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February 22, 2007

[iDC] Second Life and activism, etc.

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Activism + Social Transmission

Second Life may or may not be overhyped, and may or may not be the future of the web, but I thought I'd share my experiences with it as I've worked on a documentary about political activism in SL. I've been surprised at how much I'm starting to appreciate its possibilities.

I've taken to heart Clay Shirky's critique that SL has been overly hyped by its creators, and I've been especially interested in Ethan Zuckerman's criticisms of a virtual Camp Darfur, which he argued is an inadequate tool for publicizing such a large scale tragedy; last May he wrote, "given that roughly 100,000 people log into Second Life in a given month - compared to roughly one billion using the Internet as a whole - I suspect people trying to call attention to global issues are better off making a website than a 3D space."

Nevertheless, many people are finding SL useful as a space for activists and organizers to model behavior and create idealized versions of things that are, in reality, broken. The folks I know best that are doing this are associated with RootsCamp, a progressive group/conference that emulates the open-source BarCamp idea of the "unconference."

Ruby Sinreich and Andrew Hoppin developed RootsCampSL, a weekly meeting in Second Life for RootsCampers. You might wonder why people would want their avatars to meet once a week when listservs, online groups, or wikis seem like suitable tools for helping us collaborate (and maybe we haven't even really figured out how to squeeze the best uses out of them yet). But as Ruby explained it at a RootsCamp conference in Washington, D.C late last year, Second Life is different even than instant messaging or IRC or wikis in that it offers embodied collaboration. Instead of getting frustrated with people talking over each other, or wondering if you or someone else is being addressed, in SL you can simply turn to an avatar and address them directly, or initiate a private chat, or walk away from the group.

A group called Doctors for Clark -- doctors who supported Wesley Clark for president in 2004 -- meets this way. They're spread all over the country so it's impossible for them to meet in the flesh, so they do the next best thing and meet in SL.

On the day the new Congress was sworn in I attended a press gathering at the Virtual Capitol Hill (it's a transparent building), and before a congressman from California swooped in (well, his avatar did) I chatted with people who really think that SL is turning into a legitimate platform for political communication and organization. Some of them were at a war protest at the same spot a few weeks later, dancing around and waving signs and typing slogans of protest and peace. It was wacky, but it was sincere.

I met a man who runs a peace and justice center at Better World Island that was one of the most moving pieces of protest art I've seen since the start of the Iraq war. The center is actually a semi-transparent, two-level house with images of children, deserted shoes, and ruins on its walls. When you touch these images you are given notecards with emails written to and received from Iraqis that the curator, Bruce Wallace, has befriended. They tell terrible stories of daily life in Baghdad, and they are personal and heartfelt. It's an art installation that moves beyond the space of Second Life and resonates strongly in the real world.

I also met a woman who runs the Center for Water Studies, also on Better World Island. The purpose of the center is to model endangered habitats to call attention to their real-world counterparts; it's actually quite beautiful and magical. The woman, who's avatar's name is Delia Lake, took me on a tour of the place and I saw moose and small animals on the ground, birds in the sky, and schools of fish in the water. She even took me for a ride on a giant Orca! The more I describe this, the crazier it sounds; I know this. It sounds crazy to me. But I think that this platform has helped me experience a certain empathy for these causes and the people behind them that I've never felt viewing standard web pages.

Although I haven't experienced it myself, I know that educators have had similar kinds of breakthroughs in SL as well. They describe being able to model behavior and situations in a way that lets students have a closer, truer experience than other mediated teaching methods allow.

I'm doing my best to maintain a healthy skepticism about it all. Is Second Life really a social platform that could eventually rival MySpace in size and outdo it in scope and influence? Is it paving the way for future apps that will change our relationships with technology and our assumptions about social media? Right now only about 40 avatars can be in any one place at any time or else the whole things crashes. Most people are there for sex or to dress up like gothic tigers or whatever. All of this serious stuff happens on the periphery and may be a passing fad. But what if it isn't?

I would love to hear about your experiences with SL -- your triumphs, failures, or complaints.

-Josh Levy

www.personaldemocracy.com
www.techpresident.com
www.levjoy.com

I've been using in Second Life for about 8 months now. I first became interested in it as one model of online relational communities with MySpace/Friendster/Facebook being another dominant style. Since then, I've been very active in it as an artist -- generating 2D prints and also a member of an 8-person performance art group called Second Front.

Overhyped or not, hard to tell. But, it holds promise in pushing new social transmission models.

Consider this: Second Life has an appeal that MySpace doesn't in that it breaks with the standard (including Web 2.0) style of online activity. These involve a passive or semi-active webspace with content that gets updated on an hourly, daily, weekly basis. Any sort of immediacy is done through IM. Old hat.

SL becomes useful in that it offers re-spatialization of activity and a feeling of presentness. The universe it creates is similar to ours in the local sense: avatars consume space; only one can be in a doorway at a time, etc. But, it also offers super-hero powers: you can fly, teleport, etc. The technology is crude and does hit huge lag points. But, intuitively, it resonates.

Creating a sense of space that we are familiar with, yet with expanded exploratory powers offers something unique. The Orca ride that Joshua talks about pushes ourselves into chance encounters that draw people into environments like Second Life.

As far as social activism, its hard to tell how this will pan out. Mass publicity is still best done through e-mails and websites. But, unique experiences that make people laugh and form deeper bonds -- this is where Second Life can excel.

Back to social transmission. One aspect of SL that I find interesting is that people create their unique avatars and after a little while, they pretty much stick with the look of their character. They develop communities and friendship networks -- places to go and things to do. But in a world where you can change skin color, gender and even species, you'd think there would be more experimentation. But, not so much.

The other transmission element is from the SL user to the non-user. I find in personal conversations that many people are fascinated by the descriptions I provide. I've demonstrated the Second Life in a couple of talks and afterwards, there are always a few who immediately sign up. Many more ask questions. Others remain skeptical. It certainly provokes a reaction.

There is something to Second Life: linked to attachment to a simulated-physical being in re-spatialized zones and the immediacy of information flow. Any sort of successful social/political activism will have to address the inherent characteristics of Second Life vs. websites, emails and more traditional forms of fundraising and awareness.

~ Scott Kildall

website: http://www.kildall.com
Second Front blog: http://slfront.blogspot.com

More proof I suppose that secondlife is the model T of virtual space. Not as fast or slick as some of the other options available... clearly not as good on gas. (Although I note that the KWH comparison was made against a worldwide average and not the average of someone who is currently using said computer and has the financial support to purchase broadband.)

But this model T is making it so that every (well connected and video encarded) computer user can, for most I would guess just once or twice, go in and consume some '3D' space. I'm also interested by the Wii talk, and with the motion sensor controller (the first of many no doubt) it does offer the chance to meld first and second life as it were.

The issue with many of the critiques that i've seen of our model T is that they criticize the first real success of a new way of doing things for having all the failings of a trailblazer.

Yes. It is bloated. It runs on too much power. The interface and designs are limited. It is run by a company which profits (one would assume) from running the environment. It slows down, depending on who you talk to somewhere in between 15,000 and 38,000 concurrent users. It's proprietary. The things created inside are not portable. All true.

But it does win at being first to come to the public domain. It's allowing people like me to apply for research grants that are going to explore how to interface 2D and 3D digital domains. (if you'll pardon the expression) We are going to take some students in and see what they do... It's a project that no one would have funded for me in Croquet. No matter how good that particular dream promises to be.

I'm not sure what the value of 'virtual space' will be pedagogically. In the interim its greatest value is allowing us to try out a few ideas, to get some funding and some leeway to poke our noses in. To talk to some people about their experiences. To help, perhaps, in the development of the next generation of 3D spaces, by contributing what we've learned.

I wonder, finally, if there is a research group that is accepting educational research from virtual space already out there... if not... I'd be more than willing to start one.

cheers. dave.

Very Interesting conversation...

As a researcher, teacher, (and until yesterday - just a hiatus) an art center administrator in SL, I have the following reflections:

I think that SL is part success, part Ponzi scheme. If you read the Official Guide, there is pretty exaggerated optimism across the board, and it is inherent across the media, website, etc. Linden has done a great job of evangelism.

This is not to say that, phenomenologically speaking, that SL is not a significant moment in net society. In many ways, SL mimics the early Web and art community the early Rhizome list, with a fairly tight-knit bunch of early adopters (I have had an account for 4 years, but only active on since November). There are interesting possibilities going on out there, and whether it is lasting isn't really mo concern. The fact that SL has hit a Gladwellian Tipping Point is important itself.

As one of the co-founders of the Second Front (of which Scott is as well) performance group, we have been doing very interesting things with gestalt, happenings, and identity manipulation. The tension between people and their avatars is something amazing to look at and manipulate. In many ways, I feel very Duchampian about recontextualizing my own identity in terms of avatar and location. It's very strange that at one moment, I'm talking to people like Alan Sondheim and folks connected to groups like General Idea, and then on the next breath, you have a horny newbie soccer mom who is asking for a quick romp in the hay. Really surreal.

As an educator, I think that I like to stick closer to things that SL is especially good at, like Machinima, spatial narrative, algorithmic experiments. Although I am learning a lot of new tools, like scripted podiums and viewscreens, the thing that I think has the most potential are things like live videocasts, avatar performance, streaming audio, and external links. In this way, I think that people do get a better haptic feel for 3D space, and once you get the hang, it's really intuitive. I do think having a concurrent distance environment can be really useful, but there is no way I want to have a solely SL-based classroom.

Overall, I think that SL has mastered the micropayment, has integrated scripting, animation, real-time navigation, and so on in a way that has gotten compelling enough in its open-endedness to make it really robust. The thing that I wonder about is why it took off and not There.com or AlphaWorlds - perhaps toolset. And although Second Front members first met in places like The Palace and OnLive Traveller years ago (therefore not the 'first' of its kind, even if you consider There) SL is at a convergence point, and is at the right time, with a robust enough set of tools, seamless economics (that get a little too ubiquitous at times), and a really compelling social component.

Two major beefs with SL are that it can be an immense money/time sink, and that I feel like the time dilation in-world is pretty toxic. What I mean is that a week feels like a month - so much tends to happen. I went in to talk to a friend one night, and she chided me that I had not said hello for weeks, when it had been 5 days. Secondly, people tend to want you to IM Immediately, and if you're buying property, doing a performance, we need to do it tonight, tomorrow or the next day - next month is unthinkable. It creates an environment in which the virtual world takes increasing parity with the physical, and I personally do not want to sit in front of a monitor all my nights chatting - keyboarding day and night is just not healthy. It promotes the Partial Attention problem, and further chains us to our chairs.

I want to go bicycling once in a while.

Therefore, SL has a great set of tools, an amazing PR campaign, but the big argument I have with any 'early adopter' story like mine is that I have found that we keep hoping that the next technology will solve our problems. I feel like technology often begets more technology and although it has true use value, it's still the human equation that makes the difference.

Activism? As far as dissemination of info, in a multi-modal way, SL can be incredibly compelling. Possibly, due to its current visibility, it could be a tactical media tool (the National Front has a zone, o_0 ). But as far as activism is concerned, I think that feet-on-pavement is still superior to just about everything. To say that we're going to be terribly effective on a fairly elite private net with fairly specific technical and educational requirements leaves that project rather circumspect - more so than protestors negotiating with the police in DC about where they could protest. I feel like protest in SL is too much in the Fishbowl.

The real power of it is when it starts bleeding out into RL. That might seem like a contraditction from my last sentence, but I'm already seeing memes pop out here and there.

I'll leave it at that.

Off to RL-heavy New Orleans for the weekend.
Welcome to the crash zone.

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
Intelligent Agent Magazine
http://www.intelligentagent.com

Dear Colleagues, the following event might be of interest to you:

Massively Multi-Learner , 22 March, 2007
Location: University of Paisley, Paisley
http://www.ics.heacademy.ac.uk/events/displayevent.php?id=142

Growing numbers of people now spend large parts of their leisure time inhabiting immersive on-line 3D virtual worlds, known variously as MMOs (Massively Multiplay Online), MMORPGs (MMO Role-Playing Games) and MUVEs (Multi-User Virtual Environments).

A growing number of academics and practitioners are realising that such environments also have strong potential as the Virtual Learning Environments of the future. This workshop aims to showcase the emerging theory and practice of teaching and learning in MUVEs - from studies of how users engage socially in virtual worlds to practice based case-studies of teaching and knowledge transfer and the emergent pedagogies of the 3D internet, and its relation to the web-based learning technologies of the present.

The role of learning within guilds
Carl Potts, University of Salford

The significance of community within MMORPGs. I share the view of Mulligan and Patrovsky that 'players come for the game and stay for the community'. My talk will explain briefly how players are organised with these communities using World of Warcraft as an example. It will focus on the role of learning and dissemination of knowledge within these communities, and potential for the development of transferable skills.

Putting the Real in surreal - How scientific simulations can be used in a
virtual world

Mike Reddy, University of Wales, Newport

This presentation is not about how to reproduce the real experience of f2f or campus based learning. Rather, this discussion is about how to use situated simulations as a teaching tool in a wide variety of scientific disciplines: Games development students are using Second Life as an adaptable prototyping tool for 1st/3rd person games; Design students are engaging in product trials and aesthetic design, such as wearble technology; Science students are attempting to recreate scientifically plausible scenarios, such as our Nasa CoLab sponsored Mars terraforming simulation, Project Aria. The aim of this and future work is to enable students to get their virtual hands dirty. Building is the best way to learn.

Programming Playground
Mike Hobbs, Anglia Ruskin University

The explicit aim is to get second year computing students to design and implement interactive artefacts in Second Life to demonstrate simple programming concepts for use by novice programmers. The hidden agenda is to kindle a sense of discovery, ownership and fun in a subject that can seem abstract and remote.

Integrating Second Life into Design for Digital Media
Annabeth Robinson, Leeds College of Art and Design

How second life can help to directly support or simulate art / design progression of skills and profesionalism throughtout a 3 year degree program. Annabeth will also discuss virtual worlds from her perspective as a practicing artist in Second Life.

Developing visions of schome (the education system for the Information Age)
Peter Twining, Open University

Peter will briefly explain what schome is (not school - not home - schome - the education system for the Information Age), before going on to outline why and how we are using Second Life to enhance our thinking about schome. See http://www.schome.ac.uk/ for further info.

Virtual Learning Environments and Virtual Worlds: The Sloodle Project
Jeremy Kemp, San Jose State University

As mainstream educators slowly get to grips with the enhanced potential of using web-based virtual learning environment, others are forging ahead with 3D virtual environment. This presentation will outline where the web-based environments provide support for learning that may be lacking in richer 3D environment - and introduce the Sloodle project which aims to integrate the web-based and the 3D virtual learning environments.

Social Networking in Virtual Worlds
Aleks Krotoski, University of Surrey

Much has been made about the marketing potential of social networks in virtual worlds (the popularity of branded advertising in Second Life attests to that), yet how do participants learn from one another in casual and social contexts in online environments? This presentation explores what it means to be "close" in a dis-proximate space, and how the ethics of analysis must take into consideration the meanings of networks in these conceptual places.

Integrating Games Based Learning into the Classroom
Helen Routledge, TPLD

This session presents a case study on the educational game EDUTEAMS and shares Routledge's experiences of integrating the software into class times of 50-minutes or less with the effect of delivering understandable bit size chunks and visible learning gains among pupils as well as how the games are assessed by teachers along national curriculum guidelines. Both the pupil and teacher perspective will be discussed as well as the essential elements required to make effective use of games in the education system and the benefits of TPLD's approach. The ideal scenario will be explored and real life examples presented from schools around the UK that used this methodology.

Knowledge Transfer and Public Engagement in Virtual Worlds
Dave Taylor, National Physical Laboratory

Dave has been working on the use of Second Life for Scientific Communication and Technology Knowledge Transfer. He will describe Second Life's three emerging Knowledge-based continents: Info Islands, NMC Virtual Worlds and the SciLands where NPL are one of the founder members. He will also examine the extraordinary effectiveness of Second Life for facilitating collaboration between small and large organisations and the general public, and the benefits for technological knowledge transfer between researchers and industry.

You can find information about travel and accommodation at the following
link: http://cis.paisley.ac.uk/livi-ci0/paisley-travel.html

Dr Andy Miah | email[at]andymiah.net | http://www.andymiah.net
Reader in New Media & Bioethics

School of Media, Language & Music
University of Paisley
Ayr Campus, KA8 OSR, Scotland, UK.
[t] +44 7962 716 616 [f] +44 1292 886371 [e] email[at]andymiah.net

The Second Life (SL) buzz sounds just like the tech-salvation propaganda that surrounded the telegraph, the BBS, and later mailing lists. Rheingold and Lessig gave lectures in SL, 70 universities built a "campus" on the island, non-profits are storming in, businesses are opening up, avatars are exchanging "real life books" in SL, people set up galleries (but where is the audience?), performance groups do their thing, and avatars demonstrate against the war. It's a stunning social experiment.

But not for a second do I buy the argument that synchronous virtual worlds like Second Life are the future of the net. Nevertheless, I'm quite interested in SL as a model for civic participation and cultural production. Environments like Second Life are one emerging aspect of networked sociality and I am curious to hear more about the amateurs who, on the proprietary grounds of SecondLife, are willing to give their immaterial labor away for free. We discussed that before with Amazon.com.

The always amazing Henry Jenkins writes: "I take my good news where I can find it and for the moment, the coverage of SL, bad though it often is, is helping Americans in general adjust to the idea that there may be something positive to be gained by having an active fantasy life on line." But SL is not just an all-American phenomenon. Just look at attempts of re-branding Africa, for example. There are, of course, obvious limits to the use of such environments in developing countries as it takes high-powered computers and a whole lot of bandwidth to have a decent experience in SL.

Particular examples of participatory culture may fade but networked participation will not go away.

Jenkins: "And for the moment, the debate about and the hype surrounding SL is keeping alive the idea that we might design and inhabit our own worlds and construct our own culture. That's something worth defending."

My main question to Jenkins and all of you concerns the relationship between this virtual world and "first life." Do these virtual worlds merely provide an inconvenient youth with a valve to live their fantasies of social change (elsewhere), or do they, in some measurable way, fertilize politics in the world beyond the screen?

Trebor

Second Life
http://secondlife.com/

Get A First Life
http://www.getafirstlife.com/

Teaching experiments in SL
http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/11/13/second.life.university/index.html

A Western shot in SL
http://bellsandspurs.com/_video/

"More than 70 universities have built island campuses in Second Life"
http://news.com.com/2100-1032_3-6157088.html

Lynn Hershman screens new film in SL
http://lynnhershman.com/newprojects.htm

Avatars Against the War
http://lotusmedia.org/post-protest-processing

Re-branding Africa in SL
http://annansi.com/blog/2007/01/africas-second-life/

Images of Activism in SL
http://www.flickr.com/photos/venicevandal/sets/72157594474252794/

from giselle beiguelman:

But not for a second do I buy the argument that synchronous virtual worlds like Second Life are the future of the net.

I agree. Nevertheless is a very interesting art space. SL has a curious cybrid format. I mean a space between on and off line networks that can be used as new layer of our territorial experience. I'm working now on a new project conceived for SL, exploring its potential as a cinematic space and the resources its inhabitants can use in order to get different points of view (flying, zooming etc).

It seems to me that the cinematic experience you have there announces in some ways what can be the the migration from machines of motion to machines of vision, or the new cinema. Peter Weibel wrote some years ago a long essay on digital images that could be a point of departure for that discussion:

"The nineteenth century was obsessed with motion - with illusions of motion, and with machines of motion. There were two kinds of machines of motion: the first tried to analyze motion, the second to synthesize motion. The analysis of motion was the task of the camera; the synthesis of motion was the task of the projector. The evolution of cinema in the nineteenth century can be attributed to two major trends: firstly, to the progress in experimental physiology and psychology leading to the Gestalt psychology, and secondly, to the advances in machines attempting to adapt and transfer the physiological mechanism of perception into machines capable of the visual simulation of motion and - herein lies the problem - not into machines of per­ception.

Therefore, what we know as cinema today is in fact already a reduction of the nineteenth-century principle that began to investigate machines of vision, but finally reduced them to machines of motion. There is the moving-image industry with its motion pictures, that is to say: the Hollywood system. Its code is a legacy of the nineteenth century, and reduces the ­initial exploration of machines of vision to machines of motion. Only the avant-garde cinema of the 1920s, 1950s and 1960s maintained the original intention of creating machines of vision. Classical cinema, therefore, already diminished the initial enterprise, which was about perception. Perception was reduced to the perception of motion, ­and remained on the retinal level because there was no pursuit of the question of how our brain perceives the world. People constructed machines with a kind of graphic notation - "la methode graphique" (Etienne-Jules Marey) - of motion. This method can be said to be still valid, tragically enough, today.

What Marey did was to analyze, and deconstruct, motion with his ­famous graphical method. It made no difference whether a drawing machine was used or, as in the case of Eadweard Muybridge, a photographic machine. Both Muybridge and Marey soon realized that ­it is not enough to analyze motion, but many other machines had to be used in order to project, to synthesize, motion. We may conclude this interpretation with the fact that cinema was invented in the nineteenth century. The twentieth century merely turned the nineteenth-century inventions into standardized mass media - including television, which ­became a consumer apparatus. As a side-effect, we simultaneously turned this machinery not only into mass media, but also into art, an individual ­approach.

Cinema is a writing of motion (cinematography); it is just a machine that simulates motion for the eye. The avant-garde, from Dziga Vertov to Steina and Woody Vasulka , kept to the initial idea: machine ­vision - not machine motion. Vertov gave us the term Kinoglaz , the camera eye. With the advent of video (Latin: I see), it was clear that we had to make a paradigmatic shift from imitating and simulating motion to imitating and simulating vision with the help of ­machines. We had to change from cinematography (the writing of motion) to what I would call the writing of seeing: opsigraphy, from the Greek word opsis (as in "optics"). Or even to opsiscopy, the seeing of seeing - in other words, the observing of observing mechanisms. In cyberspace, for example, when you see yourself and your actions as an image, you are already in opsiscopic space. You are observing yourself in a ­picture that you observe; it is an observation of the second order. In fact, cyberspace is the beginning of opsiscopy: of machines that see how we see."

In short, I think SL can be considered an opsiscopic space that allows to transcend sometimes the basic descriptive movements we do in our FL (First Life) and because of this points to new directions in the digital arts field in general and digital images in particular.

giselle beiguelman

from Steven Shaviro:

This past week, I gave a brief-talk-plus-demonstration at my University, to an audience much of which was librarians, about the educational potentials of Second Life. I painted a picture that was not untrue, but that perhaps was rosier than is fully justified. As the real-life audience in an auditorium watched it all on a big screen, I conducted a lively but quite short discussion with a bunch of folks within Second Life about how new media were changing both what was being studied and learned, and how it was being studied and learned. People in both the RL audience and the virtual audience seemed to like it; though in the former case this was probably more due to the wow! factor than to anything I (or anybody else) actually said (or typed).

I only bring this up by way of approaching Trebor's question: Do these virtual worlds merely provide an inconvenient youth with a valve to live their fantasies of social change (elsewhere), or do they, in some measurable way, fertilize politics in the world beyond the screen?

I think that we are reaching the point where people can do pretty much any of the things they do in their "first lives" in virtual worlds like Second Life as well. This is not to say that the two are the same, of course; there are obvious and vast differences (e.g., people in different physical locations can engage in real-time interaction in Second Life, and have the sensation of a sort of shared 3D space -- though it's cartoony, it still gives a certain feeling of 'thereness' that other media, even more naturalistic ones like two-way video chat, fail to do; on the other hand, and just as obviously, a conversation in Second Life is likely to consist mostly of one-liners, rather than the extended essayistic reflection we can indulge in on a mailing list like this one; not to mention that the anonymity, combined with the ability to simulate actions that you could never do in "real life" contribute to a kind of puerile and feverish fantasy atmosphere).

But still, overall, Second Life is connected enough to "first life," and mirrors it closely enough in all sorts of ways, that we can pretty much do "there" the same sorts of things -- especially collaborative, social things -- that we do "here." The virtual libraries in Second Life, for instance, are quite interesting and might even, at some point, become truly useful (though of course, a lot less people use them than use the SL sex clubs or combat simulations). Some of the artist exhibitions in Second Life, as well as some of the spaces which are themselves, in effect, art works, are quite good and worth exploring.

As for politics: a protest against the Iraq war in Second Life is little more than an empty symbolic gesture; but one might cynically argue, especially given the tendency of the media to ignore them, that real-world protests against the war , however many people they draw, are at this point little more than empty symbolic gestures either.

On the other hand, I don't think that one could find any equivalent in Second Life of political organizing that takes place in "first life": if only because the people in Second Life are a fairly narrow, self-selected and affluent, group.

But beyond this, the thing that really gets me about Second Life, and that seems to me to be the most important thing one can say about it, is how *commodified* the whole experience is, and how SL is dominated by notions of creativity, coolness, entrepreneurship, and so on... all of which relate undamentally to advertising and commerce and making money. It seems to me that Second Life, and other MMOs (massively multiplayer online worlds or games) need to be understood in the terms of political economy (of an at least quasi-marxist sort) before they can be made sense of in any other way. And that, in this sense, they are little different from any other aspect of what has variously been called the society of the spectacle, the network society, or the new world order of neoliberal globalization.

Yes, the new media are many-to-many instead of one-to-many like the mass media that dominated most of the twentieth century; but I fear that the call or incitement to participate, to get involved, to be creative, largely means that we are being asked to be entrepreneurs of ourselves, and thus work ever harder to facilitate our own exploitation.

I am being rather hyperbolic, perhaps. But if anyone is interested, I've put online a recent essay of mine in which I address these points in (hopefully) less of an off-the-cuff manner:

http://www.shaviro.com/Othertexts/MMOs.pdf

S

Steven Shaviro
http://www.shaviro.com
THE PINOCCHIO THEORY:
http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/

from Charlie Gere:

Trebor

I think your invocation of previous new media hype in relation to SL is very timely, and your question about whether it is a safety valve for fantasies of social change most pertinent. But I think the problem of academic hype about SL is even worse than you suggest and seems to be encapsulated by the statement from Henry Jenkins you quoted to the effect that "... for the moment, the debate about and the hype surrounding SL is keeping alive the idea that we might design and inhabit our own worlds and construct our own culture. That's something worth defending."

To be honest I don't see why. It would seem to me obvious that trying to make some sense of and find ways of mitigating the violence and unjustice in the complex world and culture we already necessarily inhabit, not least bodily, is far more pressing and considerably more worth defending than any supposed capacity to 'design and inhabit our own worlds and construct our own culture'. This seems to me to be at best a license for mass solipsism and at worse something like the kind of thinking that undergirds much totalitarianism, as well as an evasion of our responsibilities to the world as we find it. Such a fantasy seems to be at play in both the relentless construction and assertion of 'identity', a drive that militates against proper social solidarity, and thus plays into the hands of those sustaining the status quo, as well as the fantasy entertained by the Bush government that the Middle East can just be redesigned as if in some video game

Apart from anything culture is not something that can simply be constructed. It is something we are thrown into and which we can only at best try to negotiate our relationship with. Culture necessarily involves other people and prior existing structures. Has Jenkins considered what it would mean if everyone felt free to 'construct their own culture'. Even if such a thing were possible, it is certainly not desirable, especially if we have any hope to produce a properly participatory culture.

Frankly as far as I am concerned SL is really just a kind of cultural pornography, and is to the real business of culture what masturbating is to sex with another person. I like masturbation as much as the next man, or indeed woman, but I don't make the error of mistaking for something it isn't. Apart from anything else it lacks precisely the element that sex has, that of involving a proper, embodied, responsibility to someone else and to the potential consequences of the act itself.

Charlie Gere

From A. G-C:

On the Second Life, I would want to say four things:

1. The question is not to know what it is worth "symbolically" but the influx and the variety which compete as ubiquitous society to it indeed deserve to ask questions from fields such as: ergonomics, simulation, digital sociology, languages (linguistics and semiotics).

2. Nevertheless, the second critical point, without going to the psychology either in the sociology, or in the languages, is simply the question of the real time because the time all the contrary of the space, is not double, it is barely unit (on earth). The time spent by playing an executive simulation of the life, raises a true problem of entropy of fictitious time in the material life; And thus results a lack of time to face the material conditions of the life, except for the persons among whom it is the job or the position to navigate and to create on Internet.

It defines an expert frame of the researchers, not the release to the empirical research (what is the only available way of research more the help of the stochastic disposition into our randomized actual times -- that one being reinvented by the researchers of exact sciences with impact in the
life): it is thus even there a dissolution of the democracy including of meta politics (according to which the agreed fact would be that the fantastical passage to the playful virtual act would be an increased reality
-- that is not sure in matter of power). The only very power in such a game can being who know the tech languages and observe the digital abstract tracks.

3. It is maybe interesting that left the communications censored on Internet can hide in such a device, under the shape of a feigned community which does not look like the one who hides under these features, or then economic observers for the study of markets?

Why not also secret services, for example - and blow: who observes as fake player or fake artist? Who thinks that he/she is anonymous under his mask? Otherwise the one who puts a lot in an addictive way.

4. There is a macro phenomenon which succeeds the micro computing diverse multiples (addition of singularities) on internet, it contribute in the big hypermedia supra community as MySpace, YouTube, etc... (But I mean may be any of us of have still evocate it).

Here the Second life, exactly the set which as game corresponds to Google earth increasing MySpace in a plastic second reality in real time, as the representative identification of techno-mass - exactly something as real from the active part of the real players through their personal computers as a mass in a dynamic stadium as large as possible - till the increasing worlds -, interactive hypermedia as techno-multiculturalism in mobility (here multiculturalism is to be hear as virtual genre) online.

From Ricardo Dominguez:

Virtual terror strikes Second Life
by Glenn Chapman Sat Feb 24, 11:54 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - In an explosive display, virtual-world banes now mirror the havoc of the real one as terrorists have launched a bombing campaign in Second Life.

People controlling animated avatar members of a self-proclaimed Second Life Liberation Army (SLLA) have set off computer-code versions of atomic bombs at virtual world stores in the past six months -- with their own manifesto.

The SLLA claims to be an "in-world military wing of a national liberation movement" devoted to replacing the rule of Second Life creator Linden Labs with a democracy representing the nearly four million residents.

"As Linden Labs is functioning as an authoritarian government the only appropriate response is to fight," the SLLA said in a message on its website at http://secondlla.googlepages.com.

"When the SLLA succeeds in its aims it will disband and hand power back to the political wing of the movement."

Creative dissent is welcomed in Second Life as long as it doesn't interfere with the ability of other residents to enjoy the virtual world, according to San Francisco-based Linden.

Second Life said it stopped charging a tax on items created by residents after avatars fashioned in the images of American revolutionaries recreated the Boston Tea Party in the virtual world about three years ago.

Since then, website users adept at manipulating computer codes have engineered mischief including a "push gun" that blasted other avatars back when fired, according to Linden.

"We do the utmost to ensure the protection of creative expression, within certain bounds," Linden marketing director Catherine Smith told AFP on Friday.

"Ultimately, instances in which residents engage in simulated violence will have to be taken on a case-by-case basis."

The virtual bomb blasts in Second Life explode in hazy white balls, blotting out portions of a screen and battering nearby avatars, animated figures that are residents' proxies in the virtual world.

The disruptions are brief and do not cause lasting damage in Second Life, according to Linden.

Residents are given free rein in Second Life, as long as they don't harass or interfere with other avatars in what is referred to in-world as "griefing."

SLLA bombings have been viewed by Linden as "mock terrorism" done in fun to catalyze debate about the in-world power structure.

"We believe recent events involving SLLA protest lack malicious intent," Smith said. "Resident reaction to such attacks has been decidedly tongue-in-cheek."

The SLLA website demands that Linden give Second Life residents "basic rights" by going public and allowing each avatar to buy a share of stock at a set price.

In instances where residents feel harassed by the SLLA, Linden will dole out temporary banishment or other such penalties as outlined in the virtual world's written terms of service, according to Smith.

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Posted by jo at February 22, 2007 03:56 PM

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