Monday, May 01, 2006

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Second Life has a Darfur, so it’s sad (though not surprising) that it has its own janjaweed, too.

Activists recently built a virtual world information site on a private island called Better World, to raise awareness of the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Sudan. Called “Camp Darfur”, it features the recreation of a refugee tent city with a tiny campfire, and large display photos of the real thing, where the tents seem to go on for miles.

Shortly after it was unveiled, however, the place was hit by griefers. The first marauder found an exploit in the Camp’s building method, and used that to raze the place to the ground, strewing tents and images of refugees everywhere. According to Zeke Poutine, officer in the "Not on our watch" Darfur activist group, he shouted racial slurs while he trashed it. The Camp was rebuilt, but copycat attacks by others followed.

But if Camp Darfur has its janjaweed, it has its guardians, too. For shortly after the raids began, a Better World visitor who’d learned a lot about Sudan’s genocide from the Camp called a group of his to the island, to offer their protection.

And that’s why Camp Darfur is now under the vigilant eye of the Green Lantern Core, a band of superheroes who patrol Second Life with masks, tights, and magic lamps.


I met Zeke and some members of the Core at Camp Darfur last Saturday, when most members of "Not on our watch" and the Omidyar Network (the island’s sponsor) were already in Washington D.C. for the nation’s largest march against genocide, the next day. When I arrived, she was talking with KallfuNahuel Matador, a bald, broad-shouldered Core member who guards the camp.

“Zeke Poutine was assaulted by someone," Matador tells me. "I took her out of there to file an abuse report.”

“I was working on a poster to link to the DC rally blog for tomorrow,” she explains. She'd just found out that the group’s two websites, and, had been taken down by a hacker attack. Their technician had set up a temporary site, and Zeke was just creating a new poster that would take Camp Darfur visitors to that one, when an oddly-dressed Resident showed up.

After some small talk about wanting a job, Zeke says, the visitor drew a “push gun” and used it to send her flying across the island.


“He said he didn't know the weapon would work,” Zeke adds.

KallfuNahuel grunts, unconvinced.

“Sounds like he was playing innocent so not to get reported,” Jeremy Keiko (who wears his Green Lantern costume over a lion avatar) suggests.

Zeke Poutine isn’t sure the attacks on their websites and their Second Life site are related, or if they’re politically motivated. “Who knows? Some people just do stuff because they can,” she muses. “'Cause they have issues?  ‘Cause they don't like Africans?”

"It doesn't sound like they just did it for fun," Matador observes.  “It's a hate crime.”

When the attacks first began, the Green Lantern Core helped them secure the Camp. Their lead officer Jeff Beckenbauer built a security script that scans the identity of avatars who visit, and showed the Better World owners how to read it. Jeremy patrols the island in the morning, and Matador at other times, as do other Core members.

In the beginning, they tell me, the GLC was founded by Cid Jacobs as a way to show off devices and builds inspired by the Green Lantern comic. From there it evolved into a roleplaying group, with members pretending to “patrol” sectors of Second Life. This began as fun, but lately it’s started to involve monitoring actual violations of Community Standards and Terms of Service-- the live and let live rules of conduct that Linden Lab has its subscribers agree to, when they get an account.

“It's unfortunately turned into a lot of watching for CS/TOS violations,” KallfuNahuel Matador acknowledges. “The roleplay aspect kinda fell to the wayside. Certainly it started as a group of fans of a comic book, but it's grown and growing into something more.”

In this, one sees trend for the future of Second Life-- as the world grows ever larger, the sheer population size will make it impossible for Linden staff to meaningfully regulate it. Into this gap will rise neighborhood watch groups and private security forces, acting as the first line of defense while citizens wait for the Lindens to arrive. 

“The Green Lanterns were more helpful than Linden Lab, to be honest,” Zeke Poutine tells me.  “Can I say that?”

“If that's what you think, sure.”

“Well, that's what I think,” she says.  “[A]fter the 3rd [attack], we didn't even tell them.”

I suggest that Linden Lab might say that with a population over 200,000, they can only watch one island in hundreds for so long.

“Ah, the old 200,000 line,” KallfuNahuel Matador says, unconvinced.

And while it’s not entirely strange for superheroes to fight genocide (during World War II, Superman tangled with Hitler, and more recently, Frank Miller offered to send Batman after bin Laden) it seems odd-- and maybe a bit trivializing-- to have that struggle interactively play out in an online world.

“How does it feel to be devoting so much effort protecting a virtual information site to a genocide when the actual one is still going on?” I ask KallfuNahuel Matador.

He’s silent for a long time.

“Well,” Matador finally begins, “I can only do so much in real life, and I suppose only so much in SL as well. But I think every little bit counts.” He says that the Core often spots suspicious characters lurking in Camp Darfur-- and when they see the Green Lantern Core approaching to investigate, now flee the island.

“And when we're here,” Matador adds, “we don’t just fly around but talk to visitors… I can be a part of raising awareness.”

I briefly attended the San Francisco rally for Darfur, yesterday, held in Presidio Park beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and a sky that was a vast and perfect blue.  It was a great day for a rally against genocide, so many people brought their dogs.  A helpful lady was in the crowd passing out information sheets which explained how to send a letter to the Sudanese embassy, so you could ask them to call off the janjaweed. The sheet also had the e-mail address to the embassy's chargé d'affaires, so if walking to the post office was inconvenient, you could always ping him about the massacre from your workstation. It’s not a slight to these efforts to note how futile they often seem, set against the oceans of horror roiling a hemisphere away.  All else being equal, what can one person do that's more substantial than firing off an e-mail-- or for that matter, putting on a superhero avatar, and guarding the grounds of a virtual world information site about it?

In a better world, there'd be no need for protest.  In a better world, after short deliberation, international leaders would send their elite soldiers with a mandate and an arsenal, and for the first time in their bloody careers, the butchers of women and children would be the ones who felt afraid, knowing that the arbiters of rough justice had gotten their guns and were coming for them.  In a better world, all this would happen so quickly, there wouldn't even be time to create the simulation of a refugee camp in Second Life. Let alone find it necessary to protect it.

But that is the case on the island of Better World, and for that, the Green Lantern Core is ready. Cid Jacobs created a scripted lantern for their efforts.


“The Guardians Power the Lanterns, the Lanterns power the rings, and the rings give the Green Lantern Members their power,” Jacobs tells me, smiling, as he swings the lamp in his hand. “It's a long flowing chain of energy.”

It doesn’t just emanate an emerald light, but at his command, plays an audio sample from the old television show-- Green Lantern reciting the Core’s oath to a crescendo of trumpets. The SL group flies up to the Camp Darfur entrance to demonstrate for me. And though it would probably seem silly in any other place, up there, above the ragged tents and the faces of the endangered, the oath seems like something thrilling and real:

In brightest day
In blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power
Green Lantern's Light!


Update, 5/14: The conversation over this story continues here.


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Relee Baysklef

Ahh, what an amazing world we live in. ^.^

I'm curious though Hammy, was the military intervention your idea of a better world, or Matador's?

Luciftias Neurocam

Do the power rings come equipped with any kind of functionality, besides looking cool?

Relee Baysklef

Eheh, interestingly enough when I went to Darfur (the sim) after reading this, the SLURL couldn't deliver me to the right sim, and I ended up in Korea! XD

When I finally got to Darfur, it kicked me out right away. I'm not sure if it's working at all...

Gypsy Rambler

yes the rings have functionality and they are very cool.

Relee, I don't get the need to label what the GL's are doing as a "military intervention". They are group of nice people doing what they can to be a positive presence where it seems it's desperately needed.
You sound like a griefer.

Relee Baysklef

Ahh hah, sorry, it's not I who have misunderstood it is you!

See, in the article it says "In a better world, there'd be no need for protest. In a better world, after short deliberation, international leaders would send their elite soldiers with a mandate and an arsenal, and for the first time in their bloody careers, the butchers of women and children would be the ones who felt afraid, knowing that the arbiters of rough justice had gotten their guns and were coming for them. In a better world, all this would happen so quickly, there wouldn't even be time to create the simulation of a refugee camp in Second Life. Let alone find it necessary to protect it." and I wanted to know if that was Hamlet's opinion or someone else's.

Lizbeth Marlowe

Relee, you said, "I'm curious though Hammy, was the military intervention your idea of a better world, or Matador's?"


So now you are asking if it was Hamlet's or Matador's idea? Who writes the articles for this blog?

And still you don't get it. Reread that paragraph a few more times and maybe you will understand it. Let me see if I can explain... You see, nations wait and watch genocide far too long before they actually DO anything to stop it. Check your history books...

Hamlet is saying, in a better world, there would be no "watching and waiting", genocide is wrong and there would be immediate action to stop it.

Make sense now?

Always there will be people who find something wrong with a nation sending it's military into another country to try to put a stop to something going terribly wrong, but put their family in that situation...or someone dear to them, and suddenly, they get it.

Think on that a while.

AnonyLantern :D

We definitely do stay within the terms of service. To paraphrase Hamlet, we try to stand in the gap until the Lindens can help, by helping citizens and making sure things get reported, and maybe even more importantly, offering a shoulder to lean on in times of need.

Hamlet Au

Kallfunahuel Matador's Comments deleted at his request.

Yes, in that passage, I was stating my personal opinion about intervening in the real Darfur, especially in comparison to, say, sending terse e-mails to the Sudanese embassy. (Though to be sure, in the best possible world, there'd be no reason to intervene at all.) I didn't discuss the Green Lantern's opinion of what should be done in the Suden, other than wanting the genocide to stop.

Relee Baysklef

Ah thanks Hammy. ^.^

I understood the point of the comment, even though I don't really agree with it. Mostly I was just curious if that was your personal opinion or the stated opinion of the person you were interviewing.

It seems some folks still don't understand that is all I wanted to know, and are misenterpreting my comments in a hostile fashion. ^.^;;


This story has a really classic, '03 feel to it for some reason.


I heard very recently about this issue. Unfortunate. Although I have to admit I'm equally curious about the Green Lanterns. That name sounds oddly familiar...


... so will this "roleplay" become an issue for DC?

I'm just waiting for a griefer to infiltrate and do something embarrassing.

Kallfunahuel Matador

Relee, I understood that's what you wanted to know. I just didn't get back in time. . . rather I understood the second time :P , and then Hamlet beat me to it. I had my other posts deleted because I used the wrong email address, I hope you did not find them hostile.

Lizbeth Marlowe

Relee, I am sorry to come off as hostile. Text is difficult to interpret at times. Glad you understand what it is that they are trying to do.

And Hamlet, I look forward to that better world.


Wow, that story was really fascinating. Thanks for the great work. As a newbie to SL, these kind of insights help me to see what the big deal is about.


In this virtual non real world what difference does it make.

Chuck Staples

To those who would enjoy SL as a civilized community, and as a place to create and share content without harassment, it matters a great deal.

Chuck / =Sinclair


Thanks for that story. It helps me to understand the situation in SL better.

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