Henry Jenkin’s post on politics in Second Life reminded me of my own observations in Second Life which I’ve been meaning to write about. The interesting thing about Second life is that anarchy is default, yet we witness a terrible situation where a few griefers make life so miserable for the majority that people end up creating strict laws.
The first experience I had with griefers was on Berkman Island when I was taking the CyberOne course at Harvard. To encourage building, Berkman Island had a huge sandbox where people could come and build things. (Most areas do not allow people to build things without permission of the landowner, which makes it difficult for people who do not have a paid account to dabble with the building mechanisms in Second life) The Berkman sandbox was created with good intention, but we soon began to see people abusing it. We had to restrict building to 4 hours, and then we also had to create a monitoring system where people volunteered to be “virtual police” to deal with people who were deliberately trying to sabotage others’ projects, polluting the air with profanities, and so forth. This is an example of a self-monitoring society.
Berkman is an island with an owner; therefore we could impose the regulations. But what happens when you’re living on an island with no owner?
One of the worst-case scenarios happened to me. When I first set up “house” in Boksik, it was a peaceful place. My neighbors were all small home-owners like myself. We created small houses or shops; we all lived by our own rules. Then along came someone who started buying out all of the small plots. He bought about half of the plots in the neighborhood and started an escort service. I didn’t mind so much about the escort service as I did the obscene advertisement towers that he was putting up all over the neighborhood. The ad towers were so ugly and obtrusive, people didn’t like living in that neighborhood anymore, so they gave in to his offer and were bought out. I didn’t want to give him the benefit of getting what he wanted, but in turn, I had to deal with a glaring billboard outside my window.
It made me want to move to some other places like Caledon. In Caledon, which is a Victorian Second Life, there are very strict rules– not just about conduct, but also architecture, language, dress, etc. I was fortunate to be able to talk with residents of Caledon several times and it always felt like being swept back to the 18th century. Many of the sims owned by Anshe Chung also have rules regarding architecture. For instance, in an oriental sim, you can only build buildings that are of certain height and carry some type of Asian architectural motif.
Living in communities that have strict laws is not only expensive (there are even taxes in addition to the steep rent), but there is a high barrier to get in. If you are a poor resident with your small patch of land, you have to put up with obscene neighbors… which, I guess, is very similar to real life. It’s very sad that if you give people the freedom to all be “good” it never really works out because there is bound to be the bad apple that contaminates the rest of the barrel. Even in a virtual space, if you want to ensure the quality of your life, you have to pay that much more to go into a “barrel” that is highly regulated.