The X-rated smear of Second Life

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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12 thoughts on “The X-rated smear of Second Life

  1. Well put, just wish you mention the Drax files as some that can show mroe then anything what Sl is all about!

    1. I already have in previous posts (this blog is actually a migration of my older blog, so everything you’ve ever read there about the Drax Files is here), and I’m going to blog about Engrama and Drax’s coverage of them pretty soon. This post, however, was not about how Drax can show what SL is all about – it was about how SL is misconceived, misinterpreted and misrepresented as a result of both its coverage by the Press and the way LL has “managed” its product’s marketing and reputation. I think you’ll agree that putting all my eggs in one basket would make this post unfocused and difficult to read.

  2. I could not agree more.
    SL’s biggest problem is its reputation, luckily that is easier to fix then lag.
    Send out the Draxtor Despres – files across the world would be a good start.
    And stop having sexy pictures all over the Second Life website 😉
    SL has hundreds of thousands of users who want to try and get the world to understand that SL is not just about virtual hanky panky.
    Linden Lab, mobilize this army, if you give us good advertisements, apps, pages or videos, we will make then go viral.

    BUT it is also a bit our own fault.
    I am one of the few people in SL who shares a lot of her SL life with her RL facebook friends.
    Don’t be ashamed, share pictures of good and fun things you do in SL.
    Some of my RL friends have discovered SL this way.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Jo!

      What we all need to ensure everyone understands is that the problem with SL is not the existence of virtual hanky panky inside it, but the fact that it is usually the only thing that attracts any kind of visibility. Well, that and the various griefing incidents, along with a certain has-been’s illogical rants and conspiracy theories.

      LL could very easily go ahead and promote SL in a very positive way. Of course, we all know that, thanks to the rants of certain people and groups, no matter what LL will do, they will be attacked by a significant percentage of “the community”; if they go and endorse Drax’s videos and have him promote SL as he knows how to do, there will be various tossers that will scream “Feted Inner Core” – and I must say that various ex-Lindens contribute to this negativity, often spreading blatant and obvious falsehoods (which are then adopted, frustratingly, even by people who should have known better) simply because they want to “settle the score” with the company for which they once worked – a very unprofessional attitude.

      There is a certain degree of fault in us, the users, that’s true. But one of the main myths that need to be debunked is that LL is “the enemy” and that it is “plotting to spite and harm the community” – this paranoia must stop yesterday.

      I’m going to continue blogging about ways in which LL can improve SL’s image in the near future, as time permits.

      1. Yes exactly.
        SL’s reputation we all need to work on, not just LL.
        I think Drax his videos are great because they show the other side of SL but also because they are high quality, they show that SL has improved.
        Sure, we’re still behind on many modern computer games, but there has been improvements!
        And if we manage to get SL to work with Oculus Rift… we may see a whole new life for second life!

        1. On the technical front, there’s still a lot of work to be done (for instance, the mesh deformer, but blame the content creators for that; they specifically asked that this new feature be connected to avatar weighting etc, and this made it a lot more complicated and caused significant delays, but they conveniently forget that these delays are a result of their own demands, so they falsely claim that it’s all LL’s fault), but, if we’re to be honest, SL has come a long way forward over the past few years. In 2009 and 2010, I simply could not activate local lights on my dual-core Pentium laptop (whose GPU is an ATI Mobility Radeon HD4500 with 512MB dedicated RAM); I would get a black screen. And even on “medium” graphics quality, 10 fps was the best I could hope for. Now, without any hardware upgrade on my part, I can run in deferred mode (without ambient occlusion or shadows, though) at a zippy 15-18 fps on lightly-to-moderately loaded sims, although my frame rate can easily drop significantly on extremely heavy sims. This immense improvement is the result of the work the Lindens did on the rendering pipeline and on SL’s underlying software, so we must be honest and give them some credit.

          Also, regarding computer games, I’d really like to know how many of them allow user-generated content. SL allows everyone to create content – from basic, prim-based stuff to super-complex builds with a multitude of high-resolution textures, scripts, particles, meshes, sculpts etc. SL’s visuals have improved a lot, it’s much faster and a lot more stable nowadays, and it’s populated by a lot of extremely gifted residents who have turned it into the most amazing virtual world there is.

          As for Oculus Rift, while it does sound like a magnificent idea, I fear that, even if and when I get a properly powerful machine, it still won’t be for me, as it would require something that I’m rather unlikely to have: periods of time during which I’ll be able to use it without any RL distractions. In that regard, a conventional monitor is more convenient for users like me. But for others, I’m sure Oculus Rift will be a godsend!

  3. Spot on and so well written! In my personal life I am upfront about what I do [obviously – you guessed it I am an extrovert!] and I found that when folks bring up the reputation I counter with this line: “Now do you bring your kids to San Francisco sometimes for a nice day out?” Answer: “Yes!” Me: “Well do you stroll around the BDSM stores or do you bring them to the waterfront and perhaps a museum?” Answer: “…..” [silence]. That starts a good discussion usually, just had one with my son’s computer teacher last week. I then say exactly what you said about the internet as a whole = do we dismiss it because there is porn there? HELL NO! Anyways that being said: I bump into people ALL THE TIME who have never heard of SL, who have no idea what a virtual world is etc. Dinner at friends two weeks ago – older woman, used to be lesbian activist, now in senior home, very nice and expensive I may add = I show her SL – she says within a minute: “Wow, this is overcoming isolation!!!” Soooo: the stigma is NOT all across the culture, it is sticky but it can be dismantled and especially entire new target groups can be “harvested” if one is proactive about it! I do not fault the Lab btw – it is my sense that they may be cooking up something bigger in terms of marketing and waiting for a good time to launch! In re Jo and graphics and such: not even that big of a factor for most I found – they LOVE the community and if the graphics are not XBox quality so be it. Also the newer machines run SL at maximum beautifully!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Drax! 🙂

      The way you drive the point home with outsiders is spot-on. When we want to speak of, say, London, we speak of its sights, the Buckingham Palace, the Big Ben etc – not of the “nasty” parts of it. As for the Lab’s responsibilities, I think they simply were asleep at the wheel, which is a terrible mistake. Regarding the graphics, I don’t know: even on my mediocre and outdated lappy, they’re pretty good. When I get a properly powerful machine, they’ll be a lot better, so I’m saving up.

  4. Hello.
    I’m Palela. And, yes, I’m a second life escort.
    So, I’m an active part of that undeground where the bad reputation comes from.
    I came to Second Life to do something I was not able to do in my real, at least for the moment: sell myself as a prostitute.
    Link removed by blog administrator, as it’s more of an advert.

    I have just one thing to say. I see the point of bad reputation, but consider that we can call it freedom. And this is a word I like very much.



    1. Hello Palela.

      I approved your comment with a few misgivings, because part of it read like an advert for your basically content-free blog and your services (which is why the link has been removed).

      Now, regarding the content of your comment:

      You mention that you came to Second Life to be a prostitute and that this is something you wanted to do in RL, but couldn’t. While such a declaration may (justifiably) sound rather difficult to believe, I’ll play along; after all, exploration of sexual fantasies is one of the reasons many people join SL – and I’ll admit that sexual exploration was a significant attraction for me as well.

      However, when I reach the next part of your comment, where you say “I see the point of bad reputation”, something doesn’t sound quite right. You readily and willingly admitted just one line of text ago that escorting is a desire you had (perhaps because you get a certain sexual satisfaction with it – nothing wrong with that). I would have expected you to follow that one up with something along the lines of “So yes, I’m a prostitute. Deal with it.”, which would really elevate you, as it would show you to be a strong, determined and secure woman. What you’re saying here, though, is that you accept being considered “dirty”, “not worthy of respect” etc. by others simply because of your chosen profession in SL, even though anyone in their right mind can easily understand that you can find sex and sexual innuendos everywhere you can expect to find people (and the internet is rife with sex, by the way – I don’t see anyone saying “oooh, the internet is only for sexual deviants”). And then you say “but consider that we can call it freedom”, which is confusing. What do you call freedom?

      The fact that, in SL, you do what you fantasise about?

      Or the fact that others pigeonhole and label you and badmouth you and the entire platform in which you exist?

  5. Let me tell the full story, to better explain me.
    I added the link you removed just becouse the story is written there (no advertising!).
    Let me copy it here:

    Sorry, that text still reads far too much like an advert – in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s exactly the same as the notecard that you use to promote your services.

    An now, le me answer to your comment.
    I like it, I feel free, I love a word whith this kind of freedom.
    I sell myself, people buy me, everybody is happy about it.
    There is nothing wrong with it.
    It sad to admit that, usally, this is considered bad reputation.
    On my opinion, it’s just people enjoing thei freedom.

  6. I confirm that text is the same of my notecard, no problem.
    I thought it was useful to explain myself.
    When I share it, I never “promote”, I just want to be clear, it isn’t a metter of “services”.

    I’m glad you red it and if it was usefull to clarify my point of view and what I mean with the word “freedom”.


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