Why Prejudice Against Second Life Avatar Roleplay Exists

Second Life avatar roleplay predjudice

Kara Trapdoor has a provocative post about SL user prejudice against other Second Life users who roleplay, which somewhat ironically spins off from a Facebook thread which starts with this SLer's rant (lightly edited for grammar):

I am adult I can't roleplay a kid, I am accused or being a pedophile -- I assure you I am not. I am male and I can't roleplay female, I get accused of being gay -- I am not. I am white and I can't roleplay black, I get accused of being racist -- I am not. I can't roleplay an animal, I get accused or being weird. What do you do, roleplay yourself? Where's the fun in that? I thought Second Life was about pretending. Get an imagination.

To which Kara offers her own perspective, including this passage which makes a rather centrist argument for roleplay:

We would like others to [roleplay] how we do but of course everyone plays their own way. If I am not close to someone I don't care, but if I am close, even if they don't look or act remotely close to what they would in RL, to an extent I'd still like to be aware of that if I have formed a real bond. It doesn't mean I would give them a hard time, though. Plus there are rules about age play, just saying, so with that, I get why people would be upset. I think it depends what people are doing with their alternative forms.

Emphasis mine. TL;DL: Roleplay is fine, as long as it's always understood as roleplay.

Another commenter writes:

"SL is one place where you can experience your dreams and fantasies without being judged."

This, however, is entirely incorrect: Your fantasies and dreams will be judged in Second Life by other users -- not by all of them, not by most of them, but you will be judged, and to think otherwise is to set yourself up for shock and disappointment.

Why? Well, it's been a recurring theme in my writing through countless posts, but to summarize it here:

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If You Don't Want More Second Life Griefers, Stop Publicly Discussing Second Life Griefers

Second Life Griefers

SLers have been passing around a blog post about a recent Second Life griefer attack, which I'm not going to directly link to or even cite, for a very obvious reason: A core motivation of Second Life griefers is to get Second Life users talking about them - on blogs, on social media, on bulletin boards, on Second Life itself. The attention is their reward. (Hence the classic rule of Internet social interaction: "Don't feed the troll.")

To be clear, I'm not criticizing the blogger who did post about the griefing attack, because it's likely they don't recall or weren't around during the times when Second Life was barraged by griefers on a near daily basis:

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The Time Second Lifers Fought a French Extremist Group Beneath a Sun with the Face of Dr. Martin Luther King

Second Life Martin Luther King Day

In 2007, France's far right extremist party Front National attempted to establish an official Second Life presence, but were met with strong (albeit virtual) resistance. After the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack by Islamic extremists, Front National is ascendant, making my story originally published here -- with its themes of extreme opinion and violence, and a symbol of hope for a better world literally floating in the sky -- once again relevant, especially on MLK day. It's republished in full below. - WJA


I'm pretty sure I know what Dr. King would think of a protest against an anti-immigrant political party, but if you asked me what he'd say after the thing devolved into a virtual conflagaration of mini-guns, cursing Frenchmen, and exploding pigs, well, there I'm somewhat at a loss.

The first night I arrived at the protest against the Second Life headquarters of Front National, the far right French political party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, it was ringed on all sides by protesters with signs to wave and statements to distribute.  By the second night I came (this was late last week), the conflict had become more literal, for many Residents had armed themselves.  Multi-colored explosions and constant gunfire shredded the air of Porcupine, a shopping island which FN had inexplicably picked for the site of their virtual world HQ, in December. 

The server lag from so many people throwing up so much gunfire slows the battle to a slow motion firefight, but I manage to wade up to TonTonCarton Yue, who is strafing the FN building with a chaingun usually associated with an AC-130 gunship, than a political protest.

"Can I ask," I begin, "why are you shooting?"
"Because I hate Front National," Yue tells me simply.
"If you use violence, doesn't that reduce you to their level?"

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Watch a Rip-Roaring Tribute Machinima to a Second Life Motorcycle Community

You watched me try to bike around Second Life with spectacular fail, now watch how it's really done:

Created by ChanAndMe C, it's actually a beautifully-edited tribute to a Second Life motorcycle community who congregate on the spectacular island of Crossing Sands (map link here), which the machinima maker recently met. As he tells me:

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Despite Second Life's Draconian Terms of Service Change, SL User Activity Growing Strongly Since Then

When I reported that Linden Lab is attempting to revise its contentious new Terms of Service, some readers complained that the company's reaction to the controversy has been so mild and slow. But there's a very good likely reason for that: Not only is there no discernible evidence that the controversy has hurt the SL economy, Second Life user activity has been growing, not shrinking, since the ToS change. Take a look at this concurrency chart from Grid Survey:

Second Life concurrency ToS

Since the ToS change in mid-August, when Linden asked users to agree that the company had rights over "all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats", more people, not less, have been logging into Second Life. In fact, user activity in SL has been going upward since June/July after a long declining trend, and the ToS controversy has done nothing to substantially stop this momentum.

This doesn't mean there's been no impact, or that Linden Lab should not revise its ToS to be more fair and transparent -- in my opinion, it should -- however, it's also worth keeping this data in mind. Because having consulted for Linden Lab many years ago, I can make a educated guess at what they're thinking right now:

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Linden Lab Attempting to Amend Terms of Service to Appease Anxious Content Creators, Company Confirms

Second Life ToS Controversy UCCSL

Linden Lab is attempting to revise its contentious Terms of Service to satisfy the concerns of SL content creators, spokesperson Peter Gray confirmed to me last Friday. "It would be premature to offer any sort of timetable" as to when those revisions will go into the ToS, Gray added, "because as the message notes, 'we are currently reviewing what changes could be made.'" Gray is referring to an e-mail he sent last week to Kylie Sabra, head of the United Content Creators of Second Life, which has since been made public. Whoever uploaded it to Google Docs accidentally dated the message 2003, as opposed to this year, but Gray confirmed that the body of e-mail is indeed from him. (I've included a copy below.)

Also notable in his e-mail: As some have suggested, the reason the new Terms of Service claimed "all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats" is not to deviously steal users' content. Instead (according to Gray, at least) it's to give them more markets to make more money from their own content:

"[T]he revision to our Terms of Service was made in order to further extend the ability for content creators to commercially exploit their intellectual property through user-to-user transactions across Linden Lab’s other products and services (including our distribution platform, Desura), not just within Second Life." (Emphasis mine.)

Let the irony sink in. If Linden Lab had publicly said something like that when making the changes to the ToS, it's likely little or none of this controversy would have kicked in. And as SL Bar Association member Agenda Faromet suggested to me, an additional 10 words to the ToS would have probably prevented a lot of agita too.

Anyway, full text after the break:

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9 Years Later, Virtual Democracy Experiment in SL Still Thriving (Comment of the Week)

Neualtenburg Second Life
Neufreistadt in 2006 (from this post)

Last week, an SLer named Tor Karlsvalt stopped by New World Notes to offer his update on Neufreistadt/Neualtenburg, an ambitious experiment in virtual democracy on a cooperatively-owned simulator created to look like an old Bavarian city 9 years ago -- a project which was subsequently wracked in internal strife and, ironically enough, a DMCA trademark dispute which I wrote about in 2006. According to Tor, Neufreistadt still thrives in another version, not just on a single sim (which is how it began) but on many:

"Just browsing through your old articles and found this one pertaining to a period of Neufreistadt history that is now more part of the 'national myth' of CDS than anything relevant today," he wrote in the post's Comments. "Neufreistadt is still in SL and not in any danger of disappearing. This Oktoberfest we traditionally celebrate our founding, just as was done during the time of Kendra and Ulrika. This Oktoberfest will mark the ninth anniversary of the foundation of Neualtenburg. Yes we were renamed, but alas the citizens of Neufreistadt were on the land while our prominent members left to form a different group, Port Neualtenburg, which has since closed back in 2008." Here's what's happened since then:

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SL10B Memories: Ms. FairChang Meets Her RL Husband

Garth and Garth and Pituca

I asked NWN readers about their most important experience in Second Life over its 10 year history, and fittingly, the first memory comes from Pituca FairChang, who's been a member for that entire decade (and then some, since she joined in Beta):

"The memory that has impacted my life is joining The Americana Group back in Beta and meeting Garth Fairlight (later to become Garth FairChang) there." (That's them at their wedding, at left, which many of their SL friends attended.) "He would later immigrate from London to Southern California to marry me. Tragically his life was cut short by pancreatic cancer. I stay on to keep our 38 regions of FairChang Islands alive and running in his memory."

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5 Things to Remember About Second Life Content Creators to Minimize Drama Around Second Life Content Creators

Aemeth Lysette

Here's five important things to remember about Second Life content creators, written by Ms. Aemeth Lysette after a rash of drama around SL content creators which reached such a pitch, as she puts it primly, "we’re still screaming and throwing tampons across the room". Sample:

They are not excusable in their actions, just because they’re talented... Everyone should be treated with respect, and if a designer can’t learn this, they’ll learn by the amount of customers they’ll end up losing over time. They don’t have endless patience, either. No one is, honestly. Me, personally, if I tell someone something over and over and they don’t get it, I become very sarcastic. Manners are important, but everyone’s got their bad days.

Read the rest here. Not sure I get her "They aren’t a doctor" point, but maybe that's a metaphor, just like Jesus meant to bless makers of all dairy products.

I Largely Left Second Life to Avoid the People of Second Life (Comment of the Week)

Savoree LeDesir Second Life user

Discussing her reasons for minimizing her use of Second Life, reader Savoree LeDesir offered one I often hear from others: Exhaustion with the negative social experience in Second Life. Here's how she describes it:

"Part of the appeal of Second Life was that it promised to fulfill that lifelong dream of many - the ability to 'reinvent oneself,' and, at least for a moment, to escape reality and experience the fulfillment of one's ideal self. After several years of dealing with trying to deal with constant technical difficulties, in-world politics, relentless cyber-bullies (as it turns out, a lot of people reinvented themselves into the kids they hated in high school), and a 'community' of people who are all trying to be something other than who they really are, many have become disillusioned with the whole premise of this type of virtual experience...or perhaps they've simply outgrown it.

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