Three days ago, I wrote my opinion on Mrs. Karyne Levy’s article “Second Life Has Devolved Into A Post-Apocalyptic Virtual World, And The Weirdest Thing Is How Many People Still Use It” that was published on Business Insider. I noted that the article left a fair bit to be desired on several levels, even though I didn’t list them all. The article started off by citing a few articles and opinions, and then we saw a narration of what Mrs. Levy experienced by starting a new account and diving into Second Life. Since Mrs. Levy’s article is still talked about and a meta-discussion has already begun in various places, it seems appropriate to revisit it and expand on it. Please note that I use quotation marks for the word “controversial” in the title, because I feel that the whole controversy surrounding Mrs. Levy’s article is completely unjustified, even though I was critical of it.
The article contained a few factual errors; for instance, you’re not hit in the face with adult-rated classifieds in search unless you set your maturity ratings accordingly – although, I have to note, it’d have been helpful if you had greater control over what themes/topics search will promote to you. Even someone who is interested in accessing adult-rated regions may not be interested in seeing advertisements for openly sex-oriented regions and establishments. Also, the virtual sex industry (as Inara Pey correctly points out) didn’t fill in the gap left when the big corporations left SL. It was always there. It was there, flourishing and booming when I first joined in 2006 and SL was riding on the crest of its hype wave, with corporations and academic institutions flocking in. I also need to point out that this claim (i.e. that the virtual sex industry came in to fill in the gap that was left when the big corporations left) implies a coordinated, conscious and concerted effort by the Lab to create a sex industry, which is simply untrue. Regardless of that, Mrs. Levy was unfairly lambasted for various reasons that miss the point completely. Let’s see three of them:
“She didn’t optimise her graphics settings” and/or “she didn’t use proper hardware“. This is utterly irrelevant. There are many people out there that use SL on obsolete or near-obsolete hardware and thus cannot enjoy all the eye candy that’s on offer. Furthermore, such “proper” hardware may not have been available to her. This “criticism”, thus, is very wide of the mark.
“She tried to denigrate Second Life“. No, she didn’t. There was no intention anywhere in her article to do so. Just because she didn’t go ga-ga over SL’s current state of affairs doesn’t mean she meant ill towards it and the Lab. Sadly, this criticism is also combined with the usual conspiracy theories about “the media being against SL” or something. Please. This is pure prokanoia and needs to be curbed right away, along with the persecution syndrome that’s so widespread among SL’s user base. No one is on a mission to destroy Second Life. In fact, most of the media don’t care at all about Second Life. They covered it (with a lot of overhyping, much of which should be blamed on His Holy Philipness and the corporate pipe dream he touted) in the past, saw it fell far short of the completely unrealistic expectations they and the Lab’s top brass created, and (i) deemed SL a failure, which was wrong and unsubstantiated, (ii) moved on to the “next big thing”. No, the media aren’t “conspiring” against SL. Mrs. Levy didn’t mock SL or anything that happens in it, and this has been missed by those who accused her of trying to “bring SL down”.
“She didn’t hang out with the ‘right’ people” and “she didn’t visit the right places”. Hogwash. She went out to find someone to talk to and hang out with. The first people she came across (the ones at the Game of Thrones-themed roleplay region) shunned her. Most beginners would get frustrated at that point and just leave. To her credit, she persevered and went to Caledon Oxbridge. Even though she didn’t find a mentor there, she found someone who was willing to talk to her, spend time with her, show her around and show her a good time, to the best of her knowledge. Was Judy’s (Mrs. Levy’s guide) view of SL limited? In my opinion, it was, and perhaps what Mrs. Levy saw contributed to her choice of title. But that’s beside the point. The point is that Mrs. Levy showed us once again (because we tend to forget we all were clueless newbies once) what any person that enters SL for the first time goes through and, although the odds are stacked up against the new user, she had a bit of fun (not enough to keep using SL, though). And, as I said earlier, she did it without malice or intention to “mock” SL.
As is evident (I hope) from my previous post, I have mixed feelings about Mrs. Levy’s article. The title implies that she researched how Second Life has evolved or devolved throughout its eleven-year course and came to this conclusion. Yet, there’s a wide gap between the title and the nature of the article. If the article were to live up to the title, I’d have expected Mrs. Levy to document things like how the Lab and the Press (self-criticism on behalf of professional journalists is something we rarely see) created unrealistic expectations as to what the platform could do, I’d have expected to see a narration of how SL has or hasn’t been used for purposes other than our “mundane” escapism, etc. I didn’t see that. Most of the article was a narration of what Mrs. Levy experienced over the course of a few hours as a newcomer to Second Life. And this is precisely why I said the article reminded me of James Thurber’s fable titled “The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing“, and my opinion still holds. Judging by what Mrs. Levy wrote, a much more fitting title would have been “My Five Hours in SecondLifeLand” or something similar, because that’s what she gave us: the first few hours of a beginner in SL.
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