[iDC] SL, MIIM, knowledge and capital

Scott Kildall scott at kildall.com
Mon Jul 6 17:39:52 UTC 2009

Hi everyone,

I wanted to respond to some of the postings regarding Second Life and  
the ethical framework that Simon discusses and open up a conversation  
about positive possibilities for future virtual worlds.

As a long-time SL user, and public advocate and public critic, I would  
suggest that the largest problem with creating a sustainable virtual  
space is not the Linden dollar or the top-down structuring of  
interactions, but rather the lack of accountability with anonymous  

The vision that Linden Labs first promoted is a psuedo-libertarian  
one: be what you want to be, do what you want to do. Abide by terms-of- 
service (e.g. no harassing other users, no trademark infringement) and  
has predictably morphed into a guided-libertarian philosophy: no  
gambling, no virtual banking, restrictions on sexual activity, etc.,  
due to outcries in the press.

And from this general promotional strategy by the company, a normative  
behavior following beauty ideals of western society quickly emerged:  
many avatars resemble exaggerated forms: young men with large muscular  
chests and skinny women with huge breasts. This type of look is at the  
top of the totem pole of what is considered popular. Next is regular- 
looking people, then alien-like humanoids (e.g. green-skinned but  
walking upright), then animal-humans, then animals and then anything  
abstract. I've found this very disappointing, that Second Life is much  
like real life, or maybe just a high-school version of it.

This type of design has not emerged from the SL currency but rather as  
a mirrored response of the culture of desire that exists in our  
capitalist real-world. If be-what-you-want-to-be results in a  
skinnier, younger version of your RL self, I'm pretty certain that a  
bottom-down approach to designing a virtual world won't solve this  
problem of creating mediocre content. Its like hoping for high-quality  
content on YouTube.

Back to accountability: you have this in spaces such as Facebook,where  
the service is popular because it links real people to real people.  
What would happen in Second Life, if people were to make their real  
identities generally known (right now, it is about 5-10% of the users  
that make their real IDs public)?

I think here is where some real bridges could be built. Stephanie's  
example of skills-training for people with disabilities is a great  
one: where a subculture exists that is literally connecting people  
with disabilities to those that don't. But, under anonymous  
identification, Second Life still seems to be a gimmick and one that  
creates a social veil which only select people will want to get inside  

I'm not sure how this comes back to labor in Second Life, which is the  
topic that I'm more interested in dissecting. And in this respect, I  
haven't even gotten into the No Matter project which is one that  
directly addresses labor issues by creating RL sculptures of  
'imaginary objects' through Second Life, but I'll save this for a  
different posting.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from others what role they see  
anonymity playing in virtual worlds with respect to sustainability  
(i.e. the future of) and labor relations.


Scott Kildall

On Jul 3, 2009, at 10:59 PM, Stephanie Rothenberg wrote:

> Hi Mez and Simon,
> I agree that for the most part SL's underpinnings epitomize a  
> capitalist system and maybe it doesn't have a future – at least  
> within the vision of this list or does it?
> I'm curious about Linden's push towards open source which has been  
> more visible over the past year or so with it's open source viewer  
> that can reside on any server as well as the very recent launch of  
> the "Snowglobe" viewer that is connected to the main grid. Beneath  
> the utopian rhetoric of their public agenda it is pretty obvious  
> their real corporate intention. Yet I still wonder if there is  
> potential for more democratized virtual interaction by enabling  
> access to Linden's code in conjunction with the ability for users to  
> network on their own servers?
> There are great things happening in SL which I'm sure have been  
> mentioned on this prolific and somewhat overwhelming listserv over  
> the past month when groups carve out their own "niche" within  
> Linden's somewhat cowboy capitalist regime. For example, Virtual  
> Ability, an organization that provides skills training inworld for  
> people with disabilities and hundreds of other groups like them  
> leveraging the environment for positive innovative collaborative  
> possibilities.
> On another note there is Raph Koster's "Metaplace" (mentioned  
> already?) whose mission is avatar self-governance and tagline is  
> "adopting the Rights of Avatars for your TOS". It seems to be making  
> some headway but it's graphical interface isn't quite up to speed  
> compared to the scintillating spectacular sunsets of SL.
> "What if you lived in a world where shaking hands was impossible?
> A world where you couldn't even hug your best friends?
> A world without love... what kind of pixelated life would that be?
> Sadly, such a world exists today - in Metaplace.
> But we can - we must - do better.
> Ask for avatar hug emotes in Metaplace - and show the love!
> this is a paid political ad sponsored by the Committee of Concerned  
> Metaplace Players
> Posted by SLHerald on June 19, 2009 at 03:22 PM"
> We all like ice cream (soy for the lactose intolerant) so Is a  
> hybrid in the works? a SecondPlace?
> out of the lurk,
> Stephanie
> On Jun 29, 2009, at 12:36 PM, Simon Biggs wrote:
>> Hi Mez
>> The key points you raise that link to those I was making concern  
>> user identity and economy.
>> I wasn’t aware of the Linden ban on gambling – but it makes sense.  
>> It is illegal in most countries. I know it is legal in some US  
>> states but then not in others. Personally I think gambling is an  
>> activity where people, who should know better (but don’t) or those  
>> who are vulnerable, are exploited by others. As such it is in my  
>> view improper behaviour by one human to another. However, banning  
>> things is not the best method for controlling them. There are other  
>> methods.
>> My view is that the entire capitalist system is a form of gambling.  
>> Not only because excess value is produced through speculation and  
>> slight of hand but mainly because it depends on the exploitation of  
>> one group by another. In my ideal world I would ban these things –  
>> if I thought banning them would work. As Stalin proved, it doesn’t.  
>> Russia still has religion (I’d ban that too).
>> Anyway, the point is that for many people the ethical framework  
>> that underpins SL is completely intolerable, whether they be, for  
>> example, a strict muslim, a feminist-seperatist, a luddite or a  
>> socialist. When the Linden Dollar was created is when SL became  
>> fundamentally problematic. SL employs a top-down design model for  
>> determining how people interact and that is where it’s problems  
>> begin. That is why I am arguing it doesn’t have a future. Something  
>> similar but with a bottom-up design model is far more likely to be  
>> acceptable and useful to a broader range of people as an  
>> infrastructure for mass virtual interaction.
>> I didn’t know about the SL bestiality ban. People are interesting,  
>> aren’t they...
>> Regards
>> Simon
>> Simon Biggs
>> Research Professor
>> edinburgh college of art
>> s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
>> www.eca.ac.uk
>> www.eca.ac.uk/circle/
>> simon at littlepig.org.uk
>> www.littlepig.org.uk
>> AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk
>> From: mez breeze <netwurker at gmail.com>
>> Date: Mon, 29 Jun 2009 21:01:20 +1000
>> To: Simon Biggs <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>
>> Cc: idc <idc at mailman.thing.net>
>> Subject: Re: [iDC] SL, MIIM, knowledge and capital
>> Occasionally I break my IDC silence to engage beyond lurkerdom.
>> Consider this a re-hello from me. I'm the founding editor of
>> _Augmentology 1[L]0[L]1_,  a: "...working manual discussing the
>> formation and evolution of synthetic environments". Thought I'd leap
>> in here with a blast-from-the-[2007]past in relation to Simon's post
>> regarding MIIMs....
>> On Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 7:17 PM, Simon Biggs<s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>  
>> wrote:
>> > I think SL is an extremely interesting model which portends the  
>> development
>> > of further examples of massively immersive interaction media  
>> (let’s call it
>> > MIIM - I find the MMORPG concept, with its focus on games and  
>> role playing,
>> > limited – I do neither in SL). Somebody asked me the other day  
>> whether I
>> > thought SL is the future. I replied that I didn’t but that it was a
>> > prototype of what could become the future. If I think MIIM has a  
>> future then
>> > why don’t I think SL has one too?
>> Hi Simon,
>> You raise extremely focused points in regards to the  
>> conceptualisation
>> of "massively immersive" platforms. I attempted to tackle this  
>> topic a
>> few years back on the empyre list - as the points are still relevant
>> so I'll slab it here for you [and other IDCer's]:
>> "# To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>> # Subject: [-empyre-] charavatars + fauxtectures: SL limitations
>> # From: "mez breeze" <netwurker at gmail.com>
>> # Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2007 11:22:31 +1000
>> hey all.
>> here are some notes from a piece i'm working on for my next
>> Twitter_Theory project 2 do with engagement within networked
>> alternative environments such as Second Life [SL] and World of
>> Warcraft [WoW]. I'm a dedicated WoW player + have been for a few  
>> years
>> now whereas my involvement in SL has been fairly minimal [more about
>> that later].
>> b4 i start to launch in2 a few ideas regarding MMOEs [Massive
>> Multiplayer Online Environments] + in SL in particular, i'd like to
>> explain 3 terms|concepts i've developed in relation to MMOE
>> participation:
>> 1. the 1st is the idea of an player-entity as  _charavatar_: ie a mix
>> of a fictionalised character concept that actualises in terms of a
>> projected persona [ie a mechanical|visual shell that houses ego (via
>> imagined transmission)], character encoding [in the code page|charset
>> sense], and the willing suspension of disbelief required 4 seamless
>> avatar adoption. the notion of a charavatar lends a validity 2
>> in_world MMOE experiences rather than the mainstream ideal of
>> avatar-as-basic-ego-projection via a similar psychological skin.
>> 2. the notion that a MMOE's functional architecture [including server
>> setup + performance, actual manifestation of the world's
>> descriptors|modifiers|engines used, usability, scalability +
>> reliability of it's "reality" flow] can be rethought as  
>> _fauxtecture_.
>> 3. a fundamental shift in relation 2 personality + identity
>> constructions across networked channels such as social networks +
>> MMOE's [i've recently completed an article for furtherfield which
>> details participants in these cross_profile systems are now
>> _versionals_:
>> "In digitized social networks there is no place for psychologically
>> defined notions of personality as a cohesive, definable whole.
>> Identity manifests through notational distributions found in multiple
>> profiles across various platforms. Ego-mediated variables are  
>> replaced
>> with actuated identity markers defined by the ability to establish
>> links to others likewise devoid of any traditional geophysical
>> baggage. For these articulated identities [now known as versionals]
>> connection is the vital point of communication; not the content, not
>> the geophysical inflection, not the biologically-saturated ties  
>> linked
>> to survival, competition, and traditional concrete community  
>> building.
>> This method of clustered distribution provokes a type of reality lag
>> found in capitalistic and ideologically frameworked nations; those
>> devoted to maintaining established notions of individuals definable  
>> by
>> consumerism and Darwinian drives, monetary wealth,
>> institution-adherence, and paranoid-inducing security."]
>> in SL in particular i've noticed many charavatar's seem unable 2 find
>> an initial reasonable engagement|interaction lvl, with the result  
>> that
>> participation hovers between a type of frustrated passivity +
>> non_existence after 1st forays in2 the world [continued participation
>> rates are low + drop-off rates high].
>> as others have alluded 2 onlist, i c this problem as resulting from a
>> combination of variables that stem essentially from the overarching  
>> SL
>> fauxtecture being economically driven + geophysically emulated at  
>> base
>> lvl + the corresponding intrusion of 1st-world corporates attempting
>> to capitalize on this. Linden Labs have recently made fundamental SL
>> changes [due 2 rising conservative disquiet] by censoring|altering
>> fundamental aspects of SL functioning, such as:
>> a) the ban on gambling:
>> http://blog.secondlife.com/2007/07/25/wagering-in-second-life-new-policy/
>> +
>> b) outlawing certain types of sexual behaviours [eg furry_sex_play
>> deemed bestiality]:
>> http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2007/06/censoring_sexua.html
>> this artificial god_like intervention in2 operating MMOE_mechanics  
>> has
>> provoked corresponding detrimental domino effects + spawned SL
>> Bubble/Impending Hype Crash talk:
>> http://www.smh.com.au/news/web/jitters-in-second-life-as-bank-shuts-doors/2007/08/10/1186530581488.html
>> http://conversationstarter.hbsp.com/2007/07/the_demise_of_second_life.html
>> http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/15-08/ff_sheep
>> my concern is the precedence this sets in terms of future conceptions
>> of alternative reality platforms. although these changes _shouldn't_
>> have obvious detrimental effects concerning artists|griefers
>> endeavours|experiments, my concern is that as SL's underpinings are
>> created along a capitalistic|cartesian axis, the effect on grassroot
>> MMOE charavatar's ability 2 maintain an allegiance|adherence 2 the
>> world + the communities formed there will influence this range of
>> experimentation [cross-terra(plat)forming seems the most interesting
>> angle 2 pursue instead]. SL artists|code.performers risk becoming
>> ghettoised, with less manipulation of teleprescence/glitches/gaps or
>> worse, their actions being channelled thru stratified, Linden
>> Lab-restricted categories as the fauxtecture crumbles in2
>> geophysically-governed detrius - a sign of frozen output. tiering may
>> even promote a voyeur experience that echos passive
>> relays|documentation rather than current|'live' MMOE participation.
>> this [in part] has influenced my creative decision 2 play|express
>> within technically sophisticated MMOE environments like WoW + combine
>> this with soc_net experimentation. WoW is a commercial venture +
>> unashamedly so...on the other hand, SL gives an illusion of  
>> functional
>> freedom that is becoming increasingly restrictive. i'm reluctant 2  
>> let
>> my own x.pressions become exclusive via platform_tethering + thus
>> operate more as clusters|mashups of versional output [ref:  
>> description
>> above]. 4 eg, my recent combo of Twitter+WoW channelling called
>> _Twittermixing_ which remixed prefound identity marker texts from  
>> live
>> charavatar actions in World of Warcraft with aggregated Twitter
>> streaming.
>> chunks,
>> mez"
>> -- 
>> Reality Engineer>
>> Synthetic Environment Strategist>
>> Game[r + ] Theorist.
>> ::http://unhub.com/netwurker ::
>> Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland,  
>> number SC009201
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> Stephanie Rothenberg
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Visual Studies
> University at Buffalo
> ************************
> stephanie at pan-o-matic.com
> www.pan-o-matic.com
> ************************
> _______________________________________________
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