[iDC] Second Life wrap-up; thanks

Joshua Levy joshualev at gmail.com
Sat Mar 10 11:27:06 EST 2007

Thanks all for a stimulating discussion about Second Life, gaming, labor,
and education.

Who is manufacturing virtual worlds and MMOs?  In response to Michel Bauwens
question about this, Ana Valdes points out that the games market is almost
100 percent American, with these large companies having bought our smaller
European companies over time.  However, Julian Dibbell points to a chart
that suggests that U.S. companies are in fact responsible for only 40-60% of
worldwide games and the us market share is 61.3%.   The question of market
dominance vs. ideological dominance comes into play here.  Ana argues that,
even if the market share isn't 100%, most video games share an ideology with
the U.S., though Michel says he witnesses in Thailand dominant themes from
Korea and Japan.

And on to the big L, which inspired some of the best discussion on the
cultural ramifications of virtual worlds, virtual labor, and virtual
economies.  Trebor opened the discussion by questioning the need to
replicate the architecture of real-world sites within Second Life.  "Why do
we need a replication of our own campus? Why not rather build a Black
Mountain College with a Bauhaus Annex? Why teach in this virtual
environment? Will SecondLife become a 3D version of Wikipedia, a virtual
knowledge bank that offers a playful and fun interface to
participant-generated content? Will students simply demand such playful
access to knowledge?" he asks.  Eric Gordon offers a compelling argument for
why he helped reproduce Emerson College's architecture in SL: "our decision
to reproduce the architectural layout of campus and to recreate the Boston
Common was deliberately made to correspond with our understanding of the
platform's possibilities.  We see Second Life as a way of creatively
re-imagining the space.  While, we're not able to screen student work in the
physical Boston Common, it will be possible to do so in Second Life.  "

  In addition to this recreation of material space, he finds that SL mirrors
"first life capitalism" as well, that inequalities between labor and capital
exist there as they do anywhere else in the world.   Like historical
relations between labor and capital, Trebor argues that users of sociable
web media are not aware of their servitude towards the owners of those
systems, though, like Michel, I take issue with his assertion that "many
people in the US actually think that they are 'happy' and perceive this
distributed labor of the sociable web as a fun leisure activity."  We are
not in a position to judge what many people in the U.S. think about their
station in life, and to imply that the distributed labor of the sociable web
simply provides gains for the owners of capital while pulling the wool over
the eyes of the participants isn't fair towards either party.

Alan Clinton offers a refreshing take on the problem of virtual labor: "At
the risk of revising Marcuse, couldn't we say that consciousness of
servitude is not really the problem so much as providing strategies for
political agency?  People who are laboring know that they are laboring.
People (and let's not dismiss the global south so quickly) who are suffering
the violence of capitalism know they are suffering the violence of
servitude.  They may lack awareness of ways to name this violence or attack
it, but they are not unaware of their suffering."
In response to the problem of proprietary systems like SL posing as open
platforms, Andreas Schiffler suggests a radical, peer-to-peer system that
involving shared servers and open source software that become a challenge to
the "'Operating System + Deskop'
metaphor sold by Microsoft and Apple."  This setup could also provide an
open source and peer-to-peer alternative to SL.

In response to Simon Biggs' provocation that "SL is a misnomer. It is not a
second life but simply a kind of first life, as constructed by a dominant
elite, represented in such a manner that it will function to further
inculcate and embed its associated ideology on a
global scale. It will sustain the fundamental ethic of consumerism...that we
are all potential suckers or grifters (often both) and that nobody is
responsible for what happens to anybody else. In short, it is another rip
off culture," I would point him to a group that I'm involved with,
RootsCampSL, progressive activists that use SL as a platform for their
work.  No one that I know there believes that their work stays in SL, but
that it offers a unique space (in addition to other unique space) from whic
to get the message out.  I would agree that SL is not a second life but in
fact an extension of first life, but I have failed to find a dominant
ideology there and in fact find it a fertile training ground for almost any
ideology at all -- kind of like first life. Of course, I could just be blind
to my own exploitation...

And Charlie Gere helps us remember that terrorism, exploitation, or even
rape in SL are not the same as their real-world counterparts.  "Again
imagine the reaction of someone who has been involved in attempting to build
and sustain communities in, for example, Iraq or Palestine, listening to
someone describe the problems of community building in SL. I think grasping
and holding onto this distinction is incredibly important."  We need to keep
perspective when talking about these virtual worlds and to remember that,
however they provide us with experiential or spiritual stimulation, they are
still secondary to the actual life-or-death circumstances most global
citizens face.

Looking forward to more discussion of this going forward; I trust that, in
the face of so much media hype that inflates the economic and sensational
aspects of SL, we can all provide an ongoing counter-commentary that
provides a little more depth and context.

-Josh Levy
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