Back in January, I had written a rather long article on why Second Life has not fulfilled its potential; that article was triggered by yet another “obligatory” and misinformed “ooh, Second Life has failed” article. Truth be told, from a business point of view, Second Life is not doing badly. It is still a highly profitable business (although the profits certainly are not of the kind that would afford its mother company’s CEO to own a megayacht, five Rolls-Royces, a villa in Mykonos, one in Ibiza and a large business jet), it is – by many a country mile – the most popular virtual world platform out there, there are plenty of communities in it (with varying levels of activity)… Yet, it is simply not cool. Worse: it has a tainted reputation. Strawberry Singh put it very succinctly in the following words:
I wish Second Life didn’t have such a bad reputation. I admit to feeling pretty ashamed at times about admitting that I’m on Second Life. Very few of my closest family and friends know that I have an SL avatar and only a handful know about my blog and all the activities I do here. I haven’t even told my parents about it. I hate having to feel that it’s something I should be ashamed of or I need to hide because I don’t want everyone to think I’m some kind of pervert (even though I kind of am) and only here for the sex and porn (even though that may be partially true). I recently started a relationship in real life and I can see it getting serious eventually and I admit I am dreading telling him anything about my virtual life. I’m not even sure how I’ll approach the subject. So yeah, I wish whenever there was any kind of new documentary about SL they didn’t always focus on people making sex furniture or making it seem like sex is all there is to SL. I wish Linden Lab would think of a better marketing scheme to promote this virtual world. I would love it if people saw the more creative and inventive side of SL. Kind of like what Draxtor Despres shows in The Drax Files.
Of course, Linden Lab’s chronic ineptitude when it comes to even the most basic PR stuff and reputation management has played an extremely important role: let’s face it, if people at LL’s PR and marketing departments knew what the hell they were doing, then the number of detractors would be a lot smaller, simply because there would be perfectly compelling arguments against their point. Before I proceed any further, I’ll take some time to address the “SL = a haven for sexual deviants” smear – since LL’s own PR people have not bothered to do it.
A Reality Check
Let’s face it; a significant proportion of SL’s virtual economy is made up from sales of sex-related stuff: sexual animations and poses, provocative garments, fetish-related garments, pieces furniture with sexual animations, poses and props (including BDSM animations, poses and props), prim, sculpty and mesh genitalia, escort services, escort clubs, strip clubs, etc. But I find it – to say the least – hypocritical and idiotic for anyone to be surprised by the existence of a sex industry within Second Life; SL is a platform that allows people to express, in an immersive 3D world, their desires, fantasies, ideas, thoughts. This can encompass everything: from the gorgeous builds often documented by the likes of Exotix (Inara Pey), Honour McMillan and Ziki Questi to charity events like Fantasy Faire and from reading clubs like the Seanchai Library (how many of you knew that SL is also a haven for bookworms?) to, yes, an entire sex industry chugging along in this virtual world, just like in Real Life (RL).
Also, SL’s detractors – the very ones that dismiss SL as just a platform for cybersex – conveniently “forget” that IMVU’s usage is exactly what they say SL is all about, and IMVU simply cannot be something else than what it is, as it lacks pretty much every creative possibility SL provides. Let me tell you that, besides my SL-related Facebook presence, I also have my very own RL Facebook and Twitter accounts, which I keep completely separated from SL. On my RL Facebook account, I often wince at a certain RL friend of mine; she’s an attorney and her Facebook wall posts consist almost exclusively of “suggestive” (ahem) poses from her IMVU presence (which are invariably accompanied by the exact kind of text that would easily make her Facebook profile NSFW) and the obligatory Farmville stuff. Care to tell me again that SL is a platform made exclusively for cybersex and that IMVU or Yahoo!’s old chatrooms aren’t?
Well, yes, SL is a great platform for people to explore their sensuality and sexuality – but that’s only a small part of what one can do within SL. If you’re still in doubt, perhaps you need to have a look at Engrama – a band that not only has a presence in SL (more on them in an upcoming post), it actually plays live in SL. Yes, live shows, with improvisations, jams and all.
But let’s get back to the sex thing. The only reason Second Life is pigeonholed as a platform that exists only for pixel sex is that a stereotype has been cultivated by basement-dwelling denizens and participants of the internet’s soft underbelly and adopted by the exact kind of people who prowl (or used to prowl) IRC channels and AOL/MSN/Yahoo! chatrooms and groups looking for a cybersex playmate and then, of course, this stereotype was eagerly and without the slightest scrutiny or critique adopted by the Press. How hypocritical can that be? Let’s be honest: Second Life is an internet platform. You will find the exact same people you’d find on any other internet platform you can imagine. The exact same topics and kinds of people you would find on, say, internet forums, blogs, chatrooms you will also find in Second Life.
This means that, if you can imagine and picture it in any other medium, you can do the same (and perhaps more effectively) in a virtual world with the creative and expressive capabilities of Second Life. This feature is exactly what attracts so many different kinds of people to SL, and that also includes people seeking to explore and express their erotic, sensual and sexual desires through SL. After all, there’s nothing wrong with sexual expression (with the obvious exceptions of paedophilia, bestiality and Dolcett) within an environment where nothing can happen without the consent of everyone involved. People will express their sensuality and sexuality through all available means: from the pornographic (to speak in modern terms) pieces of ancient Greek pottery that depicted a wide variety of sexual practices all the way up to the internet itself. If we follow the “logic” of SL’s detractors, we’d have to dismiss pottery (and especially ancient Greek pottery) as a medium that exists only for pornography; same with writing itself; or, well, the internet. To dismiss any medium as “solely” intended or used for sexual purposes is hypocritical, idiotic and lacking in logic.
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