Thursday, July 03, 2014

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Does Second Life Have a Class System? Spoiler: Yes

Frog Princess SLJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

It's a question that Second Life designer Aranel Ah posed on Plurk recently, and one that saw a pretty surprising range of responses. Does Second Life, across (and within) its many diverse communities, have a class system? Some were quick to dismiss the idea, ohers said it was more like a hierarchy (which in this case is just a synonym for class system, folks.) 

It's tempting to think of the virtual world as a place where everyone is on equal footing. We all start the same way after all, ugly and confused and probably looking for the best dance clubs. The reality of it is that even though we may all start in the same place, we don't stay that way for long.

Based on my experience, there are two factors that move a new player up the social ladder in Second Life: Money and talent. If you have the skills necessary to build, design, script, perform, anything, you will immediately have a better chance of separating yourself from the herd. High-quality content put out often enough will steadily gather a following. 

Arguably money is even more important, though. The appeal of Second Life for many players is that they can have all the trappings of a high-class lifestyle (whether that looks like a Malibu mansion or not) for a fraction of the price, but even among players living much simpler virtual lives appearance is very often conflated with experience. If you can afford to spend real money on virtual goods (and many people can't) your progress and status will increase in leaps and bounds. It's not that you're buying your way into somewhere exclusive, bribing people to like you or anything of that nature-- it's much more subtle than that. You won't be stuck looking and acting like a newbie for nearly as long. You'll have the flexibility to experiment and find your place, while other players are much less likely to write you off at first glance.

At their best, virtual worlds extend beyond the limits of what's possible in their real world counterparts, yet it's also terribly easy and very common to fall into all of those familiar patterns. Whether you want to call them cliques, classes, or hierarchies, the fact remains that the virtual world isn't exempt from both the best and worst of human nature.

Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times, and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.

Comments

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melponeme_k

VR is for rich people. It will always be a platform for rich people.

The barriers for entry into the world are numerous (besides the crazy UI) and even more when anyone tries to be a builder.

Money and Time. Just like regular life. The more you have of both, the richer you are

Motoko Henusaki

I have no RL income right now. When I started, I had barely no RL income. Right now I have a very minor SL income that’s enough to continue building and taking care of RL mundanities.

I am not, nor have I ever been, rich.

Adeon Writer

A land baron once told me they won't leave their own property lines unless they make their avatar 100% invisible first.

So... yes.

Adeon Writer

A land baron once told me they won't leave their own property lines unless they make their avatar 100% invisible first.

So... yes.

Jaqua

It's so funny that you chose to right about this, recently I was scouring the net and youtube for signs of class stratas in Second Life and was confronted with Kaya Angel and his family and the Lefavre family both wealthy dynasties in SL due to the fact that are rumored to own half the virtual real estate in SL and are supposedly the creme de la creme of SL High Society

Amanda Dallin

SL is not one community. It's a collection of communities. Someone at the top of the fashionista community might be totally unknown in many of the various role play communities. These communities overlap but being important in one doesn't mean you are in another one.

Case in point, I've been in SL since November 2006 and have never heard of Kaya Angel or the Lefavre family mentioned above by Jaqua. There is no single SL High Society just a bunch of separate communities which develop hierarchies as all human communities will.

Ezra

Amanda nailed it. There's no global class system.

Desmond Shang

At the end of the day, everyone is on the internet and in games because they don't have anything better, or more exciting, or interesting to do. And for some of us, it's just plain business.

There is no class system per se; only perhaps a meaningless envy system. This isn't real life.

Why anyone might somehow *feel* there is a class system in a VR platform would be an interesting topic, though.

Tracy RedAngel

I'm more inclined to agree with Amanda as well. I don't give a damn about who is at the top of the chain in vampire, Gor, Furry, or the Farts N' Bubbles Fairies. Well, really I don't care about anyone's perceived status in a virtual world. I like people based on if they are kind, intelligent, and like to laugh.
Those are the only things of real value anyone else has for me in SL.

irihapeti

on the economics side then is a meritocracy. Altho having money to start with can boost the level that you start on

+

on the social side then is more a classical class system. Like the chattering class. Altho I dont think anybody pays much attention to this other than the chatterers

Orca Flotta

As a SL sailing blogger I'm getting some yachts as review items from time to time, sometimes even really big and posh stuff. Makes me look rich n stuff.

Do I care? Fuck noooo!!!

Oh btw, we bloggers are SL's true "upper class": we shape opinions, we are known to many people, we leave a visible footprint and memorial and testament of SL ... even long after it's gone. And that, my dear friends, boys and girls, has nothing to do with money, property or talent. We're kinda big deals ... in our own blogs. LOL.
In SL I live from donations, I'm not rich but I don't need much. Lotsa friends and a nice position as yacht club commodore and my blog make me feel like the biggest thing that ever happened to SL, a gift to humanity =^.^=

And yet, most of you might have never heard of me. Orca Who??? The Lefavre family? Huh? Kaya Angel? Who are they sposed to be?

It's all good.

We don't have a class system in SL. Period.

Paul

There is a "class" system because behind the avatars we are all people who have our own prejudices against people and objects and those prejudices at time spill over into virtual worlds and games.

Jaqua

ok folks, none of you have ever heard of Angel Manor? Which is like the biggest most ornate sim construct in SL? Google the name Kaya Angel and you'll see what I mean or even SL land baron and you'll see what I mean

Tateru Nino

Respect, courtesy and civility get you farther in SL than anything else, in my experience (and that includes money or talent).

Vivienne Daguerre

I have never heard of Angel Manor or Kaya Angel. It is all about community and circles you move in. I am sure there are many builds out there just as good or better that you have never heard of.

There is no class system, but there are influencers. Some bloggers are influencers, at least to me. Some content creators are influencers. That is based on personality, rationality, and ability to communicate on topics I care about.

Ravyn Roznsztok

I agree, it's all about the individual communities you hang out in, not SL as a whole.

Though I've had commenters around here actively discount my opinions simply because 'they've never heard of me', which I found odd... but telling.

Michael

They are classes in SL that cross all community circles, but they haven't been mentioned yet (well one has). Creative talent - scripting, building, designing, etc. Bandwidth - the people with the bandwidth are the ones most capable of using and exploiting SL. Leadership - without leadership and organizational skills the communities would not exist.

There are other things that lead to one individual rising above the others but those tend to devolve down to individual issues like personality, time, and drive.

My main point in posting this was the bandwidth issue. People always seem to forget about how important bandwidth is in any online activity. Not every one has it and those that do are most capable of rising to the top in any kind of ranking system.

CronoCloud Creeggan

Of course there's a class system. What do you think "You Know Who's" discussions of "FIC" are other than "You know Who" saying there's a specific kind of class system that the Lindens created. Which I don't entirely agree with, because whatever class systems exist in SL...the Lindens have little to do with now.

As Ravyn Roznsztok has discovered, There's a "who you know" class system in SL for sure. That is one of the reasons "older is better in SL"...you know more people and more people know who YOU are. Knowing people can get you benefits in-world. Invites and access to events, invites into groups with limited membership, actual "stuff", access to land. It might even get you access or STUFF out of world at say SLCC.

In some cases it's based on one's class in RL, where money buys you land and/or lots of stuff. For example, there's people with a Linden home and/or a 512 or two like me , people with a few dozen regions like the Great and Glorious Leader Shang, and then there's people with hundreds or thousands of regions like Anshe. When it comes to communicating with Linden Lab, who do you think LL's going to listen to?

When it comes to Fashionistas, those who own regions have higher status than those who don't. For one they have the ability to host events and organize things which leads to more contacts and whatnot. And those who have more L$ for shopping have higher status as well, they have more stuff to blog/wear. Also time is an advantage as a Fashionista, a Stay-at-home-mom has an advantage in that.

There's a skill based class system as well, those who have various skills have higher status than the lesser skilled or minimal skilled (like me) or unskilled.

And the SL economy makes a class or two: http://gwynethllewelyn.net/2008/10/13/the-hard-facts-about-the-second-life%C2%AE-economy/

Heck, the posters/commenters here on NWN and SLU are mostly oldbies, "FIC", and near-FIC.


Shining Sea

In the sailing community, where I spend most of my time, there is a very strong "class" structure, with real consequences. LL deals with only a handful of avatars to manage the Blake Sea, which is as close to a public park as anything in SL, maintained largely through the generousity of LL - or if you prefer, through the profits that we all generate for LL.

The original avatars who worked out the deal with LL maintain a monopoly on land ownership on and surrounding the Blake, and rent at a premium. They will not let anyone else in, even if you HAVE money. It's understandable, of course: they want to maintain their privilege, as everyone with privilege does, and they do it by leveraging a public resource for private gain. They just added an entire area to rent - no one else can get a chance.

Cicadetta Stillwater

@Tateru: Those are, perhaps, the most important "currencies" in any community, online or otherwise. :)

Ciaran Laval

The greatest trick the FIC ever pulled was convincing the virtual world they didn't exist.

Tesla Miles

As a noob I hate to think that there is any kind of class system in SL. It would be great if Linden Lab would periodically erase our identities so we could start from scratch again ;D

Shug Maitland

OR- If you blog about SL; or have RL contact with some Lindens?

Ada Radius

Agree with Amanda. I've never heard of Angel Manor either, probably because I'm interested in theater and literary communities iSL and only go shopping if I need a quick period costume. The hierarchy in art and creativity circles is most definitely based on talent, organizational, technical and promo chops, newbies welcome. Some of our audience are quite elegant, agreed, and come to be seen as well as see, and I'm totally OK with that too. All kinds of ways to have fun here :)

Fauve Aeon

I suppose 'Don't care but I'm digging that crown' isn't the proper response.
But there you go.

Carl Metropolitan

I don't see the point of having classes if we don't have levels, too.

Arwyn

I agree with Amanda as well. Class is entirely dependent on the community you run in. Name dropping the most famous Gorean raider in a group of fashionistas will get you blank looks, while talking about your encounter with a famous designer around hardcore Linden Realms players will probably be shrugged off. Those people, no matter what their talent or money is, aren't known outside of their areas, no matter how big that area is. There are always communities who are entirely oblivious to other groups. I'm pretty sure there are people who don't even know what a Linden is and will wonder why you're so excited over having XYZRandom Linden come to your shop.

Shining Sea

I think we're getting a little ragged here. Let me suggest that Marx got something essentially right when he asserted that one's class is determined entirely by one's relationship to the means of production. In SL, it seems to me, there are nested relationships to this means.

LL has the primary relationship, since, well, it's really their world, isn't it? They function as an ultimate landed aristocracy, not only profiting from land through rents, but controlling the creation and use of land itself, which enables them to some extent to uncouple land from the dynamics of supply and demand. Flown over the mainland lately? There are enormous abandoned parcels, but since squatting is impossible in SL, all that surplus "supply" has a minimal impact on demand.

The second, less direct relationship with the means of production are those people who profit from their own labor within the LL world - people who make and sell things, land lords, and speculators. They in turn, pay for the privilege, but precious few of them pay enough to actually have influence within SL, really.

And that's because with class comes privilege, and in SL, privilege is very narrowly held. The important privileges, the only ones with virtual world wide consequences, are held by LL. Fame in the real world brings with it influence, and that influence can have a real impact - witness celebrity support for social causes. In SL? Not really.

Grace Trippy

Class system in real life is when you have a group of elites who have power over a larger group of people through economic, social and political means. I don't see any of that in Second Life so I don't see a class system at all. I do know of Angel Manor or the Rose Theatre as I know of it and its very impressive and can see why it was brought up as it does express class and elegance to the highest standard I've seen in second life. I think the only class system there is in second life is based on respect. Respect for what someone has achieved and people may look up to them. But that's not a class system its just respect. So I think the who's who of second life are just the respected people but yes there are still so many different communities that even the who's who only exist in their respective social groups.

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