Second Life, Golden Apples, and Adult Ghettos
I was in Second Life, and actually back at Help Island, where I'd done some observations for class. It's very definitely a PG area, since it's one of the first areas that a new resident of SL will see. Yet here was a guy walking around thrusting his pelvis (and member) at people. He'd been there for a while when I first showed up, and it was five minutes before Minerva Linden showed up herself to kick him off the grid.
The irony? I was wearing an *I* am Adult Content hoodie.
Recently, Linden Labs - the people who run Second Life - decided that they would segregate "adult" content away from everyone else. The definition of what constitutes "adult" content is contentious (to say the least) in the real world, but gets extraordinarily worse when one is dealing with virtual realities. In interviews, the Lindens have suggested that "kidnap" roleplay, "capture" roleplay, and even possibly B & D would not be considered "adult".
Which begs the question - what, then, is adult? Speculation runs amuck - do "furries" count? What about people like myself who just think anthropomorphic bears (for example) are just kind of cool, and don't look at it as a kink? BDSM? Homosexuality? Are we only talking about out-of-doors public activity? If so, then why would anyone have to move? LL says there's four guiding principles:
We have four key guiding principles to work from, and we’d like you to consider them and share your thoughts:
1) We will create clear and consistent definitions of what constitutes adult content, in line with our Community Standards,
2) We will enable easy, reliable, and consistent ways to be able to access content by type - the goal being to ensure that Residents can choose what they want to see, purchase and experience.
3) We will implement effective Resident services and dialog to ensure that those who provide Adult goods or services can continue their activities without long-term disruption or loss of business.
4) We will implement account verification systems that provide an additional level of assurance for providers of Adult content that only adults are able to access their content. Such a system might be tied, for instance, to a verified payment method like a credit card, a validation by our age verification provider, or another credible method of validation.
While I understand the impulse - who wants their first view of SL to be a griefer waving naughty bits at them? - this seems unworkable as a general plan. As it stands, everyone on SL's main grid is supposed to be over 18 (and using age verification to ensure that sounds like a good plan). But there are already PG areas where any and all "adult" content is not allowable. The "Mature" parcels of land are an already existant distinction that serves the same purpose. "Typing" or "categorizing" adult content is a losing proposition in the real world, and even more so in virtual ones. I'm still baffled to find people fine with heterosexual couples in public (for example), but horrified to see gay people doing the same thing. Does the Transsexual Resource Center count as "adult" content?
Ghettoizing - and thereby stigmatizing - a legitimate part of the grid is inherently a big deal, probably unworkable in practice (otherwise I wouldn't have seen a giant member on Help Island), and philosophically repugnant.
Realistically, there's only one explanation that fits why the Lindens want to make this change - and Cyn Linden explicitly said it:
According to Cyn, "Because the community has been asking us". However, she acknowledged "[I]t will help businesses and education [groups] to feel more comfortable about what they encounter" when they go in-world.
Second Life has gotten a lot more mainstream press and attention from educators, with multiple conferences both in and out of world. This Is A Good Thing - we're still finding the possibilities available with academia and virtual worlds. Research into people's behaviors in virtual worlds is extremely useful in the social sciences.
But it's the chaotic, messy nature of real people that makes these worlds interesting. We have been sterilizing our real-life environments with fake downtowns; this seems to be more of the same blandness.
I think sex in SL is pretty damn silly. The really kinky and violent sex that's supposedly at the heart of all this is really Not My Cup of Tea. But I'll defend it - especially virtually - to keep yet another area from being just another place where the pinks keep everyone merely content.
Where's my golden apple?