Real world Amsterdam is famed for its liberal laws regarding prostitution and pornography, but if you want to avail yourselves of such entertainment, it's actually not on every street; to get it, you need to consciously walk into a district clearly demarcated from the rest of the city by a canal and literal red lights. (SL's version of Amsterdam nicely simulates that geography, as above.)
And by the end of this Summer, if things go as announced, that's more or less the zoning regulations Second Life will have, too. This from an announcement now up on the Lindens' official blog. In summary, content designated as "Adult" will be forced off the main continents, and resettled in a Linden-managed "Adult Continent". To access that land, users will need to show proof of adulthood, either by registering a credit card number, using the Lindens' official age verification provider, Aristotle, or via other forms of ID. (Private islands and estate owners will be required to flag Adult content, and require such verification for entry.)
Yesterday I was given a chance to conduct a phone interview with Cyn Linden, company VP of customer relations, and Linden counsel Marty Roberts, so they could explain the company's reasoning for doing this now. According to Cyn, the impact on landowners on the main continents will be minimal; she estimates only 2-4 percent of the mainland contains adult content that would be affected.
The looming question, of course, is what exactly constitutes "Adult content"?
That's still unclear and decidedly left undefined now; in a conversation that's sure to be contentious, the Lindens say they plan on taking Resident community feedback, to establish specifications. Broadly speaking, however the regulation will mainly apply to extremely sexual and violent content.
"We’ll meet in the forums," the official announcement reads, "and we'll reach out directly to several constituents as well as to the thought leaders who will undoubtedly emerge here. What comes from this process will not be perfect, but it will be better for our coming together to make the plan happen."
The prohibitions will include depictions of "egregious violence, simulated drug use", Roberts told me, but here again, questions remain. Do first-person shooter games built in SL apply? How about simulated drugs which don't exist in the real world?
I gave a specific example to Cyn and Roberts. One of the more popular roleplaying groups in SL is "Dark Den RP Group", which by its own description, offers "Kidnap, auction and slavery RP". Would that be designated as Adult? Surprisingly, both suggested it wouldn't, since the wording is "not about sex and violence."
How about "Capture" roleplay, generally associated with S/M sexuality? Again, they suggested, if sex wasn't explicitly mentioned, it wouldn't be defined as sexual.
Why do this now, though? 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. I asked her if this was related to rumors that the main Second Life grid would be merged with Teen Second Life; she denied any relation.
In any case, the clock will start ticking on this policy in early Summer, perhaps May. Adult content owners will need to start the movement process then. "We're not going to put a hard line on that," Cyn told me, "at least sixty days."
In the meantime, the community is left to wonder who will have to make the move, and how it will change the culture of Second Life. What will the metaverse be like, after certain content is sent packing to its own continent?