Friday, July 27, 2012

Is Second Life Viable as a Civilization?

Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.

Arnold Toynbee

          Recently, I came across a newly published book, Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson This is a very interesting read which I strongly recommend to students of the world we live in today.  The author’s premise is that there are six characteristics which differentiated Western civilization from the rest of the world in its original success and that the West has lost its edge as other societies have now acquired these and is pulling ahead. 

          After my recent stories about friendship and social life in Second Life (SL), this book got me thinking about civilization in SL itself.  I mean why couldn’t SL be a civilization?  And, if it can be, is it sustainable? 

          Niall Ferguson’s six characteristics are competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and work ethic.  I’m going to look at each of these in the context of SL to see if SL could be considered a sustainable civilization. 

          First is competition.  Is there competition in SL?  I can say yes.  There’s certainly enough shops about and services being offered to prove that point.  But, with Linden Lab (LL) being able to arbitrarily take over a market (i.e., currency trading) or shut a business activity down (i.e., gambling) is there true competition inworld?  What exists in SL is reminiscent of the New Economic Policy (NEP) brought forward by Lenin and then eliminated by Stalin in the period after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.  The threat of the monopoly powers of a command economy always lurk about in SL.  Copyright protection and a stable currency are other prerequisites for competition.  One would be hard pressed to say either exist inworld.  Anyone remember the copybot issue? 

          Second is science.  Does SL have science?  Yes, but…  (Always with the qualifier.)  The original science behind SL was innovative for its time.  Mesh and machinima were highly regarded additions to the original base.  But, (Here it comes.) will there be more?  Will it be enough?  Where is the new innovation?  Mobility has been missed.  How does SL coexist with social media like Facebook and Twitter?  Is SL like the West in Real Life (RL) which is losing its lead in science to late comers to the party?  Is SL going to go the way of ancient China, inventing marvelous devices like rockets, movable printing type, and paper currency only to see others reap the advantage and eat its lunch? 

          Ferguson’s third characteristic of a civilization is the rule of law.  The rule of law permits investors and businesses to know that their investments will be protected from wrongful seizure and there will be redress for bad behavior.  Here SL is a non-starter.  There seems to be considerable frustration among residents about how to resolve issues among themselves or with Linden Lab. Notwithstanding the policeman and jail in 1920’s Berlin there’s not a whole lot of law enforcement in SL. 

          Next Ferguson raises consumerism as a characteristic of a civilization which is forming.  Again, the variety of goods and services available in SL seems to imply that this attribute exists.  My question (I always have questions I’m a writer after all.) is can this be sustained?  What new goods and services can be offered?  Will there ever be a device like an iPad in SL?  Will residents made the investment of capital and time to build new products and services inworld? 

          The fifth characteristic is modern medicine.  At first glance, this might be dismissed as irrelevant in a virtual world.  (I almost did.  I’m prone to rushing to judgment.  Just ask Significant Other.)  But, with a little imagination (Occasionally I have a little.) this concept could be extended to the idea of viruses.  Could we consider problems like lag and griefing to be epidemics?  How are they dealt with?  The lack of an infrastructure to deal with issues like this is another negative against SL being considered a sustainable civilization. 

          The final characteristic is a work ethic.  Here, I feel very positive about SL’s success here. One only has to visit the multitude of sims inworld, 1920’s Berlin and Ancient Alexandria are but two examples, to know that a strong work ethic is alive and well in SL.  In fact, I believe that is the one characteristic that can overcome the shortcomings with the others. 

          Let me recap.  Out of the six characteristics of a successful civilization developed by Ferguson, SL has some semblance of all of them except for the rule of law.  The lack of the rule of law precludes a stable, safe economy for the investments that could be made inworld to build a true SL civilization and sustain it. 

          Can this be overcome? I don’t know.  I won’t be negative and say all is lost.  But to succeed, the residents of SL will need to come together to develop the components of a legal system.  (Be warned this means lawyers!  Always a necessary evil in successful civilizations.)  And let’s not forget LL.  They’re always out there just over the horizon.  I’m drawn to a comparison of the thirteen colonies in America and England in the eighteenth century.  (Apologies to my British readers.)  A group of independent minded individuals who are willing to work hard but are stymied by a remote and aloof power more interested in its own political squabbles than in the welfare of all.  (I wonder if I could be this revolution’s Thomas Paine?) 
          In closing, I believe that SL could develop into a civilization, albeit a virtual one.  I think the die has been cast and virtual civilizations will arise.  For SL, the question is will it become one of the greats, long remembered and highly regarded long after it declines as do all civilizations.  Or, will SL be one of those flash in the pan civilizations that sprang up briefly and whose ruins now litter the deserts of the Middle East? 

As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.

Below are a few pictures of some of the communities I’ve visited inworld, chosen to highlight SL’s civilization. 

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 2 Downtown Esoterica

Photo No. 3 Manchu Picchu

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Social Life in Second Life

 A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.

Rudolf Steiner

          After my last story about friendship in Second Life (SL) I began to think about what things friends do while together in SL.  This led me to start thinking (About this point is where Significant Other starts to worry.) some more about what are these “things” friends do together in SL.  Essentially, it’s a social life isn’t it?

          We have social lives in Real Life (RL) don’t we?  Why not in SL?  (This is where some of my RL friends start saying I’m spending too much time inworld.)  My earlier ruminations about community explored what communities inworld were like and their connections to RL.  So, if we accept communities and friends in SL why can’t we say we have social lives inworld? 

          What is a social life in SL like? 

          I submit that we come together to engage in shared interests, we use words to share the experiences, and we have emotional responses to these interactions just as we do in RL.  Yes, it is virtual.  And, it is anonymous.  How many people in SL use their RL identities?  Not many.  Yet, we’re having social experiences and interactions which, in my opinion, comprise a social life. 

          Do the differences make a difference?  Virtual versus real?  I’m not so sure.  Once upon a time, RL people had relationships for years based on letters sent by ship all over the world.  (Anyone remember pen pals?)  Sometimes they never met.  Sometimes they did and even got married.  I’ve never heard of anyone denying the validity of these relationships or claiming this was a game and not a legitimate social activity.  In essence, this was a social life for the participants or part of a larger one. (In fact, it still is because there are still many pen pals out there.)   

          Does the anonymity of SL make a difference?  Why would it?  Maybe people engage in behaviors inworld that they wouldn’t in RL because of the anonymity.  (Believe me.  I don’t go to nudist functions or BDSM clubs in RL.  I’m not being judgmental. I’d probably be tossed out if I showed up.)   Some researchers believe that this anonymity causes a lack of honesty in virtual relationships which precludes a “real” social life.  I’m not convinced.  As long as all participants accept the rules of engagement (i.e., avatars with fictional names), I don’t think it’s important.  It’s a level playing field for all engaged.   A person’s RL characteristics which may be detrimental to a RL social life don’t have to exist in SL.  (How many morbidly obese avatars have you encountered inworld?)

          One recurring theme I encounter from residents as I travel across the grid is the importance of being sensitive about the feelings of the person behind the avatar.  This is more important than the anonymity of virtual relationships.  If people are treated with dignity and respect inworld then there is a basis for a social life because people feel safe, comfortable, and return for the experience and seek out their friends again. 

          OK, if one accepts that there is a social life in SL, how can one have a social life in SL?  What comprises a social life in RL?  For me (Yes, I do have one in RL which permits me a perspective even if Significant Other does claim my half isn’t holding up its end.)  it’s friends, going to places with them, and doing things with them once you get there.  A social life is spontaneous although some planning doesn’t hurt.  Regularity is also another aspect of a social life. Coming together and having these common experiences. 

          Finally, should one have a social life in SL?  Why not?  Virtual social lives are just another aspect of the Internet age.  A healthy RL social life can only grow with a virtual social life.  From pen pals, we moved onto telephones then chat rooms on bulletin boards, followed by AOL, well, you get the idea.  Aren’t these all just enhancements to what we do in RL? 

          Like anything else in life, whether RL or SL, balance is necessary.  We’ve all heard the anecdotes about guys (Why is always guys?) in basements living on Cheeze Doodles and Jolt soda who only see life via their broadband connection.  But, the advantages when done practically are that we can safely meet people from all over the world and engage in activities not possible for many in RL.  (Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about the music, art, machinima, dance, and other creative pursuits that people engage in when inworld.  Trust me without SL and the Internet, not too many would be reading what I write.) 

          As for the anonymity, maybe we don’t know whom we’re socializing with, but, the checks and balances of virtual worlds protect us.  Inworld, I don’t worry about getting cracked in the head and having my wallet lifted.  Although, I’m told some of the role playing sims do get a little rough.  That aside, we can take risks in SL that wouldn’t be prudent in RL.  For that matter, do we even know whom we’re meeting in RL all the time?  The stakes are a lot higher there. 

          Other social media like Facebook and Twitter enhance the social life experience in SL.  Many residents use these tools to stay in contact with their SL friends like they do their RL ones.  Will we someday see a blurring of the distinction between SL and RL social lives?  Might we one day bring our SL friends together with our RL ones for parties or other social functions?  Think about it.

          In closing, I believe we’re still in the very early stages of SL social lives or any other virtual world.  Rules of conduct and etiquette are still being formulated.  New worlds will arise and old worlds will fall. 

          What’s your social life in SL like?  I’m very interested in hearing from my readers about how they spend their time inworld with their friends.  If I have enough interest maybe we can meet inworld to talk about this in a forum or a panel.  Please send me your thoughts! 

As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.

Below are a few pictures of some of the communities I’ve visited inworld chosen to just show some of SL’s diversity. 

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 3 Luskwood, Furry Sim

Photo No. 5 Vampire Wedding Party

Photo No. 7 Nowaki

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friendship in Second LIfe

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

Albert Schweitzer

          Recently, I ruminated about Second Life (SL).  I had fallen into one of my introspective periods and blogged about community life inworld and some connections with Real Life (RL).  Prior to that, on the first anniversary of my blogging, I’d written about what people are doing in SL. 

But, what I haven’t written about so far are my friends and the meaning of friendship in SL.  (No, don’t worry, I’m neither going to prattle off a list of SL friends, yes, I have several, nor am I going to embarrass those whom I do have by calling them out.  Well, I will mention a few.)  Having been inworld for just over two years now and been blogging for over one, I have made friends.  (Much to the astonishment of Significant Other.) 

Writers, poets, philosophers, and countless others have argued and debated about friendship since the beginning of time.  I’m not about to hash through all that again.  I want to talk about friendship within SL.  Can we really have friends inworld?  How do we make and keep them?  Where do we meet them?  What do friends do inworld?  Why even have friends in SL? 

For me, my SL friends are people (Yes, real people with real feelings, not simply collections of computer code.) whom I’ve met in the course of my travels across the grid as I’ve written my blog.  These are folks with whom I share common interests or I enjoy their company.  (I’m assuming they enjoy mine.  Although, if they’re masochists from the BDSM community, they may have their own ulterior motives.) 

When I rezz inworld, I may IM them or they may IM me for a quick chat.  Some friends, we check in with each other more sporadically.  (A bad habit which I bring over from RL.)  I do what I do in RL.  Inquire about how they’re doing and chat about whatever our mutual interests may be.  Sometimes, I’m spurred by the thought that I haven’t checked in for a while so I make a point of reaching out if I see they’re inworld.  Other times, we meet for scheduled events, hunts, concerts, parties, or whatever it may be.  This is what I do in RL.  (OK, maybe I’m not the most exciting friend but I’m still a friend!) 

As I’ve written before, I take my friends as I find them in SL.  I don’t drive myself crazy trying to figure out if the RL person behind the avatar is really what they’re presenting themselves as.  For me, if someone goes to the trouble of preparing a backstory and an avatar as their SL face, far be it from me to challenge that. 

Also, for that matter, with rare exceptions, I deal with people in the context of SL.  I keep SL and RL apart as do the vast majority of my SL friends.  A few freely talk about RL and that’s fine with me too.  As in RL, I deal differently with different friends.  We all have our own separate needs which is what friendship is all about isn’t it? 

OK, so, I think I’ve made the point that I have friends in SL.  (Making friends in SL is tougher than in Facebook in my opinion.  You still have to go out and find people in SL.  With Facebook, you have a head start.)  How did I make them in the first place? 

I guess I make my friends in SL, the old fashioned way.  I go out and find them.  Being an explorer and a writer does help.  I go to new places and walk up to strangers and introduce myself and ask for an interview.  Most residents are agreeable.  Sometimes, I send requests for interviews to people whom I’ve learned about from other sources or whom I’ve been introduced to by others.  A few have made comments on my posts and I’ve followed up with them.  (Hope that doesn’t stop readers from commenting in the future.) 

Where do I meet my friends-to-be?  Chance encounters as I go walkabout on the grid.  Scheduled interviews with others at places of their choosing.  Scheduled events like the time I went to the nude baths in 1920’s Berlin.  (Which led to a whole new avenue of exploration inworld.)  The many hunts in SL have been meeting places for some of my oldest friends.  Then there are social clubs and just walking around my SL neighborhood, Nowaki.  By the way, weddings are a great way to meet new SL friends.    

What do I do with my friends inworld?  Pretty much the same as I do in RL except there’s no coffee.  We talk, complain about Linden Lab, debate politics, solve the world’s problems, and dance!  (OK, maybe I don’t do as much dancing in RL as I once did.) 

Then there’s a tougher question, why even have friends in SL?  First, even as avatars, we’re social animals.  Next, SL is a big, scary, and lonely place when you’re all by yourself.  (A reason, I feel, why many initial visitors don’t come back.)  Finally, we all need help sometime and we can all help others while we’re at it.  That’s what friends do for each other right? 

Yes, there are risks to friendship in SL.  Sometimes, friends disappear and we don’t know why.  One good friend of mine, Morsmordre Furman, hasn’t been inworld for some time and hasn’t replied to my queries.  I know she has health issues in RL and I’m concerned.  (If anyone knows about her and of her condition, I’d be grateful for an update.)  There’s conflict, and while I haven’t had the experience myself, I’ve heard of some real knockdown, drag out fights between people who once were good friends inworld.  Then there’s misrepresentation (in some people’s opinion) which I wrote of earlier.  Some have a hard time dealing with the RL person being very different from their avatar. 

Finally, where does friendship go in SL? For many of us, I believe, it stays inworld.  Friendships deepen and grow based on new experiences.  For some, SL friendships lead to RL friendships and relationships all the way up to marriage.  (I promise I’ll be writing about these couples soon.) 

SL friendships, or any virtual friendships for that matter, will, I believe, become a normal part of people’s lives as the Internet, virtual worlds, and social media continue to develop.  There will be a convergence if only because all trends tend to converge over time.  (Talk about sticking my neck out!)  In the future, we should be meeting with virtual friends just as we do with our RL friends.  Of course, some may argue that’s probably the last thing humanity needs.  Me, I’m not so sure.

I would like to thank all my SL friends who have invited me into their lives and made me feel at home and who have helped me in so many different ways.  Thanks to all of you!

I’m also grateful to everyone else, while not technically being “friends”, for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 

I’ve included pictures of a few of my friends below.  The list is not comprehensive and has some of my oldest and some of my newest.  They cover the breadth of SL that I’ve encountered so far.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 1 Morsmordre Furman

Photo No. 2 Perryn Peterson

Photo No. 3 Phideaux Mayo

Photo No. 4 Kaii Kironov

Photo No. 5 Glorf Bulmer

Photo No. 7 Steve Decker

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Among the Pirates

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.

Mark Twain

          After my trip last week with my Traveling Companion to Ancient Alexandria  I decided to go back and follow up on some requests from my readers.  Earlier, I had written about the Age of Sail in Second Life (SL).  I had met with BrendonPatrick MacRory to visit the world of eighteenth century sailing ships inworld and the communities involved.  While visiting I learned about pirates and I planned to go back and visit among them. 

          But, several of my readers wanted to know more about pirates now and as I always aim to please my readers, I decided to go back and look them up.  After all, going off and being a pirate is every little boy’s dream, right?  It’s up there with going off with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  (Mark Twain nailed this space, didn’t he?) 

          So, how does one find pirates?  I cheated. I contacted BrendonPatrick and asked for an introduction.  (I wonder if I could meet Captain Jack Sparrow this way?)  And, BrendonPatrick came through for me with an introduction to Steve Decker, SL pirate extraordinaire.        

          Steve and I meet in his private workshop near the inworld pirate sims.  Steve says he’s still a relative newcomer to the SL pirates’ life but appears to have taken to this lifestyle if his outfit and projects underway are any indication.

          From Steve I learn that pirate role playing goes back a long way in SL.  There are six pirate sims in the pirates community that he’s involved with, some playing at the roles harder than others.  Steve tells me about some secretive pirates inworld who have built sims hidden away from everyone else and whom no one unaffiliated with them knows anything about. (Sounds like a future story here.) 

          Four (Fair Winds, Ocean Realms, Blake Sea, Jolie Rouge; AKA the United Collaboration Estates) of these six sims joined together to form Pirate Realms to recast the rules for more standard and fairer method of playing.   

          I ask if there are any pirate crews who are really just about raising mayhem in SL à la griefers outside of role playing.  Steve replies there are some Gor role playing pirate groups which get very messy (as in lots of blood) but many don’t play with these groups.  (Maybe it’s me but I would have thought that a place like SL would have some New Age cyber pirates running amuck somewhere.  I’m probably reading too much cyberpunk.)   

          In his own role playing, Steve also plays the smuggler and is building up his role.  He smuggles anything: slaves, spice without paying tax, drugs (note this is a role playing eighteenth century sim not Real Life (RL)), and weapons. 

          I ask if there is more to being a pirate in SL than just battles.  Steve replies in the affirmative and apparently in Jolie Rouge there is an economy with its own currency, crowns, whereby pirates can earn a living.  (I’ll wager taxes will be next!)  This currency is apart from Lindens which is the grid-wide currency used inworld.

          Steve adds that many pirates just have ship-to-ship battles but he will be writing new scenarios to add story lines. 

          Being a healthy male with a taste for adventure (at least in SL if not in RL, Significant Other reserves the right of final veto in the latter) I have to ask, how does one become a pirate? 

          Steve’s answer is simple but to the point.  One can just show up and join a crew or get press ganged someplace.  For those who are more law abiding there is the Navy where one can either enlist as a seaperson or obtain letters of marque and go out as a privateer.  Free starter kits and free boats are available for those so inclined to join the pirates’ life.  Why can’t RL be this simple? 

          Pirating is based on a tool, SPD Meter, which records hits on both ships and crew members.  Hits being received from cannon, muskets, swords or whatever else is employed in game.  Twelve battle coordinators assist in arranging and conducting engagements.  (Did Captain Kidd have one of these?)  Steve explains that the most popular pirate sims are the ones based on the seagoing engagements. 

          My time with Steve has taught me a lot about the world of pirates in SL.  However, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Steve has offered to take me along with him on one of his sea battles in the future.  I’ll bring the story back when I do.  (I wonder if Traveling Companion will want to go along on that one?)  I’ll visit the United Collaboration Estates and see what happens there both at sea and on the land.  Then there are those mysterious, secretive pirate communities.  Maybe I can find them. 

          So, if you’re interested in pirates and SL, keep an eye on this blog as I keep blogging about another one of SL’s interesting communities. 

I’d like to thank Steve Decker for taking the time to meet with me and introduce me to the world of piracy in SL.  I’d also like to thank BrendonPatrick MacRory for introducing me to Steve. 

As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 4 Fair Winds Harbor

Photo No. 5 Fair Winds Dungeon