Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Second Life - Creative Expression or Just Virtual Porn?

Second Life has a lot of things going for it. It’s one of those online destinations where you’re allowed incredible creative freedom. Using the built-in tools, you can create 3D models, animate them, and program them using a scripting language. You can own land, businesses, and even exchange your in-game currency (Linden dollars) for cold hard cash.

Second Life is all about creative freedom and mostly lawless. As long as you’re not bothering anyone else, crashing the servers, or doing any other kind of delinquent behavior you can pretty much do whatever you want.

So when Linden Lab started up Second Life in 2003, did they expect their virtual world to be dominated by sex? I mean, did they even see it coming? And when it became obvious that 3D virtual pornography was going to be their main source of income, did they embrace it?

I think they did.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with people doing that. That’s what they want to do. I’m fine with that. At no time in Second Life was I ever harassed or pressured, although, I’m betting that would have been a little different if I made my avatar a strapping young lass and not Tyguyo “King of the Dorks”.

And I’ll ignore that stripping incident in the “Welcome” area for now…

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that Second Life is less about being creative and creating exciting content (that other people might want to buy in-game), and more about the preservation of our species for the majority of the population. Let me reiterate, I’m fine with that. The problem is that it spills into the normal areas of Second Life. Case in point, and really the birth of this article, came when I had just logged in. Not 20 minutes into the Welcome area and I figure out how to click on popular destinations. Imagining that there are more interesting places than the Welcome Area 02, I click on one.

…And find myself in the middle of an adult club complete with strangers “emoting” some text which I can’t re-print here. Since I know you’re probably already imagining it this moment anyway, picture it with stiff (NO PUN INTENDED) 3D avatars with unwieldy robot-like appendages. Since I have a rather slow broadband connection, and since I was ignorant of what I was getting myself into, I innocently walked around the room and examining the fine art on the walls (which were just a blur because they hadn’t fully downloaded yet.)

Then pictures loaded…and I realized that Mary and Janice weren’t just “good friends” and that the animation of a giant Brazilian Tree Frog jumping in the corner was actually two people – and they weren’t jumping!

Armed with new (and important) knowledge about Second Life, I decided to do a little research. Maybe that stripper at the Welcome area, and my first popular destination were related?

Of the 19 popular destination icons on my map, 9 of them were virtual pornography accounting for more 51% of the total population listed for popular locations in Second Life. 6 of the 19 were casinos. The rest were malls. Second Life is boasting more than 100,000 residents, which enables me to make an educated guess that there are around 51,000 people in Second Life for 3D virtual sex. I saw that over $100,000 had been spent in one day in Second Life (you can see the various daily values by visiting their homepage) – I wonder how much of that $100,000 USD was spent on the virtual nasty?

Still not convinced? Create an account at their website and log into their forums. Look under Employment Ops & Help Wanted. The majority of the work needed are dancers, escorts, and hosts for adult clubs.

What makes this even more interesting is that even though Second Life’s main and most numerous customers are looking for porn, not a hint of it exists on their homepage. Nothing mentioned in the headlines. Maybe Linden Lab doesn’t want to promote that their service is used in this way – which is fair. Except for the fact that I was able to teleport myself right into a brothel.

…on accident.

What’s particularly disturbing is that Second Life’s advertised ESRB rating is “E – for Everyone”.

I don’t fault the people of Second Life for seeking out this kind of entertainment. The problem is that there isn’t enough separation in the world. Second Life shouldn’t list mature popular locations on the map unless you explicitly tell it to. It shouldn’t allow you to teleport yourself unsuspecting into an area like that without first prompting you. It shouldn’t mix its mature areas with normal ones.

Second Life has genuine G-rated content. But this is right around the corner from the Pimp N' Ho club, which is in turn, right next to an information center!

In all the enormous promise that Second Life has, and all the opportunity for great new ideas, why are we more interested in doing the Brazilian Tree Frog in the corner than pushing the boundaries of our creativity? How does Second Life’s example foreshadow future virtual worlds?

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