Sex in Second Life and shoddy punditry

I’ll be blunt: The majority of the media coverage of Second Life has been sub-par for far too long. It’s been a combination of an overhyping and dismissal as a “failed project” rollercoaster, and gossipy sensationalism focusing on the virtual world’s sexual aspect in a scandal-mongering manner. Another problem with much of the coverage SL has seen in its eleven years of existence is the attitude of many journalists / pundits: they don’t let facts get in the way of their story.

Marlon McDonald

Marlon McDonald, prolific contributor for Moviepilot.com, wrote yet another scandal-mongering article on sex in Second Life.

One would probably expect something better after all these years. But, sadly, cut-throat clickbait competition for notoriety and / or ad-generated revenue makes the gossipy, sensationalist, scandal-mongering, stereotype-milking approach every bit as attractive for web-based outlets and columnists as it’s ever been for their “old media” counterparts. So, I’m not surprised to see the same old stories get regurgitated ad nauseam by pundits new and “established”. A recent example of such a pundit is Mr. Marlon McDonald, prolific contributor to Moviepilot.com. In his quest for page views and notoriety which will get him featured on the website’s homepage in his chosen category, he wrote yet another article in which he presented Second Life as little more than a cesspool of debauchery, pornography, virtual prostitution etc. Inara Pey proceeded to write a very nice rebuttal to Mr. McDonald’s article, and I highly recommend that you share it with others. She also blogged about her rebuttal here.

I’m not going to deny the existence of a sex industry in SL, or downplay its popularity and importance to both SL’s economy and the way SL’s users experience their SL. However, there are certain things Mr. McDonald and others like him consistently fail to tell their readers.

A typical IMVU ad. How's that for subtlety?

A typical IMVU ad. Yet, only Second Life gets a bad rap for being a “cesspool of debauchery”.

First (and most important) of all, to access “adult” (including sex-related) content in Second Life, you need to enable it yourself. Second Life has a system of maturity ratings for its in-world content (regions, virtual products, classified ads), which enables you to not be presented with “adult”-rated content in search and on SL’s marketplace, and also warns you when you are about to enter an “adult”-rated region or smaller piece of land (parcel). By default, viewing and accessing “adult” content in SL is disabled. Hence why I explained that you need to go out of your way to enable access to such content yourself. So far, none of the pundits who bash SL for its sexual content has mentioned this simple fact. I wonder why. Incompetence, dishonesty, or both?

Second, SL is not unique in having a thriving sex industry. IMVU has a thriving sex industry; in fact, it openly (and not very subtly) promotes itself on the “sex and romance” promise. Yet, oddly enough, it seems to be exempt from all the kink-bashing SL has received throughout the years. As a matter of fact, there’s a huge sex industry on the entire internet that dwarves SL’s own, and don’t even get me started on the commercial exploitation of sex in the “old media”. So, as I’ve explained in this and four previous articles on these pages, it’s hypocritical to single out Second Life and pigeonhole it as a den of iniquity, debauchery and (gasp!) sin.

As I had written before, in many people’s eyes, I lose credibility if I’m seen as a sexual person, with desires and fantasies. This is exactly the backwards mentality that Mr. McDonald chooses to pamper and exploit for page views and notoriety.

As I had written before, in many people’s eyes, I lose credibility if I’m seen as a sexual person, with desires, kinks and fantasies. This is exactly the backwards mentality that Mr. McDonald chooses to pamper and exploit for page views and notoriety.

Third… Sex is nothing to be ashamed of. It may come as a bit of a surprise to many, but it really isn’t. I know most of us have been raised in societies where sex for non-procreational reasons, or non-conforming to the hetero-normative “ideal”, is portrayed as something inherently salacious, sinful, and / or downright evil; something you must not indulge in or explore, because, if you are seen as a sexual person, you run the risk of not being viewed as a serious person – at best. Sadly, such prejudiced, sexist attitudes about sex are still the norm, and sensationalist, titillating stories about “sinners” and “dens of debauchery” sell. Mr. McDonald knows it very well, and chose to pamper these views and capitalise on them to serve his own vanity.

Content-wise, Mr. McDonald’s article is a poorly-written patchwork of old stories that were largely irrelevant to SL’s user base even when they were current. Actually, it’s worse than that: He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about. Let’s see why:

  • First of all, his article’s opening image is an IMVU screenshot. This immediately discredits both his article and him.
  • Second, he failed (like so many other SL-bashers before him) to tell his readers that you can’t access “adult” content by default.
  • Third, of the screenshots that were from SL (most of them having been sourced from the controversial Alphaville Herald), none of them represents, from a graphical standpoint, what SL looks like today. They’re a pile of old, scandal-mongering tosh that Mr. McDonald chose to exhume to make a straw man out of Second Life in order to gain more notoriety.
  • Fourth, the sex-related stories he recycled from the Alphaville Herald were largely irrelevant to the vast majority of SL’s user base, but he chose to present them as representing what all SL users get up to.
  • Fifth, he didn’t try SL out himself. Had he done so, he’d have his own screenshots from in-world locations he visited.

From all this, it becomes obvious that Mr. McDonald’s article doesn’t tell us anything new or of value about SL; instead, it speaks volumes about its author.

It goes without saying that, after years of such piss-poor coverage, SL’s user base is constantly on alert. Such was the case with Ms. Karyne Levy’s article titled “Second Life Has Devolved Into A Post-Apocalyptic Virtual World, And The Weirdest Thing Is How Many People Still Use It” for Business Insider.

The title was poorly chosen indeed, but the article in and of itself was not negative, and, contrary to Mr. McDonald, Ms. Levy bothered to experience Second Life for herself, so that she would express an informed opinion. She created an account, tried to see what SL is all about, and concluded that she had a bit of fun, but SL wasn’t for her. It’s her opinion, she’s entitled to it, and I fully acknowledge that SL really isn’t for everyone. But the difference between her article and Mr. McDonald’s is the difference between day and night. She also gets bonus points for referencing Chris Stokel-Walker’s excellent article titled “Second Life’s strange second life” for The Verge.

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12 thoughts on “Sex in Second Life and shoddy punditry

    1. Thank you so much! Truth be told, I’ve rewritten this post numerous times… And then I ran into that interview with Mr. Fleck, which gave me the extra information to support my argument.

  1. I posted the link to this article at DeviantArt in to several of the SL groups there. I felt it was informative and well written. Hopefully you get all the credit due for such a comprehensive review of this journalistic abomination.

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