Misunderstanding SL's Magic Circle Leads to SL Social Strife
Update, 10/29: Bumped up. Be sure to read the very interesting conversation in Comments it's inspired!
Senban Babii has some thoughtful thoughts about Second Life social drama, relating them to "the magic circle", a concept first described by historian Johan Huizinga. In a virtual world like Second Life or an online game like Modern Warfare 2, different standards of morality apply. With Modern Warfare, as Senban notes, suicide bombing is actually rewarded, whereas in the real world, it's generally considered horrific. So with SL:
[W]hen those residents playing in Second Life attempt to force other residents to conform to certain moral values and expressions, they are actually showing themselves to be unaware of the fact that not only is the Second Life playspace different to the outside world, it also contains an asymmetric morality and that if they are not prepared for this simple realisation, then perhaps they should not step inside.
This is roughly true, but I think the sociology of SL is even more complex: In Second Life, there are multiple, overlapping magic circles, which often have conflicting rules. Here's why:
The magic circle rules of vampire roleplayers of SL differ from that of the steampunks, but touch each other in some places, while the fashionistsas and the Goreans and the social gamers have circles of their own. And so on. Much or most of the social conflict in SL emerges when these circles overlap without all the players within them acknowledging that fact. (For instance: "Of course my avatar is cheating on you -- that's part of the game.") Worse, it's difficult to understand where one magic circle ends and one begins. One solution: a mechanic to explicitly designate in your user profile your roleplay or social affiliation, so it's clear what kind of rules you're expecting and playing by. To be sure, that would be an imperfect solution at best. After all, every day in the real world, hearts are broken after someone mistakes a hot date for the beginning of a beautiful relationship, while the other party only saw it as a one-time hookup.