varying degrees of lucidity or vulgarity. Goodbye to the images burned into our minds of dozens of unfinished, default Linden avatars crawling over each other giving vent to their cyberlust. Very soon, the obstacle of identity verification will reduce these clubs’ numbers drastically and make instant cyber gratification much harder to find.

Say goodbye to the innocent ageplay so many SL residents found liberating.  I’m not referring to sexual ageplay — I’m talking about those who had abused childhoods, or had to grow up too fast because of missing parents and have found the ability to pretend they’re a child in SL to be a liberating, wonderful self-exploration.  These are the people who did nothing wrong and yet will have to either abandon their chosen virtual lifestyle or else brave the slings and arrows of ARs and accusations of pedophilia.  Say goodbye to Dolltopia – Zoe Llewelyn’s PG-rated sim for child avatars, which she now plans to close for fear of being banned by Linden Lab in response to moronic Abuse Reporting and vague LL policy statements.

Say goodbye to the old caste system of “Payment Info Used” versus unverified. Ironically, the age of ID verification which is upon us will replace the old freebie-account prejudice with a new prejudice: “ID verified” versus anonymous. “ID verified” will loosely translate into “cyber pervert” since mostly those of us who either sell adult content or frequent clubs that contain adult content will need to bother verifying our identities. The rest of SL has no need to risk having their information stolen or sold and will likely not bother. Say hello to a new paranoia – if you’ve had your ID verified to use Second Life, will other data-collection agencies connect that with pornography and the pedophilia scandal? If you have a government security clearance, say goodbye to adult areas completely.

Say goodbye to some of the freedom we’ve taken for granted in the past. One of the priveleges of being an adult is that your view of the world doesn’t have to be filtered and diluted. You can decide for yourself if The Passion of Christ is too bloody and violent or if the art of Andres Serrano is objectionable. Once Second Life has been partitioned into “mature” and “perverts”, shop owners and artists will have to decide if they want to remain open to everyone by removing sexual or violent materials, or block a significant portion of their potential traffic by flagging their land ‘Adults only’. Those owners and artists who don’t flag their land will risk being abuse reported. Not even radio streams will be exempt from abuse reports.

Say goodbye also to anonymity. Once the tools are in place to verify your identity, the Lindens are saying that there will be ways for residents to reveal as little or as much of their personal lives to each other as we choose. This is what Philip Linden calls “building trust and making the grid safer”. In actuality, it will create yet another dichotomy, dividing the grid even more. If you’re a real female and choose not to verify your gender, you will risk being griefed as a gender bender. If you do verify gender, you risk being stalked. If you’re transgendered/transsexual, you will lose the wonderful ability to escape all that real world prejudice you endure daily by entering the grid. This isn’t building trust and making things safer – this is adding more ways to destroy privacy and move real world bigotry into Second Life. Say hello to a new phenomenon: identity politics.

I wanted to say “goodbye to fear” here, but on second thought I can’t. The whole purpose of ID verification is to keep children from accessing adult materials and activities. It won’t do that. Any suitably motivated and determined child can still steal their parents’ IDs and enter adult parcels. All this process will do is alleviate Linden Lab and club owners from legal liability should a child encounter some kind of psychic trauma when a busty blonde stripper admits she’s a 50-year old construction worker from Oklahoma named Luke. You will be able to randomly cyber now with a clearer conscience, if that’s worth anything to you.

Say goodbye to plywood cubes. Lost in all the messy press over German pedophiles, Linden Lab is beta testing new sculpted prims. These will allow us to map prim shapes using 3D textures, achieving remarkable results with very few prims — like this ONE PRIM object by Chip Midnight:

Lift a glass and toast the Second Life we used to know. We’re losing the newbie sex orgies but we’re also losing some of our freedoms and anonymity. A New Age of Second Life is about to begin and we don’t know what doors are going to open. Welcome to the new, ‘safer’ Second Life grid where paranoia and prejudice will be given new impetus and children still steal Mom’s driver’s license. Despite that, we will now be able to sculpt our prims.

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May 13, 2007 - Posted by | Second Life

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